‘The entire Ufa fiasco was predictable and predicted. The Ufa venue had created international interest in the initiative and its failure may have implications for both Pakistan and India.
What remains for Modi to do is to produce a prettier rabbit out of his hat next time to deal with the Pakistan imbroglio,’ says Ambassador T P Sreenivasan.
One did not have to be a rocket scientist, not even a Pakistan expert, to predict that the Ufa agreement between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was a non-starter.
‘There is nothing that Pakistan has done which deserves a resumption of dialogue. The assurances made in Ufa contain no commitment except a whole range of talks.’ (My column 'Mr Modi, why this change of heart about Pakistan')
The only explanation for a change of heart was the familiar pattern of behaviour of India and Pakistan.
‘Neither the previous government, nor the present one has been able to take a consistent stand on Pakistan. The Nobel Prize Syndrome, the urge to take credit for resolving an old and festering issue and thus gain recognition and fame seems to haunt Indian leaders, while the Pakistan establishment, whether civilian or military, remains committed to its core interests. For the Indian leaders, applause from the West becomes important and encouraging. The more concessions we make, the more the applause. But since concessions cannot be given beyond a point, the governments take hesitating steps towards concessions and then step back.’
No one should be surprised at the turn of events. It should have been clear to India that no government in Pakistan would send its national security adviser to India to receive the bulky dossiers on its misdeeds.
It was equally clear for years that the Pakistan Army would not have any dialogue with India without Kashmir on the agenda. Pakistan had always linked terrorism, which it calls ‘support for the liberation movement’ to its Kashmir policy.
Since India has an inflexible position on Kashmir, an integral part of India, and Pakistan cannot expect to win a war on that account, Pakistan has virtually accepted that it is engaged in guerilla warfare to force India to change its position on Kashmir.
Nawaz Sharif did not overstep the Pakistani position when he agreed to the following formulation in Ufa:
‘They agreed that India and Pakistan have a collective responsibility to ensure peace and promote development. To do so, they are prepared to discuss all outstanding issues.
Both leaders condemned terrorism in all its forms and agreed to cooperate with each other to eliminate this menace from South Asia.
They also agreed on the following steps to be taken by the two sides:
A meeting in New Delhi between the two NSAs to discuss all issues connected to terrorism.’
Pakistan clearly had no intention to discuss terrorism, only ‘to discuss all issues connected to terrorism.’ His motive to offer such a formulation was to secure Modi’s attendance at the SAARC summit in Islamabad, which he succeeded to do.
Both India and Pakistan believed that each had trapped the other.
The drama that followed, which ended at midnight of August 22, demonstrated that the more India-Pakistan relations had appeared to change, the more they remained constant.
Pakistan took time to devise a credible strategy to wriggle out of the Ufa commitment and remained firm, while India harped on the claim that Pakistan had indeed agreed to have a one-item agenda for the NSAs talks.
The Hurriyat meeting, Pakistan knew, would be a sure way of sabotaging the talks as the Modi Government had cancelled the foreign secretaries level talks earlier for that reason.
Pakistan expected that India would promptly call off the talks, but the surprise was that instead of cancelling the talks, India arrested the dissident leaders to avoid the meeting and still wanted to hold the talks.
Pakistan, caught in a bind, went back to the argument that the dialogue would include Kashmir and, therefore, a meeting with Hurriyat was essential.
India would not cancel the talks and external affairs minister, reinvigorated by her survival in the trial of fire lit by Sonia and Rahul, got her chance to blast Pakistan at a press conference, virtually sealing the fate of the NSAs talks, but still leaving it to Pakistan to back out.
‘I have only a two-pointer message for them: please respect the Shimla Agreement and do not involve any third party; second, as agreed in Ufa, the talks should only be on terror. Pakistan has only till tonight to give an assurance that the talks will only be on terror. If Pakistan does not agree, the talks will not happen.’
The cancellation of the talks was a foregone conclusion, but the two sides engaged in shadow boxing till the very end to prove that the other side was responsible for the cancellation of the talks.
This has aroused suspicion that both were keen on satisfying some third parties that prompted the Ufa arrangement in the first place. The prompt expression of disappointment by the State Department spokesman let the cat out of the transparent bag.
In their eyes, the arguments were irrelevant, but it was important that neither Pakistan nor India should be guilty of cancelling the talks. Both India and Pakistan tried to put the blame on the other, but the jury must have found them equally guilty.
The match was played, after all, for a draw.
Since neither side lost the match, the search is on to figure out whether India or Pakistan gained anything from the latest bout of talks on talks. The defence on the part of the BJP was that the whole exercise was with good intentions and all was fair in love and war.
But no country can afford to reveal the chinks in its own armour even with good intentions. Particularly serious is the evidence that we do not understand our adversary well enough.
Two other questions arise from the whole episode. How is it that the information in the dossier leaked out days before the talks were to be held? It was quite possible that Pakistan developed cold feet even more after they got wind of the evidence of the presence of Dawood Ibrahim in Karachi.
Another question is whether External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj unwittingly gave a new interpretation of the Shimla Agreement when she described the Hurriyat as a ‘third party’.
Since the original intention was to keep other countries and the UN out of the bilateral negotiations, considering an organisation of Indian citizens as a third party has already raised eyebrows.
The entire Ufa fiasco was predictable and predicted. The situation on the diplomatic front as well as the ground is worse today than before Ufa. The Ufa venue had created international interest in the initiative and its failure may have implications for both Pakistan and India.
What remains for Modi to do is to produce a prettier rabbit out of his hat next time to deal with the Pakistan imbroglio.
T P Sreenivasan is a former Ambassador of India and Governor for India at the IAEA; Executive Vice-Chairman, Kerala State Higher Education Council and Director General, Kerala International Centre.
- You can read Ambassador Sreenivasan's earlier columns here
Image: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Summit at Ufa. Photograph: PTI.