The farce of sidelines diplomacy

By K.N.Pandita

Indo-Pak sideline talks, scheduled or unscheduled, are generally announced with an element of excitement on both sides. Traditionally, these end up in smoke; no two words about that. Recent Ufa meet between Modi and Nawaz will not meet a different fate. That is what political pundits augur. They cannot be wronged.

The harsh reality is that talks between the two will be fruitful only when Army in Pakistan decides not to play politics. However, that will never happen because of Punjabi hegemony. Therefore “democracy” has different connotation in the context of Pakistan; it is something like militrocracy. The US, annoyed with autocratic regimes elsewhere, is very happy with militrocracy in Pakistan. She has been funding it.

Many a time the US exhorted India to talk to Pak military brass in GHQ. New Delhi always showed its disinclination, though under the Vajpayee Utopia she almost came close to it in Agra.

Two things stand out in Modi’s Ufa talks with Nawaz. These are significantly reflected in the joint press statement of two foreign secretaries.

Before we discuss these two points, we should know that it is almost a year when India had withdrawn foreign secretary meet. The period onwards of India declining foreign secretary level talk has been of intense Track II diplomacy. The two governments have been in regular contact through undisclosed emissaries. Nawaz Sharif does not want termination of covert dialogue but under domestic compulsions he has to take cautious steps. Modi, in comparison, is on stronger turf.

The focal point of Pakistani emissaries and Track II interlocutors is that the elected government in Islamabad has its serious constraints which India understands but does not react to. Nawaz Sharif would want India to respond and dovetail her response accordingly.

India will not talk to Pakistani military top brass. Exchange of messages is something different from both open as well as secret talks. If the people and political class in Pakistan refuse to understand the logic and correctness of India of not talking to military brass, they will be lending their support to the elected leadership. As things are, they refuse to understand what leaving the elected government stranded means at the end of the day.

There was no mention of Kashmir in the joint press statement. All the hell broke in Pakistan. The parliament got surcharged with anger; political parties that are eager to draw extra mileage from such intentional or unintentional lapses in dealing with India have become vociferously critical. Overnight Pakistani State, Pakistani polity and Pakistani Islamist legions found a meeting ground to denigrate the “sidelines diplomacy”.

First of two significant things about Ufa joint statement is the absence of “K” word and the second is commitment to joint effort of meeting the threat of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

Ink had hardly dried on the joint statement when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s security adviser Sartaj Aziz retracted and said Kashmir question has to be there in any dialogue with India.

Was he trying to assuage the hurt feelings of rightists, jingoists, diehards among bureaucrats and mercenaries in Pakistan? Or was he trying to send a subtle message to Pakistan army brass, with which he has assiduously built working relationship that he would not let it down. Under whose pressure was Kashmir kept outside the loop.

Sections of Indian media found the joint statement somewhat unusual: political punditry started making predictions of a mix of hope and despair.

Since last spring Pakistan intensified bombing and shelling across the LoC and IB. She has also increased bids for infiltration along the LoC. It is a clear indication that Pakistan Army is trying to scuttle the Track II talks going on between the two sides. It is apprehensive of behind the curtain talks making improvement, of course, with third party push.

Militancy in Kashmir has lost its steam. More recruitment is hampered. Separatist as well as a host of discreet and indiscreet politicos in Kashmir have got exposed, thanks to the revelations made by former spymaster A.S. Dulat in his recent book on Kashmir during Vajpayee era.

Wahhabization of Kashmir valley has almost de-fazed Pakistan. With the rising crescendo of Islam in Kashmir of Abdul Wahhab’s school, Pakistan smells threat to its influence among Kashmiri Sunni Hanafi majority. However, the hope of Kashmiri religious diehards of ISSI supervening as the arbiter of their destiny is steadily diminishing as the stories of more brutalities of Islamic Caliphate legions perpetrated even on Muslims come to light with each passing day.

Three wars imposed by Pakistan on India in the name of Kashmir have all boomeranged on her. It is strange that India does not rake up Shimla Agreement which, if minutely analyzed, is Pakistan’s capitulation over Kashmir question. Two Secretary Generals of the United Nations stated in very clear terms that in the light of Shimla Agreement, UN’s role in Kashmir is over and Pakistan cannot bring any resolution against India in the United Nations. The Agreement clearly states that status quo of the LoC will not be changed.

Just three days after the joint press statement in Ufa in which Pakistan promised to expedite the judicial process against the handler of Mumbai carnage namely Abdur Rahman Lakhvi, Pakistani spokesman has come with the statement that Pakistan will not go to a court of law to appeal against the Lahore High Court’s decision ordering release of Lakhvi.

BJP did not express any excitement on Ufa talks or the press statement. Modi is not a man who will be carried away by false euphoria. No sensible Pak observer took the press statement seriously. How could they? Only recently at the UN Sanctions Committee India had sought UN action against Pakistan for release of Lakhvi and China blocked it on the ground that India did not produce sufficient evidence.

It is the same China which has underlined that one of the main objectives of SCO is to fight terrorism in all its manifestations. This is the second disappointment which India has met with in recent weeks from Beijing’s side, the other being China’s obstruction to India’s permanent membership of the Security Council.

It is common knowledge that the Ufa meet of the two prime ministers on the sidelines was pushed by the Americans. That is the reflex of Afghan situation. Washington is restlessly tracking China’s nascent move of security alliance among Russia, India and China. This is to neutralize India’s concerns about China making deep inroads in the Karakoram and Pamir foothills so close to her northern border. It is Chinese move to prompt Pakistan to drop “K” word from the press statement in Ufa and then let Sartaj give a soft statement on Pakistan’s interest in Kashmir. Indeed China has become more pro-active in Kashmir imbroglio after consolidating her position in Gilgit Baltistan and heading for a military base somewhere in the region of Wakhan.

One thing which should be appreciated about Modi government is that it has taken up very seriously the necessity of securing our northern border against both China and Pakistan. It has plans of widespread road connectivity in the northern region; it has plans of increased military presence in the area. It has a massive plan for the development of Ladakh. As long as our northern border with China and Pakistan is adequately protected with most powerful second line of defence, we need not be worried about false peace gimmicks of Pakistan and China. Indo-Pak talks on the sidelines of summits are usually farcical and we have no need of making them purposeful.

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