Terror Talks, 2015 Called Off : Enduring Challenge of Dialogue with Pakistan – By Dr. B. Ramesh Babu

One can choose one’s friends and how friendly one wants to be with them. As regards relatives, the choice is restricted by links of blood and lineage; but when it comes to neighbours, there is no choice.

Eternal Neighbours

India and Pakistan are next door neighbours and they have to learn to live with each other. How peacefully or how acrimoniously, or a varying mix of the two, depends upon a multiplicity of factors, causes and consequences.  The equation between the two countries is complicated by a shared past and the Partition; wars and cease fires; memories; competition and cooperation. Passage of time has naturally toned down the strong emotional overtones of the elders. The rise of new generations of leaders to power in the two countries has transformed the bilateral equation in many ways, whose contours are yet to be understood fully. The old hangs on and the new is yet to be in full command. Normally, a passage of 70 years is a long time. Yet, it is rather short in the long history of ancient civilizations.

As far as India and Pakistan are concerned talking, calling off the talks; and resuming talks again, and yet again are the eternal and recurring realities in the bilateral equation. The two countries are inextricably engaged with one another for ever. They neither can escape nor opt out. Exchange of bullets and mortars across the LOC and the international borders can be seen as not so silent form of a dialogue!  They also convey the language of hate and revenge. One side shoots, the other side gives a fitting reply, is the deafening refrain!  In the bargain, soldiers of the two sides and innocent Kashmiris on both sides of the border become the unfortunate victims.  I often wonder how such mayhem is supposed to win the sympathy and loyalty of Kashmiris for Pakistan.

NSA Talks

Cutting short the long and familiar story of the flip flops on talks between India and Pakistan, let’s take a close, critical look at the 2015 National Security Advisor-level (NSA) talks that were not held. The latest round of India-Pakistan engagement began well enough, like the many other beginnings and endings in the past. India and Pakistan are once again under international pressure to resume talks after the Foreign Secretary level talks of 2014 were cancelled by India as Pakistan persisted in meeting the Hurriyat leaders despite India’s clear and categorical advance warning.

Among the discussions at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit Meeting in Ufa, Russia in July 2015 – attended by Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif – Russia, China and the US urged the two PMs to do something positive before the Summit ends. This resulted in a joint statement – hurried and spontaneous – which also means, not well prepared!  One of the key outcomes was the scheduling of a meeting between the NSAs of the two countries in New Delhi in the near future to discuss “all issues related to terrorism”.  For the first time, a joint statement issued by India and Pakistan did not mention the Kashmir issue. This was seen as a crucial break-through by the Indian side.  Instead of maintaining a discreet silence, the Indian side, especially the electronic media went to town celebrating India’s unprecedented “victory”.  The damage was done. A few days after returning home, Nawaz Sharif met his Army Chief and ISI, along with his NSA. We can safely infer that the stormy meeting was a prelude to the undoing of the terror talks to be held in New Delhi shortly.

The Kashmir Issue

In his press conference of 13 July 2015, the seasoned diplomat, Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s NSA initiated the diplomatic and publicized process of undoing the slip-up in the joint statement.  He insisted that the Kashmir issue was very much subsumed in the formulation of “all issues related to terrorism”.  He asserted that there was no dilution of the Kashmir issue, which is central to the relations between the two countries. The unfortunate process of unhinging the forward movement achieved at the meeting of the two PMs began in earnest. Rhetorical excesses and scoring debating points over each other took over the driver’s seat. Habits die hard indeed! The inevitable happened and the NSA-level talks scheduled for 23-24 August 2015 were called off by Pakistan. In the eminently avoidable “blame game” of who ran away from talks first, India succeeded in pushing Pakistan over the brink.

However, in retrospect the success did not amount to much of a victory for India. Many delicate questions of diplomacy and policy being undone by badly managed process came to the fore. If Kashmir issue is so vital for Pakistan, why wasn’t the word given some space in the joint statement?  If “all issues related to terrorism” is understood to have included Kashmir, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Aziz Choudhary should have prevailed upon India’s Foreign Secretary S.  Jaishankar to include Kashmir in the joint statement. After all, the two worked hard for hours on drafting it. If no dialogue with India was possible without including Kashmir, why did Aziz feel compelled to repeat it in every press conference, statement and interview he gave subsequently? Obviously, the only terrorism that Ajit Doval, India’s NSA would have discussed with Sartaj Aziz at their meeting was terrorism in Kashmir and the ceasefire violations along the LOC and Aziz could have seized the opportunity to bring in the issue. He would then have had the chance of raising the issues of the alleged involvement of India in Baluchistan and Sindh. Pakistan goofed up by calling off the talks, I must add.

On the Indian side, there was a critical slip-up in the midst of the shrill and hectic race for one upmanship that preceded the D-day. Pakistan’s insistence on meeting the Hurriyat leaders “before” and “after” the meeting of the two NSAs was a red herring. They knew very well that India will not allow the Hurriyat leaders to meet Sartaj Aziz or the High Commissioner of Pakistan. That they have been meeting the Hurriyat leaders in the past was a lame ruse. However, Aziz left the door ajar for the talks when he said that “We are disturbed about the arrest of the Hurriyat leaders, but if India doesn’t call off the talks we will go ahead with them.”

India should have taken advantage of the opening; let Aziz come for the talks and then confronted him with all the evidence at its disposal on Pakistan’s collusion on terrorism in J&K and the plethora of ceasefire violations since July 2, 2015. The opportunity, to produce the terrorist (Naved of Faislabad) captured alive before Aziz and the world, was also lost.  Now we have a second Pakistani terrorist in our custody. Our case could have been strengthened by the precedent.

A word of caution is in order at this stage. Even if the talks were held and India succeeded in “exposing” Pakistani perfidy on terrorism yet another time, there would have been no real change in the hostile neighbour’s policy of “bleeding India by thousand cuts.” On the eve of cancelling the talks Sartaj Aziz brazenly accused India of “concocting stories” of Pakistani involvement in terrorism in J&K and ceasefire violations across LOC. If anything the country’s “denial mode” would have become more brazen and entrenched.

Hope Against Hope

It is good to note that Mahmud Durrani, former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, stated that he would blame Nawaz Sharif’s team for failing to recognize India’s smart manoeuvre at Ufa.  He said that Pakistan should recognize India as the Big Brother and India should respect Pakistan and added that Modi is more aggressive in dealing with Pakistan and his country should readjust its policies and postures accordingly. May be such sane voices will grow and gather strength in Pakistan over time. But, hope is neither a strategy nor a policy. In any case there will be yet another opportunity to “expose” Pakistan because sooner or later the bilateral dialogue at the political level would be resumed. There is no alternative.

The meeting of the DGMOs (Directors General of Military Operations) of the two sides was held in New Delhi in September, and in a surprisingly friendly atmosphere. The two sides decided to ensure the well-being of the people living in the border areas, jointly resolve ceasefire violations and cross-border infiltration through timely exchange of information and send back people crossing the border inadvertently.  But, will the bonhomie hold good, since while the discussions were on, there were two ceasefire violations by the Pakistani forces.  So life goes on as ever before; India should not expect any material change in the situation of cross-border violence and intrusions.

In this hullabaloo, the larger and the enduring issues remain as elusive as ever. Everyone, on all sides, including the big powers and the UN, urge India to resume dialogue with Pakistan. But, it is not clear as to what India is going to say when the two sides meet. Should India ask them when they would end aggression in J&K and go home peacefully, when would they stop exporting terrorism into J&K and other parts of India?  Can India believe that there will ever be any material change in Pakistani policies?

Political Moves

In all the Modi bashing indulged in by some sections in India, his “muscular” shift in dealing with Pakistan is missed. The “red line” on the Hurriyat leaders is aimed at eroding their legitimacy and relevance in our equation with Pakistan. It is a logical step forward in India’s established policy of no “third party” involvement in the Kashmir dispute. Whether the departure from the past will work or not, only the future can tell.  Personally, I am in favour of the shift because the earlier posture and policies did not work. The deliberate effort to marginalize Hurriyat is to India’s advantage. Giving precedence to Hurriyat over the elected governments of the state is illogical and ill-conceived. The Government of India (GOI) should stick to the goal of ignoring and isolating the Hurriyat, at home and abroad. It is unfortunate that Rahul Gandhi visited the Hurriyat stronghold in the Valley expressing happiness over interacting with people. Narrow partisan politics have taken precedence over larger interests of the country. This is one of the recurring tragedies of our national politics.

According to some security experts on the Indian side, Hafiz Saeed and Hurriyat Conference Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq conspired to force Pakistan to call off the Terror Talks. Mirwaiz blamed India for “new hurdles” against the talks, found fault with Modi, but not even a hint of criticism against Pakistan for exporting terrorism and for the plethora of ceasefire violations since July 2, 2015. It is important to state here that no country in the world allows separatists to meet and interact with visiting foreign dignitaries or their embassy officials. This should be stopped for ever.  Modi and the GOI should not yield on this “red line.”

Aggressor or Victim

Some Pakistani spokesmen discovered a new arrow defending their country on terrorism pointing out that Pakistan is the biggest victim of terrorism and it would be foolish for them to indulge in exporting terrorism. This is a spurious argument and does not answer the question of terrorism emanating from the Pakistani soil across the LOC. Internal terrorism in the country, the killing of their own soldiers’ children in the Military Academy and the dastardly attacks of the Taliban and other fundamentalist outfits are the outcomes of their own policies of promoting Islamic fundamentalism over decades. These elements are no longer in the control of the Army and the ISI.  Hafeez Saeed and others blackmail the Pakistani Government on its India policy, as proved by the cancellation of the latest NSA-level Terror Talks. The other detriment is the rhetoric on television panel discussions by leaders of both sides.

India has to contend with the determined hostility of Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishments with which the civilian leadership is compelled to go along. In international relations, like life in general, it is unrealistic to assume that all problems have solutions. Coping with them and learning to live with them is the enduring challenge India faces in dealing with Pakistan. Engagement yes, but no resolution of problems, are the facts of life, at least in the foreseeable future.

Dr. B. Ramesh Babu is a specialist in International Relations and American Politics. He is the Scholar in Residence, Foundation for Democratic Reforms, Hyderabad. Formerly he was the Sir Pherozeshah Mehta Professor and Head of the Department of Civics and Politics, University of Bombay. He is also associated with Hyderabad based institutions of higher learning like the ICFAI, OUCIP, IPE and the Central University.  E-mail: brameshbabu08@gmail.com


From FF Digital Team : Next post – Review of Taj Hashmi’s “Global Jihad and America”

Trust Deficit Between the Government and the People – A Potential Danger to the Nation – By H. R. Bapu Satyanarayana


A survey of what is happening on the national scene gives a very alarming foreboding for the future of India.  It appears the country is hurtling headlong into a situation that holds a potential for imploding with catastrophic consequences to its stability and integrity.  The television or print media, internet or cinema are full of negative happenings in the society – unchecked corruption, murders, rape in all its depravity, divorce, honour killings, religious polarization, etc. which send disturbing signals as to where our society is heading.  We pride ourselves as the world’s largest parliamentary democracy with a written constitution that enshrines the best features taken from other countries. As the country progressed, we have incorporated more than 100 amendments to our constitution to adapt to the changing situation in the larger interest of governance and to build an equitable and inclusive society.

For a country which is now  in its 69th year of independence, comparatively young, the progress achievement whether in food production, education, science and technology, space exploration, nuclear technology, communication, etc. is enviable.  We are presently poised to join the ranks of developed countries of the world.  There is another face of India that is singularly striking.  We have the unique record of not invading any country; on the contrary, we have been ravished by hordes of invaders for centuries and yet the strength of our 5000 years of cultural heritage and values was such that those who came as invaders got assimilated into the mainstream of life. Though comparison may be odious, it is disquieting to see how smaller countries like Singapore or Japan have made long strides in a short period, while with lot of potential, India with all progress made appears to be a failed state. Here lies the paradox as though India is living at two levels divorced from reality for what is generally construed as achievement of progress is only a surface phenomenon and misleading.

For example, our diaspora spread across the world has an envious record. To cite the statistics: 38% of doctors in US are Indians, 34% of NASA scientists are Indians, 34% of Microsoft employees are Indians, 28% of IBM employees are Indians,17% of Intel employees are Indians and 12% of total scientists in US are Indians.  Therefore, it strikes me odd that it is the same educated Indians blessed with the same brain power are, in larger numbers, in India and yet the country has failed to marshal their potential.  When analysed, our democracy has become fragile and is in danger of crumbling into anarchy with unpredictable consequences. There are many issues seemingly intractable that confront India and each one of them, when not handled wisely and firmly by the political establishments, has a potential to spiral out of control to engulf the nation in political and economic chaos.  Currently, India faces its toughest test of existential reality of its democratic credentials .Unless the political rulers and the opposition rise above petty politics for personal gain, demonstrate their statesmanship to confront the economic and social challenges the country faces and work in the larger interest of the country, all  the gains made till now may be seriously compromised, besides exposing the country as an easy target  for inimical forces to strike.

Here are some instances of problems that India faces.

Wash out of the Monsoon Session

Perhaps in the history of parliamentary democracy, the recently concluded monsoon session ended without any major bill passed.  It was apparent from day one the main opposition party Congress appeared determined not to let the parliament function. It was marked by frequent disruption of the session – both houses of the parliament rushing into the well of the House shouting away and tearing papers.  The speaker known for her exemplary patience was forced to dismiss 25 MPs  from attending the House for five days.  It is a matter of shame for the country that MPs misbehaved in front of a gallery of important visitors from other countries.

Some important and urgent bills like the reformation bill on Goods and Services and the contentious bill on Land Acquisition had to be shelved.

Protest by military veterans on OROP issue

Our Indian Army is known world over for their bravery, discipline and fighting qualities. They have demonstrated their military prowess in three wars fought against Pakistan where our brave jawans sacrificed their lives.  The jawans are subjected daily to cross-border firing in J&K besides fighting the terrorists infiltrating the border. This has resulted in both civilian and military casualties.  Our military veterans who, during their active service fought for the security of the country, and the widows of those who laid down their lives for the country, are unable to lead a dignified life owing to poor pension benefits.  It is in this context our veterans are asking the government to implement One Rank One Pension (OROP) which will give pension regardless of when they retired so that they can get adequate pension to lead a comfortable life.

Protest for reservation for Patels in Gujarat

The reservation has a chequered history. The definitive beginning was when the Mandal Commission was established in 1979 during the Janata Party rule under Morarji Desai. Its recommendation was all but forgotten and was revived when V. P. Singh became prime minister and his position was threatened. It took a dramatic turn when a student, Rajiv Goswami immolated himself in October 1990.  Presently, it stands with the Supreme Court limiting the reservation to 50%. This has thrown up a different dimension with each and every caste protesting, from time to time, in a competitive bid to gain the ‘backward community’ tag trying to claim a share in the pie.  Reservation has become a contentious issue with political parties reducing it to vote bank politics.

The latest incarnation is the emergence of a middle class, well-employed  22 year old Hardik Patel agitating for reservation status for his community. His agitation claimed nine lives after his arrest and seems to throw a new dimension to the reservation policy. In his interview to The Hindu on August 27, 2015 he says: ‘Our people don’t get jobs despite scoring 80-90 percent marks, so they are forced to do their own business, because of reservation system’.

Meanwhile, M. G. Vaidya, RSS ideologue says that caste based quota should be abolished.  This development may trigger an anti-reservation policy.  This is going to result in political turbulence for the implied message in Hardik’s agitation is also abolition of caste-based reservation since merit is ignored.  Meritorious people, particularly in forward-looking communities will welcome this agitation as this skewed reservation policy has acted against merit.  Hopefully, the reservation policy will get a new look so that economic backwardness would be the criteria, and not caste.

Litterateur M. M. Kalburgi shot dead in Karnataka

In a heinous crime, a scholar and a star in the literary field, M. M. Kalburgi was shot dead by unidentified persons posing as his students in his home in Dharwad on August 30, 2015.  His killing has been widely condemned.  He was known for his outspoken attitude which landed him in controversy several times. It is possible he may have made enemies as evidenced by some rabid persons who gloated over his killing and warned others of his own ilk.  The government has tightened security for such persons.

This raises a pertinent question – to what extent freedom of speech prevails.  Our Constitution gives us the right to freedom of speech and it is equally important to exercise that right wisely.  We seem to be not living in normal times; tolerance and patience appear to be in short supply.  It reminds me of Mr. Nani Palkhivala’s comment “I think we Indians have too much of independence” when asked for his thought on India’s 50th year of independence.  There are other two statements worth quoting – the French writer and philosopher, Voltaire who says “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend  to the death your right to say it.”  And, a Sanskrit saying which goes like this – Priyam bhruyat, satyam bhruyat, na bhruyat satyam appriyam which roughly means – always tell what is pleasant, what is true, but do not utter truth that is not palatable.  I hope the killers of Kalburgi are caught and punished.

Tribal protest in Manipur                

Lack of clarity in explaining the objective of passing the Manipur Peoples Bill, 2015 and the two amendments by the Manipur Government which were interpreted as ‘anti-tribal’ led to protests by students which, unfortunately, took the life of five persons and injured many.  The fact that the Chief Minister’s house was targeted and houses of four MLAs were set on fire shows a deeper malaise that has gripped not only Manipur, but indicates a general feeling of rebellion against the government.  This feeling seems to be spreading across the country where a small incident acts as a trigger and explodes into a rage with unpredictable aftermath.  It shows the governments are not only unresponsive to the aspirations of the people but also exhibits an arrogance of power.


The above issues point out to an atmosphere of rebellion building up for years against the authorities everywhere. The reason is that the general public remains a silent witness to the inequity in the system where corruption and money power have a stranglehold, subverting all institutions, to serve their selfish aims.  Government policies are designed to create caste and religious differences and help retain power with vote bank politics.  Once elected, the majority of MPs and MLAs forget that they are peoples’ representatives and behave like potentates enjoying all kinds of privileges, while the aam admi suffers untold miseries.  Successive elections, a symbol of democracy, have failed to deliver justice as only the corrupt get elected in election after election.  The rash of protests erupting all over shows the people’s disenchantment witnessing the arrogance of power.  The present situation is a warning to the governments to reform themselves, or else the silent rage building up may burst enveloping the nation with disastrous consequences.

Mr. H. R. Bapu Satyanarayana is a freelance writer based at Mysore.  E-mail: what_option@yahoo.co.in

Rein in your Tiger – An open call to Sena leader

Freedom First denounces the rowdy act of smearing black paint on the face of Sudheendra Kulkarni by some members of Shiv Sena in protest of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) hosting the book launch of Pakistan’s former foreign minister, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri’s “Neither A Hawk Nor A Dove”.

Sena leader, Sanjay Raut describes the incident – a mild form of democratic protest (sic).  Your protest is neither ‘mild’, nor ‘democratic’.

A democratic protest is a peaceful protest where no harm is done to any person or property.  Your protest is no better than the recent incidents of acid throwing!  The act could have endangered the person’s life or left a permanent scar.

Since you show concern about the blood-shed of our brave soldiers on the border, we suggest you put your ‘cubs’ along with the soldiers and the moment our jawan falls to the bullet of the enemy, smear black paint on that enemy soldier.  Udhavji can then pronounce it “brave act”!

Freedom First salutes Sudheendra Kulkarni and Nehru Centre for not cowing down under pressure.

OROP – The Nation Owes it to the Armed Forces – By Nitin G. Raut

The roll-out of OROP (One Rank One Pension) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi led BJP NDA Government is not just fulfilling an election promise but giving our Armed Forces personnel what is morally and legitimately due to them. If it took forty years for successive governments to decide, it only shows criminal insensitivity to the legitimate aspirations of our soldiers who, in answer to their call of duty have sacrificed their lives. And today, if OROP is approved, the nation is doing its duty.  It is we the citizens who should be obliged to the Armed Forces.

It is because the Armed Forces are guarding our borders that democracy is safe and it is only in such secure climate that economic development can progress. The onerous task of defending the nation is discharged by the Armed Forces whenever called upon to do so. They have sacrificed their lives in the line of duty. The least they expect is that their families and dependents are cared for.  Is this a price too high that the ex-servicemen should be made to wait for – forty years?

The OROP ensures that widows of the service personnel receive arrears, if any, in one installment while the veterans will receive it in four installments.  Every rank will get pension on par.

In 1970, the pension was 75% of the last drawn salary. Tragically, after the Bangladesh victory in 1971, the pension was reduced to 50%.  Is it not some bizarre decision tantamount to punishing the Armed Forces for their sacrifices and for ensuring victory for India?

Lt. Col. Anil Kaul, a Jaffna war hero retired in 2005 with a monthly salary of Rs.17,500 and, post-retirement, he receives a meager pension of Rs.9500. The nation ought to hang its head in shame for such a poor remuneration.

The hero of Bangladesh war Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw received arrears on his pension only when he was on the death bed in Connoor.

Many years back at the Reunion event of the Artillery Centre at Nashik, top officers were visibly moved by the plight of the war widows.

The family of 1965 Indo Pak War hero, Havaldar Abdul Hamid and Param Vir Chakra awardee lived in chill penury and severe destitution.

In India, no political leader appears to have the courtesy to attend the funeral of our martyrs or retired Armed Forces personnel. In the US, President Obama personally went to receive the US Troops, returning from Afghanistan.  And in the civil aircrafts the returning troops were given a standing ovation by the passengers.

In India, it is only during the wars that we remember our brave-hearts. Even on the issue of the announcement of the OROP by the BJP Government, the nation witnessed an ugly spectacle of political upmanship. A soldier fights for the country and not for any political party. Let our MPs and MLAs spend a few days on the frontline trenches or the icy heights of Siachen or the mosquito infested Indo-Bangla border or even in the blistering heat of India’s border in Rajasthan and they will know what it is to fight a war and what life is on the frontline.

A nation that does not respect a soldier’s izzat or honour is unworthy of its national flag under which our soldiers fight and even sacrifice their lives for our safety.

In fact, the BJP Government should ensure that school curriculum includes chapters on war heroes and their sacrifices.   Schools should adopt one martyr, preferably in the martyr’s village or town, to commemorate the day of his martyrdom. The nation should build a National War Memorial as a tribute to their sacrifice and bravery. It is more than 67 years after Independence and even after four full wars and major conflicts like Kargil, India does not have a war memorial.

In fact, if the ex-servicemen have to stage a dharna to fight for their legitimate dues it is a pathetic state of affairs. We want our soldiers to fight for the country and safeguard our borders when in service, and after retirement, they have to fight for their legitimate dues.  Is it not a national shame? By rolling out OROP the nation has not obliged them.  Armed forces personnel got and should get what is consistent with their izzat. The nation owes it to them.

Nitin G. Raut is an advocate by profession and a freelance writer.  E-mail: nitingraut@gmail.com