The joint statement issued by India and Pakistan on the ceasefire agreement between their top military commanders comes months after National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and his counterpart in Islamabad initiated back-channel conversations to ensure peace along the borders.
NSA Doval and Moeed W Yusuf, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special assistant on National Security Division and Strategic Policy Planning, have been in touch directly and via interlocutors from the intelligence community, a source in the Ministry of External Affairs confirmed.
The joint statement is the first outcome of these dialogues that included at least one meeting in person between Doval and Yusuf in a third country, the source said. He said that only a small group of top government leaders including Union home minister Amit Shah, defence minister Rajnath Singh and external affairs minister S Jaishankar were aware of the details of the talks.
Thursday’s joint statement, issued in New Delhi by the defence ministry, said the director generals of military operations (DGMO) of the two armies had agreed to “strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the Line of Control” from Wednesday midnight.
The two top commanders “agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns which have a propensity to disturb the peace and lead to violence”.
This is, of course, not the first time that the two top army officers have agreed to hold peace along the border. They signed off on a similar pact in 2018 when they pledged to strictly adhere to the terms of the ceasefire understanding of 2003 in letter and spirit.
Officials said that the 25 February joint statement could be the first of the many steps that the two countries may take over the next few months to normalise relations, one step at a time.
National security planners said there were five developments over the last month or so, which indicated a nuanced shift.
The first sign that the back-channel conversations were on track came earlier this month. Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, in sharp contrast to his strident pitch against India after the Balakot air strike in 2019, on 2 February spoke of Islamabad’s commitment to what he called the ideal of mutual respect and peaceful co-existence and said: “it is time to extend a hand of peace in all directions”.
The next was the toned-down statements that emerged from Islamabad three days later, on 5 February which is observed by the Pakistani establishment as Kashmir Solidarity Day. “I found it unusual,” said a counter-terror official who added, however, he wasn’t privy to the secret talks.
Simultaneously, the official said there was a decline in the ceasefire violations along the border in Jammu and Kashmir in recent weeks.
A top government functionary said Gen Bajwa’s much-publicised peace proposal, a decline in ceasefire violations and Pakistan’s toned-down rhetoric were linked to the quiet conversations that had been taking place.
The fourth sign of a possible thaw in the relations was Pakistan steering clear of the Kashmir issue at the Saarc meeting last week, convened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the Covid-19 pandemic. Faisal Sultan, Special Assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan on Health, restricted himself to the issue at hand, a sharp contrast to Pakistan’s previous attempt to raise the Kashmir issue at the Saarc meeting held in March last year.
The fifth indicator, an official said, was the gesture from New Delhi to allow Imran Khan’s special aircraft to use the Indian airspace en route to Sri Lanka on 23 February. Khan’s Pakistan Air Force jet flew along India’s coastline and over the Lakshadweep archipelago before landing in Colombo.
Sources said this track of diplomacy was required as no meaningful dialogue could be held under the media glare, given the raw emotions that surface in the two countries whenever talks are attempted.
The decision to allow the special flight to use its airspace was in marked contrast to Pakistan’s action in 2019, when Islamabad denied permission for the use of Pakistani airspace by three Indian VVIP flights.
In September 2019, Pakistan did not permit the use of its airspace by a special flight carrying President Ram Nath Kovind to Europe, and another flight in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled to US to attend the UN General Assembly session. Pakistani did not allow the use of its airspace by another VVIP flight during Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia in October 2019.