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Thu. January 26, 2023
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The Farce of Sidelines Diplomacy
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Indo-Pak sideline talks, scheduled or unscheduled, are generally announced with an element of excitement on both sides.  Traditionally, these end up in smoke. The recent Ufa meeting between Modi and Nawaz will not meet a different fate. That is what political pundits augur. They cannot be more wrong.

The harsh reality is that talks between the two will be fruitful only when the Pakistan army decides not to play politics. However, that will never happen because of Punjabi hegemony. “Democracy” has a different connotation in the context of Pakistan; it is something like militrocracy. The US,, annoyed with autocratic regimes elsewhere, is very happy with militrocracy in Pakistan and has been funding it.

The U.S. has exhorted India many times to talk to Pakistani military brass in GHQ.  New Delhi always showed its disinclination, though under the Vajpayee Utopia, the came close to it in Agra.

Two things stand out in Modi’s Ufa talks with Nawaz and are reflected in the joint press statement of two foreign secretaries.

Before we discuss these points however, it should be understood that almost a year ago, India withdrew from the foreign secretary meeting. The period since then has seen India declining to participate in foreign secretary level talks. The two governments have been in regular contact through undisclosed emissaries. Nawaz Sharif does not want termination of covert dialogue but, under domestic compulsions, he has to take cautious steps. Modi, in comparison, is on stronger turf.

The focal point of Pakistani emissaries and Track II interlocutors is that the elected government in Islamabad has its serious constraints, something India understands but does not react to.  Nawaz Sharif would want India to respond and dovetail her response accordingly.

India will not talk to the Pakistani military top brass. The exchange of messages is something different, in both open and secret talks. If the people and political class in Pakistan refuse to understand the logic and correctness of India of not talking to military brass, they will be lending their support to the elected leadership. As things are, they refuse to understand what leaving the elected government stranded means.

When there was no mention of Kashmir in the joint press statement, all hell broke in Pakistan. The parliament got charged up with anger; political parties eager to draw extra mileage from such intentional or unintentional lapses in dealing with India became vociferously critical. Overnight, the Pakistani State, Pakistani polity and Pakistani Islamist legions found a common ground to denigrate “sidelines diplomacy”.

The first of two significant things about Ufa joint statement is the absence of the “K” word and the second is commitment to a joint effort of meeting the threat of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

Ink had hardly dried on the joint statement when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s security adviser, Sartaj Aziz, retracted it and said the Kashmir question has to be in it for any dialogue with India.

Was he trying to assuage the hurt feelings of rightists, jingoists, diehards among bureaucrats and mercenaries in Pakistan? Or was he trying to send a subtle message to Pakistani army brass, with which he has assiduously built a working relationship? Under whose pressure was Kashmir kept outside the loop?

Sections of the Indian media found the joint statement somewhat unusual: political punditry and started making predictions of hope and despair.

Since last spring, Pakistan has intensified bombing and shelling across the LoC and IB.  It has also increased bids for infiltration along the LoC. This provides clear evidence that the Pakistani army is trying to scuttle the Track II talks going on between the two sides. It is apprehensive of behind the scenes talks making progress with, of course, a third party push.

Militancy in Kashmir has lost its steam and recruitment is hampered. Separatists, as well as a host of discreet and indiscreet politicos in Kashmir, have gotten exposed thanks to revelations made by former spymaster A.S. Dulat in his recent book on Kashmir during the Vajpayee era.

Wahhabization of the Kashmir valley has almost de-fazed Pakistan.  With the rising crescendo of Islam in Kashmir of Abdul Wahhab’s school, Pakistan smells a threat to its influence among Kashmiri Sunni Hanafi majority. However, the hope of Kashmiri religious diehards of ISSI supervening as the arbiter of their destiny is steadily diminishing as the stories of more brutalities of Islamic Caliphate legions perpetrated even on Muslims come to light with each passing day. .Three wars imposed by Pakistan on India in the name of Kashmir have all boomeranged. It is strange that India does not rake up the Shimla Agreement which, if minutely analyzed, is Pakistan’s capitulation over Kashmir question.  Two Secretary Generals of the United Nations stated in very clear terms that, in light of Shimla Agreement, the U.N.’s role in Kashmir is over and Pakistan cannot bring any resolution against India in the United Nations. The Agreement clearly states that status quo of the LoC will not be changed.

Just three days after the joint press statement in Ufa, in which Pakistan promised to expedite the judicial process against the handler of Mumbai carnage (namely Abdur Rahman Lakhvi), a Pakistani spokesman stated that Pakistan will not go to a court of law to appeal against the Lahore High Court’s decision ordering release of Lakhvi.

BJP did not express any excitement on Ufa talks or the press statement. Modi is not a man who will be carried away by false euphoria. No sensible Pakistani observer took the press statement seriously. How could they? Only recently at the U.N. Sanctions Committee meeting, India sought U.N. action against Pakistan for release of Lakhvi and China blocked it on the grounds that India did not produce sufficient evidence.

This is the same China that has underlined that one of the main objectives of SCO is to fight terrorism in all its manifestations.  This is the second disappointment which India has met with in recent weeks from Beijing’s side, the other being China’s obstruction to India’s permanent membership of the Security Council.

It is common knowledge that the Ufa meeting of the two prime ministers on the sidelines was pushed by the Americans. That is the reflex of the Afghan situation. Washington is restlessly tracking China’s nascent move of security alliances among Russia, India and China. This is to neutralize India’s concerns about China making deep inroads in the Karakoram and Pamir foothills that are close to her northern border. It was a Chinese move to prompt Pakistan to drop “K” word from the press statement in Ufa and then let Sartaj give a soft statement on Pakistan’s interest in Kashmir. Indeed, China has become more pro-active in the Kashmir imbroglio after consolidating her position in Gilgit Baltistan and heading for a military base somewhere in the region of Wakhan.

One thing which should be appreciated about Modi government is that it has taken the necessity of securing our northern border against both China and Pakistan very seriously. It has plans of widespread road connectivity in the northern region and plans for increased military presence in the area. It also has a massive plan for the development of Ladakh. As long as our northern border with China and Pakistan is adequately protected with a powerful second line of defense, we need not be worried about false peace gimmicks of Pakistan and China. Indo-Pak talks on the sidelines of summits are usually farcical and we have no need of making them purposeful.  

Dr. Kashi N. Pandiata is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies Kashmir University.

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