Raja-Mandala: Delhi to Rawalpindi

Along with the Bangkok breakthrough, a line of communication has been established with Pakistan’s army chief

Written by C. Raja Mohan | Published:December 8, 2015 12:14 am
india, pakistan, india pakistan talks, NSA level talks, india pakistan nsa talks, national security adviser talks, india pakistan army talks, ajit doval, Nasser Khan, bangkok nsa talks, india news, pakistan news, latest news, c raja mohan column, indian express column National Security Advisor Ajit Doval with his Pakistani counterpart Nasser Khan during a delegation level meeting in Bangkok, Thailand on Sunday. (Source: PTI)

After much trial and error, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears to have found an appropriate framework for engaging Pakistan. New Delhi’s challenge now is to hold its nerve, amid the reflexive criticism at home of the government’s Pakistan policy, and make something of the political space that Modi and his advisors have been bold enough to generate in Paris and Bangkok.

If Modi’s 160-second meeting with Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif, on the margins of the Paris conference on climate change last week, had set the stage for the Bangkok breakthrough, equally significant has been the apparent establishment of a long overdue line of communication with the other Sharif — Raheel — who is Pakistan’s all-powerful army chief.

The appointment of Lieutenant General Nasir Khan Janjua, days after his retirement in October this year, as the new national security advisor in place of veteran civilian leader Sartaj Aziz underlined General Raheel Sharif’s quest for total dominance over Pakistan’s foreign and national security policies. It also opened the door for Delhi to directly connect with the army leadership in Rawalpindi.

The accident-prone nature of the India-Pakistan dialogue tells us that the space created in Bangkok over the weekend might not last too long. No round of bilateral talks in the last quarter century could be sustained beyond a brief period. For, the political cycles across the border are rarely in alignment.

The diplomatic trick, then, lies in seizing the moment and moving decisively on a range of issues in the run-up to Modi’s planned visit to Islamabad to attend

the South Asian Summit in mid-2016. Fortunately for the Modi government, much ground had already been covered during the tenure of former PM Manmohan Singh.

From normalisation of trade relations to the demilitarisation of the Siachen Glacier, and from building pipelines across the Radcliffe Line in the Punjab to defining a framework for the resolution of the question of Jammu and Kashmir, many potential agreements are on the shelf waiting to be dusted up. Generating forward movement is the only way to prevent a slide back in the next few months.

A sustained dialogue, in turn, has occurred only when India could directly engage Pakistan’s military leadership. One such period began in late-2003, when then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his advisors established a channel of quiet negotiation with General Pervez Musharraf. This resulted in the institution of a ceasefire all across the International Border, the Line of Control in Kashmir and the Siachen Glacier, and the negotiation of an agreed framework for talks with Pakistan covering all subjects of mutual interest, including terrorism, Kashmir and economic cooperation.

Manmohan Singh ran with the baton passed by Vajpayee and presided over an expansive period of engagement that came to a close in early 2007, when Musharraf’s power began to ebb. The election of a civilian government led by Asif Ali Zardari in 2008 and the more complex internal dynamic of civil-military relations saw an extended period of uncertainty. The ambivalence of General Ashfaq Kayani, who succeeded Musharraf as army chief, the terror attack on Mumbai at the end of 2008, and the steady erosion of Zardari’s authority undermined Singh’s effort to revive the peace process.

Although Modi and Nawaz Sharif seemed eager to make a fresh beginning, Delhi’s attempt at rewriting the terms of engagement with Pakistan ran into the Pakistan army’s resistance. The lack of effective contact between Delhi and Rawalpindi added to the complications.

The appointment of Janjua and the contacts between him and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval over the last few weeks may have begun to change that. The presence of the two foreign secretaries at the Bangkok talks suggests greater coherence across the two establishments as they prepare to negotiate on substance. The inclusion of Asif Ibrahim, the PM’s special envoy on counter-terrorism and former director of the Intelligence Bureau, in the Indian delegation to the Bangkok talks raises hopes for much-needed exchanges between the security agencies.

At Bangkok, the two sides have also got past the problem of “sequencing” in the talks — what comes first, terrorism or Kashmir — that has hobbled recent efforts. They have now returned to the tried-and-tested formula of “simultaneous” talks on all issues of concern, which include terrorism for India and Kashmir for Pakistan.

This does not mean that Doval and Janjua have found a way to crack the problems of cross-border terrorism, 26/11 trials and Kashmir. Building trust through sustained engagement and concluding agreements on economic cooperation, however, could provide a more favourable context to address the difficult issues of terror and Kashmir.

It’s now up to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who heads to Islamabad this week to attend an international conference, to articulate Delhi’s new political will for a mutually beneficial engagement with Pakistan.

 

The writer is consulting editor on foreign affairs for ‘The Indian Express’ and a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, Delhi

For all the latest India News, download Indian Express App now

  1. J
    Jai Kumar
    Dec 8, 2015 at 8:04 pm
    You are correct but all your military elite see through the eyes of their good militants is a continuation of their relevance and power though the bogey of Kashmir and Islam . Is that not what stan is reduced to -- a Stepney to the army
    Reply
    1. K
      K SHESHU
      Dec 8, 2015 at 6:35 am
      After bitterness for the past few months the resumption of peace talks is welcome. The opportunity should be used valuably in taking some concrete steps towards deffusing tension on borders so that the civilians do not face fear in their daily lives.
      Reply
      1. K
        kumar
        Dec 8, 2015 at 7:56 am
        India is again falling into the trap set by stan. We dont have the nerve to launch a miliraty offensive to wipe out terrorism. We could not convince the comity of nations to diplomatically isolate stan for sponsoring religious terrorism. We could not even make the civilian government of stan to produce the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai attach in the criminal justice system. So, We are dancing to the tune of stan. Talks for what. China never talks to anyone who claims its territory
        Reply
        1. K
          kumar
          Dec 8, 2015 at 7:58 am
          talking is a sign of weakness. be firm and dont oscillate
          Reply
          1. F
            Farooque Shahab
            Dec 8, 2015 at 7:25 am
            Relentless pursuit of peace with stan, even at the risk of giving a handle to the opposition, is a sure winner in the long term, politically for the ruling party and economically for the nation. Pace of the dialogue should be fast 'n furious so that a reasonable settlement is achieved at least 2 years ahead of the parliamentary election. Then, the ruling party can effectively contain any negative fall out well before the elections and reap the dividend of major foreign policy coup. Unfortunately, Modi, the man in apparent hurry, lost precious one and a half year. A person at the helm of the nation, like Modi, has to think not only of winning the next parliamentary election but also of leaving behind a legacy. I, representing millions of Indian, wish him Godspeed and success.
            Reply
            1. A
              ashok
              Dec 8, 2015 at 8:58 am
              Conventional wisdom suggests that trust should be built up through trade, travel, etc, moving on to more complex issues later. I would urge, in addition to all of this, do something bold like Siachen, to set the pace for the transformation of the relationship that both countries need to create space for the forbidding development related challenges.
              Reply
              1. W
                Wajih
                Dec 8, 2015 at 11:48 am
                Peace is in benefit of both the countries, the reverse can only bring devastation of 1500 million people living in our common abode. We have lost seventy years in bickering. Let's come together to develop a bright future for our coming generations. Last weeks developments have been courageous and should be continued and supported. Indo-Gangatic civilization has always been tolerant, all embracing. Extremism and exclusivism never had place in it and any such movement will not lost long.
                Reply
                1. D
                  David
                  Dec 8, 2015 at 5:36 pm
                  Their can be a next terror attack anytime from stan and then what do we do. stan society is radicalized, its has hate filled school text books, it is debating Sharia implementation instead of modernism, stanis cannot digest a progressive and prosperous India. A prosperous India puts them to shame. What are India's options, short of war. A well thought out war is not a bad idea.
                  Reply
                  1. R
                    rkannan
                    Dec 8, 2015 at 6:42 am
                    It is depressing to see how India has again let stan off the hook on terrorism. A variety of Indian governments have tried the formula that Raja is advocating but the result has been that stan has always used peace talks to promote terror attacks. 26/11 did not happen when the sides were not talking but happened despite all the talks. The opposite of talking is not war but ignoring stan. stan desperately needs India while India can afford to ignore stan. The only real hope of bringing stan to suspend its terror activities was to ignore stan for about a decade & allow it to disintegrate. Unfortunately, once again the Indian government has surrendered for no reason & we can be sure that stani army & ISI will start the planning for the next terror attack.
                    Reply
                    1. Load More Comments