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India, Pakistan armies begin cease-fire

Mujahideen faction vows to defy truce

NEW DELHI -- India and Pakistan began a cease-fire between their armies at midnight yesterday, the first such accord in 14 years.

The agreement, however, did not cover Indian security forces and Islamic militants in Kashmir, and there was no indication of how long it would last or how effective it would be.

The two nations' armies -- which trade machine-gun and mortar fire almost daily -- would observe the cease-fire along their entire frontier, the governments said. That includes the international border that covers several western states in India, the Line of Control dividing Jammu and Kashmir, and the frontier at the Siachen Glacier.

The start of the cease-fire coincides with the Eid-al-Fitr festival that ended the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

In Islamabad, Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan confirmed military chiefs agreed on the cease-fire, which he said was indefinite and "a positive development."

Neither side specified how long the truce would last. India said Monday an enduring cease-fire would depend on Pakistan ending the infiltration of Islamic militants into India's portion of Kashmir.

The largest Pakistan-based militant group battling in India's portion of the divided Himalayan province said its men would keep on fighting.

"This will not make any difference for mujahideen activities," Salim Hashmi, a spokesman for Hezb-ul-Mujahideen, said from Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. "The mujahideen will continue their operations."

In contrast to the Kashmiris, who were joyful over the cease-fire as they crowded bazaars for their Eid shopping, Salim said it was "not something to get excited about."

India has accused Pakistan of using artillery fire as a cover to help militants sneak into Jammu and Kashmir to attack government forces and civilians in the past 14 years, and more than 65,000 people, most of them Muslim civilians, have died in the fighting.

"Certainly to that extent, the infiltration will be a more risky proposition for those attempting it," said G. Parthasarthy, former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan, commenting on the cease-fire.

"In terms of atmospherics, it is a good development. The litmus test of Pakistani sincerity would be an end to infiltration," Parthasarthy said.

In Srinagar, the agreement reached Monday gave Kashmiris some hope.

"If the guns fall silent, it will mean a different life for us," said Ghulam Mohammad, a payphone booth owner in Kargil, a town routinely pounded by mortars and gunfire during skirmishes. "If there is no firing, we can live like normal farmers: growing crops, tending the cattle. But how can one live in an inferno?"

In Islamabad, analysts and citizens expressed guarded optimism.

"This is good in every respect. There should be no fighting between the two nations," said Gul Mohammed, an oil company worker.

But he was skeptical the cease-fire would last, saying, "This will not be durable. There have been steps like these in the past."

The two nations have fought three wars, two of them over Kashmir, since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.

They were on the brink of a fourth war last year after a Dec. 13, 2001, attack on the Indian Parliament.

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