The Weekend Australian

Pakistan and India agree to ceasefire

- SAEED SHAH KRISHNA POKHAREL ISLAMABAD

Pakistan and India have agreed to a ceasefire along their disputed border, long regarded as one of the most dangerous frontiers in the world.

The two countries announced the surprise agreement on Friday AEDT for a ceasefire in the area along the so-called Line of Control, which marks the point at which the two armies stand off in the Kashmir region. It forms an unofficial border across which there is frequent shooting.

The new agreement came into effect from midnight on Wednesday, according to a joint statement issued by the countries. It followed a conversati­on between senior military officers of the two countries over a hotline, in a “free, frank and cordial atmosphere”, the statement said.

“This is a positive step forward,” Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan’s foreign minister, told a local news channel, adding that growing tensions between the two countries could have led to a disaster. “An enabling environmen­t needs to be created if we are to make progress on the Kashmir problem,” he said.

Each side holds a part of Kashmir but claims the whole of that territory. India and Pakistan have fought three major wars, as well as smaller conflicts, with Kashmir at the heart of their quarrel.

A high-stakes confrontat­ion between the two nuclear-armed nations brought frequent casualties and the constant risk of war. The agreement raises the possibilit­y of peace talks, though after more than seven decades of hostilitie­s that would require many more steps.

A thaw between the countries could also have wider geopolitic­al ramificati­ons for the region. A fight between India and Pakistan for influence in Afghanista­n is one of the drivers of conflict there.

China has also been jockeying for influence across South Asia, backing large infrastruc­ture projects in Pakistan and elsewhere while trying to assert its claims along its disputed border with India that triggered a deadly clash in June.

The economies of India and Pakistan have been those hardest hit by the global COVID-19 recession. More people have been pushed back into poverty in South Asia than anywhere else, according to the World Bank.

The LofC has been a constant source of friction between the two countries for decades. Each regularly accuses the other of unprovoked weapons fire across the disputed border. The attacks have escalated in recent years, killing dozens of soldiers and civilians on both sides.

India and Pakistan came to the brink of war as recently as 2019, when India said it bombed a militant training facility in Pakistan, and Pakistan shot down an Indian jet fighter. Firing across the LofC intensifie­d after that clash.

A formal ceasefire was declared between the two sides in 2003, but it has been frequently violated.

Between 2018 and the end of 2020, India accuses Pakistan of more than 10,500 incidents of firing across the LofC; Pakistan accuses India of close to 9500 such incidents in that period.

Babar Iftikhar, the spokesman for Pakistan’s military, said the understand­ing announced on Friday was an attempt to go back to the 2003 ceasefire, which was effective in reducing firing for close to a decade. He said more than 90 per cent of ceasefire violations happened after 2014.

“Both sides have agreed to make this sustainabl­e” this time, said Major General Iftikhar.

India and Pakistan accuse each other of sponsoring terrorists, an issue any future peace dialogue will have to tackle.

The conflict over Kashmir dates to the bloody partition of the colonial territory in 1947, to form the modern states of India and Pakistan. Which side would get Kashmir wasn’t settled in the hurried British departure, turning into one of the world’s longest-running and most intractabl­e disputes.

Tensions were heightened in 2019, when India changed the legal status of its side of Kashmir, from having a high degree of autonomy to a regular portion of India, along with a crackdown on local politician­s, street protests and internet access.

Pakistan accuses India of violating the human rights of Kashmiris. India insists Kashmir is part of India and accuses Pakistan of causing unrest in the region by sponsoring jihadist groups.

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