LAHORE - Pakistan and India on Saturday agreed to boost existing mechanisms to ensure peace and tranquillity and to control ceasefire violations on the international border.
Instead of going for top level civilian leadership talks that traditionally accompany much fanfare, the two neighbours are moving forward to normalise their relations through subsidiary channels.
Upcoming general elections in India and unrelenting pressure on Nawaz government to abstain from flirting with India without clear commitments on longstanding issues like Kashmir, water and Siachen have led the two sides to keep their contacts low profile and relatively inconspicuous.
The Pakistan Rangers and Indian Border Security Force (BSF) held talks at the Punjab Rangers’ Lahore Headquarters from Dec 24 to 28, where the director generals of both the border forces had face-to-face parleys after one and a half years.
Also on Dec 24, director generals of military operations (DGMOs) of Pakistan and Indian armies met for the first time in 14 years and they expressed the resolve to continue efforts for ensuring ceasefire, peace and tranquillity on the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir.
Pakistan’s Minister of State for Commerce Khurram Dastagir will also meet his Indian counterpart Anand Sharma to review a roadmap for bilateral trade, agreed on by the two commerce secretaries in September 2012, when he travels to India next month for Saarc Business Leaders Conclave.
The Pakistan Rangers and BSF in their talks agreed “showed their commitment to maintain the sanctity of working boundary as well as international border and agreed to re-energise the existing mechanisms”, said a statement issued on Saturday after the five-day bi-annual meeting of top officials of the two border forces.
The 20 member Pakistan Rangers delegation was headed by Pakistan Rangers (Punjab) DG Major General Khan Tahir Javed Khan, whereas the 13 member Indian delegation was headed by BSF Director General Shri Subhash Joshi. “The meeting was held in a cordial, positive and constructive atmosphere,” the statement said.
The meeting was held in a cordial, positive and constructive atmosphere, the statement said. Both DGs showed their commitment to maintain the sanctity on the Working Boundary as well as the international border and agreed to re-energise the existing mechanisms.
They also agreed on “zero tolerance” for smuggling and to take strict action against smugglers according to the laws of the two countries. They further agreed that people who inadvertently cross the border would be immediately returned to their respective countries.
Consensus was developed on matters like stopping illegal construction, removing wild growth and maintaining boundary pillars, the statement said. It was decided that regular meetings will be held between the two forces at all levels of command to ensure peace and tranquillity on the international border.
During the meeting a series of confidence-building measures were also proposed – like exchange programmes for schoolchildren, sector-level meeting at Amritsar and Lahore and sporting activities between the Indian border force and its Pakistani counterpart, Rangers.
After the end of the bi-annual meeting this afternoon, the Indian delegation left for home after witnessing the daily parade at the Wagah land border crossing. Before crossing over to India on its way back, the BSF delegation witnessed the beating the retreat ceremony at sunset for the flag lowering on the Pakistan side. The next meeting of the BSF and Pakistan Rangers will be held in New Delhi in the first half of 2014.
Earlier on Dec 24, the DGMOs of the two countries also held delegation-level talks and discussed unprovoked firing incidents at the Line of Control (LoC). They also agreed in principle on the return of the prisoners who have completed their sentence in both the countries. They also agreed on joint patrolling to halt smuggling and illegal movement at the border.
The Pakistan delegation was headed by DGMO Major General Aamer Riaz. The Indian delegation was headed by DGMO Lt-Gen Vinod Bhatia. According to Inter-Services of Public Relations (ISPR), the meeting was held in a cordial, positive and constructive atmosphere. It was decided to inform each other if any innocent civilian inadvertently crosses Line of Control, in order to ensure his/ her early return.
The statement said that consensus was developed to make Hotline Contact between the two DGMOs more effective and result oriented. To carry forward the positive spirit of DGMOs meeting, two flag meetings between Brigade Commanders will be held on the LoC in the near future, to ensure maintenance of peace and tranquillity along the Kashmir border.
On December 17, DGMO of Pakistan had invited his Indian counterpart for a meeting on December 24 to discuss the growing tension on the LoC. Many civilians were injured in the unprovoked firing of Indian troops on the border villages of Pakistan over past few months.
Holding of DGMOs meeting was agreed after talks between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his PM Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the UNGA session in New York in Sept.
As for the improvement of trade and business relations between India and Pakistan, the two trade ministers “would review what has been done and perhaps chart out a map for the future”, according to Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam. There are certain actions that both countries were required to take by December 2012 for trade liberalisation, she told a weekly news briefing. “That process was disrupted when the composite dialogue process got stalled,” she added.