THE GOVERNMENT on Thursday confirmed that National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval met his Pakistani counterpart Lt Gen Nasser Khan Janjua (retd) as part of “operational-level talks”, and stressed that “talks on terror can definitely go ahead”.
The Indian Express had first reported the meeting between the two NSAs, held at a “neutral venue” in Bangkok on December 26. The report, on December 31, said that while the meeting was held a day after retired Naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav, who is on Death Row in Pakistan, met his wife and mother in Islamabad, it was “pre-scheduled” and not linked to Pakistan’s treatment of Jadhav’s family.
Responding to questions at the weekly briefing, the Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said on Thursday, “India and Pakistan have a dialogue process and we have said terror and talks cannot go together. However, there are other dialogue mechanisms like at the DGMO level, or between the BSF and Pakistan Rangers. Similarly, the NSA-level engagement is part of operational-level talks. We have said terror and talks cannot go together, but talks on terror can definitely go ahead”.
He said the focus of the “operational-level talks” was “cross-border terror” and ways to ensure elimination of terrorism from the region.
Asked whether Doval raised the issue of Jadhav’s meeting with his family, the MEA spokesperson said the focus was on containing cross-border terrorism. “Some of these meetings are pre-determined. Dates are decided well in advance. It is not to do with anything which is happening at that point of time,” he said.
On whether the NSAs would meet again, Kumar said the information would be shared as and when such operational meetings take place.
The Indian Express had also reported that Pakistan has maintained high-level diplomatic contacts with the Indian establishment, even as New Delhi has maintained the rhetoric that terror and talks cannot go together.
In the past four-and-a-half months, new Pakistan High Commissioner Sohail Mahmood has met the top Indian leadership — External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar. While these are official meetings, sources said there have been several under-the-radar meetings with top officials in the Indian establishment.
The meeting between the two NSAs was in line with the understanding reached between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in November 2015, on the sidelines of the Climate Change summit in Paris, that “contacts need to be maintained”. This understanding was reiterated during the Modi-Sharif meeting in Lahore on December 25, 2015.
The meeting, reported to have lasted more than two hours, was kept under wraps, but it is believed that the Indian NSA raised the issue of infiltration of militants into Kashmir from across the Line of Control (LoC) with active support from the Pakistan Army. Janjua is believed to have raised the issue of unrest in Kashmir, besides alleged targeting of civilians in villages along the LoC in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Pakistan’s handling of terrorists, with 26/11 terror attacks mastermind Hafiz Saeed being freed from police custody and attempting to join mainstream politics, and Lashkar-e-Taiba operations commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi remaining out on bail, is also assumed to have figured in the conversation.
It was not the first meeting between the two NSAs in a third country. In December 2015, the two NSAs, along with the two foreign secretaries, had met, again in Bangkok, which was not revealed till after the meeting. That was followed, within days, by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise stopover in Lahore, to wish Sharif on his birthday on December 25.