On February 24, 2021, the Director General’s of Military Operations (DGsMO) of India and Pakistan jointly recommitted to a ceasefire along the Line of Control (LOC) and International Border (IB) that was first declared in 2003. “In the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the borders, the two DGsMO agreed to address each other's core issues and concerns which have the propensity to disturb the peace and lead to violence,” the joint statement read. Interestingly, the statement came on the second anniversary of the airstrike by the Indian Air Force on terrorist bases in Pakistan, also referred to as the Balakot airstrike.
This re-commitment brings in its wake both relief and scepticism. Relief, since it heralds a thaw, however slight, in the otherwise acrimonious relations between the two countries. It will give a respite to the people living in both countries' border areas. Scepticism, since such assurances have come by a number of times earlier, only to be broken within a time frame ranging from a few days to a few months. The only time that the ceasefire actually held in letter and spirit for a sustained period of time was from 2003 to 2006, when both sides fired not a single bullet.
There is talk of some back-channel activity leading to the ceasefire. Some Indian media reports speak of the same being an outcome of a meeting between the Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval with his Pakistani counterpart Moeed Yusuf in a third country. Moeed Yusuf, however, has categorically denied such a meeting. “I have seen claims by Indian media that attribute today’s ceasefire announcement between Pakistani and Indian DGMOs to back-channel diplomacy between me and the Indian NSA. This is baseless. No such talks have taken place between me and Mr Doval,” he says in a tweet.
India Rejects OIC Statement on J&K
Pawankumar Badhe, First Secretary
India on March 2, 2021 lashed out at Pakistan for “wasting time” of the UN Human Rights Council and said Pakistani leaders have themselves admitted that it has become a “factory for producing terrorists”.
“Pakistan has ignored that terrorism is the worst form of human rights abuse, and the supporters of terrorism are the worst abusers of human rights. The Council should ask Pakistan why the size of its minority communities such as Christians, Hindus and Sikhs has drastically shrunk since independence .....,” India’s first secretary Pawankumar Badhe said using India’s right to reply to statements made by Pakistan and OIC at the 46th Session of the UNHRC.
Pak Media Questions Lack of Diplomacy
Surprisingly, some segments of Pakistan media have questioned the lack of back-channel diplomacy. “One unusual development, however, was the outright denial that any government-level back-channel diplomacy was involved in reaching the ceasefire....... Some may actually see it as concerning because the denial implies that back-channel talks are either not yielding any fruit or, even worse, are not even being attempted. This is because any eventual permanent resolution of the Kashmir issue would be diplomatic, rather than military,” says an Editorial in the Express Tribune, a Pakistani daily newspaper.
There were, however, indications of movement in such a direction over the last few weeks. The pace was set in beginning February with Pakistan Army Chief, General Qamar Bajwa, making unusual peace inferences. “It is time to extend a hand of peace in all directions.... Pakistan is a peace-loving country that has rendered great sacrifices for regional and global peace. We stand firmly committed to the ideal of mutual respect and peaceful co-existence,” he said. Later in the month, in a virtual SAARC meeting, Pakistan did not mention Kashmir and instead dwelled on the COVID-19 situation exclusively. Also, India recently allowed Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s aircraft to use her airspace for his travel to Sri Lanka.
Such parleys by Pakistan would also be driven by the need to win favour with the US administration under Joe Biden and impress the FATF. Once again, FATF has placed Pakistan on the Grey List till June this year and may downgrade it to the Black List thereafter. Pakistan will do whatever it can to offset such economically disastrous consequences.
There is also a possibility of a nudge in China’s direction since the country now wants to play a dominant role in the “global economic recovery spectrum” and would like to shun acrimonious issues pertaining to its colonies, Pakistan. It can, after all, change track with the drop of a hat.
The ceasefire comes with its own set of challenges. There remains a conviction among Indian strategic experts that Pakistan will not stop its attempt to infiltrate terrorists into Kashmir. Hence, for the troops deployed along the LOC, the challenges lies in the modality to be adopted to check this infiltration while also maintaining ceasefire. Of course, Pakistan will also have to work out modalities for continuing the infiltration process without the cover of artillery and small arm fire.
This aspect becomes absolutely clear from the statement given by Lt. General YK Joshi, Army Commander, Northern Command, Indian Army. “Recently, the Director-General of Military Operations (DGMOs) of India and Pakistan have announced an agreement to uphold ceasefire along the LOC from February 24 and 25 midnight. I want to assure that this ceasefire will have no bearing on the counter-terrorist operations and we will maintain our alertness,” he said. This statement leaves no doubt about the manner in which the Indian Army will react to provocation by the Pakistani forces. Hence, “the onus of creating an enabling environment for further progress” rests not with India as Imran Khan suggests but with Pakistan.
As a future diplomatic course, Pakistan is likely to insist upon the resumption of a dialogue process on the Kashmir issue. Psychological operations by Pakistani media to pressurise Indian in this direction has already commenced. There remains the ominous possibility of the exercise being affectively dislodged by the rabid fundamentalist lobby within the Pakistan Army in association with the militant warlords. Even General Bajwa has no say in front of this powerful lobby, what to talk of Imran Khan. They have scuttled such attempts too many times earlier and are quite capable of doing so again.
India cannot afford to set aside the reality that relations with Pakistan have traditionally remained complex and distrustful. Therefore, the best option is to remain positive about the possible success of the initiative while also remaining alert and vigilant as has been made amply clear by Lt. General YK Joshi.
(The writer is a strategic analyst, columnist and commentator)