Pak Talks Need More Than Modi's Event Management

All right-thinking people will greatly welcome the agreement to release all fishermen and boats captured by either side. But what happens from now on? Will fishermen and boats be no longer captured? Will those captured be promptly released? What, in terms of stability in relations involving poor fishermen, has Ufa achieved? Have the two countries been served a half-baked cake?

Any engagement is preferable to no engagement. And, therefore, one cannot but welcome the decision taken at Ufa to arrange a meeting in New Delhi in the near future between the National Security Advisers of India and Pakistan. 

But please note that, at the moment, only ONE meeting has been agreed upon. As with everything Modi does, he is organizing an event, not a process. When the India-China talks on the border were agreed upon, the Indian NSA and the Chinese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs met as "special envoys", not for a one-off event but to commence a process whose end could not be foreseen. 18 rounds of talks later, the end can still not be foreseen, but what we do have is (relative) peace and tranquility on the India-China border, reinforced by a structured uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue that has kept us at arm's length or more from war. It is a process, not an event.

The dialogue between the Indian and Pakistani NSAs might yet - Inshallah! - evolve into a process. But before we start celebrating Ufa as a "blockbuster" - which at least one pink paper has seen fit to emblazon in its lead headline - let us note also that meetings between the two DGMOs, (Director General Military Operations) scheduled at Ufa, are not anything new. Indeed, they had been written into Dr. Manmohan Singh's peace process but disrupted since, in consequence of which the DGMOs have not met after their last encounter in December 2013 under the UPA government. The disruption in DGMO meetings was caused by the onset of the Modi government. Is the old process of regular meetings of DGMOs to be resumed - or is the Ufa decision yet another instance of event management? 

Similarly, annual meetings between the Directors-General of the Indian Border Security Force and the Pakistan Rangers have been a key feature of confidence-building between the two countries for years. All that has been agreed upon at Ufa is that they will meet again - but this too has been hyped up as some kind of extraordinary innovation. 

All right-thinking people will greatly welcome the agreement to release all fishermen and boats captured by either side. But what happens from now on? Will fishermen and boats be no longer captured? Will those captured be promptly released? What, in terms of stability in relations involving poor fishermen, has Ufa achieved? Have the two countries been served a half-baked cake?

There is also ambiguity over the "voice recordings". Does this mean we accept the Pakistani contention that the evidence presented earlier is inadequate? Or have we decided to play along to get the Pakistanis to get serious about the trial? Meanwhile, Lakhvi is out on bail - and out of sight. Will not a 26/11 trial without Lakhvi physically in the dock tantamount to Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark? Or the Mahabharata without Shakuni?

It is also curious that while the NSAs are to meet, Ufa does not seem to have addressed itself to the 2006 Joint Terror Mechanism announced at Havana by Manmohan and Musharraf. Can a single meeting between the two NSAs substitute for institutional arrangements to deal with terrorism, which is a threat to both, but has the unique dimension of also being targeted from Pakistani soil to India - and, according to Pakistan, from India to Pakistan, particularly in Baluchistan? One supposes that all this will be on the agenda when the veteran Sartaj Aziz of Pakistan meets Ajit Doval of India. But, in the absence of an assurance to the contrary, will they meet again? Once more the question - is this an event or a process?  

The question is germane because back in 2006, nearly a decade ago, the NSAs were to regularly meet as a means of invoking or monitoring the Joint Terrorism Mechanism. But if JTM is no longer on the cards, and Ufa says nothing about a process of NSA encounters, what exactly is envisaged in terms of substance?

There is another worrying aspect of the Ufa outcome. As NSAs, the two sides are narrowly - if appropriately - focused on issues of national security. But the composite dialogue has a much wider ambit, which is why it was (is?) coordinated by the two Foreign Secretaries. Now, Sartaj Aziz is not only NSA, he is also effectively the Foreign Minister. The entire panoply of India-Pakistan relations is, therefore, within his purview. It is not within Doval's. Moreover, as a senior statesman with Cabinet rank, Sartaj outranks Doval. So, our representative will be labouring under a double handicap. I have known Doval for years and am aware of his personal abilities (which are formidable), but diplomacy depends as much on institutional factors as it does on personalities. My own suggestion, for what it is worth (which is not very much), is that if their first encounter leads to an institutionalization of the dialogue process, they should be designated "special envoys" with Cabinet rank of their respective Prime Ministers so that they come on an equal footing, and are enabled to understand "national security" in its broadest sense instead of being narrowly confined to guns, nuclear bombs and mutual spookery.

All the signs point to Ufa as a step forward but hardly a breakthrough. That requires a change of heart - particularly on the part of Narendra Modi. The change of heart required is a total breakaway from the communal prejudices of his RSS past. Is it too late for the leopard to change his spots or the tiger its stripes? Perhaps. But a truly secular spirit is essential to work out a settlement with Pakistan - a secularism that is stronger than the sectarian baggage that any Pakistani brings to the negotiating table. 

Second, and at least as important, is strategy. What is the long-term aim beyond giving news value to the Ufa meeting? So far, all we have had on Pakistan from the Modi government is stop-start with a lot of grinding of teeth, posturing and bullying, not any long-term delineation of aims and objectives, no projection of a long-term vision. One asserts this in the light of the incontrovertible evidence of the swearing-in transforming into a swearing-at within months of what was believed to be a break-out from the trough.

In May 2014, there appeared to be a clear decision to resume the stalled composite dialogue. Yet, on the very eve of the Foreign Secretaries' talks, a new 'red line' was drawn by the Modi government. This was the stern warning to Pakistan that if the High Commissioner interacted with the Hurriyat, as Pakistani dignitaries had been doing for 15 years (with neither profit to themselves nor harm to us, just some window-dressing) the talks would be called off. Pakistan cocked its snook at Modi - and the talks were called off. We are still stuck in that impasse - for Ufa said nothing about J&K, not even about whether talking to the Hurriyat would once again result in talks being called off.

In sum, some answers were found at Ufa but the unanswered questions are more numerous. A true breakthrough needs a joint commitment to "uninterrupted and uninterruptible" dialogue, without which we will both continue to buck and lurch like a drunken ship as we have been doing these past many years. --NDTV

(Mani Shankar Aiyar is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha.)

In May 2014, there appeared to be a clear decision to resume the stalled composite dialogue. Yet, on the very eve of the Foreign Secretaries' talks, a new 'red line' was drawn by the Modi government. This was the stern warning to Pakistan that if the High Commissioner interacted with the Hurriyat, as Pakistani dignitaries had been doing for 15 years (with neither profit to themselves nor harm to us, just some window-dressing) the talks would be called off. Pakistan cocked its snook at Modi - and the talks were called off. We are still stuck in that impasse - for Ufa said nothing about J&K, not even about whether talking to the Hurriyat would once again result in talks being called off.

Be Part of Quality Journalism

Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.

ACT NOW
MONTHLYRs 100
YEARLYRs 1000
LIFETIMERs 10000

CLICK FOR DETAILS

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

KO SUPPLEMENTS