Thursday, September 23, 2021
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Will re-engaging Pakistan on its own terms deliver desired results for India?

Raj Singh

New Delhi: So India has once again decided to engage Pakistan but the foreign policy experts are wondering whether the new initiative will lead to any tangible results.  

The scepticism is mainly on the account that nothing has actually changed on ground from the time India called off the NSA-level talks objecting to Sartaz Aziz’s planned meeting with Hurriyat leaders in New Delhi.  

India also refused to discuss anything other than terror with Pakistan and pointed out that the Ufa declaration restricted the agenda to ‘terror’ for NSA-level talks.

The government made it clear that the old practice of allowing Hurriyat leaders to set agenda for such talks by meeting Pakistani leaders and interlocutors beforehand will no longer be permitted.
The new posturing came as a breath of fresh air that signalled the ushering in of a new Pakistan policy that the new government wished to follow.  

So what has actually changed that warranted sudden meeting between the two NSAs in a third country that came as ‘a bolt from the blue’ for most of the observers.

The joint statement issued after the meeting of the two NSAs clearly mentioned the ‘K word’ in addition to terror and other issues. Since the venue was shifted to a third country, meeting with Hurriyat leaders was obviously no longer a factor.

Now, if India had no qualms in discussing Kashmir, in addition to terror,  at NSA level why were New Delhi talks called off?

This is not to Say that India should not talk to Pakistan. Of course, India should continue to engage its western nuclear-armed neighbour but what it badly needs is a long-term and concrete Pakistan policy.  Blow hot-blow cold approach will not reinstate the mutual confidence that Indo-Pak relations are craving for.

And the new approach also raises serious questions over the consistency in BJP’s stand on talks with Pakistan.

In the run-up to 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Narendra Modi had slammed UPA government’s policy of engaging Pakistan when Indian civilians and soldiers were succumbing to Pak sponsored terrorism.
“Terror and talks can’t go hand-in-hand,”  Narendra Modi had thundered in his election rallies.

Now the same Congress is asking whether Modi government believes Pakistan-sponsored terrorism has ceased to exist. And BJP is finding it difficult to come up with a convincing reply  in view of the fact that Colonel Santosh Mahadik was martyred just a few weeks ago fighting valiantly against terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir.  
 
The only positive thing, however,  that comes out of the new talks is the fact that for the first time, Pakistan military has almost formally joined the negotiations between the two countries.

Lieutenant General Naseer Khan Janjua , the new National Security Advisor (NSA) of Pakistan is a close confidante of Army Chief General Raheel Sharif. His active participation in the bilateral talks between the two countries would ensure that Pakistan Army abides by the commitment that the civilian government makes to India.

Ufa talks failed primarily because Nawaz Sharif made certain commitments to India without bothering to bring Army on board. A miffed Gen Sharif forced Prime Minister Sharif to go back on his words.

If Pakistani military experts are to be believed, unilateral commitments made by Nawaz Sharif in Ufa forced General Sharif to push for greater involvement of Pakistan Army in talks between India and Pakistan.  

And that was the reason why General Sharif was pushing for Lt General Janjua’s appointment as NSA immediately after he retired in October 2015.

Security experts point out that Pakistani military  establishment was never comfortable with the idea of Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval holding talks with Sartaj Aziz who they considered too suave to counter a career spy like Doval. They knew that Doval will aggressively raise the issue of Pakistan’s involvement in terror activities in Jammu and Kashmir and Sartaj Aziz may be found wanting in offering a credible counter.

The appointment of Gen Janjua as NSA will serve another important purpose for Pakistan Army. Gen Janjua was directly involved in tackling internal rebellion in Balochistan and Pakistan  has always accused India of fishing in troubled waters in that region.

It clearly means that Ajit Doval’s dossier on Jammu and Kashmir will be countered by Gen Janjua’s dossier on Balochistan. Obviously, there is a real danger of the talks getting reduced to a virtual ‘tu-tu-main-main’ between the two NSAs.

Pakistan has clearly not yielded to Indian demands on checking cross-border terrorism and it has succeeded in getting Kashmir included in the NSA-level talks.

If media reports are to be believed, Indian government has also made up its mind to give a green signal to the cricket series between the two countries and it may be announced soon.  

The question is – has India yielded too much to Pakistan without getting anything concrete in return? Only time will answer this question.  However, given the history and complexity of India-Pakistan relations, it will be too early to expect a real and tangible breakthrough.

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