India Pakistan Border Talks Under Fire
Cross border violations
NEW DELHI: As India and Pakistan cancelled NSA talks, tensions simmer with the two countries exchanging fire along the Line Of Control. The latest provocation, in which eight people were killed, comes just ahead of a meet between the Director Generals of Pakistan Rangers and the Border Security Force scheduled for September 6 in New Delhi.
According to reports, Pakistan Rangers began firing at BSF border outposts (BOPs) in R S Pura sector, later initiating mortar shelling in civilian areas, which prompted the BSF to retaliate. Two civilians were killed in India, including a woman.
Pakistan too reported casualties, with an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement saying that at least six Pakistani civilians were killed in the shelling along the LoC in Sialkot’s Charwah, Harpal, Chaprar and Sucheetgarh sectors.
The latest firing comes as India and Pakistan cancelled NSA level talks scheduled for this month, with the complicating factor being Pakistan’s decision to invite leaders of the Hurriyat to a reception to meet with Pakistani NSA Sartaj Aziz in Delhi. India, put in a tough spot by the move, issued an ultimatum to Pakistan to provide an assurance that talks would include no agenda other than terrorism. A statement from Pakistan’s Ministry of External Affairs said: “Pakistan has carefully analyzed the contents of the Press Conference of the Indian Minister for External Affairs, Mrs. Sushma Sawaraj this afternoon. We have come to the conclusion that the proposed NSA level talks between the two countries would not serve any purpose, if conducted on the basis of the two conditions laid down by the Minister.” India, on its part, denied imposing any conditions. An MEA spokesperson tweeted: “Pakistan’s decision is unfortunate. India did not set any preconditions.”
In a characteristic tit-for-tat that has come to define relations between the two countries, Pakistan accused India of “concocting terror incidents and keeping the LoC hot”, while India said Pakistan was using firing along the LoC and terror attacks to “run away from the talks.”
Amidst all this, the LoC remains engulfed by skirmishes, with sources indicating that the number of ceasefire violations since July range between 70 to 90, where at least eight people have died and dozens injured.
The above is a scenario of history repeating itself, as 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, in addition to LoC firing, India pointing a finger at Pakistan for recent terror attacks in Gurdaspur, Punjab and in Jammu and Kashmir. 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. Eventually, the conference was moved to New York, with Pakistan declining to change its stance on not inviting the speaker of the Jammu and Kashmir assembly. National Assembly speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq said the London Secretariat of the Commonwealth had been told that Kashmir was a disputed territory and now it was impossible for the Commonwealth Conference to be held in Pakistan.
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.
Cross border firing itself has been a major source of tension, continuing since mid 2014, prompting Pakistan to pen 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.
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.”
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.