PM extends cease-fire, Pak scales down LoC vigil
20 December 2000
The Indian Express
New Delhi: Taking his peace initiative on Kashmir a step further, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today announced extension of the cease-fire in Jammu and Kashmir by a month, adding, quite significantly, that India as the initiator was committed to a dialogue process with Pakistan. Within hours of this announcement, Pakistan ordered a partial withdrawal of its troops from the Line of Control (LoC). ''Pakistan has unilaterally taken another bold initiative to withdraw part of its forces deployed along the LoC,'' said a Pakistan Army statement. ''The move back has already commenced and the troops have started moving towards the cantonments.'' The statement, however, didn''t indicate from which areas the troops were being withdrawn. In New Delhi, Pakistan High Commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Qazi described the extension of cease-fire as a ''positive step'' adding ''it is a good thing and we are very pleased''. Earlier, in a statement in both houses of Parliament, the Prime Minister said that encouraged by the ''relative peace'' along the LoC, the Government had decided to extend the period of ''no initiation of combat operations'' against the militants by another month, beyond Ramzan. The situation will be reviewed after Republic Day, he added. ''As part of our continued commitment to the Simla agreement and the Lahore declaration, the Government will initiate such exploratory steps, as are considered necessary by it, so that the composite dialogue process between the governments of India and Pakistan could be resumed,'' the Prime Minister said, adding that the existence of a suitable environment for such a process was necessary. However, he was quick to allay any fears of the Government letting down its guard. ''Let me inform the House that the Government''s unwavering commitment to meet the challenge of terrorism remains undiluted. Whereas we will continue to exercise maximum restraint in face of grave provocations, national interests will never be compromised,'' Vajpayee said. Talking about the response to the cease-fire, announced by the Government on November 19, he said that while there had been some encouraging developments, certain other aspects still remained a matter of concern. Though, Vajpayee said, there had been a decline in incidents of terrorist violence in the state, activities of organisations like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen continued, ''resulting in most unfortunate and regrettable loss of innocent civilian lives, also of the personnel of our security forces.'' The Government remained firm in its resolve to combatthese and other challenges, he added. However, justifying the extension of the cease-fire, the Prime Minister said the Government was greatly heartened by the response from people, political parties and organisations in the state. ''Our peace initiative has been widely welcomed there. A distinctly different and a more optimistic mood now prevails in that state. The constituency for peace had expanded significantly,,'' he said. There had also been a noticeable decline in attempts at infiltration by terrorists on the LoC and the International Border (IB). ''This must cease entirely. The Government is committed to achieving this end,'' Vajpayee said. A marked improvement had also been witnessed in incidents if exchange of fire, he said, explaining the reason for extending the cease-fire. Immediately after the PM''s announcement, a foreign office spokesman of Pakistan had said it would examine the fine print before giving its official response. ''We have to see this statement because usually the Indian statements have all kinds of conditionalities attached to them,'' he had observed. Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar later told reporters in Islamabad: ''Pakistan has put forward a comprehensive proposal to India for peace in the region and Islamabad is receiving replies in bits and parts. He said Pakistan had proposed to India to allow the representatives of the Kashmiris to visit Islamabad for consultations. ''We also proposed that India should also hold consultations with the representatives of the Kashmiri people and embark upon a dialogue leading to the settlement of the Kashmir question, in conformity with the wishes of the Kashmiris,'' Sattar said.