"Pehle Aap" Does Not Work For India-Pakistan
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif
NEW DELHI: Tensions remain high between India and Pakistan, as “will they or won’t they” questions do the rounds in reference to a possible meet between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly next week.
Reports in Indian media stated that Pakistan is insisting that PM Modi extend an invitation to PM Sharif for a meeting, whereas Pakistani media has quoted sources saying that such a meet is “not on the cards.”
The “will they or won’t they” questions also pertain to whether Pakistan is going to push the Kashmir agenda at the UN meetings, as recent tensions along the Line of Control and cancellation of talks over the Kashmir issue have exacerbated tensions.
Dawn News quoted an unnamed senior Pakistani official saying that “Kashmir is very important it has to be discussed,” and adding that Pakistan is likely to raise the Kashmir issue “more forcefully than ever before in the recent past.”
Meanwhile, India and Pakistan continue to exchange fire across the LoC, with each side blaming the other for the provocation. At the time of writing, the Pakistan army had targeted Indian military positions in Poonch, and in a characteristic tit for tat, the Pakistanis stated that Indian troops shelled Pakistani villages along the LoC.
Tensions have been high between the two nuclear neighbours since the cancellation of NSA level talks last month. 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.”
Pakistan, in turn, 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.”
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, but for now, it doesn’t seem to include a meeting in New York.