New Delhi, India – For almost two weeks there has been a tense silence over the sky of the Jura, a small village less than a kilometer from the Control Line (LoC), the de facto border between Pakistan and India-administered Kashmir.

The village in the region’s Neelum Valley has long been in the firing line of hostilities between its two nuclear-armed neighbors, who have been trading small arms, mortars and artillery fire frequently via the LoC for years, resulting in dozens of casualties on both sides.

There was a rare thaw in the otherwise frozen relationship between South Asian neighbors last month when their armies announced a sudden and infrequent confirmation of a 2003 ceasefire agreement and pledged to halt the violence that killed at least 74 people in 2020 alone .

Since then, the residents of the Jura have said the guns have fallen silent, although they are not sure whether they trust how long the newly established, fragile peace will last.

“Yes, [the firing] is finished for the time being, but we don’t know anything about the future, ”said Faisal Siddiq, 16, whose house was badly damaged in a round of fire last year.

“We don’t know anything at the moment and we don’t have a lot of trust [in the ceasefire]. ”

“A good start”

However, Pakistan and India have committed to a ceasefire, while analysts suggest it may be the beginning of a relationship defrost.

“In the interests of a mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the borders, the two [Directors General of Military Operations of India and Pakistan] have agreed to address each other’s core problems and concerns, which tend to disturb peace and lead to violence, ”said a joint statement by India and Pakistan on February 25.

Indian Army soldiers patrol the Line of Control (LoC) between the Indian and Pakistani borders in Poonch, about 250 kilometers from Jammu [File: Channi Anand/AP]Both India and Pakistan claim the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir in full, but administer separate parts of it that are shared by the LoC.

In India-administered Kashmir, where the majority of Kashmiris live, the development of leaders across party political and ideological boundaries has been welcomed.

“I think that’s a good thing, at least there will be peace on our borders,” said Farooq Abdullah, a senior politician in Indian-administered Kashmir and current member of the Indian parliament, calling the development “a good start”.

“People on both sides of the border suffer, die, people cannot cultivate their land, houses are being destroyed.”

Abdullah hoped that the ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan would lead to a broader settlement of the problems between the two countries, particularly with regard to Kashmir.

Mehbooba Mufti, a patron of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and former prime minister of Indian-administered Kashmir, also welcomed the announcement.

“It is a welcome move because the people on both sides of the border are affected,” she told Al Jazeera, adding that “some kind of political initiative” should follow the move.

“If the SAARC [South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation] Summit is [held] in Islamabad I hope [Indian] prime minister [Narendra Modi] Visits. “

Mufti said the original 2003 ceasefire agreement was followed by direct dialogue between the two countries, as well as internal dialogue between the Indian government and Kashmiri separatists, a move she would like to see repeated.

“[T]This is why this was a successful ceasefire and also had a very positive effect on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir – militancy fell because there was dialogue between them [then-Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf and [then-Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari] Vajpayee, ”she said.

2003 Armistice Agreement

The ceasefire was originally introduced in November 2003 to stabilize the situation on the de facto border between the two countries in disputed Kashmir.

While it was initially accompanied by a number of positive developments, including the resumption of bus and trade relations between the two sides of Kashmir, it was violated frequently in the years to come.

Since 2017, the layoffs on both sides in the LoC have increased significantly, the data shows.

The Indian government says Pakistan violated the ceasefire at least 5,133 times in the past year, killing 22 civilians and 24 security forces.

For its part, Pakistan says India violated the ceasefire at least 3,097 times in 2020, killing 28 civilians and injuring 257 others.

Relations between the two countries have deteriorated sharply since February 2019 when India accused Pakistani armed groups of carrying out an attack in the Indian-administered city of Pulwama, Kashmir, in which more than 40 Indian security forces were killed.

Pakistan has denied the allegations.

When India launched air strikes a few days later, Pakistani jets also attempted similar raids near military facilities in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Tensions cooled after the pilot of an Indian fighter plane that shot down Pakistan in a skirmish returned two days later.

Since then, however, there have been no direct talks between the two sides, as both nations frequently accused the other of supporting armed groups.

Relations continued to deteriorate in August 2019 when India revoked a special constitutional status granted to Indian-administered Kashmir. According to Pakistan, this contradicted the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council on the decades-long dispute.

What caused the rare move?

Given the practically frozen relationship, what prompted the sudden thaw that led to the reaffirmation of the ceasefire?

For Tirumallai Cunnuvakum Anandanpillai Raghavan, a former Indian high commissioner in Pakistan, the thawing is the result of a natural cycle in relations between the two countries.

“In my view the reason this step was taken is because both countries infer that persistent instability is not in both interests,” Raghavan told Al Jazeera. “I don’t see the role of an alien factor in it directly.”

Pakistan’s official position on this issue seems to echo this view. Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said the move was taken to de-escalate the violence.

“The deal will help save the lives of Kashmiri people and alleviate the suffering of Kashmiris living along the LoC,” he said at a weekly press conference last week.

“We have […] claimed the escalation along the LoC poses a threat to peace and security in the region. The latest developments largely correspond to Pakistan’s consistent position. “

Chaudhri said Pakistan has “never shied away from talks and has always called for a peaceful settlement of all outstanding disputes, including the internationally recognized dispute between Jammu and Kashmir”.

Meanwhile, a Pakistani national security official said the ceasefire confirmation was a positive development but warned that profits were fragile.

“It is certainly a positive development as India violations of the ceasefire have resulted in the loss of lives and property of civilians,” he said on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the issue.

“We hope this remains for the benefit of the people on both sides of the LoC.”

The official said Pakistan remains committed to its existing position on the Kashmir dispute. “Our security perspective in the region is one of economic security,” he said.

However, Mufti, the political leader in Indian-administered Kashmir, believes the “global situation” may have played a role.

“There’s a new one [presidential] Administration in [the United States of] America now, ”she said. “You want to do things differently than what [former President Donald] Trump wanted.

“Also, India wants to be a player in the global world, and I think somewhere on the Kashmir issue it’s kind of being held down. I think the ceasefire is the bare minimum that Pakistan could agree to. “

Washington, DC-based regional analyst Michael Kugelman admits that while the development will benefit the US, it may not have been directly affected by the new administration of US President Joe Biden.

“I don’t think pressure from the Biden government was a factor as the negotiations that led to the deal began long before the government took office,” he says. “That said, let’s be clear: Washington will benefit greatly from this ceasefire.

“Pakistan will now be less distracted from India and better able to help Washington with the peace process in Afghanistan. And India will be in a better position to focus its attention on the Chinese threat that drives the US-India partnership. While Washington may not have been a factor in this story, it certainly benefits the outcome. “

New Delhi-based defense analyst Ajai Shukla sees the announcement as a result of Pakistan’s decision to choose a Moment of Indian Vulnerability against China to make an offer that would convince India of Pakistan’s good faith.

“Islamabad hopes the timing of its bid will convince New Delhi of Pakistan’s genuine desire for a workable deal in Kashmir,” he said.

Raghavan, meanwhile, stressed that the agreement was “limited” and aimed only at “maintaining, strengthening and reasserting the 2003 ceasefire”.

“Well what are the next steps that will follow? It’s too early to say because relationships went through such a bad time,” he said. “You have to be careful and not be too optimistic or too pessimistic.”

With additional coverage by Al Jazeeras Asad Hashim in Islamabad, Pakistan.


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