July 26, 2015

Ufa meeting: Take the Process Forward

THE BJP government is caught between its own aggressive postures and the contradictory realities as far as Pakistan is concerned. This is what has emerged from the episode of the joint statement issued after the prime ministers of India and Pakistan met at Ufa in Russia on July 10 and the events thereafter. The Ufa statement signaled the resumption of talks between the two countries. The joint statement talked of the resolve of both sides to discuss all outstanding issues. The National Security Advisers of the two countries would meet to discuss terrorism related issues; the Directorate General of Military Operations of the two countries would meet to discuss maintenance of peace on the Line of Control; both sides would discuss ways and means to expedite the Mumbai case trial; the fishermen in custody and boats seized on either side would be released within 15 days. It was announced that Prime Minister Modi would attend the Saarc Summit to be held in Pakistan in 2016.

The invitation to Nawaz Sharif along with all the Saarc leaders for the swearing in of the Modi government had raised hopes that a serious effort would be made to improve relations with India’s neighbours. However, this hope was soon dispelled as far as Pakistan is concerned.

The Modi government abruptly called off the foreign secretary level talks which were to be held in August 2014. The reason then cited by the government was that the Pakistan High Commissioner had met with Hurriyat leaders. This objection had no credibility since such meetings were a regular occurrence in the past before any India-Pakistan talks.

The BJP followed this up with an aggressive posture. At its national executive meeting in April 2015, it declared that terror and talks with Pakistan cannot go together. It stated that peaceful and friendly relations with Pakistan are “predicated on an end to terrorism”.

Not only were the talks stalled, but the situation worsened on the Line of Control. In October 2014 there was heavy cross border firing and artillery shelling in which scores of civilians died on both sides. The Modi government talked tough and declared that we had retaliated with greater intensity.

The stance of no talks without terrorism being ended could not be sustained. The realities of the situation became evident. The heightening of tensions and the rupture in relations with Pakistan had an adverse effect on the whole of South Asia and went contrary to the efforts to strengthen relations with the neighbours. Moreover, the domestic emphasis on economic recovery and the external effort to project India as a responsible major power was getting hampered. The Modi government was also faced with the prospect of both India and Pakistan being admitted as members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. All these seem to have contributed to the initiative for the Ufa meeting, which was an unexpected, but positive step.

However, the aggressive posturing of the BJP towards Pakistan is still at work. Within a few days, different interpretations of the Ufa statement appeared on both sides. In India the BJP sought to project it as a victory. Its spokesman declared that “Pakistan, for the first time accepted India’s definition of terrorism”. It conformed to the BJP’s stand that without tackling terrorism there can be no other discussion with Pakistan. Sartaj Aziz, the advisor on national security and foreign affairs to the Pakistan prime minister stated that Kashmir, Sir Creek and Siachen are all to be discussed as they are outstanding issues. He further stated that this could be better done through back channel negotiations. While these conflicting views were being aired, another round of cross border firing erupted at the LoC. The Pakistanis claim to have shot down a drone which had strayed across from the Indian side, a charge strongly denied by India.

After accusing the UPA government repeatedly of surrendering national interests by holding talks with Pakistan, the BJP government finds itself unable to come out with a clear cut approach on having a dialogue with Pakistan. If the composite dialogue which had been going on for long is not proving to be productive, the way can be found for other levels of engagement. Even Sartaj Aziz has stated that the “peace process has to be updated and restructured. The entire process has to be reviewed.” The Modi government cannot pretend that Kashmir is not on the agenda for talks. In fact the Ufa statement refers to discussion on all outstanding issues. It is well known that on both Sir Creek and Siachen, progress was made but the political will to take a decision has not been there. As far as terrorism is concerned, the BJP government has made itself vulnerable by foolish statements such as that of the defence minister Parikkar that terrorism will be fought with terrorism. In June, this year, Modi himself attacked Pakistan for fomenting terrorism in India while speaking in Bangladesh. This led to a resolution of the Pakistan Senate condemning Modi’s remarks.

While recognising that there are forces within Pakistan who would try to hamper the civilian government’s efforts to improve relations with India, what the Modi government should do is to stop echoing the aggressive anti-Pakistan posture of the BJP. What is required is to pick up the threads of the discussions which were held earlier during the UPA-1 government’s time with regard to Kashmir and other issues. This must be combined with a renewed effort to make Pakistan take up concrete measures to curb the extremist-terrorist groups which are targeting India. The Pakistan army is engaged in operations in Waziristan against the network of jihadi groups. India should keep up the pressure to make the Pakistani authorities train their attention on the Punjab based Laskhar e Taiba and the Jaamat ud Dawa network who are inimical to India.

As much as there are difficulties for a meaningful dialogue from within Pakistan, the mindset of the BJP-RSS leadership is also a hindrance to take the process forward.

(July 23, 2015)