The presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in New York on September 28 for the 70th UN General Assembly opens a window of opportunity for both leaders to meet in the aftermath of the cancelled August 23 National Security Advisor-level talks on terrorism. Sharif is to address the General Assembly, while foreign minister Sushma Swaraj is expected to take the podium from the Indian side with Prime Minister Modi returning to India after meeting US President Barack Obama.
Although Modi desires a working relationship with his Pakistani counterpart, the NSA-level talks between Ajit Doval and Sartaj Aziz failed to take off over the latter’s insistence on meeting pro-Pakistan Hurriyat separatists and the modalities of a discussion on Kashmir. The roadmap of a NSA-level dialogue on terrorism followed by talks between the Directors General of the BSF and Pakistan Rangers, and then Directors General of Military Operations of both sides was laid out by the two prime ministers at Ufa in Russia on July 15. The NSA-level talks did not happen, but the BSF and Pakistan Rangers chiefs met last week in Delhi.
Although Pakistan Army chief Raheel Sharif has described Kashmir as the “ unfinished agenda of partition ”, India has clearly drawn some new red lines for a fruitful bilateral dialogue with Islamabad and wants to expand its options in Jammu and Kashmir. Just as the Hurriyat does not figure in any India-Pakistan equation for the Modi government, the only discussion on Kashmir will be cross-border terrorism and Chinese activity in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). India’s assessment is that given the clout of Army and security agencies in Pakistan, there will be no let-up in the export of terror of the Udhampur and Gurdaspur kind even if India agrees to revive foreign secretary-level talks on all issues, including Kashmir.
In this context, India is also concerned over the US and China hobnobbing with Pakistan over future of Afghanistan through the recent Murree talks with Taliban as well as the announcement of Mullah Omar’s death at that crucial juncture. That India was kept out of the loop on talks with the Taliban and Mullah Omar’s death in 2013 has been conveyed in firm terms by New Delhi to US interlocutors after failure of the Murree dialogue.
While the New York meeting between prime ministers Modi and Sharif is still possible, there is also an outside chance of both NSAs exchanging notes on terrorism before the two heads of government meet in order to operationalise other aspects of the Ufa statement.