NEW DELHI: “To baatchit nahin hogi” (then the talks won’t be held), declared External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, dressed in an opal blue saree and her trademark, matching waistcoat, sitting at the Ministry of External Affairs’s C B Muthamma Auditorium, named after India’s first female IFS officer, at 4.46 pm on Saturday.
Sushma was answering a query on whether the NSA-level talks would go ahead if Pakistan didn’t agree with India’s conditions that the talks would focus only on terrorism and that Hurriyat wouldn’t have any role in the dialogue between the two countries.
Less than three hours ago, in Islamabad, Pakistan Prime Minister’s Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs, the 86-year-old Sartaj Aziz said he was prepared to leave for India “without preconditions”. And the feisty Sushma snapped back: “India has set no preconditions but just wanted Pakistan to adhere to the ‘spirit’ of the 1973 Simla Agreement.”
“Why is Pakistan bringing in a third party? You are welcome to Delhi. But don’t expand the agenda beyond terrorism,” she told Aziz.
This marked Sushma’s debut into the contentious arena of Indo-Pak fencing on the K-word in talks. India had put the focus on terror in its talks with Pakistan. This is a deliberate strategy to turn the screws on Pakistan to ensure that the spotlight remains on Islamabad’s continuing support for terror proxies which target India.
The strategy puts Pakistan on the back foot, as it is facing international heat for being the wellspring of global terrorism. Last week the US warned Pakistan that it would freeze funds because it felt the anti-terror operations by the Pak Army were not yielding results and not damaging the Haqqani network. On Saturday, Aziz was on tricky ground. On one hand, any move that makes India look like a rational and mature negotiator in front of the international community will obviously not play well in Islamabad. Sushma’s insistence on terror being the first on the agenda in a round of many subsequent talks is not without substance since all major world powers engage with Pakistan through the prism of the “war on terror”.
On the other hand, by refusing to talk exclusively on terror, Aziz has further reinforced this perception. If the Sharif Government agrees to India’s terms excluding Kashmir, he will be on a shaky ground at home.
The detention of Hurriyat leader Shabbir Shah on his arrival at the Delhi airport was a signal that India will not let separatists become part of the Pakistani effort. Its High Commission had invited the Hurriyat leaders to a reception for Aziz on Sunday night as well as an early morning meeting the next day. At his press conference, Aziz said: “India introduced a new condition through its ‘advice’ that Pakistan should not meet Hurriyat leaders, thus assuming the right to determine the guest list for the High Commissioner’s reception.”
Sources said the Pak High Commission had booked rooms at the Taj Mansingh Hotel in Delhi for the delegation, with Aziz who was scheduled to reach here at 3.30 pm on Sunday.
Aziz claimed that Pakistan was “not running” away from the talks because Indian NSA Ajit Doval would be presenting “irrefutable” evidence about ISI’s role in fomenting terror. Sushma accused Pakistan of changing its attitude even before Sharif returned to Islamabad from Ufa. “He faced a barrage of criticism even before he landed, and thereafter Pakistan had decided that it will not allow NSA talks to be held,” she said.
Aziz’s attempt to try and paint India as a state fomenting terror in Pakistan had glaring irregularities. At the press conference, he waved a “highly confidential” white spiral-bound file, emblazoned with the words “RAW’s involvement in Pakistan” to the assembled cameras. On the title page was printed the warning “to be handled by authorised personnel only”.
The first sentence was repeated at the bottom. Curiously, the middle section of the title page sported a purported logo of the RAW, which a Pakistani bureaucrat had perhaps got from the web. As per sources, the Indian external spy agency has no official logo.
“I’m carrying three dossiers about RAW’s involvement. If I don’’t get an opportunity to hand over the dossiers to the Indian NSA in New Delhi, I hope to give it to him in New York next month if he comes with PM Narendra Modi,” the Pakistani diplomat said.
He also threatened to present the documents to UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon.
That it was an unequal battle between Sushma and Aziz was obvious. Her voice laced with contemptuous dismissal, Sushma said: “If they give us a dossier, we will show them a live man.” She was referring to Pakistani terrorist Yakub Naved who was caught alive during an ambush in Udhampur on August 5.
India, meanwhile, continues to play its anti-Pak diplomatic strategy effectively by pointing out that Sharif was wriggling away from the NSA-level talks due to the Pakistan military establishment’s pressure.
“We did not have less pressure. There have been as many 91 ceasefire violations besides the two terror attacks, in Gurdaspur and Udhampur. The Pakistan government has succumbed to pressure,” she said.
Aziz had indicated that Pakistan was only going to “explore the modalities for discussions on all other outstanding issues including Kashmir, Sir Creek and Siachen” in the NSA talks.
But it was a clear no-go area for the seasoned politician in Sushma, who insisted the NSAs talk only about terrorism. “We are ready to talk about Kashmir. But there had to be the right environment for that. These NSA-level talks were going to build up to that right environment,” she said.
Terror is not the only cause of concern to India with Pakistan. Further talks are on the agenda between the BSF and Pakistan Rangers, to be followed by the Director General of Military Operations over repeated ceasefire violations along the Line of Control and the international border by Pakistani forces.
The Ufa statement was Pakistan’s Sharm-el-Sheikh moment. Both India and Pakistan had met at Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt in July 2009, on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement Summit. The joint statement between the then Prime Ministers, Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza Gilani, left India red-faced and the UPA government bruised at home. In the statement, Gilani said both countries would share “real-time credible and actionable information on future terrorist threats”, suggesting India was involved in fomenting trouble in Balochistan.
In Ufa, it was Pakistan’s turn. The statement drafted by Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aijaz Chaudhry and Indian Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar was the opening page of the histrionics that came later. While framing the statement rapidly, Jaishankar ensured that the K-word was not mentioned explicitly.
Sushma said the cancellation of the NSA talks wouldn’t be the end of the road. “Just because talks are not held tomorrow, it doesn’t mean they will not take place ever. I repeat, there are no full-stops in diplomacy, only colons and semi-colons,” she stated. And Aziz appealed to global think tanks and foreign policy experts to ponder on why the Modi Government cancelled the first ministerial interaction “on such flimsy grounds”.
Sources said that when US President Barack Obama came to New Delhi as India’s chief guest for Republic Day this year, he had advised Modi that India should engage in dialogue with Pakistan to defuse the tense atmosphere in the subcontinent. In the last leg of his Presidency, when the US forces are pulling out of Afghanistan, Obama would want to leave behind the legacy of a global statesman who preferred peaceful dialogue to military means.
For Pakistan, which depends heavily on US aid, ensuring a smooth transition and reconciliation is important. India seems to have got a headstart in Kabul with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani turning against Islamabad after bomb attacks in Kabul and the death of Taliban chief Mullah Omar.
India’s Arsenal Against Pakistan
Kashmir: Many dialogues have fallen flat mainly because of Pakistan violating ceasefire in the borders of Kashmir. Also, while India claims Siachen Glacier, situated in north Kashmir, falls in its area, Pakistan has refused to relent.
State-sponsored Terrorism: India has always been vocal against Pakistan promoting state-sponsored terrorism and nurturing terror nurseries on its soil to attack India’s hinterlands.
Dawood Ibrahim: India’s demand to bring back the 1993 Mumbai blasts mastermind from Pakistan might have grown louder but has only fallen on deaf ears.
Hafiz Saeed: The Jamat-ud Dawa chief and 26/11 Mumbai attack mastermind has continuously been launching attacks against India from Pakistan’s soil. Even, a Pakistani court recently banned the release of Bollywood movie ‘Phantom’ in the country on his plea.
Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi: India has been trying to get the LeT commander, who executed 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, for trial.