India and Pakistan must “cash in” on the moment to restart dialogue, says Pakistan’s former National Security Adviser Major-General (Retd.) Mahmud Durrani, who met with NSA Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar this week.
In what seems to be the first possible signal that the Indian government may be open to another effort at talks six months after they were cancelled, General Durrani, who wouldn’t confirm the meetings, told The Hindu that his impression is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would “like to move forward” on the dialogue, but would rather not pick up the old format of the composite dialogue process. “Mr. Modi is a different man with a different mind and a different thinking from the previous Prime Minister,” said Mr. Durrani, “I think he will probably engage with Pakistan, but he would like to do that in his own way.”
Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin, however, dismissed reports that Mr. Durrani’s visit had any official significance.
‘Nothing official about Durrani visit’
However both India and Pakistan were quick to dismiss the meetings as official. A Pakistani government source told The Hindu that the speculations that Mr. Durrani was a government ‘emissary’ were “misleading,” and Mr. Durrani himself said he was here in a “personal capacity” at the invitation of a think-tank, Centre of Dialogue and Reconciliation.
However, Mr. Durrani, who has always remained close to the military leadership, is understood to have held several “high-level” meetings before his visit here and said the army would support any move by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on talks. “They feel that talks must be fair, they must be dignified,” he said, referring to India’s conditions to stop cross border terrorism and the LoC ceasefire violations. “I mean, don’t rub our noses in the ground and expect us to cooperate. But other than that, I think the Pakistani army is supportive of talks.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Durrani’s claim that there was a new “moment” of an anti-terror resolve by the Pakistan government after the Peshawar school massacre was belied by anti-India rallies in Pakistan held by Hafiz Saeed and the Jamaat-ud-Dawa to mark what they call “Kashmir Solidarity day on Thursday.
“Post-Peshawar is a different ballgame in Pakistan,” Mr. Durrani had told The Hindu . “What I gather is that the government is trying hard to muzzle him.”
Reacting to the rallies, that are an annual ritual in Pakistan, Mr. Akbaruddin said, “It is time for Pakistan to start paying attention to all the problems that afflict them, rather than covet what is not theirs and never will be [Jammu and Kashmir].”
While Mr. Durrani’s meetings would represent the first contact of its kind, however indirect and unofficial, between New Delhi and Islamabad in the past few months, diplomats have been in regular touch. A visible thaw in relations was seen in December after the Peshawar attack in which 140 students were killed. Mr. Doval had visited the Pakistan High Commission, writing in the condolence book that “India is solidly behind the people and government of Pakistan, will do everything possible to help them counter the menace [of terrorism].”
Later in the month, Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit had also met with Mr. Doval where it is learnt that discussions on the possibility of restarting the Foreign Secretary-level dialogue were held. However, the efforts received a setback after a series of ceasefire violations by Pakistan left Indian Jawans dead at the LoC in January.
It remains to be seen if the latest attempts at re-establishing contact will prove more successful. At the end of his visit, General Durrani said he was more optimistic now than he was when he arrived.