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Midnight split shows in truce
- Ceasefire comes into force half an hour apart, world applauds but India cautious

New Delhi, Nov. 25: The guns will fall silent when the clock strikes 12 and most of the subcontinent prepares to celebrate Id, but the twins that won freedom at midnight could not agree when the magical hour dawns.

India and Pakistan have decided to stop shooting at each other along the Line of Control, the Actual Ground Position Line in Siachen and the International Border from Tuesday midnight.

Delhi said the ceasefire would start at midnight Indian time but Islamabad insisted it would kick in at midnight Pakistan time — 30 minutes behind India.

The midnight pangs did not keep the world from applauding the ceasefire and looking for signs of resumption of talks between the two countries.

India, however, again firmly placed the onus of a dialogue on Pakistan. “We are looking for a dialogue with Pakistan. It is in Pakistan’s hands. They are the ones who have to perform (stop cross-border terrorism). They have made a commitment (in this regard) to the US,” foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said.

US secretary of state Colin Powell called foreign minister Yashwant Sinha tonight to discuss the “positive” developments.

Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, said in a statement: “The steps, like those proposed by India last month, will help to build greater confidence and trust between Pakistan and India and demonstrate both sides’ commitment to addressing the legitimate aspirations of the Kashmiris.”

But prominent militant outfit Hizb-ul Mujahideen dismissed the truce, with a spokesperson saying in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir that “the mujahideen will continue their operations”.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna announced that the directors-general of military operations of India and Pakistan mutually agreed to observe the ceasefire during their weekly conversation today on the hotline.

Pakistan Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali proposed holding fire along the LoC during a national address on Sunday. Yesterday, India welcomed the offer and suggested that the ceasefire be extended to the Siachen glacier, the world’s highest battlefield. Islamabad acceded.

The neighbours last agreed to a Kashmir ceasefire in 2000, paving the way for talks between Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Agra in 2001. But those talks ended in failure, and the countries came close to a fourth war last year.

Analysts were cautious about the significance of this ceasefire agreement, noting that in any case fighting slows during winter in Kashmir as the flow of infiltrators falls once heavy snowfall blocks the passes.

“It is more symbolic than substantive,” said Ershad Mahmud of the Institute of Policy Studies in Islamabad. “On the ground, it will not create a big change, but it will help the Saarc conference in Islamabad.”

India, while agreeing to the dates for the summit in Islamabad early next year, has not yet formally accepted an invitation for Vajpayee to travel there, leading to fears in Pakistan that he might not attend. Islamabad’s positive responses are being interpreted here as its keenness to ensure Vajpayee’s presence at the summit.

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