Former Pakistan NSA GeneralMahmud Durranialso called “General Shanti” for his role in backchannel talks denies that his meeting with NSA Ajit Doval were in any official capacity, but he is hopeful talks can be restarted now. He spoke to Diplomatic EditorSuhasini Haidar.
You have been in Delhi, meeting several officials, amidst speculation that India-Pakistan talks could be given another push in the near future. How hopeful are you that they may be restarted?
Quite honestly , when I left Pakistan, I was quite unhappy, because everyone here blamed the Pakistan for the border incidents, and Pakistan denies it. You know, the truth is always lost in these border skirmishes, so I was not very hopeful, but I still wanted to come here and speak to people here, and get a real feel. But after visiting Delhi, meeting officials, mostly non-officials, I am a little more optimistic, that this is a moment India and Pakistan need to cash on. We can restart some kind of dialogue.
Specifically, what was your impression when you met NSA Ajit Doval?
I am not even saying I met him. I am not saying I did or not. I’m making no comment.
You said you were less hopeful of a dialogue with India when you were in Pakistan. Why is that?
The reality is that the perceptions about Modi in Pakistan were very negative, he is seen as anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan. After meeting people here, I think this is not correct. The impression I get is that he would like to move forward. What I see is that he is a man of action. He wants to do things, but in his own way. So another thing I learnt is we shouldn’t try and pick up things from our old talks, and try and push that through, because that might not work.
So not the composite dialogue?
Yes something like composite dialogue, and strategic balance are just buzzwords we have created over the years, that may not work. Modi is a different man with a different mind, and a different thinking from the previous Prime Minister. I think he will probably engage with Pakistan. And the impression I get is he would like to do that, but in his own way.
Apart from the firing at the border, the one thing that has held back talks with Pakistan is the public way the Mumbai mastermind Hafiz Saeed operates, addressing rallies etc. Can there ever be a change in Pakistan’s policy on him?
First thing I am 110% sure that the government of Pakistan and the establishment is not supporting him any which way. He is doing it on his own. Technically from what I am told, we don’t have a case against him, that he is a terrorist. He heads Jamaat ud Dawa that is a welfare organisation. But what I gather is that the government is trying hard to muzzle him.
In what way? Because we see him coming out and holding rallies, there don’t seem to be any restrictions on him. When you say there is no case against him, surely the fact that besides India, he and the JuD are designated terrorist entities by both the US and the UN as well, should count for something? Shouldn’t it mean something for the Pakistan government, especially post-Peshawar?
Yes, and Post-Peshawar is a different ballgame in Pakistan, and I think you will see a difference. Because it isn’t like you can turn on an electric switch and you will see a change in a few hours. But I am convinced that you will see a difference.
How does the Pakistani army feel about the possibility of talks? Because in India it is believed that it is the military that derails talks.
I am convinced that the Pakistan military would support talks with India. They feel that talks must be fair, they must be dignified. I mean don’t rub our noses in the ground and expect us to cooperate. It won’t work. But other than that, I think the Pakistani army is supportive of talks, they want the political leadership to lead those talks and they will in their own way contribute to them.
And would Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif today have the political clout to pick up the threads of dialogue today, and to carry it forward?
I think that he has a desire. Benazir had a desire. Zardari had a desire. The political leadership in Pakistan has wanted better relations with India. I think he can deliver but particularly when the military establishment is supporting him.
How do the Army and Pakistan see the closeness between India and the US that has emerged especially after President Obama’s visit?
Well I think mostly in Pakistan they worry about the nuclear deal, that somehow it will free up nuclear material for the production of weapons. So they see that as an indirect threat. But I think improved relations between India and the US were expected, on the cards. In the current geostrategic environment, to me they look like natural partners. We have a relationship with the US that goes on its own trajectory and its own velocity. Similiarly, the US-India relationship is going along with its own trajectory.