NEW DELHI NOV. 25.
Setting the stage for a productive South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in January in Islamabad, India and Pakistan today agreed to a formal ceasefire from midnight tonight along the International Border, the Line of Control and the Actual Ground Position Line in Jammu and Kashmir.
In what is being described as the first comprehensive agreement of its kind, the External Affairs Ministry spokesman said here today that the Directors-General of Military Operations, in their weekly telephone conversation, agreed to the ceasefire accord.
Separately, the Army Headquarters said: "Pursuant to the understanding between the Governments of India and Pakistan, the two DGMOs discussed the modalities of implementation of the proposal. It was mutually agreed that the ceasefire will be enforced between the two sides, along all the sectors of the IB, LoC and AGPL..."
After the noon conversation between the officiating Indian DGMO, A.S. Bhaiya, and his Pakistani counterpart, A. Kayani, the Army said that its acceptance of the ceasefire was "without any prejudice to counter-infiltration measures and anti-terrorist operations in Jammu and Kashmir."
"In the past, there have been decisions to lower the level of firing, or even observe maximum restraint. But, it is for the first time that India and Pakistan have agreed to a ceasefire that covers the International Border, the LoC and the Siachen Glacier in Jammu and Kashmir," highly-placed South Block sources said this evening.
It is hoped that the new arrangement will allow the Indian and Pakistan armies to perform administrative chores such as moving stores and evacuating casualties during the day in sectors vulnerable to firing from the other side. This is of special importance in the Siachen sector where the movement of troops at night is a daunting task.
For the two countries that came close to war following the December 13, 2001, attack by Pakistan-backed terrorists on Parliament House, today's agreement is being seen as a major step forward in the peace process. As far as the public domain is concerned, events preceding the ceasefire agreement have moved quickly. In a television and radio address, the Pakistani Prime Minister, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, announced on Sunday night that Islamabad would begin a unilateral ceasefire from Id-ul-Fitr.
On Monday, India welcomed Mr. Jamali's announcement and said that it would respond positively to his statement. The "positive" response came in the form of a four-line statement issued by the External Affairs Ministry spokesman this evening.
Also, while Mr. Jamali spoke of the LoC, India proposed on Monday that the ceasefire be extended to Siachen as well. Not only did Pakistan agree to hold fire in Siachen, the two countries agreed to extend their now-comprehensive ceasefire to the International Border as well.
A former Director-General of Military Operations, V.R. Raghavan, concurred with the view that this was the first time India and Pakistan had agreed to such a comprehensive ceasefire. "Both sides have agreed to give it (the ceasefire) a shot," he said, pointing out that in the past the two countries had agreed to use smaller weapons, but had not really succeeded in putting this into practice.
Asked whether the issue of monitoring the ceasefire would now come up, the former DGMO said this would be the case. He feared that Pakistan might try to bring up the issue of "neutral" monitors in case there is a ceasefire violation.
Even the Ramzan ceasefire in 2000-01, initiated by the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, only saw Pakistan announce a policy of "maximum restraint". There was no formal agreement of the kind reached today.
The ceasefire, diplomatic observers believe, has opened up several possibilities on the India-Pakistan front. The outgoing Foreign Secretary, Kanwal Sibal, was quoted by the Press Trust of India as saying that the Pakistani decision on the ceasefire was encouraging.
"We are looking for a dialogue with Pakistan. It is in Pakistan's hands. They are the ones who have to perform [to stop cross-border terrorism]. They have made a commitment [on this question] to the United States," he maintained.
"We welcome Pakistan's positive response, but cross-border terrorism has to stop to allow the ceasefire to hold. I think what the Pakistan side has said is encouraging," he stated.