Pakistan and India Renew Pledge on Cease-Fire at Troubled Border

Pakistan and India Renew Pledge on Cease-Fire at Troubled Border

Pakistan and India Renew Pledge on Cease-Fire at Troubled Border

Pakistan and India Renew Pledge on Cease-Fire at Troubled Border

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan and India on Thursday reaffirmed their commitment to a cease-fire along the troubled border between the two countries after a year of bloody skirmishes, a move welcomed in both countries for lowering tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

A joint statement released by the militaries of the two countries said that top officials from both sides had agreed to a strict observance of the truce along the Line of Control, as the disputed stretch of the frontier is called, and to continue communicating through a hotline to resolve potential misunderstandings.

“This is a victory of diplomacy and, God willing, more avenues will open in the future,” Moeed Yusuf, Pakistan’s de facto national security adviser, said in a brief statement to The New York Times.

An Indian official with knowledge of the developments, who asked for anonymity to comment because he was not authorized to speak to the news media, said that back-channel meetings between the two sides in neutral locations had intensified over the past month and had led to the renewed commitment.

Mr. Yusuf, without addressing the exact nature of the discussions, confirmed a long stretch of undisclosed talks between the two governments. But he rejected Indian news media reports of at least one face-to-face meeting between him and his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, as part of efforts to advance the efforts to reduce tensions.

“These things happen behind the scenes — it takes a lot of effort,” he said.

The reaffirmation of a cease-fire comes during a broader de-escalation in the region after a year in which India increasingly felt bogged down by slow-simmering but deadly conflict on two fronts: with Pakistan along the Line of Control, and with Pakistan’s ally China along another frontier high in the Himalayas called the Line of Actual Control.

Pakistan is also looking for an opportunity to reset relations with the new U.S. administration of President Biden, after years of pressure from the Trump administration to crack down on the terrorist safe havens that remain in the country. Analysts said that Pakistan’s working toward lowering the risk of a major conflict in South Asia, if the commitment to the cease-fire holds, would be noticed in Washington’s calculations.

Tensions have been particularly high between India and Pakistan since a suicide bombing killed dozens of Indian forces in the disputed territory of Kashmir in 2019. India accused Pakistan of nurturing the terrorists who carried out the bombing, and conducted airstrikes within Pakistan. Pakistan responded with airstrikes of its own, and then shot down an Indian fighter jet, briefly detaining the pilot and then releasing him in an effort to lower tensions.

Since then, smaller, though sometimes deadly, skirmishes have frequently broken out along the border despite a cease-fire agreement in 2003. Last year saw the highest number of violations, with about 5,000 incidents recorded between the countries, which have a long history of war and mutual antagonism.

“This is a massive development in South Asia. India-Pakistan relations have been teetering on the brink of major conflict,” said Asfandyar Mir, a fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, nothing that the year 2020 was a violent one around the border. “To pull back from that point is major and a surprising turnaround.”

The news of a renewed commitment to the cease-fire was particularly welcomed by communities living along the border who have borne the brunt of the skirmishes and mortar shelling from both sides.

Lal Din Khatana, a farmer who lives next to the fence dividing the two countries in the village of Churnada, in northern Kashmir, said that he had run out of his house to inform his neighbors and friends as soon as he had heard the news.

He said that hundreds of thousands of people living along the Line of Control had endured a senseless loss of life and repeated displacement that had deprived them of basic dignity. His own house has been destroyed three times over the past two decades by shelling from the Pakistani side, he said.

“The dead won’t come back, but those who are still alive need to live a dignified life,” Mr. Khatana, 48, said. “This news has given us a fresh lease of life.”

The increasing trouble along the border with Pakistan was threatening to bog down India in a two-front conflict, as deadly clashes had also erupted along its Himalayan border with China. Earlier this month, the Indian and Chinese militaries agreed to pull back troops from a disputed valley where the two countries had violently faced off.

Pakistan and China are allied in seeing India as a threat in their backyard, with China often coming to Pakistan’s aid in the face of international pressure over its harboring of terrorist groups.

Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, said it was no coincidence that the number of violations at the Indian border with Pakistan reached record highs during a year when the Indian tensions had escalated on the Chinese front.

The reaffirmation of cease-fire along the Pakistani border comes only after China began easing tensions with India.

“China and Pakistan have little in common other than a share interest in containing India,” Mr. Chellaney said. “The prospect of a two-front war, should India enter into conflict with either country, certainly advances that interest.”

Salman Masood reported from Islamabad, and Mujib Mashal and Hari Kumar from New Delhi. Iqbal Kirmani contributed reporting from Srinagar, Kashmir.


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