Both India and Pak need to learn lessons if they are to re-engage

  • Rezaul H Laskar, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 08, 2016 18:43 IST
Pakistan's high commissioner to India Abdul Basit during an interaction with media at Foreign Correspondent Club in New Delhi on Thursday. (PTI Photo)

The latest signals from Pakistan’s civilian government have shown that India’s efforts to engage with it in order to nudge bilateral ties towards some semblance of normalcy are floundering.

Pakistan’s high commissioner Abdul Basit created a flutter on Thursday by stating that the bilateral dialogue process was suspended (almost everyone’s known that for some time, but hearing it from an envoy gives it greater impact).

Basit also ruffled numerous feathers in the external affairs ministry and security agencies by saying a Pakistani Joint Investigation Team’s (JIT) visit to India to probe the attack on Pathankot airbase wasn’t on a reciprocal basis – meaning, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) should forget about its plans to go to Pakistan and to gain some access to Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar.

The external affairs ministry spokesperson was quick to point out that the spokesman of Pakistan’s Foreign Office had said – shortly after Basit spoke at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Delhi – that the two sides were in contact to decide the modalities for a meeting of the foreign secretaries.

Other officials also pointed out that the Indian mission had informed Pakistan’s Foreign Office that the JIT’s visit would be allowed on the condition of reciprocity.

“It was odd for a high commissioner resident in Delhi to make such a grave comment of an incongruous and anomalous nature at the Foreign Correspondents Club,” said Commodore (retired) C Uday Bhaskar, director of the Society for Policy Studies.

Read: Pakistan says talks with India suspended, hints won’t allow NIA visit

“The inference is that it was aimed at the external constituency, and that there are many lines of command and control operating in Islamabad and Rawalpindi,” he told Hindustan Times.

When the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, known for its robust national security posture and hardline stand on terrorism, came to power in 2014, few would have imagined that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would make a surprise visit to Lahore to wish his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on his birthday, or that it would allow a JIT with a member from the Inter-Services Intelligence to visit India to conduct an investigation.

Both those things happened because the NDA government has been willing to walk the extra mile to push relations with Pakistan in the right direction.

Some have pointed to the contacts between National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and his Pakistani counterpart Nasser Khan Janjua for paving the way for Modi’s visit to Lahore and the recent sharing of intelligence to counter terrorists.

But Janjua, a retired three-star general, is more plugged into the military establishment, which recently went to town over the arrest of purported RAW agent Kulbhushan Jadhav – a development that did little to ease relations.

The military establishment’s handling of the Jadhav issue was so ham-handed that even Pakistan’s close ally Iran has publicly complained about it, especially after Islamabad asked Tehran to investigate Jadhav’s alleged activities in the port city of Chahbahar.

Clearly, both sides haven’t learnt from the lessons of the past few months – less is more. The below-the-radar contacts between the NSAs was what gave some impetus to the efforts to set things right. Public posturing of the sort displayed by Basit on Thursday doesn’t help.

Read: Indo-Pak talks and the troubled relationship between Modi and Sharif

On the Indian side, the policy has to acquire a greater degree of sophistication to contend with the two power centres in Pakistan, especially the military-intelligence establishment that drives foreign policy.

Baqir Sajjad, the diplomatic correspondent of the Dawn newspaper, believes it is time for the two sides to get down to brass tacks and sort out the issues that are holding up re-engagement.

Read: Both sides agreed on reciprocity: India counters Pak envoy’s JIT comment

“Irrespective of what high commissioner Basit said, it is quite apparent that the establishments on both sides have been misleading their people on the status of resumption of dialogue,” he told Hindustan Times.

“There are definitely deeper issues which are holding back the planned meeting of the foreign secretaries to decide the schedule of future meetings. I don’t think we are getting any closer to resolving those issues, the situation is instead getting more complicated.”

(The views expressed by the writer are personal. He tweets as @rezhasan)

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