Indo-Pak ceasefire has held since February 25, enhancing chances of lasting peace

The ceasefire announced in late February has held and there are other indications that suggest the two countries realise the futility of grandstanding and talks of ‘two-front war’

Indo-Pak ceasefire has held since February 25, enhancing chances of lasting peace

Iftikhar Gilani

Guns blazing across the 740-kilometre Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir since the terrorist attack on a military camp in the border town of Uri in 2016 were suddenly silenced on the intervening night of February 25. Not only is this ceasefire holding over the past 38 days, but at the brigadier level meeting recently, both India and Pakistan vowed to sustain the process.

This announcement of ceasefire was accompanied by India allowing Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s plane to overfly on way to Sri Lanka. On March 23, which is marked as Pakistan Day, PM Narendra Modi dispatched a letter to his Pakistani counterpart extending greetings to people of the country and desiring cordial relations. “At this difficult time for humanity, I would like to convey my best wishes to you and the people of Pakistan for dealing with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Modi wrote.

These developments coincided with the resumption of water talks between the two countries with the arrival of Pakistan’s Indus Commissioner Syed Mehr Ali Shah to New Delhi, the first time in over two years. There was also a warm welcome to the members of Pakistan’s national tent pegging team in India, which had arrived to attend the World Cup Qualifiers of the Equestrian Tent Pegging Championship.

The silencing of guns has greatly relieved the Basmati rice cultivators in Ranbir Singh Pura, Kathua, Bishnah, and Hiranagar. Due to relentless shelling, that peaked at over 5,000 cases in 2020, farmers in these areas had either abandoned their farms or were living in bunkers. The constant shelling of mortars and snipers had kept lives of more than 50 lakh people on edge and affected their livelihood.

The ceasefire appears to have been preceded by some arduous homework by both political and military leadership in the two countries. Just a day ahead of the announcement, Army Chief Gen M.M. Naravane, had expressed confidence that with continued engagement with Pakistan, there could be some sort of understanding. Unsettled borders and violence on the borders benefitted no one, he said.

Earlier, Pakistan Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa reportedly sent several peace overtures. In early February, he said Pakistan and India must resolve the Jammu and Kashmir issue in a “dignified and peaceful manner”. He added: “It is time to extend the hand of peace in all directions.” Later on March 18, at the Islamabad Dialogue, he said it is time for India and Pakistan to forget the past and move forward. He added that peace between the two neighbouring countries will help in opening up the possibilities of development in South and Central Asia. It is believed that the opening of the historic Kartarpur corridor in November 2019 to facilitate the visa-free entry of Indian Sikh pilgrims to celebrate the 550th birthday of the founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak Dev was his brainchild.

According to former Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak, Bajwa had been sending peace overtures to New Delhi since 2018. Therefore, the ceasefire has left analysts to wonder why India responded to the gesture at this moment. One explanation is India’s failure to isolate Pakistan diplomatically after the 2016 Uri attacks and, more so after the 2019 Pulwama terror attack.

India had worked to stymie the 2016 SAARC summit in Islamabad and had conveyed to other members like Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, and the Maldives not to send their foreign ministers to Islamabad for any consultations. At the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), while Pakistan continues to be on the grey list, India’s attempts to push it to the black list also did not yield results. Amid further tensions with China on its eastern borders, a realisation may have also dawned that a two-front war and escalation on both fronts is not quite a good strategy.

On the other hand, post-August 5, 2019, when India dissolved the state of Jammu and Kashmir and revoked its special status, Pakistan also failed to garner diplomatic support in world capitals. Pakistan had gone to the extent of expelling the Indian ambassador in Islamabad and recalled its envoy to send a stern message. While the world expressed concern at the potential of two nuclear-armed countries going to a full-fledged war, they maintained a studied silence and largely bought the Indian argument that its intention of bringing grassroots democracy and development should be given a chance.

India also succeeded in conveying to the world that Kashmir needs to be controlled lest the arrival of global terrorist groups creates a situation like Afghanistan, Yemen or Syria in the region. Author and analyst Happymon Jacob believes that the ceasefire is the result of both sides realising that grandstanding does not always work and that a realistic approach and compromises are necessary.

The ceasefire underlined the simple fact that countries cannot be run by rhetoric alone. “More so, this announcement is also a recognition in New Delhi and Islamabad that they cannot afford to let violence spiral out of control given its inherently escalatory nature, as events in the wake of the Pulwama attack in February 2019 highlighted,” he said.

Former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan TCA Raghvan said the agreement could be seen in that context. Possibly as both sides concluded that the status quo, with a high level of military and political tension, was no longer in their interest and had become counterproductive.

While the cease-fire announcement has brought a sense of relief to a large population on the border and in both the countries, past experience has shown that unless “conflict management” mechanism is not converted into confidence-building measures for conflict resolution, such truce may well turn out to be short-lived.

(Iftikhar Gilani is an independent journalist. Views expressed are personal)

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