Limits of Rapprochement — Foreign Secretary Talks Cancelled

The cancellation of foreign secretary level talks between India and Pakistan, which were to be held on August 25, was not totally unexpected.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has so far refrained from making belligerent statements against Pakistan, except during his visit to Kargil last week, where he stated that Pakistan has lost the capacity to fight a conventional war against India, and is thus indulging in a ‘proxy war.’  The Prime Minister, who was quite aggressive during the election campaign, has perhaps realized that diplomacy especially with regard to neighboring countries is complex – and that New Delhi-Islamabad relations are perhaps the most complicated. Events of the last few days which include continuous ceasefire violations across the LoC and the meeting between the Pakistan High Commissioner and Kashmiri separatist leaders had put the Prime Minister in a tight spot with the Congress accusing him of being weak. The Indian side objected to the meeting between the Pakistan High Commissioner in India, Abdul Basit and separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani, and senior separatist leader Shabir Ahmad Shah, with the Indian Foreign Secretary categorically stating that Pakistan had a choice of either talking to the separatist leaders or to India.

The Prime Minister – who has to deal with multiple domestic problems – has given clear indications of wanting to reach out to neighbours as was evident from the invitation to leaders of SAARC countries for his swearing-in. This was followed up by visits to both Bhutan and Nepal which have been welcomed by both his admirers and critics as laudable initiatives.

Modi would like to reach out to whatever degree possible to the civilian government of Nawaz Sharif, which won a decisive mandate in 2013. Sharif during the election campaign had repeatedly reiterated his desire to improve ties with India and to begin from where he had left in 1999. Yet, the PML-N government has so far been giving very confusing signals. For example, it has put Non-Discriminatory Market Access (NDMA) status on the backburner, something which was expected considering Sharif’s desire for closer India-Pakistan trade ties. First NDMA was delayed due to elections in Pakistan last year, and then it was put on hold due to the elections in India. Ceasefire violations too have increased since last year. In January 2013, two Indian soldiers were killed and their bodies were mutilated, and the media and opposition attacked the then-Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh for being soft on Pakistan. On the eve of the meeting between Singh and Sharif on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September last year, there was a terrorist attack in Jammu. Over the past week too there have been a large number of ceasefire violations, but there has been no real reaction by Modi.

Sharif himself has been making the right moves and noises. In spite of opposition from the Pakistan army he attended Narendra Modi’s swearing-in and did not meet any of the Kashmiri separatist leaders. Only last week he also made a mention of how Pakistan too has suffered as a result of strained ties with India. The Pakistani Prime Minister will have to bite the bullet, however, and convert his intentions into something tangible. The first step could be to restore the ceasefire. If a ceasefire cannot be maintained, it is tough to really sit across the table and talk about other issues because it implies that Sharif has no control of the situation. In addition to this, the Pakistani Prime Minister should make a categorical statement that Pakistani soil will not be utilized for any terrorist activities against India. Third, the Kashmir issue can be discussed, but it should not be used as a means of leverage or justifying violence. Finally, if Pakistan is interested in trade it should deal with the hardliners and grant NDMA.

New Delhi on its part should be firm, but not brash. Unnecessary belligerence will only strengthen the GHQ and hardliners within the Pakistani establishment. The best at this stage would be to watch and wait for the civilian government to deal with not just the army, but opposition parties trying to dislodge the government.

Tridivesh Singh Maini is associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, Sonepat.


Image: Tauseef Mustafa-AFP, Getty

Posted in , Cooperation, India, India-Pakistan Relations, Kashmir, LoC, Negotiations, Pakistan, Peace, Politics

Tridivesh Singh Maini

Tridivesh Singh Maini

Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based Policy Analyst. He is a senior research associate with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonepat, Haryana. He is a former SAV Visiting Fellow (Winter 2016). He was also an Asia Society India-Pakistan Regional Young Leaders Initiative (IPRYLI) Fellow (2013-2014), and a Public Policy Scholar with The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, Chennai (November 2013-March 2014). His research interests include Indo-Pak relations, the role of border states in India's foreign policy and the New Silk Road. Maini is a regular contributor for The Millenium Post (New Delhi), The News (Lahore), The Friday Times (Lahore), The Global Times (Beijing) and The Diplomat. Maini has worked earlier with The Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, the Institute of South Asian Studies, Singapore; and The Indian Express, New Delhi. While working with The Indian Express, Maini wrote a weekly column, 'Printline Pakistan'. He authored ‘South Asian Cooperation and the Role of the Punjabs’, and co-authored ‘Humanity Amidst Insanity: Hope During and After the Indo-Pak Partition’ with Tahir Malik and Ali Farooq Malik. Maini is also one of the editors of ‘Warriors after War: Indian and Pakistani Retired Military Leaders Reflect on Relations between the Two countries, Past Present and Future’, published by Peter Lang (2011).

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4 thoughts on “Limits of Rapprochement — Foreign Secretary Talks Cancelled

  1. The run with the hare and hunt with the hound strategy of Pakistan may not work with the Modi government. What Modi government was looking for is a change in behavior as a demonstration of sincerity, not empty talk. The PML government like any other earlier political dispensations cannot deliver anything leave aside a promised MFN status, principles of reciprocity making it overdue by almost twenty years.
    In the run up to the talks one terror module operating out of the Pakistani mission in Colombo targeting attacks on the Israeli and American Consulates in India, using Sri Lankan Muslim criminals got busted. The Malaysian and Sri Lankan governments also played a role in getting the plot busted. Following it the violence in J & K increased and LOC ceasefire violations multiplied. Calling off the talks was signalling. The message is clear — we will not talk to you unless you give up the use of terror. The time for extracting any concession out of India has long gone, now even one sq inch of Indian land will not be conceded. The use of terror strategy went past its expiry date ages ago, unfortunately the Generals in Rawalpindi are living in a parallel world of illusions. As long as Aid is available to keep Pakistan afloat, they will continue their merry ways. PM Modi knows it and will calibrate a strategy to hurt the interests of the Pakistani Military. With the Indian Economy opening up, the number of levers available for India to exercise, has multiplied manifold. The Toolkit has various tools each of which will be used according to the situation of the day.
    With the Indian government giving a free hand to its soldiers on the LOC and border to react as they see fit, to attempts at infiltration, a level playing field has been created there. No longer will the Indian Army be constrained on the borders to provocations, unlike in the past. No need for them to run and consult in Delhi on what the response to a local provocation will be. This is the best part of the Modi strategy, let the DGMO’s sort out border issues. Modi is a master strategist, the implementation he leaves to those better qualified for the job.

  2. Actually, India do not want to bring peace in the region on equality and mutual respect. she has strain relation with all her neighbors not only with Pakistan. Kashmir is the back bone issue among two countries since independence. Now, India wants from both Kashmiri’s and Pakistani to drop her legitimate right of freedom and put Kashmir in pocket of India. This behavior from Indian side will not bring peace in the region and it deprives the rights of 13 millions population of suppressed Kashmiri. India is still hesitant to resolve the issue on the will of Kashmiris. The sub continent has been divided on the choice of people not on the bases of the choice of Rulers.

  3. As much as I agree with the points about Indian decision making being hasty in this case, I donot agree with the statement made by Abdul on the ‘India no wanting equality’. No state in the world wants equality at its cost. The decision to cancel the talks is being dubbed by many as a hard liners policy decision. It need not necessarily be true. The decision could just be an uneasy reaction to the domestic instability in Pakistan at the moment . It was however projected as a response to the meeting with the Hurriyat leaders. In any case, the decision to cancel the talks was a foolish one to say the least and will probably have long term effects. This can be one of those decisions that will hamper the good image that Narendra Modi attempted to build by inviting the SAARC leaders. I would just like to suggest another interesting read :

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