‘Sartaj Aziz remarks not to affect India-Pak talk process for now’

July 14, 2015 02:36 pm | Updated November 16, 2021 04:59 pm IST - New Delhi

Pakistan NSA Sartaj Aziz’s >remarks that Kashmir remains on “top of all issues” , and that Pakistan needs “more evidence” from New Delhi on the 26/11 trial is not likely to impact the newly-restarted talks process between India and Pakistan.

According to sources, the government views the remarks as an attempt by Mr. Aziz to address his “domestic constituency” but does not mark a “u-turn” in Pakistan’s assurances at Ufa, and will not “affect the actionability” of the joint statement issued.

As a result, the meetings proposed in the Ufa summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif: that of the Pakistan NSA Aziz and NSA Ajit Doval to discuss terrorism, and those of the DGMO (Army) and DG-BSF with their counterparts are still on track.

“Don’t pass a judgment on a process that hasn’t begun,” a source said, “That’s like deciding what will happen in the last over of a game before the first ball,” making it clear that beyond fixing the meetings, officials in New Delhi and Islamabad haven’t made any progress on the preparation for the talks.

A clearer picture of the actual talks on Friday emerged as well. The meeting in Ufa between the PMs’ was ‘comfortable’, as the two leaders picked up from their last talks on May 26, 2014 according to an official. After about an hour of discussions on various issues, the Prime Ministers are said to have asked “ Press ko kya kehna hai ” (What should we tell the press?” PM Modi then asked the foreign secretaries to draft a joint statement and to address the press together. Time was of the essence, as Mr. Modi had about 45 minutes before he met with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and Mr. Sharif was headed next to his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

As a result foreign secretaries S.Jaishankar and Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhury hammered out a short statement that has now become the cause of much contention. The statement that was produced was less a joint statement, and more the “best sense of what was said during the PMs meet,” said a source who conceded that it was drafted “in a hurry”.

The omission of Kashmir from the wording of the statement is less easy to explain, however. Given Pakistan’s constant rhetoric and political weightage given to the Kashmir dispute, it remains perplexing that no officials on the Pakistani side sought to explicitly mention the resolution of Jammu and Kashmir as it has been customarily done in the past. In fact, with the exception of the Sharm-el-Sheikh agreement of July 2009, Kashmir has always been included in joint statements.

In his explanation Mr. Aziz has said both that Kashmir would move to the “back channel” and that it remained at the “top of the issues”. However, speaking to The Hindu , officials had said, “If so, why isn’t it in the joint statement?”

On the controversy over the cooperation on the Mumbai trial in Pakistan and the promise on voice-samples, the government has chosen to leave its stand vague, while Pakistan’s government has made it clear it is demanding them as “more evidence needed” to convict the 26/11 trials.

“When Mr. Aziz and Mr. Doval meet, they are only committed to discuss ways and means of expediting the 26/11 trial,” said the source. “So where is the question of Pakistan or India backtracking already?”

However India has yet to explain why all conversations centred around Zaki ur Rahman Lakhvi, the LeT operations chief, and not Hafiz Saeed, the man India believes masterminded the 26/11 attack. Mr. Modi is believed to have told Mr. Sharif during the meeting that “most Indians will cite the Lakhvi bail case as proof for the reason they think Pakistan is unreliable.”

For the moment, it would seem the Modi government has decided to press ahead with its plans for India- Pakistan talks, and has chosen to downplay the import of statements from Pakistan that may also queer the pitch for the government in parliament that begins next week. However, how far they can walk down that road in the future should be known in the next two months, after the meeting of the NSAs, Border commanders/ DGs, and a tentative meeting between the PM’s once again when they are in New York September 24-26th this year.

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