International report

Signs of thaw between India, Pakistan as border ceasefire holds

Audio 05:24
A Pakistani soldier stands guard at the Line of Control at Abdullah Pur village in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.
A Pakistani soldier stands guard at the Line of Control at Abdullah Pur village in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. Muhammad DAUD AFP

India and Pakistan recently held their first meeting in three years on water sharing rights after a border ceasefire pledge reflected signs of rapprochement between the two nuclear neighbours who have fought three wars since 1947.

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Pakistani delegates were in India for the two-day talks late last month, to pick up the threads of the 61-year-old accord on the sharing of waters of six rivers.

A second round will be held in Pakistan in April, said Mehar Ali Shah, who led the visiting team.

“It is a good sign that India invited the Pakistani side for a meeting even during the tough times of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Shah said on his way back to Pakistan.

India said the talks were “cordial” and both sides agreed to meet more often.

Joint military declaration

The Delhi talks came almost a month after the two rivals agreed to abide by a ceasefire put in place in November 2003 along Kashmir’s disputed borders, which has seen frequent violations leading to civilian losses.

The ceasefire was “in the interest of achieving mutually-beneficial and sustainable peace along the borders,” a joint military statement said.

And as civilians along the borders applauded in relief, Indian army chief general Manoj Mukund Naravane reported the February agreement was indeed working.

“I am glad to inform you that in the whole month of March, we have not had a single shot fired at the Line of Control, barring one odd incident.

“It is for the first time in about five or six years that the Line of Control has been silent,” said the chief of India’s million-plus army.

Accord just the 'first step'

At a recent public event, Gen. Naravane described the measure as “a first step” but said Pakistan would earn India’s trust only if it put a halt to suspected weapons supply in regions outside Kashmir and dismantled militant camps on its soil.

“This is a first step out of a possibly a number of steps in that direction, towards normalising relations between the two countries,” the four-star general told the event hosted by a media group.

The US has hailed the decision as a “positive step towards greater peace and stability in South Asia.”

Days before the announcement, both sides accused the other of ceasefire violations.

Indian defense minister Rajnath Singh told parliament that Pakistan forces had fired across Kashmir’s borders 4,649 times last year.

Pakistan charged India with committing 3,003 such breaches in 2020.

India and Pakistan sides have built hardened shelters for civilians along the Line of Control, LoC or a 740-kilometre de facto border which demarcates the two zones of divided Kashmir.

Officers on the ground said the possibility of cross-border intrusion once ice thawed in the mountains cannot be ruled out.

India accuses Pakistan of sending Islamist militants into Kashmir under the cover of cross-border shelling. Islamabad denies the allegation.

Tactical truce

Kurshid Kasuri, a former Pakistan foreign minister, and Radha Kumar, author and formerly an Indian mediator in Kashmir, said analysts believed the ceasefire was a tactical tool to calm over-heated tempers.

“Even as a purely tactical move, this small step to de-escalate must be welcomed, especially if it is seen by each country as serving its own interests,” they said in a joint publication.

They also added a note of caution.

“It would be an exaggeration to say that a new peace process has begun between India and Pakistan.”

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