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With Line of Control agreement with Pakistan, India may have warded off a two-front war

No more confrontations at the India Pakistan border (IANS)

Atul Aneja and Mrityunjoy Kumar Jha

With the latest agreement along the Line of Control (LoC) between top military officials of India and Pakistan, New Delhi may have avoided the chances of a two- front war against Islamabad and Beijing.

The danger of a two-front war with two of its biggest neighbours had risen after India abrogated Article 370, eliminating the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. The morphing of the erstwhile state into two union territories had reinforced the China-Pakistan military equation even further raising the possibility of two-front military engagement with India. Pakistan had tom-tommed the move as a stepping stone to India’s takeover of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Gilgit-Baltistan.

An opportunistic China had spun India’s historic decision on Kashmir on August 5, 2019 as a danger to its projects under its flagship China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which passed through Gilgit Baltistan.

While a two-front war scenario did not materialise, China moved its forces en masse in eastern Ladakh since April 2020. The resulting standoff is now unravelling in patches, with the disengagement completed along the Pangong Tso lake. However, pull back from other friction points is yet to be achieved.

However, the threat of a two-front war  reduced dramatically on Thursday  when the  Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMO) of India and Pakistan agreed to "fully implement" the ceasefire pact of 2003 in both "letter and spirit."

According to the Joint Statement, the Indian and Pakistani Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) had held "hotline" talks in which both sides "reviewed" the situation along the Line of Control and all other sectors in a "free, frank and cordial atmosphere."

"In the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the borders, the two DGMOs agreed to address each other's core issues and concerns which have propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence.”

Despite frequent violations of the 2003 agreement in the past,  the chances are that the latest agreement will stick. This is  mainly because extensive and detailed preparations took place at a political level before the DGMOs of the two countries spoke.

The Hindustan Times (HT) reported that that agreement follows months of back-channel conversations between the National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval and his counterpart in Islamabad.

The HT report said that NSA Doval and Moeed W. Yusuf, Prime Minister Imran Khan's special assistant on National Security Division and Strategic Policy Planning, had been in direct touch and via interlocutors from the intelligence community. Thursday’s joint statement is the first outcome of these conversations that included at least one face-to-face meeting between the two principals in a third country.

The daily added 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.

This joint statement issued in New Delhi and in Islamabad as well, 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 deal is likely to provide a major boost to the peace and development in Kashmir, as cross-border infiltration of terror groups was usually conducted under the cover of artillery barrages along the LoC by Pakistan. An end to violence in Kashmir in a post Artcile-370 scenario, and the elimination of the threat of two-front war is further expected to have positive impact on the badly strained Indo-Pakistan ties.

Unsurprisingly, the HT report points out that Thursday’s joint statement could be the first of the many steps that New Delhi and Islamabad may take over the next few months to normalise relations, one step at a time.

The daily explains that 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 February 2 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 February 5 which is observed by the Pakistani establishment as Kashmir Solidarity Day.

Simultaneously, there was a decline in the ceasefire violations along the border in Jammu and Kashmir in recent weeks, the daily quoted an official as saying.

Another sign that a thaw in Indo-Pak relations was possible when Pakistan steered clear of the Kashmir issue at last week’s SAARC-plus meeting 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 subject at hand–a sharp contrast to Pakistan’s previous attempt to raise the Kashmir issue at the SAARC meeting held in March last year.

India’s gesture to allow the special aircraft of Pakistan’s prime Minister Imran Khan to fly over Indian airspace to travel to Sri Lanka on Tuesday was yet another sign that ice was about to break along the LoC. 

On Wednesday, Indian Army Chief General M.M. Naravane, while speaking at a webinar organised by the Vivekananda International Foundation, said that there is definitely a great improvement in the internal security situation in Jammu and Kashmir. General Naravane signalled that with continued engagement with Pakistan, an understanding might emerge because unsettled borders and violence on the borders help no one.