Army chief General MM Naravane said the ceasefire between Indian and Pakistani militaries along the LoC has definitely led to an improvement in the security situation and benefited civilians living in forward areas

New Delhi: Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane has said that the restoration of ceasefire in February between Indian and Pakistani militaries along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir is holding, has led to a significant drop in infiltration by terrorists from Pakistan and contributed to the overall sense of peace and well-being in border areas.

“This is the first step on the long road to normalisation of ties between the two countries. We would like the ceasefire to continue. It has definitely led to an improvement in the security situation and benefited civilians living in forward areas,” Naravane said.

In a surprise development, Indian and Pakistani militaries announced on February 25 that they had begun observing a ceasefire along the LoC from midnight of February 24. India and Pakistan had agreed to a ceasefire on the LoC in November 2003, but it was frequently violated.

The army chief said the ceasefire violations by the neighbouring army were aimed at providing cover to infiltrators. No ceasefire violations by the Pakistan army indicated that infiltration attempts were not being supported, Naravane said.

“Counter-terrorism operations will continue. We have no reason to believe that terror infrastructure along the LoC has been dismantled by the Pakistan army,” Naravane said.

Pakistan resorted to the highest ever ceasefire violations during the 12 months preceding the joint announcement of the ceasefire in February. According to government data accessed by Hindustan Times, the Pakistani army violated the ceasefire at least a dozen times on average daily between February 2020 and February 2021.

Peace along the LoC is mutually beneficial, Naravane said. “The population living on either side suffers due to violence along the LoC. I am sure the Pakistan army is also concerned about the population and hopefully, the ceasefire will hold,” the army chief said.

After February 24, there has been a solitary instance of cross-border firing along the international border in the Jammu sector between the Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers.

Naravane said violence levels in Jammu and Kashmir had dropped and there were indications that things were returning to normalcy.

Of the 30 terrorists killed by security forces in Kashmir during the last three months, only one was a foreigner, said officials familiar with the developments. “It’s an indicator that infiltration by Pakistani terrorists has dropped notably. We will have to wait and watch how things unfold as three months is a short window to confirm a pattern,” said one of the officials.

Pakistan resorted to 4,645 violations in 2020, official data shows. The number of violations was more than 5,100 if those along the international border are also counted.

August and September 2020 accounted for the highest number of violations for any two consecutive months in 17 years. The escalation in ceasefire violations coincided with the first anniversary of the Centre’s move in August 2019 to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status that Islamabad reacted sharply to.

The data shows 835 ceasefire violations were reported in August and September last year. There were 427 ceasefire violations on the LoC in August 2020, the highest number for any single month since November 2003.

Ceasefire violations sharply increased over the last five years, recording a 10-fold jump since 2016 when India carried out surgical strikes against terror pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in response to the Islamabad-backed suicide attack on an army camp in Uri. The year 2016 accounted for 449 violations, with the numbers only increasing in the following years - 881 (2017), 1,629 (2018), and 3,168 (2019).

The last time guns were silent on LoC was after Indian and Pakistani directors general of military operations held a rare meeting at the Attari-Wagah border near Amritsar on December 24, 2013, to discuss ways to restore calm along the LoC. There were no ceasefire violations by Pakistan for almost seven months after those talks.