India and Pakistan have agreed to observe a fresh ceasefire after a particularly violent 2020. Cross-border firing last year broke all records since the last 18 years, causing much distress to populations living along the LoC and the international border in Jammu & Kashmir. In fact, ceasefire violations from Pakistan had started spiking in 2019 after the Balakot surgical strike by India and New Delhi’s nullification of Article 370 vis-a-vis Kashmir. This trend continued in 2020 even as India was engaged in its tense border standoff with China.
This raised suspicions that Pakistan and China were coordinating their military activities against India. But a few weeks ago Pakistan army chief Qamar Bajwa started making peace overtures, stating that the two countries should resolve the Kashmir issue peacefully. And it is against this backdrop that the new commitment to the ceasefire must be seen. For, both Bajwa and PM Imran Khan have been at the receiving end of intense protests by the political opposition in Pakistan. And the ceasefire bid could be Bajwa’s and Imran’s ploy to temporarily change the narrative in Pakistan and relieve pressure against them.
It could also be a signal to the new Joe Biden administration in the US that Pakistan is willing to reset ties with Washington. After all, a hands-free approach by the US pushes Pakistan more towards China. And Islamabad isn’t exactly comfortable becoming a Chinese vassal state.
That said, from India’s point of view, any peace overtures from Pakistan have to be backed by concrete action against anti-India terror groups operating from Pakistani soil. As yet there is no indication that Pakistan is willing to give up terrorism as an instrument of state policy.
Thus, while the ceasefire commitment is welcome it remains to be seen if it will lead to a reduction in cross-border infiltration of terrorists from Pakistan. A wait-and-watch approach will be prudent for New Delhi.