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Bonhomie on border, all ‘in good faith’

New Delhi, Dec. 10: India and Pakistan marked two weeks of tranquillity on the Line of Control (LoC) and the border in Jammu and Kashmir today by allowing border security officers to hold their first flag meeting since the guns fell silent following the Id (November 26-27) ceasefire.

This is the first ground-level signal that a structure to monitor the ceasefire was being shaped “in good faith”.

BSF commandant in Ranbir Singh Pura sector Rajesh Gupta met Pakistani Chenab Rangers’ Colonel Nadeem, driving and walking into Pakistan for talks on bridging communication gaps in their sector. The officers were accompanied by their lieutenants and assistants.

A spokesman for the BSF said the officials “talked about local issues”, exchanged sweets and pleasantries.

Flag meetings of border security officials are not unprecedented but have been held with decreasing frequency in the last three years and there was almost no communication between the two sides during the military build up for a year under Operation Parakram. Flag meetings are more regular and a part of routine along the (undisputed) international boundary.

Today’s meeting was pre-arranged by the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) of India and Pakistan. The actual task of monitoring the ceasefire has been vested by the respective governments on these two officials in the absence of a “neutral observer” or “third party”.

The Indian DGMO is Lieutenant General B.S. Takhar and Pakistan’s is Major General Mohammed Yusuf. “DGMO-level” talks describe the communication between the two offices and not necessarily the two officers. It is possible that the DGMOs delegate powers on certain sectors to deputies.

Defence sources said the weekly conversations between the two DGMOs — that was limited to talking over the telephone hotline every Tuesday — were more frequent now. The DGMOs had agreed that they would talk “as and when required without standing on formality”.

Within the Indian security establishment, a first assessment of the ceasefire was due within two weeks of the guns falling silent. The preliminary report of such an assessment is “so far so good”. Few incidents of firing “and none at all of much concern”, have been reported, a senior official said.

Today’s flag meeting between the paramilitary forces on the border is likely to herald flag meetings of army officers across the Line of Control. There has been none so far since the ceasefire.

In the Ranbir Singh Pura sector, the border outposts are manned by the BSF that is technically under the Union home ministry. But along the Line of Control, the BSF is under the operational command of the army and in all matters concerning the implementation of the ceasefire the BSF reports to the DGMO and acts on his direction. The BSF has 14 battalions on the LoC and the army an estimated 90 battalions.

India is particularly keen to enforce the ceasefire without letting disputes cast aspersions on the two countries’ ability to hold their fire. Failure to do so, it is suspected, can provoke calls for an independent authority to keep a tab on the ceasefire. Such a suggestion can lead to Pakistan restating that the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) be brought into the picture. The Unmogip functions in Pakistan but New Delhi says it does not have a locus standi.

The BSF director general Ajai Raj Sharma had said last week that flag meetings were likely on the directions of the DGMO.

The Indian position continues to be that its forces will fire on infiltrators and such action should not be seen as a violating the ceasefire. (ENDS)sd/10122003/1940

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