India’s come up trumps at Ufa, much to the wrath of many

  • Karan Thapar
  • Updated: Jul 19, 2015 10:24 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Ufa, Russia on Friday. (PTI Photo)

There are two questions that determine how I approach the India-Pakistan Joint Statement issued at Ufa and, interestingly, they also shed light on the response from the Congress Party in Delhi, the Pakistani opposition in Islamabad and, possibly, something more.

First, after Sushma Swaraj said talks with Pakistan could only happen after it takes action against Lakhvi and roughly 10 months after India abruptly called off the foreign secretary level talks, was the Ufa meeting a U-turn or, at least, a significant shift in Mr Modi’s position? Prima facie it seems like one or the other.

However, on its own that hardly matters. The real issue is: Was this change justified by the outcome? As Keynes is reported to have said: “When the facts change, I change my mind”. This leads to the second question.

Does the Ufa statement represent a significant achievement for Prime Minister Modi? Judging by its content the answer is a clear yes. Judging by Sartaj Aziz’s comments to Dawn and his subsequent press conference, where he was clearly wriggling with embarrassment, I’m confident my answer is right.

To begin with, Ufa has no direct mention of Kashmir. In fact, the K word is altogether missing. At best it’s subsumed in the sentence “they are prepared to discuss all outstanding issues”. That’s a huge shift from Pakistan’s traditional insistence on the primacy of Kashmir.

Just how big can be gauged from the fact that two months ago high commissioner Basit told me “Jammu and Kashmir is the mother of all our issues”, adding that all others — and he specifically included terror — “have their origin or genesis in Jammu and Kashmir”. This view was cast aside at Ufa.

On his return, Sartaj Aziz went one step further. He told Dawn that Kashmir will be discussed “under the back channel Track II mechanism”. Even if his comment is confusing, because it treats the back channel and Track II as synonymous, it, nonetheless, reemphasises the diminishing focus on Kashmir.

This, I’m convinced, is why Sartaj Aziz insisted at his press conference that dialogue with India would not be possible if Kashmir wasn’t on the agenda. He was addressing domestic critics and responding to their view that Pakistan has weakened its Kashmir commitment.

Yet the undeniable truth is that Ufa elevated India’s concerns about terror to the level of national security advisors, which is significantly higher than the earlier foreign secretary discussions. In contrast, Kashmir has either been left to the back channel or relegated to Track II, arguably a demotion below the level of foreign secretaries. And the conclusion? Though Kashmir and terror are Pakistan’s and India’s top issues, Ufa doesn’t appear to treat them with the same level of importance.

One other comment about Ufa: the commitment “to discuss ways and means to expedite the Mumbai case trial, including additional information like providing voice samples.” I accept this leaves room for Pakistan to demand more information but, equally, it commits Pakistan to providing voice samples. Given that the Lakhvi trial hinges on this, it’s a significant gain even if Pakistan ultimately reneges. Hereafter if Lakhvi is acquitted because voice samples were not available to match the recordings of his conversations with the 26/11 terrorists the blame will lie squarely with Pakistan.

Perhaps now you can understand the Congress’s attempts to foot-fault Ufa, the opposition anger in Islamabad and the embarrassment of Sartaj Aziz. They have one cause: India scored points.

Maybe this also explains the recent trouble on the LoC?

The views expressed by the author are personal.

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