The Modi-Nawaz Bonhomie
It seems that under the Modi dispention 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, which is in place for years between India and China on the vexed boundary dispute: the Special Representatives-level talks
The small Russian city of Ufa became the talk of the town recently as leaders of India and Pakistan decided to revive the stalled dialogue process and find ways to expedite trial of the Mumbai attack case. In a major breakthrough, Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif agreed to cooperate to eliminate terrorism from South Asia. Modi and Sharif, in their first bilateral talks over an year, met for nearly one hour in Ufa on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit and discussed entire gamut of issues between the two countries. Significantly, Foreign Secretaries S Jaishankar and Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry held a joint press meet where they read out a joint statement on the outcome of the much-anticipated meeting between the two leaders.
India has been upset over the almost non-existent trial in the 2008 Mumbai attack case, with even the mastermind and LeT operations commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi being released by the court as the Pakistan government failed to furnish the required evidence. It is noteworthy here that there was no mention of Kashmir in the joint statement or at the joint press briefing by Foreign Secretaries S Jaishankar and Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry. Modi, who accepted Sharif’s invitation to visit Pakistan for the SAARC Summit in 2016, will be the first Indian Prime Minister in 12 years to travel to that country after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s historic visit in January 2004.
The Indian delegation in Ufa included National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar while Sartaj Aziz, Sharif’s advisor on foreign affairs and national security, was in the Pakistani delegation. The major announcements came a day after Pakistani forces violated ceasefire again at the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir in which a BSF jawan was killed.
The meeting also came at a time when Pakistan has warned India against any military operations on its soil along the lines of the one in Myanmar last month in which Indian Special Forces went across the border and destroyed two militant camps, killing as many as 50 rebels.
The meetings of Indian and Pakistani heads of state have historically invited overzealous scrutiny from both countries. Just before the ascension of Narendra Modi to the top seat of power in India, a controversy preceded the interaction of Sharif and the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and seemingly drew fire from all the quarters of the country. The controversy, which began with a remark, drew interesting reactions from a number of members of the Indian government as well as the opposition, putting these in an interesting light as India geared for national elections in 2014.
Earlier in 2002 during General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s era, the former president of Pakistan forced the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to rise and shake hands with him at SAARC Summit. Vajpayee got up from his seat and extended his hand to Musharraf. The applause that followed the clasp came close to deafening decibels and many in the media teams from India and Pakistan appeared to have lost their composure for a while to join the clapping.
This time too, all hell broke loose in Pakistan. The opposition parties in Pakistan accused Nawaz of prostrating before Modi. Soon after Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi shook hands at the Congress hall in Ufa and indicated a symbolic ceasefire in a heated political environment, an infuriated former Interior Minister of Pakistan Rehman Malik said in a press release:“Our Prime Minister] was made to walk through a long corridor towards Modi’s chair/throne. [Modi] didn’t show the slightest courtesy under diplomatic norms for his Pakistani counterpart to walk a few steps forward to receive him.” Later he termed Modi’s approach as “rude and undiplomatic,” adding that it “badly hurt the feelings of the Pakistani nation.”
In the same vein Shireen Mazari of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) expressed her apprehension over the manner in which she felt Sharif “appeased India” in the meeting. Mazari felt that Sharif’s invitation to Narendra Modi was unnecessary and “beyond the requirements of diplomatic protocol”, as the same would have gone out as a matter of routine. The PTI leader was equally disturbed at what she said was silence on the Kashmir issue and Indian involvement in Balochistan. “Modi raised Mumbai and Sharif agreed to ‘fast track’ the investigations. Not a word on Samjhota Express was uttered by PM Sharif,” she fumed.
NSA-oriented Pak policy: A strategic move
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 political show enjoys a minister of state rank.
It must be recalled here that Modi had held his first summit meeting with Nawaz Sharif in New Delhi, soon after his swearing-in as Prime Minister on May26, 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 move has been hailed as a clever strategic move. By keeping the proposed talks with Pakistan, Modi has clearly taken India’s Pakistan policy away from the domain of the Ministry of External Affairs.
It means that under the Modi dispention 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, which 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.
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 a 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 also 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.
The joint statement drafted by the foreign secretaries of both countries appeared to signal the beginning of a thaw in bilateral ties between the two nuclear-armed neighbours, until the Pakistan Prime Minister’s adviser on national security and foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, appeared to put a spanner in the works barely three days after the Modi-Sharif meeting.
Apart from insisting that no talks can happen without Kashmir being on the agenda, Aziz also said that India needed to provide “more evidence and information” on the Mumbai attacks case. Apart from Kashmir, Aziz also raked up the issue of the Samjhauta Express trial and accused India of “continuing support for insurgency in Balochistan”.
His demand for further evidence for the prosecution of the likes of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi is also being perceived as a setback for India as the joint statement ‘ agrred to discuss ways and means to expedite the Mumbai case trial, including additional information like providing voice samples’.
With Pakistan already raised doubts over its willingness to walk-the-talk, barely two days after the Modi-Nawaz bonhomie in Ufa, the country is keeping its fingers crossed and hoping for positive outcomes from the Modi’s visit to Pakistan next year.
Here Is A Brief Timeline Of India-Pakistan Relations Since Modi Came To Power
Swearing ceremony: Modi invited Sharif for his swearing-in ceremony.
Shawl diplomacy: Sharif sent a white sari as a gift to Modi’s mother after he gifted a shawl to Sharif’s mother when he visited India for his swearing in ceremony.
Ceasefire violation: Around 800 incidents of ceasefire violations were reported in the first year of Modi government.
Secretary level talk called off: India called off secretary level scheduled to be held in Islamabad on August 25, 2014 after Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit met Kashmirir separatist leaders. Foreign Secretaries of the two countries were to meet after a hiatus of two years in the dialogue process, to discuss the way forward in talks.
SAARC Summit 2014: Modi and Nawaz Sharif met in Kathmandu in November, 2014 at the SAARC Summit where they did not hold any bilateral meeting.
SAARC Yatra: Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar met with his Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhury in March this year as part of SAARC Yatra this year.
War of words: War of words escalated between leaders from India and Pakistan after Modi’s critical remarks about Pakistan during his Bangladesh visit and in the wake of India’s military action in Myanmar.
26/11 issue: Big breakthroughs were achieved at the metting bewteen Modi and Nawaz, as India agreed to send more evidence against terrorists being tried in Pakistan for their role in the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. Pakistan said India has failed to submit strong evidence of the involvement in 26/11 of Lakhvi. Voice samples of terrorists in Pakistan, who gave instructions on the phone to the 10 terrorists who fanned across Mumbai, will be sent over.
Ramzan greetings: Modi greeted his Pakistani counterpart on June 16 on the beginning of Ramzaan.
Ufa meet: Modi and Sharif met in Russian city of Ufa on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Ufa.
Statement Read Out By Foreign Secretaries Of India And Pakistan In UFA, Russia
The Prime Ministers of Pakistan and India met on the sidelines of the SCO Summit in Ufa.The meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere.The two leaders exchanged views on issues of bilateral and regional interest. They agreed that India and Pakistan have a collective responsibility to ensure peace and promote development.To do so, they are prepared to discuss all outstanding issues. Both leaders condemned terrorism in all its forms and agreed to cooperate with each other to eliminate this menace from South Asia. They also agreed on the following steps to be taken by the two sides:
- A meeting in New Delhi between the two NSAs to discuss all issues connected to terrorism.
- Early meetings of DG BSF and DG Pakistan Rangers followed by that of DGMOs.
- Decision for release of fishermen in each other’s custody, along with their boats, within a period of 15 days.
- Mechanism for facilitating religious tourism.
- Both sides agreed to discuss ways and means to expedite the Mumbai case trial, including additional information like providing voice samples.
- Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reiterated his invitation to Prime Minister Modi to visit Pakistan for the SAARC Summit in 2016.Prime Minister Modi accepted the invitation.
By Nilabh Krishna