NSA-Oriented Pak Policy A Dramatic Change
Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to play hard with Islamabad. Last August Modi had unilaterally called off foreign secretary level talks protesting the meeting of Pakistan High Commissioner with the separatist leaders from Kashmir.
Now, even after the recent meeting with Pakistan Premier Nawaz Sharif, where the two agreed to resume talks at Foreign Secretary level, has had an after-thought.
He has now decided to hold National Security Advisory-level talks, one-notch higher level, as NSA in Indian dispensation enjoys a minister of state rank.
There is much speculation about the 10 July summit between Modi and Nawaz Sharif in Ufa, Russia, has significant implications not only for the two neighbours but also for the two governments.
Recalling the earlier developments, Modi had held his first summit meeting with Nawaz Sharif in New Delhi, soon after becoming prime minister on 26 May 2014. It was decided that their foreign secretaries would be meeting soon for structured talks. But it was cancelled by India, angry at Pak holding talks with separatist, as written above.
But now in less than a year the Modi government has not only decided to re-engage with Pakistan but decided to do that at a higher level of NSA. This Modi move has been hailed as a clever strategic move. By keeping the proposed talks with Pakistan, he has clearly taken India’s Pakistan policy away from the domain of the Ministry of External Affairs.
It means that under the Modi government India’s Pakistan policy will be decided, shaped and choreographed by PMO and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, not the MEA. In a way, PM Modi has decided to experiment a mechanism in engaging with Pakistan, that is in place for years between India and China on the vexed boundary dispute: the Special Representatives-level talks where the Indian NSA represents the Government of India and has full mandate from the Indian Prime Minister.
In a way, Doval will be a SR (Special Representative) with Pakistan too and PM Modi’s point person in dealing with Pakistan. This undoubtedly indicates the ever growing stature of Doval at a time when many ministers in the Modi government are losing sheen. Brajesh Mishra was the only NSA who enjoyed such a massive political clout and the confidence of the then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Doval knows Pakistan like palm of his hand. He is also a hard bargainer and shrewd negotiator.
The real purpose behind having a new institutionalised mechanism of NSA-level talks with Pakistan is to sift everything from the security and intelligence perspective. Modi has conveyed lot of things with this move. First and foremost, it conveys that India’s engagement with Pakistan will be through the security and intelligence prism. After all, that has been the most important area and a tipping point for all governments in India all these decades.
It conveys that the usual diplomatic channel is not enough in dealing with a difficult neighbour like Pakistan. The Manmohan Singh government had also held several ‘Intelligence Summits’ with Pakistan at that time. But these meetings between the intelligence agencies of the two countries were held covertly and were exploratory in nature. Nothing much came off these efforts and the Manmohan Singh government was forced to stop entertaining hopes of improving relations with Pakistan after the serial terror attacks on Mumbai in November 2008.
Now, say commentators the Modi government fielded the most hated man in Pakistan – Doval – for holding talks. The Modi government’s decision also conveys that Pakistan will first have to climb the Doval wall before Modi calibrates his Pakistan policy in view of his possible maiden visit to Pakistan next year for SAARC summit.
If even this route does not succeed with Pakistan, nothing else will. Pakistan will either mellow down or just slink away.