NSA talks: Three takeaways from Sushma's reply to Pakistan

  • Prashant Jha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 22, 2015 18:41 IST
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said NSA talks between India, Pakistan won't happen if any issue other than terror is brought up. (ANI Photo)

Two hours after Act 1 in the India-Pak saga where Pakistan NSA Sartaj Aziz made it clear Islamabad would meet Hurriyat, and talk about Kashmir, and that this decision has the full support of the Pakistani leadership, India's external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj hit back with her own presser.

It was the clearest expression of the Government of India policy. The NSA talks appear almost impossible now, and the final act of the drama will happen when Pakistan comes back with a formal reaction.

Here are the big takeaways from her press conference:

1. India did not call off the talks officially, playing the same game as Pakistan to avoid being seen as the spoiler. But it went the furthest it had gone in establishing the redlines for the talks- Pakistan will not accept these redlines, which means the dialogue is as good as off.

For Swaraj, the first redline was the NSA meeting Hurriyat before the talks. This, she claimed, violated the Shimla agreement which had envisaged a bilateral process, as it sought to introduce a 'third party' to the talks.

The redline was a continuation of the Indian position of August last year when it cancelled Foreign Secretary talks over the Hurriyat meeting.

Many have questioned the wisdom behind the decision - and whether India has made too much out of a ritualistic exercise and helped the Hurriyat regain political capital. The government however has stuck to its stance.

The second redline was that talks would revolve around terror and only terror, in keeping with the Ufa spirit. Giving background, Swaraj explained that there was a difference between talks and dialogue - every conversation was not a dialogue.

Read|NSA talks: Five takeaways from Sartaj Aziz's press conference

India and Pakistan had a structured composite (later called resumed) dialogue process covering issues. The Ufa pact was not about reviving that dialogue - it was about creating the conditions for the resumption of the dialogue. These conditions could not be created till terror stopped.

That is why Ufa marked an agreement to talk about terror. And once that happened, India was happy to talk about all the other 'outstanding issues'. This narrative was a clear message to Pakistan that the NSA talks could not be used as a forum for dialogue on Kashmir and other issues.

When Swaraj was asked subsequently what would happen if the NSA came to India and met Hurriyat and raised other issues, she said he would come only if there was an assurance from Pakistan on the issues she had already flagged.

She indicated this assurance had come by tonight. And when asked what would happen if Pakistan did not agree, she said more categorically than anyone in government had till now, "Talks will not happen."

Read:No talks if any issue other than terror brought up, says Swaraj

Sushma was keen to highlight how it was the Indian political leadership which had displayed strength while the Pakistani leadership had faltered and could not resist pressure from day 1.

This was done to counter the impression that Delhi was drawing unreasonable redlines as well as indicate that internal faultlines in Pakistan were to blame for the crisis.

Do remember that Aziz in his press conference sought to project a unified Pakistani position. Also keep in mind that the India Pakistan acrimony will play out in UN next month and it is important for Delhi to paint Islamabad as the spoiler internationally.

Swaraj's argument was constituencies in India wanted talks to be called off given the developments post Ufa but the government had resisted.

There had been 91 ceasefire violations; the Gurdaspur attack and Udhampur incident took place; Pakistan was expanding the ambit of talks agenda; it took 22 days to respond to dates; and then it took the provocative step of inviting Hurriyat.

3. It was striking to see that Swaraj had a strong sense of the non linear nature of the Indo-Pak ties. She compared it to driving on a road filled with potholes.

The relationship has moved through phases of dialogue, setbacks, revival of talks, disruption again, only to be picked at some point in the future - as the nuclear tests, Lahore, Kargil, Agra and then 2004 Islamabad joint statement showed.

Read| NSA talks: India, Pak lack clarity on taking peace process forward

Swaraj seems to have had this context in mind when she said that eventually dialogue was the only way out and the two countries would pick it up in case talks did not happen tomorrow.

There was a sense of resignation about this round, but also a sense that this was a 'comma or a semi colon, not a full stop' as she put it.

Both Aziz and Swaraj were talking to their domestic constituencies, to each other, and to the international community. To their base, they wished to show their respective governments had made no compromise. To the world, they wanted to paint the other side as the spoiler.

And in this process, the message they sent each have become incompatible. India and Pakistan failed to break the legacy of history yet again.

Read|Ready for talks but without any pre-conditions: Pak NSA Sartaj Aziz

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