India-Pakistan ceasefire had high-level approval, say experts

India-Pakistan ceasefire had high-level approval, say experts

It may not be the result of a “package deal to stabilise relations with China”, they say.

The decision of India and Pakistan’s Directors General of Military Operations (DGMOs) was unlikely to have been purely local, say experts, pointing to the language of the joint statement while declaring an observance of the 2003 ceasefire from the midnight of February 24/25, which has the “imprimatur” of high-level approval on it, though there is little clarity on the nature of the back-channel operating between the two countries two days after the announcement. 

“I would imagine a decision like this in both countries would have involved considerable amount of interagency discussion and consensus. So, whether [Indian officials] were speaking both to the Pakistani military chief or to the Prime Minister’s [office], the two certainly would have been in touch on this,” said former High Commissioner to Pakistan and the Director General of the MEA-run think tank TCA Raghavan, adding that the rising violence at the LoC was the most obvious reason for the “tactical” decision to stop firing. 

The DGMOs had announced a similar decision to observe the ceasefire line in December 2013 and May 2018 after similar hotline conversations as well. Ceasefire violations (CFVs) have been increasing year on year for the past decade, with a sudden spike after 2018, according to data from the Army, which is matched by the Pakistani side. From just four CFVs in 2004, the number reported in 2014 was 583, which grew nearly tenfold by 2020 to 5,133. 

“I don’t think this kind of a joint statement, specifying a date for the ceasefire could be a result purely of the DGMO conversations, this had to have some high-level imprimatur,” said JNU professor and author of books on the Line of Control Happymon Jacob, adding that given the “vitiated bilateral situation” it was unlikely that one side could propose a ceasefire without some “back-channel conversations and parleys”. 

While Pakistan Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on National Security Affairs denied a specific report that he was conducting the talks with the National Security Advisor that are believed to have led to the LoC announcement, neither New Delhi nor Islamabad has denied a series of reports that suggested there have been secret talks for the past few months. On Thursday, the MEA spokesperson declined to answer a specific question from The Hindu on the reports as well. 

Speculation over the timing of the announcement has also grown, as it came amidst India-China disengagement talks, and just hours before a conversation between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, where they agreed to establish a hotline between them. However, Mr. Jacob said he doubted that the DGMO talks were the result of a “package deal to stabilise relations with China on the eastern front and with Pakistan on the northern and western front. “The government of India perhaps decided to make sure that at least one front is diffused, that is, Pakistan. And then negotiations with China happened,” he said as a more likely scenario. 

Mr. Raghavan dismissed criticism of the DGMO agreement as a “climbdown” from the government’s earlier policy of not talking to Pakistan until terrorism ends, while the Imran Khan government had said there would be no talks until India restores Jammu-Kashmir’s autonomous status.

“I don’t think these negative reactions actually act as substantive factors in holding up progress. Because by and large, if you see the opinion in both countries both see it as a sensible move and a way to get ahead.”

Asked what was likely to be the next step, if in fact the DGMO agreement indicates a deeper dialogue, Mr. Raghavan felt that the first step could be the restoration of High Commissioners to the missions in Delhi and Islamabad, who were pulled in the aftermath of the government’s decision to amend Article 370 in J&K in August 2019. He also felt that cooperation on COVID-19 and healthcare was another area the two sides could make immediate progress, given Pakistan’s acceptance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 5-point proposal for sharing healthcare information, medicines, vaccines and allowing visas for healthcare professionals in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) region.

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