The proposed National Security Advisor (NSA)-level talks between India and Pakistan on Sunday have entered into a deadlock, according to the latest reports from various news agencies. It is an unfortunate outcome for both sides, as a crucial opportunity to make progress on the peace talks looks to have been missed. The warning signs, however, were reported across newspapers on Friday morning. There was a lack of consensus between both sides over the proposed agenda for the talks.
According to credible news reports, both sides had rejected the letters exchanged last week on the proposed agenda for talks. Despite the best efforts of envoys from both sides, the idea of a preliminary diplomatic (draft) document, which is common practice before key talks, was dropped.
Unlike what some strategic commentators have speculated, it was not the Kashmir issue, which caused the divergence between Islamabad and New Delhi. The divergence, according to a leading Indian daily, was caused by, “Pakistan’s insistence on discussing the future of bilateral talks and setting up the next round of Foreign Secretary-level talks that made India reject it”. Officials in New Delhi, however, have insisted that the statement signed in Russia between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Russia only had NSA talks on terror, including the demand for 26/11 voice samples, and discussions on cross-border DGMO meetings, among others.
Islamabad, though, shot back saying that both sides had agreed to discuss “all outstanding issues” between both sides, which include India’s alleged involvement in Balochistan and concerns over the slow pace of the Samjhauta Express blasts trial, among others. Although both sides had over a month to thrash out details before the proposed NSA-level talks, no consensus has emerged. If the talks do <g data-gr-id="37">breakdown</g>, the blame game between both New Delhi and Islamabad will surely begin and no side will come out looking clean.
What probably sparked off the latest deadlock is Islamabad’s insistence on going ahead for a meeting with Kashmiri separatist leaders after the NSA-level talks, despite New Delhi’s objections. However, New Delhi’s attempts at stopping the proposed meeting between Kashmiri separatists and Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz displayed a clear lack of coherence and strategic nous.
According to news reports, the Centre had asked the Jammu and Kashmir police to place Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Yasin Mallik, and Moulvi Abbas Ansari under house arrest. However, in a show of displeasure, the State government revoked the Centre’s order and released them. What’s perhaps most galling is that although the PDP and BJP are coalition partners in the State government, the Centre saw it fit not to consult them before issuing orders of detention. If the Government of India displays such a distinct lack of trust on its own government in the State, negotiations with Pakistan do seem like a distant dream. Moreover, Pakistan, with its insistence on meeting the Kashmiri separatist leaders, yet again showed a lack of due deference to India’s sovereign claim over the State. Suffice to say the Centre, J&K State government and the Pakistani establishment played their part in bringing the NSA-level talks to a complete standstill.
There is sincere hope among large swathes of the Indian public that the proposed talks do not fall apart. In the period when both governments decided to call off diplomatic engagement, we witnessed a war of words between both sides over a “spy drone” which Pakistan alleged was being used by India for aerial photography near the Line of Control (LoC), a claim dismissed by New Delhi. The recent spates of attack in Udhampur, followed by the terror attack in Punjab, where two terrorists, again reportedly from Pakistan, sneaked across the border and wreaked havoc on the small town of Gurdaspur, made it imperative on New Delhi’s part to hold talks with its Pakistani counterpart.