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‘Better not to engage till issues are sorted out'

Former NSA feels that discussions were based on unrealistic expectations.

The NSA talks between India and Pakistan may have been pre-destined for failure given the “Hurriyat hurdle.”

Stung by criticism in Pakistan over the exclusion of Kashmir from the Ufa statement, the Nawaz Sharif government felt it couldn’t send Sartaj Aziz to Delhi without meeting Kashmiri separatists, and the Modi government, that took a big risk with the initiative to restart talks, couldn’t have been seen giving in on the Hurriyat issue. But how important were the NSA talks themselves to the process and what will calling them off mean?

“These talks were critical to the India-Pakistan process as we need a starting point to discuss our existential problems” says former Ambassador Jayant Prasad, adding, “For India those are fighting terrorism and ensuring peace and tranquillity at the border.”

On the Pakistani side, the view is the opposite. “The NSA talks were an opening to resume the full dialogue,” former High Commissioner to India Aziz Ahmed Khan told The Hindu over telephone from Islamabad, “Now there’s little hope they can be restarted. Without a discussion on Kashmir resolution, the Pakistan government is in an impossible situation.” Former Ambassador and now Senator Sherry Rehman says the NSA talks were a non-starter given the “narrow agenda” both sides had agreed to. “There is no way core issues can be kept off the table,” she told The Hindu.

Predictable divisions

Former NSA Leela Ponappa too feels that the talks between the two NSAs were based on “unrealistic expectations”. “I think even after Ufa it was dubious what could of come of this kind of engagement. In any case it has never been possible to restrict agendas in this way, as Pakistan does not have normal or predictable responses.”

There are also predictable divisions over whether any future dialogue will be derailed over the question of Pakistani diplomats meeting the Hurriyat.

“India will have to allow some contact with the Hurriyat,” says Mr. Aziz Khan, adding that one way to take the pressure off such meetings would be for the Jammu and Kashmir government to itself begin a dialogue with the Hurriyat that could be seen “as a way of giving them a voice in the process.”

However Ms. Ponappa feels the Hurriyat can never be included in such dialogues in any way. “The government has drawn a welcome redline. For any Pakistani to think they can meet separatists in India is as absurd, as Indian leaders meeting Baloch fighters in Pakistan,” she says. Ambassador Prasad agrees, suggesting that in the near future, the Indian red line will mean all leaders only meet on the sidelines of multilateral fora like the UNGA session in September. “Anywhere away from the media glare would help,” he adds.

‘Temporary lull’

When it comes to how this process can be picked up if at all, diplomats on both sides are unanimous that the calling off of NSA talks is only a temporary lull. “Even after the 1971 war, talks were restarted after just six months,” says Ms. Ponappa, adding that DGMO talks and the meeting fixed between border ranger DGs will take place anyway.” Eventually, says Sherry Rehman, the two sides will have to stop being “cold war dinosaurs”, and plan a joint agenda that includes each others core concerns including Kashmir and terrorism.” Mr. Khan even says a short period of “reflection” may benefit the process as well. “It maybe better not to try and engage for some months, until other issues like the LoC tensions are sorted out.”

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Printable version | Jul 8, 2020 8:47:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/nsa-talks-better-not-to-engage-till-issues-are-sorted-out/article7570241.ece

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