The long interaction of the Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries in New Delhi on April 26 would have covered a lot of ground on the current state of bilateral relations. However, the fact that the two diplomats did not come together before the media and instead gave aggressive individual statements shows that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s December Pakistan initiative is in deep trouble.
Interestingly, the Pakistani version of the conversation is in line with the points that unofficial Pakistani interlocutors are making to their Indian counterparts. There is particular focus on the resumption of a full-range India-Pakistan dialogue, especially to address outstanding issues, including J&K. This is in keeping with Pakistan’s traditional position on the bilateral engagement.
Clearly discernible in Pakistan is the new found confidence to dismiss terrorism — India’s priority — as an alibi for avoiding a full-range dialogue. It is here that, under the army’s orchestration, Pakistan is moving strongly to seek to establish a moral equivalence on terrorism because of the ongoing Kulbhushan Jadhav affair. Its approach is to present terrorism as a mutual concern to be addressed by both countries — if Pakistan must confront non-state actors operating from its territory, India must abandon its state terrorism in Balochistan.
Thus, Pakistan may seemingly cooperate on the Pathankot attack but will continue with the Jadhav concoction. It is in this context that we must evaluate the NIA’s visit to Pakistan. Much as the Modi government may be tempted to use the NIA’s visit, if it takes place, as evidence of the success of its present policy, it has to remain conscious of Pakistan’s dual approach.
Pakistan’s Jadhav adventure marks a serious escalation. The naming of NSA Ajit Doval as Jadhav’s direct handler, and attributing this disclosure to Jadhav, is part of the Pakistani plan. There is little doubt that India would be quietly emphasising to Pakistan the inherent dangers in and implications of opening such a front. It is improbable that the generals would appreciate the validity of the Indian view and return Jadhav early and safely though they may temper the hoopla. The virtual denial of consular access to Jadhav is an indicator of the Pakistani approach.
The fact is that the generals have ensured that the Modi foray runs into sand. Besides, PM Nawaz Sharif is now in the midst of a political crisis and army chief General Raheel Sharif has gained a larger-than-life image because of his stand on domestic terrorism and corruption.
The army and the Sharif brothers have not been on the same page on action against Punjab-based Pakistan-oriented extremist religious groups following the Easter Sunday Lahore terrorist attack. The army has not accepted the restraint the Sharifs wanted it to exercise in taking on these terrorist elements. Far more significant, though, is the growing chasm on corruption. At a time Nawaz Sharif is wounded by the Panama revelations, reports of Raheel Sharif dismissing 12 senior army officers, including a three-star general, have surfaced. Raheel Sharif has also stressed that “across-the-board accountability is necessary for the solidarity, integrity and prosperity of Pakistan”. The upshot is that the army will be in complete control of the country’s India policy with no investment in the Modi-initiated December 2015 process.
The premise of the Modi initiative was the belief that Nawaz Sharif and the army were aligned in wanting an improvement in India-Pakistan relations. This was based on weak evidence: The appointment of a “political fauji”, Nasser Janjua, as NSA and his initial interaction with Doval, a process made possible by unilateral Indian concessions. It is time India coldly reviewed all dimensions of the NSA channel, especially its foundational assumptions. This is all the more needed as it is amply clear now that the generals were unimpressed by Modi’s Lahore visit.
The foreign secretaries’ Delhi interaction shows that there is no early prospect of their meeting to work out the modalities of the comprehensive bilateral dialogue. The Pathankot attack and the Jadhav provocation will now be the bilateral preoccupation. For India, it is necessary to ensure that Pakistan shows real intent on bringing the actual conspirators of the Pathankot attack to book and satisfactorily resolves the Jadhav matter before the foreign secretaries meet on the comprehensive bilateral dialogue. Should that not be so, it will mean another Indian concession and the generals will see it as one more sign of Modi’s weakness, notwithstanding the strong April 26 statement. Can India afford to convey such a signal again?