New Delhi, May 16 - The central government on Wednesday announced a ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir, asking security forces to halt their operations during Ramadan to help peace loving Muslims observe the holy month in a peaceful environment.
The announcement, reminiscent of then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's similar initiative in 2000, comes barely two days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Jammu to inaugurate development projects and address the sixth convocation of a university in the winter capital.
A Home Ministry statement said that security forces had been told not to launch operations in Jammu and Kashmir during the holy month that begins on Thursday or Friday subject to the appearance of new moon.
The decision was taken to help the peace loving Muslims observe Ramzan in a peaceful environment, the statement said.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh conveyed the decision over phone to Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who had appealed for a ceasefire after an all-party meeting in Srinagar on May 9 - a call that was questioned by the state BJP, the coalition partner of the PDP in the state government.
A close aide of the Chief Minister told IANS that Rajnath Singh called her, saying the Centre has decided a ceasefire during the month of Ramzan.
Mehbooba Mufti wholeheartedly welcomed the initiative and thanked Modi and Rajnath Singh for their personal intervention.
The month of Ramadan is a harbinger of peace and such a decision will go a long way in creating a peaceful and amicable environment for a sustained dialogue.
But the Home Ministry statement said that security forces would reserve the right to retaliate if attacked or if it was essential to protect the lives of innocent people.
(The) 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, it said.
Former Chief Minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah asked the militants to reciprocate to provide relief to the people during the month of fasting.
Now if the militants don't respond in kind, they will stand exposed as the true enemies of the people, he tweeted.
Separatist leaders and militants groups, who are backed by Pakistan, were yet to react to the move.
It comes ahead of Modi's Jammu trip on Saturday during which he is scheduled to inaugurate a ropeway to Vaishno Devi hill shrine.
He will lay foundation stones of a 1.000 MW Pakal Dul hyrdo electric project and Jammu Ring Road from the University of Jammu. Modi will also address the sixth convocation of Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology of Jammu (SKUAST-Jammu).
The first time the Central government announced halt in its operations against militants was on November 19, 2000 when Vajpayee made a unilateral declaration of stopping combat operations in Jammu and Kashmir.
This was for a period of one month during Ramadan which was extended thrice till May 31, 2001. But violence didn't stop and over 1,200, including 445 civilians, were killed in militancy related incidents during the four months of the ceasefire, according South Asia Terrorism Portal that curates data on terrorism in the region.