NEW DELHI: The holding of the ceasefire between Indian and Pakistani armies along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir for the last three months has contributed to a feeling of peace and security and it is the first step towards a long road of normalisation of ties between the two countries, Chief of Army Staff Gen M M Naravane has said.
In an exclusive interview to PTI, Gen Naravane, at the same time, said the ceasefire does not mean that India's fight against terrorism has come to a halt and noted that there was no reason to believe that the terror infrastructure along the LoC has been dismantled by the Pakistan Army.
The Army Chief also said that consistency in the reduction in infiltration attempts and terrorist incidents in Jammu and Kashmir will go a long way in assuring India of Pakistani intent to foster good neighbourly relations.
Gen Naravane said adherence to the ceasefire pact has "definitely" contributed to the overall feeling of peace and security in the region and boosted prospects of peace after a long spell of flare-ups.
In a sudden and significant move aimed at reducing tensions, the Indian and Pakistani armies on February 25 announced that they would cease firing across the LoC while recommitting themselves to a 2003 ceasefire agreement.
"Ceasefire along the LoC does not mean that our fight against terrorism has come to a halt. We do not have any reasons to believe that the terror infrastructure along the LoC has been dismantled by the Pakistan Army."
"Whether it is their inability or unwillingness, both are equally dangerous and concerning, especially seen in the light of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan," the Army chief said, referring to the Biden administration's decision to pull out American troops from Afghanistan by September 11.
Referring to the ceasefire, Gen Naravane said there was not a single incident of cross-border firing by the two armies after the pact came into effect though there was an incident involving the Pakistani Rangers in the Jammu sector.
"This year, we have seen a drastic reduction in the violence levels in Jammu and Kashmir.
Security forces and other government agencies are working in sync to maintain pressure on terror groups and squeeze out the logistics support," he said.
"Consistency in a reduction in infiltration attempts and terrorist incidents in the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir will go a long way in assuring us of Pakistani intent to foster good neighbourly relations with us," Gen Naravane said.
He said there was a renewed emphasis on observing the ceasefire agreement of 2003 due to the heavy losses of civilian and military lives across the LoC.
"Cessation of firing is in the interest of building trust between the two armies, for giving chance to peace and for the benefit of the population residing along the LoC," he said.
The Army Chief said India would like to continue with the ceasefire so that it contributes to stability and improvement in the relationship.
"It is the first step towards the long road of normalisation of relations with Pakistan. From our side, we would like to continue with the ceasefire so that it contributes to stability and improvement in the relationship," he said.
Gen Naravane also said that recruitment of local youths into militant outfits has also witnessed reduction, adding it is an indicator that the common people desired peace.
"We remain committed to providing a conducive environment for peace to prevail. Economic activity had commenced well this year but has been slowed down due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic," he said.
"I am sure that this is a temporary pause and commercial activities will resume soon as, during the winter months, we had seen a record number of tourists visiting the Valley," he noted.
At the same time, he said smuggling of weapons and narcotics remained a concern and there have been attempts to use unmanned systems after individuals have been caught.
"We continue to monitor these developments and maintain a robust counter-infiltration grid. We do not want the youth of Jammu and Kashmir to indulge in drugs, crime or violence," he said.
"The youth are bright and many have demonstrated their capability by doing well in sports and academics, bringing laurels to their families, their village, town, district and the union territory," he said.
Gen Naravane said the Indian Army actively encourages such aspirations by organising various sports and educational events.
"We remain hopeful that the menace will end with concerted efforts of the government and 'Awaam'," he noted.
Pakistan has been making concerted efforts to internationalise the Kashmir issue.
The neighbouring country stepped up its anti-India campaign after New Delhi announced in August 2019 its decision to withdraw the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcate the state into two union territories.
India has told Pakistan that it desires normal neighbourly relations with Islamabad in an environment free of terror, hostility and violence.
It has said the onus is on Pakistan to create an environment free of terror and hostility.