Another Failed Effort – Indo-Pak NSA Talks

Saturday called off the Indo-Pak NSA-level talks, hours after India made it clear that discussions on Kashmir and a meeting with separatists will not be acceptable. “There will be no talks,” Swaraj declared when asked what would happen if Pakistan did not accept the position outlined by her on separatists and Kashmir though she maintained these were not pre-conditions. The Minister was reacting to Pakistan NSA Sartaj Aziz’s remarks earlier in the day that he was willing to come to India for talks without any pre-conditions. Aziz’s talks with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval on terror-related issues was scheduled to have taken place in Delhi on Monday.

Indo-Pak NSA Talks

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Pakistan’s reluctance to go ahead with the talks was seen by the Indian side as a reflection of Islamabad’s concern that its links to the terror attacks in Gurdaspur and Udhampur and the capture of Faisalabad resident Naveed would figure prominently in the discussions. In a blunt response, external affairs minister Swaraj rejected Aziz’s demand, making it clear that he would not be welcome until Pakistan gave an assurance by midnight that Aziz was not going to meet the separatists and that the J&K dispute was not going to be part of the NSA dialogue agenda. The Ufa statement did note the desire of both sides to “discuss all outstanding issues” only as a general context to India-Pakistan relations. There is nothing ambiguous about the priority accorded to terrorism. Aziz’s bid to repudiate the Ufa statement also reveals an unstated angst. India’s determination to hold Pakistan to its commitment to discuss terrorism proved too unpalatable, particularly for the Pakistan army that virtually dictated the script the Pakistan NSA read out.

The Hurriyat card, however, did the trick. The move to invite the Hurriyat was not as innocuous as might seem the case. It was not just a continuation of past practice. It challenged a significant foreign policy statement the Modi government made soon after assuming office – that it was no longer prepared to humor Pakistan’s use of the separatist alliance as the “third” party to the dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir.  To accept Aziz’s desire to meet Hurriyat leaders would expose the Modi government to political attacks from the opposition, and perhaps even saffron groups, about its sudden acquiescence to the separatists’ as a political voice. With India no longer prepared to accept the Hurriyat as Pakistan’s cat’s paw in Kashmir, the provocative invite to Geelani and Co was the last straw as far as India is concerned.

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