India, Pakistan agree to stop cross-border firing in Kashmir

In rare move, India and Pakistan agree to ‘strict observance’ of ceasefire along the de facto border in disputed Kashmir.

Indian army soldiers patrol along the border fence at India-Pakistan Line of Control (LoC) on the forward post of Poonch district [File: Jaipal Singh/EPA]

Pakistan and India’s militaries have agreed to strictly observe a ceasefire at the de facto border between the two countries in the disputed region of Kashmir, and other agreements, according to a Pakistani military statement – a rare thaw in relations between the South Asian neighbours.

The directors-general of military operations (DGMO) of the Indian and Pakistani militaries held discussions over a hotline between their offices on Thursday morning, a Pakistani military statement said.

“Both sides agreed for strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the [Line of Control] and all other sectors, with effect from midnight [on Friday],” said the statement.

The statement said talks were held “in a free, frank and cordial atmosphere” between the armies of the two nuclear-armed countries.

A ceasefire has been in place at the Line of Control (LoC), which divides Indian-administered and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, since 2003, but it is frequently violated by both sides, resulting in civilian and military casualties.

Last year, Indian small arms, and mortar fire and artillery shells killed at least 28 civilians and wounded 257 more in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, according to Pakistan’s foreign office.

Since January 1, Pakistan says Indian forces have violated the ceasefire at least 175 times, wounding eight civilians.

In 2020, Pakistan violated the ceasefire along the LoC at least 5,133 times, resulting in 22 civilians and 24 soldiers being killed, as well as 197 injuries, according to India’s home affairs ministry.

Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister Indian-administered Kashmir region, welcomed the ceasefire announcement, saying “the two countries should also initiate a political dialogue and reconciliation to bring peace in Kashmir”.

“The ceasefire violations create a lot of destruction. We see people getting killed everyday, be it police, army men, rebels or civilians. There is a need to end this bloodshed,” she told Al Jazeera.

But the residents in the Himalayan region are skeptical.

Jibran Ahmad, 29-year-old research scholar in the main city of Srinagar, told Al Jazeera the two countries should ” take steps to bring peace in a real sense”.

“We have seen these farce statements before as well,” Ahmad said. “The point is the two countries do not care about the lives of common people in Kashmir. They take a step only when it suits them but we have not seen any real peace so far.”

Security expert Parvin Sawhney told Al Jazeera “political will is the problem on both sides”.

“[The] issue is we have done this before, we have structured hotline talks before, we have done confidence-building measures and all these things are as good as the political will that backs them,” he said.

“Everything is about trust, and for that, you have to start talking at the highest level.”

Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers perform during the Beating the Retreat ceremony at the India-Pakistan Wagah border post [File: Narinder Nanu/AFP]

India and Pakistan have fought three full-scale wars and several smaller conflicts since they gained independence from the British in 1947. Two of those three wars were over the region of Kashmir, which both claim in full but administer separate portions of.

Relations have come to a standstill since February 2019, when India accused a Pakistan-based armed group of carrying out an attack that killed more than 30 Indian security personnel in the Indian-administered Kashmir town of Pulwama.

India carried out an air raid on Pakistani soil days later, resulting in retaliatory attacks by Pakistan and an aerial dogfight that saw at least one Indian fighter jet shot down by Pakistan.

Hostilities cooled after Pakistan returned the pilot of that aircraft, but relations have remained frozen. India accuses Pakistan of supporting armed groups that target Indian security forces in Kashmir and elsewhere, while Pakistan has made the same allegation against India’s intelligence service regarding attacks by armed groups on Pakistani soil.

Late last year, Pakistan upped the temperature of the rhetoric, saying it had “credible evidence” that India was preparing for a repeat of the 2019 air raids, a month after it shared intelligence information that it said linked India to attacks in Pakistan.

India’s foreign ministry said Pakistan’s accusations “enjoy no credibility, are fabricated and represent figments of imagination”.

In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera in January, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the “onus” of restarting talks was on India, demanding that security and constitutional measures that New Delhi had taken in Kashmir be reversed.

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.

Rifat Fareed contributed to this report from Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir.

Source: Al Jazeera