A ceasefire took hold Thursday at the de facto border after the Indian Army and Pakistan Army agreed to halt deadly cross-border firing that had threatened to unravel a fragile peace process.
As Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar appealed for talks with her Indian counterpart to defuse tensions, senior officers reported that calm had returned to the region after violence in which five soldiers were killed.
However, India was not keen on immediate talks at the foreign minister level. In an interview to CNN-IBN, Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said: “The differences have to be resolved and for that we need to proceed with wisdom, keeping in mind the interest and sentiments of the nation. We will await the prime minister’s direction in this regard.”
The minister added that direct talks between ministers do not happen in a rush, adding that India and Pakistan had to follow a step-by-step approach in improving relations.
A deal to end the cross-border firing was reached during a 10-minute phone call on Wednesday between two generals, India’s Vinod Bhatia and Pakistan’s Ashfaq Nadeem.
“No fresh incidents of firing or violation of the ceasefire agreement have been reported from the Line of Control,” Rajesh Kalia, the spokesman for the Indian army’s Northern Command, told AFP.
A Pakistani military official told The Express Tribune confirmed the report, saying the situation was returning to normalcy as no fresh incidents had been reported from either side. According to military sources, the ceasefire was a result of quiet diplomacy between the two sides.
At a cabinet meeting in New Delhi, Defence Minister A K Antony informed his colleagues that “tension has eased” since top military officials on both sides agreed to “de-escalate” the crisis, the Press Trust of India news agency said.
Pakistan says three of its soldiers have been killed in firing by Indian troops since January 6 along the de facto border between the countries in Kashmir known as the Line of Control. India in turn has accused Pakistani troops of killing two of its soldiers on January 8, one of whom was beheaded.
Pakistan has denied any responsibility for the attack, leading to frustration in New Delhi where politicians and military officials have struck an increasingly hardline tone while requesting that the severed head be returned.
India’s army chief told commanders to respond “aggressively” to any firing by Pakistani soldiers, the prime minister said there could be no “business as usual” while an opposition leader called for India “get at least 10 heads from the other side”.
Speaking on Wednesday in New York, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar accused India of “warmongering” and its officials of competing against each other to sound more hostile.
“Unfortunately this LoC incident has obviously created questions, but we still believe that dialogue must be the means to resolve this or any issue,” Khar said at the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank.
With the Indian army itching to avenge the beheading, there had been growing signs that a peace process that is only just getting back on track after the 2008 Mumbai attacks could become a victim of the Kashmir flare-up.
On Tuesday India was meant to begin allowing Pakistanis over the age of 65 to obtain a visa on arrival in the western border state of Punjab but the programme has been put on hold indefinitely. Nine Pakistani players were also withdrawn from a new field hockey league in India and asked to return home.
A ceasefire, which is periodically violated by both sides, has been in place along the Line of Control since 2003. (Additional input from AFP and ADITI PHADNIS in New Delhi)
Published in The Express Tribune, January 18th, 2013.