NEW DELHI: Arguably the high point of Prime Minister Narendra Modi trip to the Russian town of Ufa for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit, his hour-long bilateral talks with Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif, got the Opposition worked up in lather. Former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tweeted a request “no chest thumping please”; and JD(U)’s Pawan Varma, a former diplomat, advised all sundry not to look for “breakthroughs”, big or small.
This was in response not to the talks, but it being termed “breakthrough” and “paradigm shift” by the BJP. The Congress was most scathing among the Opposition parties, calling the Joint Statement by the two Foreign Secretaries as “nothing but a diluted rehash’’ of earlier ones, from Atal Bihari Vajpayee-era onwards.
If Sharif got it from Pakistan Opposition for not getting Jammu and Kashmir mentioned once in the text of the Joint Statement, the Indian PM was at the receiving end of the Opposition ire for agreeing to more “voice samples’’ exchange request of Islamabad vis-à-vis the Mumbai 26/11 trials, particularly for Zekhiur Rehman Lakhvi’s case. The party blue over this one issue, the Mumbai terror investigations were done and the evidence gathered and sent to Islamabad, during the UPA years.
“Now to agree to reopen the issue, fresh exchange of voice samples, is a dilution of our position which has always been Islamabad’s intention. So what have we gained?’’ Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma asked, even suggesting that it was done to pave the way for Modi’s proposed visit to Pakistan for the 2016 Saarc Summit.
The Opposition also raised eyebrows over the first item of the Joint Statement--the attempt to make the National Security Adviser-level talks part of the structured dialogue. Pointing to the Joint Statement which said that the two NSAs will meet in New Delhi next to discuss all the outstanding issues, Sharma said, “India-Pakistan dialogue, requires diplomacy.’’ While the current India NSA is in an intelligence expert, his Pakistani counterpart Sartaj Aziz, is an economist.
Manishankar Aiyar said, “The NSAs have a narrow remit. The Indo-Pak relations have wide ramification and wider gambit. It requires composite dialogue coordinated by Foreign Secretaries,” Aiyar said.
Another former diplomat, JD(U) spokesperson Varma, also found the move to a bit curious. To make the NSA talks, “A continuous process that happens outside the gambit of structured dialogue”, he felt was “rather unusual”, unless this was to keep it tied to terrorism-related cases.