Responding to Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s call for a unilateral ceasefire, the Centre Wednesday directed “security forces not to launch operations in Jammu & Kashmir during the holy month of Ramzan” and retaliate only “if attacked or if essential to protect the lives of innocent people”.
The announcement, made three days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Srinagar on May 19, was welcomed by Mehbooba Mufti who told The Indian Express: “Home Minister Rajnath Singh called me, saying the Centre has decided on a ceasefire during the month of Ramzan. It is very good news. I hope everybody supports this initiative.”
Hoping for a positive response from Pakistan, Mufti said: “I personally thank our Prime Minister Modiji and Home Minister Rajnathji. They showed personal interest in it (ceasefire).
I also thank the political parties and leaders who participated in the all-party meeting and created consensus for the ceasefire. I hope Pakistan will respond positively to this ceasefire so that militants, respecting the holy month of Ramzan, also give a positive response.”
Calling it a “big opportunity” to “halt the cycle of bloodshed”, the Chief Minister hoped “it isn’t squandered”. She said “once there is calm, it will become a beginning for dialogue”.
National Conference leader and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, in a tweet, said: “On the demand of all political parties (except the BJP, which had opposed it), the Centre has announced a unilateral ceasefire. Now if the militants don’t respond in kind, they will stand exposed as the true enemies of the people.”
The separatists did not respond immediately to the Centre’s announcement. “We (Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Yasin Malik) will meet and then react,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told The Indian Express.
Meanwhile, militant outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba, in an email statement to a J&K news agency, rejected the ceasefire, saying this is “no option”. In the statement, Lashkar spokesperson Abdullah Ghaznavi quoted outfit chief Mehmood Shah saying the announcement is “nothing but a drama… we will fight to the last blood”.
Earlier, the Ministry of Home Affairs, in a statement, said: “The Centre asks security forces not to launch operations in Jammu & Kashmir during the holy month of Ramzan. Decision taken to help peace-loving Muslims observe Ramzan in a peaceful environment. Union Home Minister has informed the Chief Minister, J&K, of Centre’s decision”
“Security forces to reserve the right to retaliate if attacked or if essential to protect the lives of innocent people. Government expects everyone to cooperate in this initiative and help the Muslim brothers and sisters to observe Ramzan peacefully and without any difficulties. It is important to isolate the forces that bring a bad name to Islam by resorting to mindless violence and terror.”
The last time the Centre announced a unilateral ceasefire during the month of Ramzan was in 2000 when the Vajpayee government was in power.
A senior official, who was part of the deliberations this time, said the decision on “conditional ceasefire” was taken after consultations with the Prime Minister’s Office, and that Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Army chief General Bipin Rawat were taken on board.