India did finally have a narrative as to why the NSA talks with Pakistan fell apart, which was compellingly presented by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on August 22.
For days, the public discussion centred around the substance of talks between NSAs Ajit Doval and Sartaj Aziz; about India’s plans to confront Islamabad with information about Indian fugitives in Pakistan (including Dawood Ibrahim), militant camps that were being revived and terrorists like Mohammad Naveed being pushed into India to create mayhem.
The focus then shifted to the reception that Kashmiri separatists were to attend at the Pakistan High Commission, before the NSA talks.
In the end, it appeared to boil down to the way both sides read the joint statement after Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif met at Ufa.
India presumed that repeated references to terrorism, guaranteed a primacy to the issue in negotiations — while Islamabad concluded that a reference to discussing “all outstanding issues”, meant the inclusion of Jammu and Kashmir in the NSA talks. Many contend that it need not have come to this.
There were ways to sort out the agenda well in advance and while India maintains that Pakistan refused to discuss the agenda for 22 days, which complicated matters, it is not clear if redlines about interacting with the Hurriyat leaders were discussed threadbare, given that foreign secretary talks were called off in August 2014 on that very issue.
We may not have witnessed the public recriminations and the animosity seen over the last week, had the procedural elements been ironed out.
On its part, Pakistan must know that a spike in infiltration and attacks like the one in Gurdaspur will only strengthen India’s resolve to focus the discussion entirely on terrorism.
Ms Swaraj was philosophical about the state of India-Pakistan ties, saying both countries were on a difficult road to peace that was “full of potholes”, but she was confident that the journey would inevitably be resumed.
That may be the experience of the past, but there’s little doubt that the trust between the two establishments has reached rock bottom with this fracas.
Both sides may reckon that it is better to avoid conversation than maintain fraught contact.
That may make bureaucracies breathe easier for now but that is to store trouble for the future. As India well knows, there are forces in the Pakistani military and the jihadi world who can sow trouble between both states. Only a sustained dialogue can secure the interests of both countries.