Just over three months after talks were called off amid a crossfire of harsh rhetoric, the national security advisers of India and Pakistan have met to take the bilateral engagements forward.
NSAs of India and Pakistan, Ajit Doval and Naseer Janjua, held a closely guarded four-and-a-half hour meeting in Bangkok on Sunday, catching the media in both countries by surprise. This was Janjua’s first interaction of any kind with Indian leaders.
The development follows the unscheduled meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart Nawaz Sahrif during the climate summit in Paris on November 30.
The opposition has called the talks a “grand betrayal of everything the government espoused” but the meeting has a lot of outcomes-- important among them being that both sides have started talking again instead of maintaining a diplomatic sulk.
Here are the key takeaways from the meeting.
Give and take: The joint statement issued after the event said, “ the discussions covered peace and security, terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir and other issues, including tranquility along the line of control”. This would mean that both sides have gone the extra mile to meet the other’s demand. In August, India had wanted the NSA talks to be limited to terrorism, while Pakistan wanted Kashmir too on the agenda. The joint statement implied that the concerns of both sides were listed. The mention of Jammu and Kashmir would give Sharif some cover from domestic rivals who had criticised the Ufa meeting for not reflecting the “core issue of Kashmir” . India’s position that the NSAs should meet before other engagements has also been met. Sources said the two sides are also willing to engage each other to address the larger security issues in the region, like the rising threat of the terror group Islamic State.
Kashmiri separatists: That the talks were held outside the subcontinent did away with the tricky issue of dealing with the Hurriyat separatists. In August, India had insisted that no ‘third party’ should be involved, and went to the extent of putting the Hurriyat leaders under house arrest. But ahead of the talks , Pakistani high commissioner Abdul Basit invited the Kashmiri separatists to a tea reception -- a usual ritual to underscore Islamabad’s point that Kashmiris have a stake in the dispute. This eventually contributed to the collapse of the talks.
Pakistan’s NSA: This time it was Naseer Khan Janjua, a former army general at the table. Recently Pakistan replaced former NSA Sartaj Aziz with Janjua, who is close to army chief Raheel Sharif. Considering that the powerful army calls the shots in Pakistan’s foreign policy, this helped India. New Delhi got to talk directly to a man who represented both the Sharifs.
No waving of dossiers: No mutually recriminating ‘terror dossiers’ were sought to be exchanged. Last time, there was the ugly sight of Aziz waving before TV cameras dossiers allegedly containing proof of India’s involvement in stoking terror in Balochistan. This time, the two sides were “willing to engage and focus on convergences” with “no confrontation”.
Swaraj’s Pakistan visit: The decks are now clear for external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s trip to Islamabad to attend the Heart of Asia conference on regional cooperation in Afghanistan being held from December 8-10. With the NSA-level talks now over, Swaraj’s visit would have a different meaning altogether. She would be free to hold talks on bilateral issues with the Pakistani leadership while in Islamabad.
Indo-Pak cricket: Cricket was not on the agenda . But the fresh bonhomie between Delhi and Islamabad has raised the hopes of cricket lovers. Perhaps a cricket series between both countries at a neutral venue later this month?