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So what is behind the resumption of Indo-Pak dialogue / Buying peace at the grocery

15 December 2015

print version of this article print version - 11 December 2015

Modi & Sharif revived Indo-Pak dialogue in 167 seconds. Here’s how

by Bharat Bhushan

The thaw

  • It was Narendra Modi’s meeting with Nawaz Sharif in Paris that led to the resumption of Indo-Pak dialogue
  • This was followed by a meeting between the NSAs in Bangkok and them Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Islamabad

Behind the scenes

  • Modi agreed to resuming talks only after Sharif gave him an assurance on terrorism
  • India reiterated its concerns on terror during the NSA level talks

More in the story

  • What did Sharif tell Modi?
  • Why do both sides desire a dialogue?
  • What are Pakistan’s compulsions?

The Narendra Modi government is under attack for taking a U-turn on Pakistan from those familiar with the trajectory of India-Pakistan relations. They predict that we will soon witness the tragedies of the past once again when the euphoria about restarting an India-Pakistan dialogue dissipates.

After Ufa, there was speculation that the Modi government was keen on rewriting the rules of engagement with Pakistan. However, the Paris encounter between the two prime ministers, lasting less than three minutes, seems to have changed everything. It was followed with alacrity by an almost secretive meeting of the National Security Advisors and the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries in Bangkok.

Two days after the Bangkok meeting, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj flew to Islamabad for a multilateral conference on Afghanistan. After shaking hands with top Pakistani leadership she announced the resumption of a comprehensive dialogue between India and Pakistan with no hint of how this about-turn had taken place.

The details of the Nawaz Sharif-Modi meeting in Paris have, however, now started trickling out.

Thaw amidst climate change negotiations

It seems that only after the Pakistan Prime Minister assured Modi in Paris that the Pakistan Army was keen to improve ties and was willing to curb terrorism against India that a thaw began in India-Pakistan ties.

The initiative to meet in Paris on the sidelines of the Climate Summit apparently came from Sharif and not from the Indian side.

In the 167-second meeting, if sources close to the government are to be believed, Sharif conveyed to Modi that the Pakistan was inclined to move forward with India and wanted the dialogue restarted. He is also said to have assured Modi that even the Pakistan Army was on board on this matter.

The Pakistan Prime Minister apparently told Modi that the current Pakistan Army Chief General Raheel Sharif was quite unlike his predecessor, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who was known for his hardline attitude towards India. The current Pakistan Army Chief, Modi was told, was extremely worried about terrorists of all hues and had been acting against them.

Sharif apparently told Modi that the current Pak Army Chief wasn’t a hardliner like his predecessor

Such action, Sharif assured Modi, would target even groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyeba which indulged in terrorism against India. Modi was told that India would start seeing the results once the bilateral dialogue process was on track.

After this assurance by the Pakistan Prime Minister, according to sources, Modi cleared the meeting between National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and his Pakistan counterpart Lt. General (Retd.) Nasser Khan Janjua which took place in Bangkok on December 6.

NSA Doval talks tough

Modi’s brief to his NSA apparently was to "read the riot act to Pakistan". Apparently, Doval was extremely blunt in conveying the Prime Minister’s message to the Pakistani delegation. According to sources, he is believed to have told Gen. Janjua that if Pakistan did not stop terrorism against India, it would continue facing internal instability.

"How blunt the NSA really was, only he would know," said a source but added that Doval had reported back that, to his surprise, the Pakistani side was not in its usual combative mode and was willing to listen. Over the 4 hour long discussion, the Indian side is believed to have received the assurance that no one in Pakistan’s establishment would provide direct or indirect support to terrorist activities in Jammu and Kashmir or any other part of India.

During his trips abroad, Modi realised that his refusal to talk to Pak harmed India diplomatically

Indian negotiators felt that while this was a good start, it could very well be tactical positioning by Pakistan given its international isolation over terrorism. Even before Tafsheen Malik, a Pakistani-origin woman, who along with her husband went on a rampage in St. Bernardino, California, shooting 14 people and injuring 21, Pakistan was being told even by the Muslim countries that globally it was being seen as the source of Islamic terrorism. They advised Pakistan to act to change that image. To negate that image also, it had become necessary for Islamabad to make an overture to India.

However, the Indian negotiators came back from Bangkok with the distinct impression that they had been able to secure primacy for India’s concern on terrorism.

The joint statement

They saw the validation of this assumption in the joint statement issued after External Affairs Minister (EAM) Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Islamabad where she met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Foreign Policy Adviser Sartaj Aziz.

The second paragraph of the Joint Statement, thus, noted: "The EAM and the Adviser condemned terrorism and resolved to cooperate to eliminate it. They noted the successful talks on terrorism and security related issues in Bangkok by the two NSAs and decided that the NSAs will continue to address all issues connected to terrorism. The Indian side was assured of the steps being taken to expedite the early conclusion of the Mumbai trial."

The statement then goes on list the subjects of the comprehensive dialogue where discussion on "counter-terrorism" is listed as a separate dialogue subject. This is now being tom-tommed as exactly what India wanted - a separate dialogue with Pakistan on terrorism.

Decoding Modi’s climbdown

There were also compelling reasons for Modi not to spurn Nawaz Sharif’s Paris overture.

Apparently, during his frequent forays abroad, he realised that India had lost diplomatic ground internationally because of his refusal to talk to Pakistan. Except on the issue of terrorism, he saw that Pakistan’s position had in fact improved - its economy was better than before, aid had started flowing in from the US and China, the relationship with China itself had become very strong and both US and China had put Pakistan in a pivotal role in stabilising Afghanistan.

At the same time, Modi was projected in Pakistan as someone who could worsen the situation in the subcontinent.

Pakistan had also used the precarious state of relations with India to justify the development of tactical nuclear weapons or smaller, low-yield, battlefield and easy to transport weapons like bombs and missiles. Pakistan claimed that the development of these battlefield nuclear weapons was necessary to counter India’s "cold-start" war doctrine... It was important for India to deny the justification to Pakistan for escalating the nuclear race.

Apparently, Modi’s brief to Doval was to ’read the riot act to Pakistan’ at the NSA level talks

However, despite the announcement of a comprehensive dialogue, no one in India foresees any big changes immediately. It is quite possible that the easier to address subjects like "religious tourism" would be taken up for discussion first before moving on to the more tricky issues.

There is also apprehension about problems that could crop up once the dialogue is held either in Islamabad and New Delhi rather than in a third country.

At that point several factors that have marred the dialogue process in the past, such as Pakistan insisting on talking to the All Party Hurriyat Conference before any engagement, could come up again. Talking with the Hurriyat is important for Pakistan because of its preoccupation in Jammu and Kashmir with the right to self-determination, rejecting elections and projecting the separatists as the real leaders of the Kashmiri people.

It is also not going to be easy to talk about terrorism — with Pakistan’s claim that it is the bigger victim of terror, that it does not control terrorists and questioning India on the Samjhauta Express blasts by Hindutva terrorists.

Despite these apprehensions, the Modi government has, however, decided to go ahead with the talks. "We will see where this takes us. But India is not going to have talks for the sake of talks," warned a source close to the negotiators.

o o o

Dawn - 15 December 2015

Buying peace at the grocery

by Jawed Naqvi

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

FELLOW peace campaigners on both sides of the border would probably disagree with me, but I do believe firmly that neither reviving cricket ties nor boosting bilateral trade is the way to correct the sorry relations between Pakistan and India.

If we can’t let people visit each other freely, don’t blame poor trade or cricket or, as is often the case, the Kashmir dispute. In any case, none should hold the people hostage to this or that tycoon’s greed.

Yes, Indian and Pakistani chambers of commerce must strive to do more business with each other. Such clubs, however, are about seeking profits. Peace and democracy is hardly their forte.

As for cricket, the same people — traders masquerading as industrial magnates, money launderers and punters, directly or indirectly push cricket and politics in both countries, more so in India than in Pakistan. Vulgar nationalism has been harnessed in their marketing gimmick. Use such and such cement, breakfast cereal or soap for the nation’s health.
Ordinary people praying for peace between the South Asian neighbours must not yield to the propaganda that a good business climate can heal political ties.

I stopped watching cricket years ago when it swapped its gene pool of social graces in a Faustian bargain with nationalist hooliganism. The body language of the players too has changed.

Majid Khan and Gundappa Vishwanath were admired by their generation of cricket lovers for their batting skills but also because they walked before the umpire could raise his finger. We can attribute it to commerce that today’s cricketers, with few exceptions, will defy even the electronic evidence. And then they would leave the crease only with a foul gesture.

They are far removed from Colin Cowdrey, Neil Harvey, Conrad Hunte, M.L. Jaisimha, Hanif Mohammad, the works, who exuded grace on the field. The intemperate burning of the bails on one occasion and the so-called bodyline series marked a brief departure but moulded humorously into the Ashes contest between England and Australia.

Recall the normal neighbourly behaviour until the mid-1960s when neither India nor Pakistan was hankering after improved trade, nor was the Kashmir question settled to anyone’s satisfaction if memory serves right. There were four or five crossing points from where people could travel easily and freely to the other side without let or hindrance. Cricket was a normal game at par with hockey between the two sides.

Then the trader-punter combo took over cricket, overtaking Kerry Packer and Abdur Rehman Bukhatir. It remains there. I remember Dawood Ibrahim waving the Indian flag in Sharjah as he ‘patronised’ cricket matches between the two sides from his VIP enclosure. Pakistani ‘re-export merchants’ were involved too. Some later moved into TV, nationalist TV.

Ordinary people praying for peace between the South Asian neighbours must not yield to the propaganda that a good business climate can heal political ties. If trade could improve ties, relations between India and Nepal would not be in the doldrums. If commerce could usher peace or democracy, we should not have let the East India Company leave our shores. Is China investing billions in Pakistan to shore up sagging friendship? Or is it that time-tested political relations have paved the way between Beijing and Gwadar. The idea that trade constitutes a mandatory prelude to Indians and Pakistanis going to a music concert together seems a devious alibi for bad politics.

It is true that the groundbreaking ceremony was held for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline in concert with politicians of India and Pakistan who did an unexplained about-turn in favour of peace talks, which is good. However, none should blame the hitherto absence of Tapi or a stalled pipeline from Iran for the fact that Pakistan cannot play a match in Mumbai.

Will roaring business make the Shiv Sena change its heart? Was it the poor trade volumes that made Pakistani militants attack Sri Lankan players in Lahore, which makes it difficult to hold a match there, particularly if it involves Indians?

The two countries should sort out the mess, which is a political mess.

There’s doubt though that Nawaz Sharif has successfully tamed the zealots, who were his mass base when they washed the Minar-i-Pakistan after the Hindu prime minister of a maligned country had visited there to usher peace.

Is Narendra Modi planning to disown his brand of religious extremists? That could be more crucial than any formulaic business deals with mealy-mouthed peace overtures. It was Hindutva fanatics who scrubbed Mahatma Gandhi’s shrine to seek its purification after Pervez Musharraf offered flowers there.

And while they can go about setting up as many gas pipelines as they wish they must explain something very clearly to the people. Why must people on both sides huddle like beggars at the visa counters while fat cat business captains are feted in the ante-rooms of power? And only when they give a sated burp, will it convey the signal of normalised relations?

Here’s one way to regard this overemphasis on the peace panacea. In an Indian movie about a Mughal prince and his affair with a courtesan — Pakistanis in packed trains came in droves to watch Mughal-i-Azam in Indian theatres in the 1960s — there is a line that seems nicely relevant to our argument.

Emperor Akbar is opposed to Prince Salim marrying Anarkali. However, his desperate queen suggests that such a tie-up could be a way to help tame their rebellious son. Akbar frames his wife’s suggestion into a blunt query: “Apni aulaad ko paaney ke liye humko ek kaneez ka ehsaan lena hoga?” (To get back our son are we to seek the goodwill of a handmaiden?) Why pass brazen blackmail for sagacious policy, is what Akbar told his wife.

Everyone goes to the corner shop to fetch their daily provisions. That they can buy an ounce of democracy or a bellyful of peace from the grocer is sophistry.


above articles from Catchnews and from Dawn are reproduced here in public interest are for educational and non commercial use