“JO beet gayee, so baat gayee” (what happened in the past, is over). When Sushma Swaraj, India’s minister for external affairs made this ominous remark at a news conference on Aug 22, she was signifying a development of a fundamental nature.
It transcends the cancellation of talks between the national security advisers of India and Pakistan, Ajit Doval and Sartaj Aziz, respectively. The remark not only explains the cancellation of talks between the foreign secretaries in August 2014 and now between the NSAs, but provides a clue to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s approach to foreign policy in general and towards Pakistan in particular.
He will set his own stamp on India’s policies, foreign and domestic. He is not enamoured with the past; least of all with the record of the former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who had proposed Modi’s resignation as chief minister of Gujarat in 2002 after the massacre of Muslims there.
It is not wise to push an interlocutor to the wall.
In Pakistan and in Kashmir some have yet to size up Narendra Modi for what he truly is — a man with a firm resolve to discard the much-touted Vajpayee legacy — which was itself more style than substance — and put his own distinctive stamp on history.
In August 2014, the Hurriyat leaders met the high commissioner of Pakistan. As a result the foreign secretary talks were called off by India. The aim of this move was to signify that a radically new order had come into being.
It is important to consider the new development in all its nuances because it bids fair to play itself out in the days ahead. The stated grounds for the cancellation simply do not make any sense.
“We want an assurance that talks will only be on terror and the NSA will not meet the Hurriyat,” Sushma Swaraj said. What if Sartaj Aziz did not agree? “Toh baat cheet nahi hogi” (then there will be no talks). He did not agree.
Acquiescence in either would have entailed colossal loss of face for him and, indeed, for his country. The equation which New Delhi sought to establish in 2014 would have been buttressed. It is not wise to push an interlocutor to the wall.
Both issues, the scope of the talks and the Hurriyat meeting, merit close analysis.
Given its consistent stand and knowing India’s stand too, Pakistan was certainly remiss in not stipulating explicit mention of the Kashmir dispute; a fact which riled public opinion in Pakistan as well as in the disputed area. But it is disingenuous to belittle the explicit reference to “all outstanding issues” as a mere “preamble” which Sushma Swaraj tried to do. Preambles occur in treaties, international conventions and UN resolutions; not in joint statements.
In the Ufa joint statement of July it figured in the operative part recording an agreement. “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”. After a para, it adds “they also agreed on the following steps…”. They were listed.
Pakistan proposed a three-point agenda. Its first point concerned terrorism which their NSAs were to discuss under the Ufa statement. The second comprised other points it had listed — release of fishermen, religious tourism, plus restoration of peace across the LoC in Kashmir.
The last sought to “explore the modalities for discussion on all other outstanding issues including Kashmir, Sir Creek and Siachen”. It is procedures that were to be discussed and defined; not the settlement itself.
The first two points were a take-off from Ufa. The last was no different from the understanding at Ufa, which Sartaj Aziz mentioned in July: “The two sides have also agreed to revive Track II [an obvious misnomer for the back channel] dialogue to explore ways of resolving issues that are lingering for a long time.” New Delhi has not denied this.
As for the Hurriyat, neither side wants its men at the conference table as it has been demanding.
The admonition “don’t involve a third party in the talks in keeping with the spirit of the Shimla Agreement” is absurd. Its leaders are consulted outside the conference room — as was M.G. Ramachandran on talks with Sri Lanka on the Tamils there and Mamta Banerjee on Teesta river, to cite only two precedents.
What if peace broke out and the Kashmir dispute is settled? Can any sane person question the right of Kashmiris to be heard before the deal is signed?
It is hard to predict how the Modi doctrine will play itself out. What is clear is that imposing impossible terms on a partner with a “collective responsibility to ensure peace” is the best way to ensure enduring impasse and increased tension.
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.
Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2015