Interview

Back channel talks between NSAs should continue, says Nawaz Sharif’s advisor

The back-channel between National Security Advisors of India and Pakistan from 2015-2018, was a “good instrument” says Syed Tariq Fatemi, special assistant on foreign affairs to former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, amid reports that the new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan plans to shut down the office.

India-Pakistan talks appear to have gone back to square one, after the cancellation of Foreign Minister talks, and then the tough words ahead of the United Nations General Assembly. Where are relations headed?

The latest spat between the two countries is particularly unfortunate. There was a sense that with a new government in Pakistan, there was this demonstration of [PM Imran Khan’s] desire for cordiality in ties. But it appears that for the Indian side, this was not the right timing for this, primarily since relations with Pakistan are being seen through the prism of domestic politics. I am truly worried that we may not now see the ice melting till the elections have taken place in India. If, on the other hand PM Modi believes that they have a fairly good chance of coming back to power with a good majority, there may be some initiative in the interim.

But everything of the last ten days leads me to believe that we have entered into an unfortunate spell in which both Islamabad and Delhi are accusing each other while reports of troop movements on the LoC and International border increase, amid threats from senior levels of the Indian Army of more action, which is further vitiating the atmosphere. I truly hope that saner heads in Delhi prevail, and if there are any temptations on our [Pakistani] side for any action, they should be abandoned.

Given your experience, do you think they can recover from this setback?

Both countries have missed so many opportunities in the past [for peace] and yet neither side appears to have learned the lesson that these missed opportunities do not return. In fact these missed opportunities create a playing field which is further restricted as a space for engagement.

Whatever happened in New York this week, including the inability of the leaders to meet or to even shake hands or say hello to each other, that is totally alien to our part of the world. Asian cultures and traditions don’t allow for this kind of behaviour.

Neither, one would say, is the barbarism (killing of BSF Jawan) we have seen most recently at the International Border, a part of our culture…What is your advice on stopping these sorts of incidents?

I am convinced that the overwhelming majority in India and Pakistan is genuinely desirous of cordial and cooperative ties. A policy of enmity is not serving our region. Even our neighbours frown at our behaviour and believe that India and Pakistan are keeping the rest of South Asia from realising its potential. As far as barbarism is concerned, there is no place for such things and must be condemned in strong terms.

Your government started the channel between National Security Advisors Ajit Doval and Gen. Nasser Janjua to discuss issues. Was that effective, and do you think the new government in Pakistan should continue it?

PM Nawaz Sharif felt that having the National Security Advisors cooperate away from the glare of the media was a good instrument and we did use it, no doubt about that. The fact was that the channel was set up a little late (2015), after the early enthusiasm had been dented, may have affected its utility somewhat. But I think the new government should see if they can find the right person, and if they find some possibility of India easing up on its policy towards [talks with] Pakistan, should revise their thinking [on shutting down the NSA post].

 

Yet, two major issues — the investigation into the Pathankot attack and the conviction of Kulbhushan Jadhav — remain. Do you think these can still be resolved?

I was very encouraged by the exchange of letters between PM Modi and PM Khan in the past few weeks. Had that gone forward, I think they could have begun playing on a new pitch, as it were, with new possibilities emerging. Now the pitch has been queered.


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Printable version | Jan 27, 2022 11:49:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/interview/back-channel-talks-between-nsas-should-continue-says-nawaz-sharifs-advisor/article25089812.ece

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