NEW, DELHI/SRINAGAR INDIA – A ceasefire took hold Thursday in disputed Kashmir after the Indian and Pakistani armies agreed to halt deadly cross-border firing that had threatened to unravel a fragile peace process.
The two countries reached an “understanding” Wednesday to “de-escalate” military tensions after the recent flare-up along the Line of Control that serves as their de facto border in Kashmir, Indian Army spokesman Jagdeep Dahiya said.
“The two Directors General Military Operations spoke to each other at 10 a.m. for 10 minutes and the Pakistan DGMO said strict instructions have been passed not to violate the ceasefire,” Dahiya said.
Stressing that Indian troops stationed along the border would also not breach a 2003 ceasefire, Dahiya said, “We have always upheld the ceasefire and have only retaliated” following alleged provocations by Pakistani forces.
He did not give further details of the conversation between India’s director general, Lt. Gen. Vinod Bhatia and his Pakistani counterpart, Maj. Gen. Ashfaq Nadeem.
In a statement, Pakistan’s military said Islamabad has “lodged a strong protest” with New Delhi over the killing of a Pakistani soldiers Tuesday night, allegedly by Indian troops, but said “both sides agreed on the need to reduce tension on the Line of Control.”
An Indian military source in Kashmir confirmed there has been no cross-border firing since the two commanders spoke.
Earlier, the village of Dara Sher Khan in Pakistan’s Tatta Pani sector, where one of its soldiers was killed, appeared deserted Wednesday as residents cowered in their homes.
Muhammad Afsar said he and his family hid under bedding in their newly-built house, which was damaged by Indian mortar fire. “Indian soldiers keep watching our activities and we live in a state of constant fear,” he said.
The two commanders’ talks came hours after Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar hit out at strident comments by Indian politicians over the clashes, and warned against “upping the ante” between the nuclear-armed neighbors. Khar, who on Tuesday accused India of “warmongering,” added there had been a “glaring difference” in the reactions of the two governments.
Pakistan says three of its troops have died in three incidents since Jan. 6, while India claims two of its soldiers have been killed, one of them beheaded, in the recent hostilities.
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 terrorist attacks could become a victim of the latest flare-up in Kashmir.
Some commentators have accused mild-mannered Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his government of “caving in” to hardliners over the peace talks.
“Over the past few days, as an increasingly jingoistic clamour has been worked up in television studios and outside, the government has passed up every opportunity to underline the imperative of keeping the bilateral dialogue process separate,” an editorial in Thursday’s Indian Express argued.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the Himalayan region of Kashmir.
On Tuesday, India was meant to begin allowing Pakistanis over the age of 65 to obtain a visa on arrival at the border in Punjab. However, the program was put on hold indefinitely, although the delay was attributed to “technical” reasons.
Nine Pakistani players were also withdrawn from a new field hockey league in India and asked to return home.