External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj with Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar (l) and MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup (r) addresses a news conference in New Delhi, Aug. 22. (Kamal Kishore | PTI)
Talks between the National Security Advisers of Indian and Pakistan, Ajit Doval and Sartaj Aziz respectively, stand aborted which means a failure of the efforts of Prime Ministers of both countries at Ufa in July, writes Priyanka Bhardwaj.
Disagreements over the agenda of talks had become apparent when both PMs came under pressures in their respective countries.
On the Pakistani side of the border, PM Nawaz Sharif faced the wrath of the civilian population, army and bureaucracy for excluding the mention of Jammu and Kashmir in the agenda for the NSA-meeting in the joint statement.
It is a known fact that their army and terror networks exercise considerable influence on outcomes of any policies or bilateral ties of the country with Afghanistan, India, USA and China.
Democratically elected dispensations have had to contend with the army needling India even when they may have entertained any serious intentions of smoothening ties with New Delhi.
However, it may be a misnomer to conclude that the polity is fractured from the army and bureaucratic elite in terms of its adversarial intentions towards India.
Since 1947, each side has harbored a starkly divergent narrative deeply entrenched in their psyche owing to their genesis from an undivided British India.
Coming to the Indian counterpart, for Narendra Modi too, times have not been easy.
The population, media and hawkish analysts have been unrelenting, holding Modi responsible for shaping up a credible policy and giving an appropriate response to recent escalations in ceasefire violations along the India-Pakistan border and Line of Control, occurrence of cross-border terror incidents in Gurdaspur district of Punjab (India), Udhampur district in Jammu, and Kashmir, and infiltration of a Pakistani Lashkar-e-Tayyaba jihadist, Naved (also held alive), who cheerfully revealed how killing Hindus gave him the thrills, into Kashmir.
Despite the fragility of the relations New Delhi’s constant approach has been to retaliate against recriminations coming from Pakistani side while wholeheartedly carrying out engagement initiatives with the civilian representations.
But a close look at the contemporary South Asian history answers the disbelief of the many living along the border that they ever have a chance to be witnesses to an ever lasting peace.
This time the initial attitude of both the countries was not to shoulder the blame for being the spoilsport.
But the hardening of stances of the two nuclear-armed neighbors eventually resulted in their unilateral pulling out of the meeting.
Disagreements to move forward were evident in press conferences convened by Aziz in Islamabad and Sushma Swaraj, India’s Foreign Minister, in New Delhi.
Swaraj wanted Pakistan to assure that they would not meet with the separatist Hurriyat leadership and inclusion of anti-terror commitments in the agenda.
But none of these points were acceptable to Pakistan for it termed them as “preconditions” and harping on inclusion of thorny issues like Kashmir.
Interestingly as the talks got scuttled the South Asian neighbors reached out to the international media like New York Times and Washington Post, to exert some influence on the world.
A select gathering of top Western media houses was briefed up by the Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar while another one was addressed by the Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit.
Reportedly, the U.S. maintains that it may not be central to the holding of talks but expressed disappointment at its cancellation and encouraged them to continue with their parleys.
The advice holds importance for India as it cannot afford to go full throttle on its military might against a nuclear-armed disintegrating Pakistan.
This has been a problem not just for India but other opponents of Pakistan who have suffered from Islamabad turning into an “epicenter of terror” and laying hurdles in their anti-terror efforts.
And calling off of talks does not make for an adequate and substantial pressure point on Pakistan to make it change its policy.
What India can possibly do is to secure its borders, leave aside the fret of encountering a failed state in its immediate neighborhood, apply pressure on other weak points of Pakistan like exposing its human rights violations in Balochistan and speaking out on its claims on the Himalayan territory, Gilgit, etc.
This does not mean doing away with any people-to-people contact at various levels, allowing a liberal visa policy, and promoting bilateral trade and commercial exchanges that would in time foster a balanced relationship between the two countries.
Expectations need to be centered around achievements of not any spectacular kind garnered in one stroke, but small and mostly shared gains attained with sustained diplomatic engagement spread over a long period of time.