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Pakistan has not even made a turn, leave alone a U-turn

By Sheela Bhatt
Last updated on: July 15, 2015 16:02 IST
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Narendra Modi with Nawaz Sharif


'India has to judge what Pakistan says to us, not what they say to a domestic audience,' a source tells Sheela Bhatt/, explaining why India-Pakistan talks remain on track despite discordant noises from across the border.

"You can't accuse Pakistan of making a U-turn when it has not even made the first turn (after Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif met at Ufa in Russia). Do not jump the gun."

This stout defence of Pakistan comes not from a Pakistani diplomat, but an Indian source in New Delhi.

In all likelihood, with predictable ups and downs, the efforts to keep communication channels open between the two neighbours will continue under the leadership of Narendra Modi and his counterpart Nawaz Sharif.

India believes that negative interpretations in the Indian media of the statement by Sartaj Aziz, Sharif's adviser on national security and foreign affairs, are incorrect in saying Pakistan has made a U-turn.

Pakistan, the source says, has not even made a turn, leave alone a U-turn.

In an important development, the source emphasised Modi's intention to re-open communication with Pakistan. Notwithstanding Aziz's strident notes on Monday, July 13, the source said, "Nothing (after Aziz's comments in Islamabad) affects the actionable proposition of the Ufa joint statement."

"Nothing stops the NSAs (national security advisers) of both countries from discussing outstanding issues. And, of course, the Kashmir issue will be discussed, since it is by all means an outstanding bilateral issue," the source added.

India wants to make it clear that Aziz's statement, which was directed at a domestic audience, has not changed anything. The two set formats, agreed upon at Ufa -- the proposed talks between the two NSAs and the proposed talks between the directors general of the Border Security Force and the Pakistan Rangers, followed by that of the Directors General of Military Operations, remains on track. India asserts that the joint statement is an official document.

"India has to judge what Pakistan says to us, not what they say to a domestic audience," the source pointed out.

India has calculated that there is wisdom and an overwhelming compulsion to keep communication open with Pakistan. So clearly India wants to underplay Aziz's statement which claims that Modi and Sharif did discuss the Kashmir issue but which was not mentioned in the joint statement. India's smart success of having a joint statement issued without the contentious 'K' word has been obviously short-lived.

It was Modi's idea to have such a joint statement issued after his meeting with Sharif which was neither a summit-level affair nor a serious negotiation of any kind. Sometime during the meeting, one of those involved in the discussions asked, 'Press ko kya batayenge? (What do we tell the press?).'

At that point Modi said, 'Let the two foreign secretaries do a joint briefing.' After their meeting, Modi rushed to meet Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani while Sharif had a scheduled meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Foreign Secretary Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and his Pakistan counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry drafted the joint statement in just 30 minutes after the Modi-Sharif meeting. Both diplomats sat on a sofa in a corner of the room "to capture the main points of discussion" while the Indian and Pakistani media waited to hear about the outcome of the meeting. The joint statement was a mere summary of the hour-long talks.

Responding to Aziz's statements on Kashmir and other issues, the source said, "The joint statement is not a document of territorial negotiation. It was the accurate expression of the spirit and the atmosphere of the meeting between the two leaders where they discussed how to take the relationship forward."

Four days later, the joint statement has become a source of bad blood, but the government source in New Delhi reiterates, "It is merely a summary of the talks and what was agreed upon. The idea was to give only the substance of the meeting."

India emphasises that the joint statement is a "considered, honest, accurate and reasonable summary of the substance" of the talks.

Sharif could not garner support for the joint statement. Not mentioning Kashmir created a furore in Pakistan and Aziz was forced to issue a clarification. Former president General Pervez Musharraf granted an aggressive interview to the Pakistan television channel ARY TV over the Ufa talks. So Aziz said, 'The statement issued (at Ufa) clearly recognises 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.'

Aziz, without ambiguity, defined further what the 'outstanding issues' between India and Pakistan are: 'Kashmir, of course, tops the list of outstanding issues, but there are other important issues like Siachen, Sir Creek, interference and water.'

'Kashmiris have suffered for three generations now. Their right to self-determine their destiny has not been granted. Pakistan has stood by the Kashmiris in their legitimate struggle. Prime Minister Sharif affirmed our principled position in clear and unequivocal terms during his annual speech at the UN General Assembly. We would continue to extend political, moral, and diplomatic support to our Kashmiri brethren,' Aziz said.

Responding to this, the Indian side says one should not mix up two things. There is a joint statement between the two countries and there is the 'stated position' over issues between the two nations. Aziz's statement, whether accidentally or deliberately, was a mixture of the Ufa joint statement and Pakistan's long-standing positions, the source said.

The fact is that the covert and overt effort by Modi's team to deal with pending issues is not very different from what Aziz is talking about.

'Peace and tranquility on the Line of Control and the working boundary are in the interests of both countries,' Aziz has said. 'Even though at present the ceasefire is by and large being maintained, there have been occasions when this ceasefire was violated, causing casualties and injuries to people inhabiting those areas.'

This means that just as India and China have kept their borders peaceful and have seen a surge in bilateral economic relations, Modi and Sharif are in search of some kind of mechanism that will maintain lasting peace on the borders in spite of Kashmir and the Pakistani military's known strident stand against India.

A fine reading of Aziz's statement, where he mentions, 'acrimonious concerns' like 'Indian interference in Pakistan, including continuing support for the insurgency in Balochistan etc' is a reminder of a well-established ground rule that neither Pakistan nor India should try to score goals by giving a spin which could be detrimental to their respective domestic support to the larger cause of peaceful India-Pakistan relations.

The agreement to promote religious tourism was Sharif's idea, the source added.

Pakistan is harping over and again that it was Modi who invited Sharif for a meeting. "India is in the business of asking for meetings!" the source exclaimed. Modi's meetings with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and China's Xi Jinping were arranged at India's request.

Modi and Sharif have kept in touch over the last year. They spoke after the Nepal earthquake, during the evacuation of people trapped in Yemen, and before the cricket World Cup. Modi also called Sharif to wish him during Ramzan.

India insists there is nothing exceptional in asking for meetings. Musharraf and other Pakistani critics felt Sharif, who was invited by Modi, had to walk a long way to meet Modi. Video footage of Sharif walking the distance was found embarrassing by many Pakistanis who disliked the fact that Modi did not walk even half way to receive his counterpart.

It is silly to even talk about such things, the Indian source reacted. The venue at Ufa where the leaders met was not suited for diplomatic niceties and protocol, the source said, adding, that there is no need to read any message in this because it was not intended so.

Had Sharif invited Modi, he would have been compelled to walk the same way. That such an issue has been raked up, the source said, "tells you a lot about the state of affairs in Pakistan."

The meeting between the two leaders was comfortable and relaxed, the source revealed. They cracked jokes and aired pleasantries like Sharif asking Modi, 'You are on tour, how is it going? (Haal kaisa hai?).' At the beginning of the meeting, the source said, a lot of time went into discussing connectivity issues. Sharif, the source said, is not a "Musharraf-type" of person. He is a politician who knows that public opinion has to be taken along.

The Indian side wanted Pakistan to understand that Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, the Lashkar-e-Tayiba terrorist and prime accused in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, is a sensitive issue which affects opinion on Pakistan in India, and Sharif understands it. "A fair amount of discussion" on the Lakhvi case took place between both sides in Ufa.

Reacting to Aziz's statement that there could be no dialogue without Kashmir on the agenda, the source said India will go by the joint statement which does mention that both sides discussed outstanding issues.

"Is Kashmir not an outstanding issue?" the source asked.

When reminded that Pakistan was reluctant to help the 26/11 investigation unless India came forward with more evidence, the source said both sides should wait till the format of talks on the issue of terrorism is decided. The source forcefully requested critics to read the joint statement and its nuances carefully with regard to 26/11.

'Both sides,' the joint statement states, 'agreed to discuss ways and means to expedite the Mumbai case trial, including additional information like providing voice samples.'

People, the source said, should resist passing judgment over issues for which a debate has not taken place, or even the venue or place been decided.

The source, while in a way defending Pakistan, said, "The discussion to find 'ways and means' has not begun! Even the date is not fixed, yet. So where is the U-turn?"

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Sheela Bhatt / in New Delhi
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