The National Security Advisors of India and Pakistan have been in touch and have met, at least once in recent weeks, to explore ways to resume the dialogue process. Outgoing Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit, in an interview with The Indian Express, confirmed that NSAs Ajit Doval and Nasser Khan Janjua have been in touch. “I believe they are in touch with each other. I don’t know if they met. Let us hope this will help both countries to come to the negotiating table,” he said.
Asked if the meeting took place in Moscow on May 24 on the margins of an international security conference, Basit said, “You may like to ask your NSA to confirm.” In the interview, his last before he leaves India after three-and-half years during which the roller-coaster relationship touched several highs and lows, Basit said the SAARC summit will be postponed to next year.
He also claimed that Kulbhushan Jadhav, the former Indian Navy officer sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court on the charge of spying, had provided Pakistani authorities a lot of information, enabling them to bust what he called several sleeper cells and local operatives. The Indian Express has learnt that Doval and Janjua, who famously broke the ice over several cigarette breaks during their meeting in Bangkok in early December 2015 — which was followed on December 25 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi flying to Lahore and Raiwind to wish then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his birthday — had met on the margins of the 8th International Security Conference in Zavidova, outside Moscow, on May 24.
Asked what the two NSAs had discussed and whether it included Jammu and Kashmir, Basit ruled this out, saying “(Jammu &) Kashmir we don’t expect them to discuss, we have a different stream to do that.” The Doval-Janjua meeting, sources said, was focused on both sides finding a way to return to the dialogue — or “negotiating” table, as Basit put it — so that they could pick up where they left off, after the Pathankot attack in January 2016 had succeeded in destroying the camaraderie and trust that both prime ministers had built exactly a week earlier when they met in Lahore and Raiwind.
Resolving the Pathankot conundrum seems key to understanding the current phase of the India-Pakistan relationship, although with the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif, there is a sense that another unresolved chapter is about to close. Basit also confirmed in the interview that the SAARC summit will not be held in Pakistan again this year, but postponed to 2018. He did not give any reasons, only pointing out that Pakistan was in touch with the SAARC secretariat in Kathmandu, the nodal office for the summit.
“We are in touch with the SAARC secretariat in Kathmandu, if not this year, then perhaps next year. We are in August already and these summits need preparation. My personal feeling is that it will be held next year,” Basit said.
On the Kulbhushan Jadhav case, Basit said: “Commander Jadhav’s case was sensitive because he was involved not only in espionage but also in subversion.” He refused to commit giving a visa to Jadhav’s mother for Pakistan, saying that India had pre-empted that gesture by taking the matter to the International Court of Justice at The Hague and that Pakistan would wait until the ICJ verdict to take a call on the matter. Basit claimed that Jadhav had given the Pakistani authorities a lot of information on his activities, that he had travelled under the fake name of Mubarak Hussein Patel when he was arrested, that he had been involved in serious terror activities and it was not the first time he had travelled to Pakistan when he was picked up.
“Since his arrest, we have arrested hundreds… more than hundred operatives in Pakistan and busted several sleeper cells,” Basit said. He also confirmed that Pakistan had asked India and Nepal for information on the whereabouts of retired ISI Colonel Habib Zahir, who ostensibly disappeared on the India-Nepal border in Lumbini in early April. “There are apprehensions that he may be in India’s custody, there is no harm in asking India. He may have strayed into India. In these situations, there is no harm in asking,” Basit said.
It has been speculated that Zahir has been picked up for a potential spy swap with Jadhav, but Basit rejected the idea. “These are apples and oranges. There is no question of such a thing,” he said. He added that the Indian authorities had not replied so far to Pakistan’s request on Zahir.