The nuclear-armed neighbours signed a ceasefire agreement along the Line of Control in 2003, but the truce has been fraying in recent years and the two sides have exchanged fire hundreds of times in recent months.

Indian paramilitary soldiers arrive near the site of a shootout in Srinagar, India-administered Kashmir, on February 19, 2021.
Indian paramilitary soldiers arrive near the site of a shootout in Srinagar, India-administered Kashmir, on February 19, 2021. (AP)

India and Pakistan's militaries have agreed to stop firing along their disputed and de facto border in Kashmir, where such gunfire has been frequent in recent months, often killing or maiming people living in the area.

"In the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the borders, the two DGsMO agreed to address each other's core issues and concerns which have propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence," a rare joint statement said on Thursday, referring to the military operations heads of the two countries.

The nuclear-armed neighbours signed a ceasefire agreement along the Line of Control (LoC) - the de facto border in the Kashmir region - in 2003, but the truce has been fraying in recent years.

If implemented, the move would be a major step in defusing tensions in the highly militarised Himalayan region, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety, and opens the possibility of a broader detente between the two nuclear-armed rivals.

Artillery, rockets and small arms fire have been regularly exchanged between troops on opposite sides of the border, killing hundreds since the original cease-fire was signed. Civilians are caught in the crossfire whenever violence erupts, with dozens killed every year.

US hails decision

The United States welcomed the decision and urged both sides to "keep building upon this progress."

"This is a positive step towards greater peace and stability in South Asia, which is in our shared interest and we encourage both countries to keep building upon this progress," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a news briefing.

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Cautiously optimistic

An official in New Delhi said the cessation was partly aimed at easing the fraught situation for civilians living along the border, who are regularly caught in the crossfire.

"We are cautiously optimistic that the violence levels and tensions along the LoC will come down," the official said, declining to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

But India will not ease up on deployments along the LoC that aim to stop infiltration or counterinsurgency operations in the Kashmir valley, the official said.

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What prompted both sides to contact?

In India, Lieutenant General D S Hooda, who was head of the Indian military's Northern Command from 2014 to 2016, welcomed the move, calling it "a significant, positive development given there has been steep escalation in the border skirmishes in last few years."

In Pakistan, retired army General Talat Masood said he believed leaders in Washington and other world powers had helped reduce tension between Pakistan and India, adding that peace was in both counties' best interests.

It was unclear what prompted the two militaries to initiate contact over the hotline, but Pakistan has been urging the international community to push India to resume dialogue.

Pakistani authorities say India has made more than 13,000 violations of the ceasefire in the past 18 years. India also alleges large-scale violations by the Pakistan army.

Decades-old dispute 

Since gaining independence from British rule in 1947, Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over control of Kashmir.

Relations were strained in 2019, when Pakistan shot down an Indian warplane in Kashmir and captured a pilot in response to an air strike by Indian aircraft inside Pakistan. 

India at the time said the air strikes targeted Pakistan-based militants responsible for a suicide bombing that killed 40 Indian troops in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir. 

Pakistan said there was no militant camp and the Indian planes dropped bombs in a forest.

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Stripping of Kashmir's autonomy 

Since then, a peace process between Islamabad and New Delhi has been on hold.

Pakistan also wants India to reverse a 2019 move under which New Delhi stripped the Kashmir's semi-autonomous status and imposed a slew of administrative changes through new laws, touching off anger on both sides of the frontier.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training anti-India rebels and also helping them by providing gunfire as cover for incursions into the Indian side. Pakistan denies this, saying it offers only moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiris who oppose Indian rule.

Rebels in India-administered Kashmir have been fighting Indian rule since 1989. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the armed uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.

Source: Reuters