When Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif met briefly in Paris on November 30, they already knew their national security advisers would meet soon and discuss not just terrorism but Kashmir as well.
The climate change moment in the India-Pakistan relationship was a result of back-channel diplomacy that took place in Delhi, well before Modi flew to the French capital, highly placed sources told HT.
The two-minute interaction between Modi and Sharif at the speakers’ lounge in Paris was no chance meeting but had been set up after a quiet, under the radar meeting in Delhi between national security adviser AK Doval and Pakistan high commissioner Abdul Basit.
India conveyed its willingness to take the engagement process further and suggested a meeting between the NSAs of the two countries at a third location. The meeting between Doval and his counterpart Lt Gen (retd) Naseer Janjua finally took place in Bangkok on December 6 but the venue was not the main issue.
“We told India we were willing for a meeting between the NSAs on the condition that the talks include not just the issue of terrorism, but also Jammu and Kashmir,” a senior Pakistani official told HT on condition of anonymity.
“The talks between the NSAs were called off in August not only because our NSA was to meet Hurriyat Conference leaders over tea but also because India did not agree to including Kashmir,” the official said.
The then Pakistan NSA Sartaj Aziz was to travel to Delhi in August but talks were called off at the last minute and relations between the two countries dived after India insisted there could be no talks if Aziz met Kashmiri separatists.
India offered NSA-level talks to Pakistan on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York in September. But that did not happen because India insisted on discussing only terrorism, as agreed upon in Ufa in July, but Pakistan also wanted a meeting of foreign secretaries to discuss Kashmir.
The warmth in the bilateral relationship -- that resulted in the climate change moment -- was injected only after India agreed to include the word Kashmir in the joint statement. Once that was agreed on, the rest played out as per the agreement reached between Doval and Basit.
When Sharif told British PM David Cameron in Malta on November 28 that he was ready for talks with India without any pre-conditions, he knew the ‘pre-condition’ of India discussing only terror and not Kashmir had already been taken care of.
The rest worked according to the script: Modi and Sharif met in Paris on November 30 and the NSAs in Bangkok on December 6. The joint statement issued in the Thai capital said, “Discussions covered peace and security, terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir and other issues including tranquility along the line of control.”
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj will travel to Islamabad on Tuesday for the Hearts of Asia conference to be held from December 8 to 10, where she is also likely to have a bilateral meeting with her counterpart, Aziz.
The next step in the India-Pakistan relationship will be taken in Islamabad where Aziz says they will try and find ways to resume the composite dialogue. The ministry of external affairs could not be reached for a comment.