National Security Agency level talks between India and Pakistan stand aborted. The idea of talks was floated during the meeting of two Prime Ministers on the sidelines of Ufa meeting. Pakistan called the talks off just twenty-four hours before it would have begun. Its narrative focused on the agenda of the talks.
The leader, Ghulam Nabi Azad of the opposition (Congress) in the Rajya Sabha, criticized External Affairs Ministry for not formally finalizing the agenda of the proposed meeting between the security chiefs. We think the agenda was well known and did not need reiteration.
The two sides had agreed to resume comprehensive talks after the National Security Advisers on both sides met. This was to be followed by a meeting of the field commanders manning the borders, which have been volatile for some time. Common sense is that neither the National Security Adviser nor the field commander on the LoC is authorized to debate the political paradigm of Kashmir or any other issue of bilateral interest when they meet with their counterparts.
Therefore Pakistan’s contention that Kashmir was also on the agenda of talks between two security chiefs is not tenable. What the two prime ministers had agreed to do was a step-by-step approach to counter terrorism and to reduce tension on the LoC as prerequisites of comprehensive talks. India had demanded that guns should be silenced when talks are to be held. NSA meet responded to that pre-requisite.
By cancelling the talks, Pakistan achieved the objective of not being told by India that it was not prepared to listen about terrorism. Unilateral cancelling talks on terrorism proves that terrorism is neither a problem nor a priority with Pakistan.
However, there are other opinions as well. First, why was the Indian Prime Minister advised to become impetuous about a meet with his Pakistani counterpart? Infiltration from LoC in J&K, incidents of terrorist attacks on security forces in the valley, emboldened separatists in the valley now fluttering ISIS and Pakistani flags more frequently, and input from military and civilian intelligence sources of Pakistan’s intention of escalating tension between the two countries should not have been ignored while India gloated at the bravado of bailing out Nawaz Sharif in Ufa. Greater measure of patience and discretion should have made things smoother for our foreign office.
Secondly, knowing that the Pakistan army was out to sabotage any attempt of Pakistani Prime Minister in reducing tensions, ultimately lead to normalization of relations with India. Our foreign office should have left nothing to conjecture or deduction. A jointly approved agenda for the NSA meeting should have been drawn there and then and announced in Ufa following the joint press release. This would have bound Pakistan to a commitment. Now Pakistan found a pretext to wriggle out of it.
A tactical mistake was to give extraordinary media hype to the event of capturing the LeT man, Naveed, in Udhampur. Evidently, New Delhi wanted to demoralize Pakistan and LeT by trying to defame both in the public eye. But it did not fathom the negative impact of a blitzkrieg. LeT and its patrons brought Islamabad regime under intense pressure to wriggle out of talks. India provided them not only a face-saving but also much relief.
What India should have done was to give nothing more than on-line cryptic news about the capture of Naveed at the tail end of a news bulletin. How ridiculous and devoid of sense and subtlety was it to show repeatedly two dozen policemen and soldiers masquerading the captured terrorist. Whom did Indian media want to lionize?
What should have been done was to give the event minimal exposure, but in the background, go on collecting as much confessional and revealing material as was possible, together with visuals of the entire episode. In so doing, build a fulsome dossier and then silently open this Pandora’s Box on the Pakistani emissary when he sat down around the table for talks. This would have taken him by surprise and given Pakistan absolutely no chance of backtracking. Mind you, transparency sub-serves national security.
Detention of Kashmir separatists on their arrival in Delhi conformed to NDA government’s policy of not accepting a third party to the Kashmir dispute. This is a delicate point. Pakistan has never called Kashmiris third party to the dispute. All they say is (a) Kashmir is a disputed region, and (b) solution of Kashmir dispute should be in accordance with the wishes of the people of Kashmir. That is a very subtle way of saying that Pakistan does not recognize Kashmiris as third party.
After detaining separatist Hurriyatis in Delhi, it was fit to issue a statement that would disarm Pakistan. India should have asked Pakistan to define who she means by “people of Kashmir”, and whether she recognizes the Hurriyat factions as the representatives of “people of Kashmir”. Pakistan would think twice before saying yes or no to these questions. If Hurriyatis are the representatives of Kashmir and, as such, enjoy credibility with Islamabad, what then is the status if the dissidents in PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan whose leadership is either sent into exile or incarcerated in Pakistani jails?
Moreover, New Delhi should have asked Pakistan to spell out the mechanism of ascertaining the wishes of the people of Kashmir. Remember the first condition of a plebiscite in Kashmir, as stipulated by the Security Council Resolutions: that Pakistan should withdraw all of its troops and fighting men from the part of Kashmir they have grabbed illegally. Why is New Delhi shy of asking these questions? Had these questions been raised right at the time when Pakistani Embassy invited the Hurriyatis, detention of the Hurriyatis in New Delhi would not have been needed. By not raising these questions, India inadvertently helps Hurriyatis bridge the yawning gap between them and Pakistan.
Occasionally, J&K Chief Minister doles out sermons to New Delhi to talk to Pakistan. He loads his sermon with the contention that in the ongoing proxy war, Kashmir is at the receiving end. To his persistent entreaties, New Delhi turns a deaf and speechless listener. Why does it not ask him to make some introspection and see who actually is causing disaster to Kashmir? India sends twenty thousand crore rupees for state annual development plans and Pakistan sends twenty thousand Kalashnikovs, Uzis, pistols, IEDs, etc. Wherein lays the source of disaster for Kashmir? Moreover, how many of the ministers in the coalition government and how many MLAs have addressed public meetings in Kashmir in which they asked the gun-wielding fanatics to lay down their arms? Instead of imploring India to talk to Pakistan, why does not the J&K Chief Minister ask the terrorists to say good bye to the arms supplied to them by Pakistan? If Mufti Sahib could thank Pakistan for allowing Kashmiris to take part in election, he could also appeal to Pakistan to stop supplying arms to Kashmiri youth and close down the training camps to which the Kashmiri youth are lured. New Delhi must change the discourse on Kashmir with Pakistan, with the Hurriyatis and with the nationalist elements in J&K.
K.N. Pandita is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, India