Whatever happens between them, India and Pakistan should keep talking. Six former Indian envoys to Pakistan and an equal number of their Pakistani counterparts could agree on this after deliberations in New Delhi on Thursday and Friday.
As Shivshankar Menon, former Indian national security adviser and high commissioner to Islamabad, said, “India-Pakistani relations are accident prone, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make the effort.”
This first-of-a-kind dialogue, organised by the Ananta Aspen Centre of India, ended with six of the participants holding a public dialogue, part of which was televised. Earlier in the day, they met national security adviser Ajit Doval and former prime minister Manmohan Singh.
While agreeing there was “no excuse not to talk”, on the specifics of bilateral relations, the two sides disagreed more often than not.
They did agree that nothing much had come out of the recent foreign secretaries’ meeting, though the Pakistani issuance of a statement 20 minutes into a 90-minute meeting had at least provided “comic relief.”
Said SK Lambah, one of the architects of the dialogue, “The talks didn’t take us much further, but the very fact they talked was good.”
Noting how New Delhi has blown hot and cold in the past two years, Salman Bashir said, “We in Pakistan are at a loss to understand if (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi has a Pakistan policy.”
The Indian envoys pointed out that the uptick in violence along the Line of Control followed by the Pathankot attack had led Modi to make a U-turn on Pakistan.
Lambah, special envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan and leader of the Indian delegation in the back-channel talks held during Singh’s time, argued a successful dialogue needed four elements: a peaceful LoC, no cross-border terrorism, genuine investigation of the Mumbai and Pathankot attacks and the bringing of the guilty to justice.
T he back- channel, said Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, Pakistan’s envoy during the Kargil war, was “dead”, though it was part of a period, said Menon, of “relative success” between the two countries that needed to be “recreated”.
On Pakistan’s capture of Kulbhushan Jadhav, whom Pakistan accuses of being a RAW saboteur, Aziz Ahmed Khan declared Jadhav was the first proof of Indian interference in Balochistan.
G Parthasarathy rubbished the Pakistani claim, noting that Iran had confirmed Jadhav ran a shipping line in their country and there had been several previous attempts to kidnap him from their soil.