NEW DELHI: It has been a flip, flop, flip for Prime Minister Narendra Modi whose 17 months in power stressing ‘talks only about terrorism’ policy has dissolved into accepting Jammu and Kashmir to be placed on the table. In the process the Pakistan military has elbowed out its civilian government and stepped directly into the dialogue with the new National Security Advisor Lt General Naseer Janjua, right hand of the Army chief General Raheel Shareef, in charge.

The aggressive policy of the Modi government---interspersed with meetings that served basically as stand alone photo-ops for the leaders---that insisted on making terrorism the fulcrum of a India Pakistan dialogue lies in tatters. The Bangkok meeting attended by the two NSA’s, the two foreign secretaries, and others ended in a statement where both sides agreed to discuss ‘peace and security, terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir’ along with ‘other issues. The three specific issues mentioned included Jammu and Kashmir, at par now with terrorism.

The statement issued after the Bangkok meeting is in itself brief but telling: Pursuant to the meetings of the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan in Paris, the National Security Advisers, accompanied by the Foreign Secretaries, met in Bangkok today.

Discussions were held in a candid, cordial and constructive atmosphere.

They were guided by the vision of the two leaders for a peaceful stable and prosperous South Asia.

Discussions covered peace and security, terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir, and other issues, including tranquility along the LoC.

It was agreed to carry forward the constructive engagement.


December 06, 2015

The genesis of this dialogue was Paris. Nudged by the US and UK, India and Pakistan officials met and the back channels then prepared for the quick ‘pull aside’ meeting between PM Modi and Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif. The officials post Paris continued the back channels that resulted in the Bangkok meeting and the statement with terrorism and Jammu and Kashmir on the table.

So what has changed since Ufa, Russia where the two Prime Ministers met in July, and the two foreign secretaries issued a statement on terrorism? There was no mention of Jammu and Kashmir, or any other issue at the time except a general commitment to discussing all outstanding issues. The statement concentrated on terrorism stating that “Both leaders condemned terrorism in all its forms and agreed to cooperate with each other to eliminate this menace from South Asia.” And that “A meeting in New Delhi between the two NSAs to discuss all issues connected to terrorism.” This was seen as a coup of sorts for the Indian side, crafted by NSA Ajit Doval.

The ground moved dramatically for both sides since. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned home to flak, with the military visibly angry about the give on Jammu and Kashmir and is reported to have read the riot act to the civilian government.Sharif had no choice but to issue statements correcting his position, raising Jammu and Kashmir at every available opportunity since, and calling off the proposed NSA level talks.

Sharif has weakened considerably since, with General Sharif now in command. Sartaj Aziz, a liberal by any standards was removed as the NSA and General Naseer Khan Janjua brought in instead. He is close to the Army chief, and was appointed directly without even as much as a ‘if you please’ for the civilian government. Military sources were quoted in the Pakistan media as saying that the Army chief felt that Sartaj Aziz’s attention was divided between national security and the foreign office, hence the new appointment. Janjua was, until recently, Commander of the Quetta-based 12 Corps; a position which concurrently made him Commander of Pakistan Army’s Southern Command. This is based in Quetta, Balochistan.

The Indian government will now be talking to the military directly, a shift in the 17 months with New Delhi’s aggressive diplomacy allowing the Pakistan military to ease out the civilian apparatus altogether insofar as the bilateral dialogue is concerned.

A great deal has changed for PM Modi and his government leading to the current diplomatic meltdown. Three major reasons:

1.The defeat in Bihar has shown that the hype against Pakistan is not a factor that impacts on domestic politics and the vote bank. Also the communal campaign by the BJP/RSS and the affiliate organisations has proven counterproductive, with the resistance against ‘intolerance’ within India grabbing world headlines. This pressure made itself felt through several demonstrations when PM Modi visited the UK, and also the fact that a visit to Cambridge University had to be called off.

2.Along with this came the realisation, despite blinkers put on by the Indian national security establishment, that factoring Pakistan at this stage could amount to factoring India out of post US withdrawal Afghanistan. India’s participation in the Heart of Asia conference being held in Islamabad that was under a big question mark earlier, has now been cleared with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj likely to participate. This Conference is part of what is referred to as the Istanbul process on Afghanistan and will be attended by Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan. The list of participant also include 17 countries from European, US, Canada, Japan and Iraq.

3. Continuous and sustained pressure from the international community. The US has been consistently issuing statements, sometimes in response to questions, that it was still interested in the resumption of the India Pakistan dialogue. A similar statement was made in Paris as well, that source said became the scene of hectic activity for India and Pakistan to work out a methodology to resume the talks. It was agreed to meet in a third country away from the media, and Bangkok was finally decided upon.

4.The Saarc summit will be held in Pakistan next July and if all proceeds on course, PM Modi might place yet another feather in his ‘hat of firsts’ by becoming the first Indian PM to visit the neighbouring country in over ten years. This could also serve as the excuse for a India Pakistan summit.

But six months often spells eternity in India-Pakistan relations, with the movement forward wrought with uncertainties and hurdles at both ends. The RSS has still to respond, for instance.