Explained: Why India-Pakistan NSA talks present both a risk and an opportunity

Since NSA Ajit K Doval is the top man in the Indian intelligence and security establishment, he is best placed to lead the talks.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi | Updated: July 14, 2015 11:04:11 am
Narendra Modi, Nawaz Sharif, modi sharif meeting, india pakistan NSAs, india pakistan NSA-level talks, NSA Ajit K Doval, NSAs meeting,  National Security Advisor, NSA-level talks, modi sharif ufa meeting, sharif modi ufa talk, india pakistan ties, pakistan india relation,  Pakistan NSA Sartaj Aziz, indian express explained, explained, ie explained Prime Minister Narendra Modi with NSA Ajit Doval. (Source: PTI)

On July 10, before Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif met, very few expected a joint statement, or even an outcome. Within minutes of the meeting ending, though, the two Foreign Secretaries read out a 207-word statement, which was prepared “jointly”.

Probably to avoid ending up contradicting each other publicly — as has happened on multiple India-Pak occasions in the past — Aizaz Ahsan Chaudhary read out half the statement, and S Jaishankar read out the rest. The first, and most significant, outcome in this innovatively presented statement was that “a meeting in New Delhi [would be held] between the two NSAs to discuss all issues connected to terrorism”.

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The Indian narrative has always been that terrorism needs to be tackled head-on — and a bilateral mechanism to do so at the highest level is imperative. Since National Security Advisor Ajit K Doval is the top man in the Indian intelligence and security establishment, he is best placed to lead the talks. Given his experience in police and intelligence, it is believed that he will be more effective than the home secretaries, who held discussions under the composite dialogue process.

And yet, despite this apparent Indian ‘victory’, agreement on NSA-level talks could well have handed Pakistan a stick to prod India with — given recent statements by members of India’s union Council of Ministers.

On May 21, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said, “You have to neutralise terrorist through terrorist only, kaante se kaanta nikaalte hain… Why can’t we do it? We should do it. Why my soldier has to do it all the time?”

Soon afterward, following the Army’s operation against Naga insurgents in Myanmar, MoS (I&B) Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, a retired Colonel, declared that India had sent a message to all countries, including Pakistan, that “We will strike at a place and at a time of our choosing.”

The statements have not only vitiated the bilateral atmosphere, Parrikar’s assertion has given ballast to the so-far-latent Pakistani narrative of an Indian hand in terrorist and anti-national activities in Pakistan. Subsequently, some documents — whose authenticity has been questioned — have emerged pointing to alleged Indian funding of politicians from the MQM.

Pakistan officials say that there is enough in the public domain to indicate an “Indian hand” in the trouble in their country.

In his clear-eyed 2011 study, Pakistan: A Hard Country, King’s College professor Anatol Lieven wrote, “By 1988, this Sindhi-Mohajir violence was also occurring on a large scale, with Sindhi extremist groups allegedly receiving covert help from RAW.” Elsewhere in the book, he quoted Ahmed Jamal Nizami, a correspondent of the Nation newspaper in Faisalabad: “All the suicide bombings in Pakistan are the result of operations in which Pakistani or US forces kill women and children; and some of them like the Marriott were carried out by RAW… Pakistan agencies have proof that the truck came from the Indian embassy.”

In their book, Pakistan: Terrorism Ground Zero, also published in 2011, Rohan Gunaratna and Khuram Iqbal wrote, “…With Pakistani groups and those linked to Pakistan targeting economic targets in India, it is likely that RAW will consider expanding its support for threat groups that will hit Pakistan’s economic hub.”

India has always rubbished these allegations and asked for evidence through official channels. Pakistani NSA Sartaj Aziz will, in all probability, put the alleged “Indian involvement” in terrorism in Pakistan on the table. It will be important for both sides to ensure that they are still able to talk frankly on the issues of core concern, and that the discussion translates into some action on the ground. For New Delhi, that would mean an end to violations of the ceasefire agreement and a decline in terrorist activities, not just in India, but also against Indian interests in third countries, especially Afghanistan.

In The Wrong Enemy, Carlotta Gall wrote, “The Indian Embassy bombing (2008) revealed the clearest evidence of ISI complicity in its planning and execution. American and Afghan surveillance intercepted phone calls from ISI officials in Pakistan and heard them planning the attack with the militants in Kabul in the days leading up to the bombing. At the time, intelligence officials monitoring the calls did not know what was being planned, but the involvement of a high-level ISI official in promoting a terrorist attack was clear.”

For India and Pakistan to succeed in going ahead with the bilateral dialogue process, instances of “strategic trust deficit” like the ones cited by Lieven, Gunaratna and Gall have to be tackled first. Else, the NSA-level talks run the risk of achieving nothing more than the failed Joint Anti-Terror mechanism between the two countries in 2007-08.

shubhajit.roy@expressindia.com

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