India-Pakistan talks No forward movement
The on-off India-Pakistan talks at various levels in recent years after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks have been like taking one step forward and then two steps backwards. The announcement of the latest Foreign Secretary level talks (April 26) in New Delhi was a big surprise and generated a lot of excitement but as usual the talks could not move forward and remained deadlocked.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had to clarify two days later that the Foreign Secretary level talks were not part of the comprehensive bilateral dialogue. The spokesman of the MEA Vikas Swarup stated that both exchanged ideas how to take the relationship forward. “It was not a meeting to finalise the modalities of the comprehensive bilateral dialogue. Ideas were exchanged on how to take the relationship forward including on the logical follow-up to the visit of the Pakistan Joint Investigation Team and the ongoing investigation into the attack on the Pathankot airbase. Both sides will reflect on those ideas. A relationship goes forward through such exchanges and let us remain hopeful.”
The Pakistani Foreign Secretary was told in clear terms that unless the Pakistani authorities show some progress and cooperate with the Indian authorities in the investigation of the Pathankot terror attack, no further dates for the bilateral dialogue can be set. This was in response to the Pakistani request for early revival of the comprehensive bilateral dialogue. In fact Pathankot has been added to the list of terror attacks for which India is seeking answers and justice to the dead civilians and soldiers. Earlier, the Indian side was harping on the eight-year-old 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the investigations of which have moved nowhere. The longer the list of terror attacks, the talks process gets more complicated as the Indian interlocutors cannot convince its people that talks can go on in spite of jihadi elements based in Pakistan continuing with anti-India operations with impunity.
Whenever a meaningful step is taken by both sides to promote dialogue, some elements inimical to the cordial relations between India and Pakistan take certain violent steps that derail the talks process. The Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan were about to meet on January 15 this year, but a fortnight prior jihadi elements attacked the Pathankot airbase forcing the Indian Government to cancel the talks. All evidences point towards the involvement of Pakistani jihadi group Jaish-e-Mohammad which has been officially accepted by the Pakistani establishment also, but not ready to acknowledge the direct role of its domestically nurtured terror groups, who in fact are patronised by the Pakistani army.
It is often said that the destiny of Pakistan is guided by three As — Allah, Army and America. Allah and the Army always prevail upon the civilian leadership and the so-called democratically elected leaders of Pakistan always kowtow to the whims and fancies of the army.
But public pressure in Pakistan forces the army leaders to accede to the demands of the civilian leadership. However, the civilian leaders are not able to independently pursue the dialogue and always remain under the shadow of the army. The April 26 talks were also guided by the army commanders in Rawalpindi, hence from the very beginning the Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry adopted a very aggressive stance which naturally resulted in tough response from the Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar.
India-Pakistan talks at the senior official level or at the ministerial level always attracts intense media glare. Hence to avoid media interference in the talks this time every effort was successfully made to keep under wraps the Foreign Secretary level talks away from the media limelight, held on April 26 in New Delhi, to prevent it from going down the hill, but the intransigent attitude adopted by the Pakistani delegation did not allow the talks to move an inch. The talks were held under the guise of the Heart of Asia talks for which the Pakistani Foreign Secretary was scheduled to visit New Delhi. In fact the occasion of the conference was found as a good excuse to tell the two Foreign Secretaries to meet which would not attract much media comment on the possibilities of the success or failure of the talks. The talks were marred by accusations and counter accusations and it appeared that the Pakistani delegation arrived in New Delhi with an aggressive intent. Naturally, the Indian side retorted to each of the allegations relating to alleged Indian interference in Pakistan’s restive region of Baluchistan and also in Karachi which has been witnessing sectarian violence since many decades. Naturally the Pakistani media has aptly characterised the India-Pak Secretary level talks as failure which could not produce any significant result. Though the two Foreign Secretaries were able to break the ice but the atmosphere remained frosty and the talks failed to make any forward movement.
Actually, the Pakistani media described the talks as failure and they reported that the “Foreign Secretary level talks between India and Pakistan ‘failed’ to break the stalemate and did not produce any significant measure of forward movement as the two sides only raised issues important to them without conceding ground to the other.” The Pakistani media also said that Pakistan conveyed “it’s serious concerns to India over its spy agency’s involvement in subversive activi- ties in Baluchistan and Karachi as talks between the Foreign Secretaries of the two arch rivals in New Delhi failed to break the stalemate in the bilateral dialogues.”
The Dawn reported that the two Foreign Secretaries raised their respective preferred topics without apparently conceding much to the other, “Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry, predictably as happens in inclement diplomatic weather, raised the issues of Jammu and Kashmir and the capture of an Indian intelligence officer in Baluchistan.” The Nation reported that the top diplomats of India and Pakistan held talks after a hiatus of several months and both raised issues of their own concern and made demands from the other side on contentious issues.
It further said that though both sides called it a constructive session where they discussed “all issues”, the low-key meeting did not produce any significant measure of forward movement. The Pakistani Urdu newspapers and electronic media also emphasised that the Research and Analysis Wing’s (RAW) alleged involvement was the big issue in the talks. Other newspapers also highlighted the spy story.
But Jaishankar firmly rebutted the allegations of India’s involvement in Baluchistan and other areas asserting that how can a country send its spy to other country with a passport without visa. The Indian side raised the demands of early consular access to Indian citizen Kulbhushan Jadhav but the Pakistani Secretary failed to promise such meeting. This was the level of mistrust between the two sides and the latest talks have shown that the two sides were talking at each other and not to each other. The Indian side took solace in the fact that “both sides have described the meeting as frank but constructive.”
According to Swarup: “The decision to commence the comprehensive bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan was taken during External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Islamabad in December last where it was also agreed that the two Foreign Secretaries would meet to work out the modalities and schedule of the meetings under the dialogue, since then the two Foreign Secretaries have been in touch. What happened on April 26 was a meeting between the two Foreign Secretaries on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia conference. It was not a meeting to finalise the CBD.” This characterises the state of bilateral relations between India and Pakistan for now.
Foreign Secretary Dr S. Jaishankar with Foreign Secretary of Pakistan Aizaz Chaudhry in New Delhi on April 26, 2016
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan in Islamabad in December 2015