Candlelight vigil in Ghaziabad
Farmers participate in a candlelight vigil to pay homage to paramilitary troops killed in a suicide bomb attack in south Kashmir's Pulwama district in 2019, in Ghaziabad, India, Feb. 14, 2021.

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan and India have agreed to immediately cease military hostilities in disputed Kashmir by restoring a 2003 truce to deescalate tensions between the nuclear-armed South Asian rivals.

The two nations said in a joint statement Thursday their top military commanders spoke “over the established mechanism of hotline contact” and reviewed in a “free, frank and cordial atmosphere” the situation along the Line of Control that splits Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

“Both sides agreed for strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the LOC and all other sectors, with effect from midnight 24/25 February 2021,” according to the text of the statement issued by the Pakistan army.

It went on to say that in “the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable” peace, the two sides “agreed to address each other’s core issues/concerns, which have propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence.” It did not elaborate further.

The Indian and Pakistani military commanders in their conversation reiterated the need to utilize existing bilateral arrangements, including meetings between their border security officials, to resolve “any unforeseen situation or misunderstanding.”

Thursday’s communication between the two militaries through their so-called hotline contact came after months because of worsening relations between Pakistan and India.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi hailed the understanding as an “important step” for promoting regional peace.

“It can be a good beginning, but India will have to sincerely implement the arrangement,” Qureshi said.

Analysts in India also welcomed the move.

"It’s a good development and should have happened a long time ago,” said Amit Baruah, Delhi resident editor at The Hindu newspaper.

“India and Pakistan may not see eye-to-eye, but contact is always good for the sake of the people living on either side of the Line of Control,” Baruah told VOA.

 

Kashmir has sparked two of the three wars India and Pakistan have fought since they both gained independence from Britain in 1947. Both the countries claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety, and it remains the primary source of regional tensions as well as low-level border skirmishes.

The two countries agreed to the 2003 Kashmir cease-fire amid international concerns continued hostilities could accidentally escalate into a nuclear exchange.

Routine border military skirmishes in recent years have rendered the truce almost ineffective, though, with both sides accusing the other of committing violations. India and Pakistan say the violence has inflicted hundreds of casualties on security forces and civilians on both sides.

New Delhi has long accused Islamabad of arming Muslim separatists fighting the Indian rule in Kashmir, charges Pakistan denies as an attempt to divert international attention from “atrocities” it says Indian scrutiny forces have been inflicting on Kashmiris.

Bilateral tensions have escalated dangerously since August 2019, when India unilaterally revoked the semi-autonomous status of its administered Kashmir and split the region into two union territories.

The move was accompanied by monthslong security and communications clampdowns in the majority-Muslim region to counter a violent backlash from Kashmiris.

Pakistan condemned the moves as a violation of a decades-old United Nations Security Council resolution that acknowledges Kashmir as a disputed territory.

Islamabad swiftly downgraded an already strained relationship with New Delhi and demanded an immediate reversal of its Kashmir-related actions, fueling regional tensions.

Indian leaders dismissed the objections, saying revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy and the communications clampdowns were part of efforts aimed at improving security and bringing economic prosperity to the violence-hit scenic region.

India’s Hindustan Times newspaper said the cease-fire agreement stemmed from “back-channel conversations” between National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and his Pakistani counterpart, Moeed Yusuf, to ensure peace long the borders.

There was no immediate reaction available to the assertions in the Indian media. Earlier, Yusuf while commenting on Thursday’s development, declared it a “victory” for Pakistan’s peace diplomacy to secure the LOC cease-fire "to help end sufferings of civilians there."

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