By Rashmi Saksena*
The collapsed talks (August 23-24) between the National Security Advisors of India and Pakistan have seen the emergence of new red lines from the two sides. This is a development far more significant than the talks being called off at the eleventh hour. The new red lines are bound to have far reaching consequences on the roller coaster dialogue process the two nuclear neighbors have apparently opted for as a means to normalize their troubled bilateral relationship. For global powers interested in peace in the South Asia Region, the red lines will surely be a cause for concern as they are bound to make future engagements between New Delhi and Islamabad aimed at settling their differences through bilateral negotiations all the more tricky to work out.
For starters, the drawn red lines have boxed in both India and Pakistan. For 40 hours both nations indulged in brinkmanship before Pakistan NSA Sartaj Aziz cancelled his ticket to New Delhi late evening on August 22. This was hours away from the scheduled meeting between him and his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval. The takeaway from a meeting that never happened is more important than the outcome expected from a meeting if it had actually taken place. The run-up to the failed attempt to get the two NSAs to meet brings out some noteworthy facts that both sides will from now on have to factor in when they draw up terms of future engagements.
The foremost point to emerge marks a change of course in India conducting its relations with Pakistan. New Delhi has exhibited its determination to stick to the red line it has drawn over Pakistan continuing with the earlier practice of meeting Kashmiri separatists before bilateral talks even at heads of government level. Pakistan met with them even before the historic July 2001 Agra Summit attended by then Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.
The Narendra Modi government drew the red line in July 2014 when it called off the Foreign Secretary-level talks when the Pakistan high commissioner insisted on inviting Kashmiri separatists prior to the scheduled meet. Islamabad chose to defy New Delhi’s message that it was against the planned interaction with Kashmiri separatists.
It is evident that the Modi government, the first to draw the red line in this matter, is determined not to allow the line to be blurred. India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj stated on August 22 with no ambiguity at all that there would be no NSA level talks if Sartaj Aziz went ahead with plans to host Kashmiri separatists. India stuck to its guns, albeit by invoking the spirit of the 1972 Shimla Agreement between Indira Gandhi the then prime minister of India and then Pakistan president Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, to drive home the point.
The message is blunt and firm, not only to Pakistan but the international community as well. India is not willing to yield an inch when it comes to Pakistan’s endeavour and declaration that Kashmiri separatists are a third party at the India-Pakistan talks table. A rigid India has held that the Shimla Agreement spells out that there will be only two parties — being India and Pakistan to “settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations”.
The detention of Hurriyat members Shabir Shah, Bilal Lone, Mohammed Abdullah Tari and Zamir Ahmed Sheikh when they arrived in Delhi from Srinagar to attend a scheduled reception at the Pakistan High Commission prior to the NSA level talks has fortified the stand taken by the central government. It was also meant to let Pakistan know that India means business when it disapproved of Aziz’s intention of meeting Kashmiri separatists when in New Delhi for the NSA talks.
India, by reminding Pakistan of the spirit of the Shimla Agreement in the context of Pakistan interacting with Kashmiri separatists and calling them stakeholders in any bilateral talks, was actually giving a face saver to Aziz to climb down from the stand he had taken. Islamabad obviously chose not to grasp the opportunity. Now that New Delhi and Islamabad have publically shown rigidity on this point of meetings with Kashmiri separatists even at the cost of losing an opportunity to engage, it has to be seen how they will deal with this issue when drawing up future engagements.
The Modi government has also for the first time articulated in simple language for public consumption at home as well as in Pakistan how it views the Composite Dialogue (CD), renamed Resumed Dialogue (RD) as different from mere talks. Swaraj stated from a public platform that every time India and Pakistan meet for talks it cannot be termed a dialogue. At her August 22 press briefing while laying out the fundamental facts of India-Pakistan engagement, Swaraj clarified that the Composite Dialogue, the formulation of which was detailed by the respective foreign secretaries in February 2004 following the January 2004 joint statement by Vajpayee and Musharraf, had eight points. They are Siachen, Sir Creek, Tul Bul Navigation project, Terrorism and drug trafficking, Economic and Commerce cooperation, Promotion of Cultural exchanges & Confidence Building measures as issues to be discussed and taken forward to normalize bilateral relations. Also included is resolving of all outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir.
Swaraj also made it clear that there was a consensus between India and Pakistan not only on the issues incorporated in the CD/RD but also on which government arm from either side would engage on them. After the 2008 Mumbai terror attack the Composite Dialogue was stopped. It was resumed in 2010 under the name of Resumed Dialogue, and the issue of counter terrorism and speedy trial of Mumbai terror mastermind was incorporated. This too was stopped in 2012 following the beheading of an Indian soldier by Pakistanis. Swaraj pointed out that the dialogue on Kashmir along with other outstanding issues can be discussed only under the Resumed Dialogue.
India thereby on August 22 delinked CD/RD with any other talks, including NSA level talks. At Ufa (Russia) on the margins of a multilateral meet, the two prime ministers decided on delinking terror and talks. The consensus was that first there should be NSA level talks on terror followed by two other meetings of Director General Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers on maintaining peace on the Line of Control and another of DG Military Operations to discuss ceasefire violations. This is the operative part of the Ufa formulation. India is on solid ground when it comes to its determination to insist on its interpretation of what was agreed upon at Ufa.
By not agreeing to expand the agenda beyond what was agreed at Ufa, India has drawn another red line. It will discuss all outstanding issues including Kashmir only under the CD formulation. It has also made it clear that it is determined to hold Pakistan to its commitment to discuss terror. The Modi government has also sent a message that it is willing to restart the CD/RD only after terror is brought to an end. In other words, the pre- condition is peace and end of cross-border terrorism before other outstanding issues including Kashmir can be discussed.
It is clear that India is adamant to first discuss terror while Pakistan has always maintained that Kashmir is the core issue and wants to bring it to every talks table and not let it wait for the resumption of CD/RD. It is to be seen how the two nations find a point of convergence when they chalk out future interactions.
New Delhi has also shown that it will not be intimidated by dossiers Pakistan has prepared on India’s alleged role in the Baluchistan insurgency or Aziz’s threat to hand it over to the United Nations and thrust it in the hands of his Indian counterpart in New York in September when they are likely to come face to face while attending the UN General Assembly meet.
India is confident of countering the dossier brandished by Aziz at a press conference in Pakistan with captured LeT terrorist Naved. Swaraj said confidently that India will confront Pakistan with a living proof. India is learnt to have also collected fresh evidence, such as a recent photograph, travel documents, telephone bills and property documents to prove that terror mastermind Dawood Ibrahim lives in and enjoys the patronage of Islamabad.
Islamabad’s decision not to finally send Aziz to New Delhi for NSA level talks reinforces facts India has always been aware of. The first point to emerge directly out of the cancellation of talks is that Pakistan is reluctant to face the Naved and Dawood proof. The other fact confirmed is that the political leadership in Pakistan still has to kowtow to the army and Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Both want the focus of India-Pakistan engagement to remain on Kashmir and not on terror. The army and ISI have not taken well the Ufa formulation agreed upon by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif simply for this reason.
India has to understand that come what may Kashmir will remain the core issue for Pakistan and it will use every opportunity to keep international focus on it. India and Pakistan cannot ignore these facts. The leadership of both nations will have to find ways that will not show them as climbing down from the rigid positions they have taken leading to the NSA meet being abandoned when they plan the next round of talks, be they at any level. New Delhi and Islamabad both are acutely aware that negotiation at the talks table is the only way to travel down the potholed peace road, however slow the journey may be.
*Rashmi Saksena is Associate Director, Society for Policy Studies. She can be contacted at [email protected]