23 January 2020 04:26 AM




Pakistan NSA Sartaj Aziz and India’s Ajit Doval: Case of the deaf talking to the deaf?

SRINAGAR: Pakistan has invited Kashmir's separatist groups to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s adviser on security and foreign relations, Sartaj Aziz, at its high commission in New Delhi on August 23.

The meeting will take place ahead of Aziz's scheduled talks on the same day with National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, in New Delhi which is expected to discuss measures for improving bilateral relations between the two countries.

Advocate Shahid-ul-Islam, political advisor of moderate Hurriyat chairman, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, said Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner in New Delhi, Mansoor Ahmed Khan, made a phone call to Mirwaiz on Tuesday that Aziz intended to meet with him.

"In an emergency meeting of the executive council on Wednesday, we have decided to attend the reception in New Delhi after which Mirwaiz saheb will be meeting with Mr Aziz," he told The Citizen.

The invitation, which has been extended to veteran Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani and JKLF chief Yasin Malik along with other separatist leaders, however, may not go down well with the political establishment in New Delhi.

India had cancelled the foreign secretary level talks with Pakistan in August last year after the Pakistan's high commissioner in New Delhi invited the Hurriyat groups for a meeting.

Sources said Geelani's Hurriyat as well as the JKLF will also take part in the reception organised by Pakistan's high commission for Aziz, who will arrive in the national capital on August 23 to resume the stalled dialogue between the two countries.

Geelani's spokesman, Ayaz Akbar, said the meeting of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat's executive council is currently underway to evolve a consensus on whether to take part in the meet. "The decision will be out by evening," he said.

JKLF chairman, Yasin Malik, could not be reached for his comments.

Geelani and Malik had turned down the invitation by the Pakistan High Commissioner for an ‘Eid Milan’ party on July 21 in protest against the joint statement issued by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif in Ufa, Russia, which had skipped mentioning 'Kashmir'.

The NSA-level talks come against the backdrop of escalating violence at the Line of Control and International Border between the armies of two countries. At least eight people have died and dozens have been wounded on two sides of the divide in the last six days.

The NSA, Ajit Doval, is expected to raise cross border terrorism, including the recent attack in Udhampur during which a suspected Pakistani militant, Mohammad Naveed, was captured alive by Indian authorities, with Pakistan.

Sources said Pakistan will be raising the issue of Kashmir and insurgency in its restive Balochistan region where the country has accused India of aiding the rebels.

THE CITIZEN BUREAU adds from New Delhi: It is a case of history set to repeat itself. It is worth noting that India had cancelled secretary level talks -- that had been agreed to during Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit for Narendra Modi’s inauguration ceremony -- over Pakistan’s decision to meet Kashmiri separatist leaders in August last year. “This is a red line we have drawn,” the MEA spokesperson had said at the time, “We have told Pakistan — you either talk to us, or to them.” 

Sharif and Modi recently met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Ufa, Russia -- with the meeting being the first of its kind between the two leaders in over a year. It was here that the two countries agreed to meetings between their respective NSAs. 

The announcement of NSA talks seemed to be a step in the right directions, as relations between the two countries have been tense, with India pointing a finger at Pakistan for recent terror attacks in Gurdaspur, Punjab and in Jammu and Kashmir. The two countries have also been exchanging fire along the Line of Control, with each side blaming the other for the provocation. Things took another dip when Pakistan decided to not invite the Jammu and Kashmir assembly speaker to a conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, with India responding by deciding to boycott the meet to be held in Islamabad from 30th September 30 to 8th October. 

There was also a flare up in rhetoric after PM Modi visited Bangladesh and more recently, after India’s covert operation in Burma. Another contentious issue is the release of 26/11 blast mastermind and leader of the Lashkar-e-Taiba Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, who was recently granted bail released from Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi in April this year. In fact, when PM Modi met Chinese Premier Xi Jinping, the issue of Lakhvi’s bail was raised. 

In spite of these tensions, whilst the two Prime Ministers had not met, meetings at other levels have continued. S. Jaishankar travelled to Islamabad in March this year, where he met Chaudhry and the two reportedly discussed strategies for renewing the Indo-Pak peace dialogue. 

The meeting was significant as it was the first official step since India had cancelled secretary-level talks. Speaking at the UN a couple of months ago, Sharif said that India’s decision to cancel the talks had resulted in a “missed opportunity.” Modi, speaking at the UN the next day, responded saying that India was not opposed to talks, but would not participate “in the shadow of terror” and that it was upto Pakistan to “create a conducive atmosphere for talks.” 

Further, tensions between the two countries have been high as border skirmishes across the Line of Control that began in late 2014, continue in 2015. The firing prompted Pakistan penning a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon that invoked the UN to implement resolutions for a plebiscite in Kashmir. The letter marked a major reversal of Pakistan’s position for over a decade, sending bilateral relations between the two countries plummeting. 

However, the first sign that the situation was changing came when Pakistan’s former National Security Adviser Major-General (Retd.) Mahmud Durrani met with NSA Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar in March. The Citizen had the reported that the meeting could be an attempt at resuming back channel diplomacy. Although the MEA spokesperson dismissed a question in regard to whether this could pave the way for the resumption of an India-Pakistan dialogue, General Durrani was quoted by The Hindu saying that his impression is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would “like to move forward” on the dialogue, but would rather not pick up the old format of the composite dialogue process. “Mr. Modi is a different man with a different mind and a different thinking from the previous Prime Minister,” The Hindu quoted General Durrani as saying. “I think he will probably engage with Pakistan, but he would like to do that in his own way.” 

What that own way will be remains to be seen, as every time the two countries see progress on the front of dialogue, incidents -- such as the reports of invitations being sent -- exacerbate the tensions. This latest invitation to Hurriyat leaders will be seen as reaffirmation that Pakistan wants to drag the Kashmir issue into the talks, a subject that India is very clear cannot be included in the mandate, with the talks limited to discussing “all forms of terrorism.”