On the morning of September 20, three days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi set out for annual meeting of the United Nations general assembly, Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan T C A Raghavan reached out to Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry and suggested a meeting in New York between the National Security Advisors.
The Indian offer was simple: since the two Prime Ministers and their NSAs would be in New York around the same time, it would be an opportunity to move forward on the “Ufa understanding”. The agenda was also fixed, as per the Ufa understanding: “Terrorism and related issues”.
The Indian offer, made a month after the NSA-level talks scheduled for August 23-24 was cancelled after a sharp exchange of words, surprised Islamabad.
Chaudhry took it up with the Pakistan Prime Minister’s Advisor on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, and the matter was discussed at the highest echelons of the Pakistan establishment, including Nawaz Sharif.
Within a few days, Islamabad responded with a counter-proposal: That since the Foreign Ministers will also be in New York around the same time, they should also meet on the sidelines of the UNGA.
The issue was considered in South Block — the Ministry of External Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office — but was not accepted. The Indian response to Pakistan was categorical that they want to move forward as per the Ufa understanding. The issue was settled before Modi left for New York.
This sequence of events was confirmed to The Indian Express by both Indian and Pakistan government officials.
Top government sources said India was interested in NSA-level talks as per the “Ufa understanding” and that meant “terrorism” was the central issue. Pakistan was not “that open and that is why it did not happen”.
Sources said though the Ufa statement said that the NSA-level talks will be held in New Delhi, India did not get stuck on the venue. “The issue and the format was important, and not the venue,” a source said.
New Delhi felt that with Mumbai terror attack accused Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi out of jail, and with attacks in Gurdaspur and Udhampur, it was important that India “engages” with Pakistan on the issue of terrorism.
That was the context, in which the Indian side had approached Pakistan for a meeting between the National Security Advisors in New York.
New Delhi was hopeful that Pakistan would respond in a “positive manner” since it was Sharif’s idea since last May that the two sides should have a NSA-level dialogue.
But with Pakistan proposing a Foreign Minister-level meeting between External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and her counterpart Aziz (who functions both as Pakistan’s NSA and Foreign Minister), it was seen as an attempt to bring in other outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir.
Sources said that on Pakistan leaders meeting the Hurriyat leaders, India is clear that they can meet as long as the interaction is not seen to be a “third party” to the Kashmir issue.