A meeting of the national security advisors of India and Pakistan collapsed amid a welter of acrimony, leaving several questions about the future of the bilateral peace process that has been dogged by problems since the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif for his swearing-in and the decision by the two leaders in the Russian city of Ufa last month to have a series of meetings of top officials had kindled hopes that the peace process might finally get a much-needed boost.
Here are five key takeaways from the collapse on the talks between the NSAs after India insisted that the meeting should focus on terrorism and Pakistan responded that parleys with conditions wouldn’t be productive.
1. India and Pakistan will have to go back to the drawing board again to find ways to take forward the peace process, as and when they decide to resume engagements. Since the peace process collapsed after the attacks in Mumbai by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists, the two sides have struggled to agree on a format for talks. New Delhi has given several indications that it wants to do away from the erstwhile composite dialogue while Islamabad wants a similar structure that includes all outstanding issues.
2. The two sides have different priorities that they want to address through talks. For India, especially in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks and recent assaults like the ones in Gurdaspur and Udhampur, terrorism remains the key issue for future talks. Pakistan has gone back to the "core issue" of Kashmir, which it wanted in the agenda for the meeting between the NSAs.
3. Even before the NSA-level talks collapsed, whispers in New Delhi’s corridors of power suggested the Pakistan Army was behind a recent spike in firing along the Line of Control to scuttle the meeting. Indian officials are apprehensive the latest impasse could be followed by a ramping up of Pakistani support for militant activities in Jammu and Kashmir. They point to recent comments by Pakistan’s military leadership, including army chief Gen Raheel Sharif’s remark that Kashmir is "an unfinished agenda of Partition".
4. Though the Prime Ministers had agreed in Ufa that the two sides would discuss ways to expedite the trial of the seven Pakistanis charged with involvement in the Mumbai attacks, there is little hope that this will now happen. LeT operations commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi has been out on bail for four months and there has been virtually no progress in the trial for more than a year.
5. The BJP-led government in New Delhi will be under no pressure for a quick resumption of contacts with Islamabad. Building relations with Pakistan is not a priority for its core constituency and the government will be reluctant to make a fresh push after its attempt to reach out to Pakistan at Ufa resulted in the messy collapse of the NSA-level talks. In Pakistan, Prime Minister Sharif and his government have little say in deciding foreign policy, which is directed by the generals in Rawalpindi, and any effort from across the border to normalise ties is unlikely in the near future.
Read:Unfortunate that Pakistan called off NSA talks, says Rajnath Singh