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”

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

  1. The analysis of Indo-Pak relations by Dr.B.Ramesh Babu is excellent. Modi is seeking to eliminate the third party in the relations by drawing the red-line on meetings with Hurriyat.This is in tune with the Simla Agreement. Where do we go from here ? World is tired of blood-shed in the name of Jihad, and every one is agreed that the Pakistan is the nursery of Jihad. The time has come to put economic sanctions on Pakistan on this issue. Moreover, Pakistan has not been able to suppress unrest in POK, Baluchistan and North-West Frontier Province. It may explode like the Soviet Union, sooner than later.


    • Yes, I agree. But we can’t wait till Pakistan explodes. With the kind of support the US is extending to the regime, the “fall” of the falling state could linger on for long.
      Moreover our policy ahould not be stymied by what may or may not happen in Pakistan. The ruling establichment refuses to learn the lesson of its break up into two when Bangladesh emerged as the new State.
      India should make the export of terrorism into J&K and elsewhere in India unacceptably costly. There are ways to do this without leading to a war between the two countries. I will discuss them when I wrote again on the subject.


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