NSA talks on shaky ground: India won't let Aziz meet Hurriyat leaders, Pakistan won't relent

A hyper active Indian electronic media created confusion on Friday evening by saying that India had just cancelled the proposed 23-24 August national security advisor-level talks. Pakistan’s print, electronic and digital media too picked up the half-cooked story with screaming headlines maligning India. Facts proved to be contrary.

There was no cancellation of NSA-level talks by India till late Friday evening and key stakeholders told Firstpost that nothing of this sort was expected on Friday night. However, it has become increasingly uncertain whether talks between the two NSAs, Ajit Doval (India) and Sartaj Aziz (Pakistan) will indeed take place as proposed.

 NSA talks on shaky ground: India wont let Aziz meet Hurriyat leaders, Pakistan wont relent

Representational image. AFP

Both the sides are playing it by the ear and the final fate of NSA-level talks is all set to go down the wire very much like a closely contested India-Pakistan cricket match. One should have better clarity by Saturday.

Both the sides took their sabre-rattling to a new high on Friday and accused each other of various sins of omission and commission. Pakistan accused India of “lack of seriousness” and refused to accept India’s advice that Aziz should not meet Kashmiri separatists during his visit to India. Pakistan also refused to hold talks on the basis of ‘conditional diplomacy’ wherein India is dictating the conditions.

Sample the blunt statement issued by Pakistani foreign ministry:

"Kashmir is a disputed territory as per the UN Security Council resolutions which remain unimplemented. Pakistani leadership has always interacted with the Kashmir/Hurriyat leadership, during their visits to India. Pakistan sees no reason to depart from this established past practice. The Hurriyat leaders are true representatives of the Kashmiri people of the Indian occupied Kashmir. Pakistan regards them as genuine stakeholders in the efforts to find a lasting solution of the Kashmir Dispute.

“Pakistan has proposed and conveyed to India a comprehensive agenda reflecting the broad understanding reached between the leaders in Ufa, that all outstanding issues, including Kashmir and other disputes, as well as, terrorism issues and other CBMs will be discussed between the two countries. India's insistence to introduce conditionalities and restrict the agenda for the dialogue, demonstrates a lack of seriousness on India's part to meaningfully engage with Pakistan. For its part, Pakistan remains willing to attend the NSAs meeting without any pre-conditions.”

This triggered Ministry of External Affairs’ strongly-worded reaction. To understand and appreciate the statement war between India and Pakistan on the NSA talks issue, it will be useful to reproduce in full the statement by MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup in response to Pakistani statement.

"The statement by the Government of Pakistan today on the NSA level talks with India does not come as a surprise. There has been a pattern to Pakistan's actions after the Ufa Summit and today's position is a culmination of that approach.

"At Ufa, the two Prime Ministers agreed on a meeting of the NSAs to discuss all issues connected to terrorism as well as ensure peace and tranquility on the border. Instead, we saw a sharp increase in the unprovoked firings from the Pakistani side and some serious cross border terrorist incidents. The last one, at Udhampur, resulted in the capture alive of a Pakistani national, a matter that would have naturally come up in the NSA level talks on terrorism, to Pakistan's discomfort.

“In so far as those talks are concerned, Pakistan took 22 days to respond to the Indian proposal to meet in New Delhi. It then proposed an agenda that was at complete variance with what the two Prime Ministers had agreed upon in Ufa. Together, these two actions indicated its reluctance to go forward with sincerity on the agreed process. Even more significantly, without confirming either the programme or the agenda, the Pakistani High Commissioner invited Hurriyat representatives to consult with the visiting NSA. This provocative action was completely in consonance with Pakistan's desire to evade its commitment at Ufa to engage in a substantive discussion on terrorism.

"The Ufa understanding on the talks - read out jointly by the two Foreign Secretaries - was very clear: the NSAs were to meet to discuss all issues connected to terrorism. This was the only agenda set for them by the two Prime Ministers.

“The insistence on meeting Hurriyat as a precondition is also a complete departure from the Ufa understanding. India has always held the position that there are only two stake holders in our relationship, not three.

"The people of both countries can legitimately ask today what is the force that compels Pakistan to disregard the agreements reached by two elected leaders and sabotage their implementation.

"India remains committed to discussing issues with Pakistan peacefully and bilaterally. In fact, we took the initiative to engage at Ufa. But, unilateral imposition of new conditions and distortion of the agreed agenda cannot be the basis for going forward."

Clearly, India is pricking Pakistan where it hurts most by asking this question: "What is the force that compels Pakistan to disregard the agreements reached by two elected leaders and sabotage their implementation." India is obviously referring to Pakistan’s powerful military establishment which is supreme in Pakistan’s polity but does not come in the forefront in government-to-government negotiations.

As of now, the prospects of NSA talks do not look very bright, though it is not clear who will bell the cat. Both sides want the other to take the initiative and thus face opprobrium of the international community.

It is a crazy situation indeed. With just about 36 hours left for Sartaj Aziz’s proposed arrival, the two countries are vying with each other how to ensure that the talks do not take place at all.

The bottom line, as far as the Modi government is concerned, is clear: it won’t allow Hurriyat leaders to meet Aziz. Pakistan cannot claim that it has been the usual practice. It may have been the usual practice during the previous UPA government but the Modi government is driven by a completely different ideology.

Updated Date: Aug 22, 2015 12:26:28 IST