Failed diplomacy: Why Indo-Pak NSA talks collapsed

  • Rezaul H Laskar, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 23, 2015 13:45 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Ufa, Russia on Friday. (PTI Photo)

Diplomacy is all about nuance and the art of the possible. The handling of the planned meeting of the National Security Advisors by India and Pakistan has been anything but.

This is not the first time a crucial meeting between the two sides has collapsed amidst acrimony, nor will it be the last. Thus we had the drama of India and Pakistan trading charges through the media throughout Friday and Saturday before both sides walked away from meeting of the NSAs set for Monday.

Much of the rancour centred round what exactly would be on the table if the NSAs did get together in Delhi. When Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif met in the Russian city of Ufa on July 10, the joint statement issued after their talks clearly stated the NSAs would only “discuss all issues connected to terrorism”.

Read | Pak says NSA talks not possible, India terms move unfortunate

Pakistan’s subsequent gambit to expand the agenda to include "all outstanding issues", including Kashmir, and its invitation to Hurriyat leaders to meet NSA Sartaj Aziz even before the formal diplomatic engagement, especially when the Narendra Modi government laid down its opposition to such meetings, produced a result that was along expected lines.

Since Modi came to power last year, his national security and foreign policy team has made it very clear that terrorism and talks cannot go together. His government also did away with the long-standing practice of every visiting Pakistani leader being allowed to hold consultations with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference.

But Sharif has been hamstrung because foreign policy is largely dictated by the other Sharif – Gen Raheel Sharif – and the generals in the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. Gen Sharif spelt out his priorities some months ago when he declared Kashmir the "unfinished agenda of Partition".

"Pakistan and its deep state have an interest in maintaining a certain amount of simmer. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s desire for good relations has been blunted – these are realities that can’t be ignored," said Commodore (retired) C Uday Bhaskar, director of the think tank Society for Policy Studies.

Baqir Sajjad, the diplomatic correspondent for Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, said there were "serious misunderstandings" between the two countries about what should be discussed. "India is focussed on terrorism and Pakistan wants to talk about all issues that have bedevilled relations. They will have to work out a format for talks," he told Hindustan Times from Islamabad.

For the Pakistani side, any failure to include Kashmir in the formal agenda for talks will make it difficult for a civilian government to sell the dialogue to the people.

Sharif faced strong criticism when he returned home with the Ufa joint statement that had no mention of Kashmir – Aziz even made an effort to remedy the situation on Saturday when he said at his news conference in Islamabad that "the ‘K’ word is very much in the statement..."

Sajjad said the two sides will have to work to find "some sort of balance".

For Pakistan, the Hurriyat remains the only way to put a face to its stake in the Kashmir issue. Until this latest flap put the Hurriyat back at the centre of the row over Kashmir, the separatist conglomerate had been largely marginalised in the political space despite its capacity to shut down parts of the Kashmir Valley.

But for far too long, the Hurriyat has been represented by the same old faces – Ali Shah Geelani, Shabir Shah, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik – who have either trotted out the same old stated positions or have been happy to toe the Pakistani line.

And while the Modi government has clearly enunciated what it won’t tolerate during its engagements with Pakistan, there is less clarity on how it intends to take the stalled peace process forward.

"The position adopted by India is both intriguing and avoidable. Intriguing because of the way the issue of the Hurriyat leaders was handled and avoidable because diplomacy needs to be deft and discreet. The Modi government may have gone out on a limb," Bhaskar said.

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

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