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Kallol Bhattacherjee
Kallol Bhattacherjee


Talking terms

Formidable team Formidable team: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with NSA Ajit Doval | PTI

Team Doval is working hard to fulfil Modi's desire to leave his mark on India-Pakistan ties

The chief of the Research & Analysis Wing usually stays in the shadows during the dialogues between India and Pakistan. In the forthcoming bilateral talks, however, the current chief, Rajinder Khanna, may get the attention of the Pakistanis. The Pakistani media has been targeting his agency for the insurgency in Balochistan and street fights in Karachi.

It was not the only hiccup. Hackers from Pakistan breached the website of Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of Indian Space Research Organisation, two days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi met his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Ufa, Russia. It is said that a team led by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval is planning some tough yet measured responses. According to a source, Modi has instructed Doval to begin talks with Pakistan before the Ufa spirit evaporates.

“We are hopeful of beginning the DG-level talks between India and Pakistan in the first week of September,” said Devendra Kumar Pathak, director general of the Border Security Force. “DG-level talks used to be a normal mechanism. We are disturbed by the increased number of attempts at infiltration from the Pakistani territory, especially in the Jammu sector.”

India’s indirect efforts to keep Pakistan engaged were evident when it gave Padma Vibhushan to Prince Karim Aga Khan in April. The leader of the Shia Ismailis in Pakistan, Afghanistan and central Asia, he was honoured for his contribution to architecture and heritage conservation.

While the external affairs ministry will support Doval at the diplomatic field, another key player who would remain in the backdrop is former Intelligence Bureau director Syed Asif Ibrahim. Currently the special envoy to Af-Pak and West Asia, he has an excellent rapport with Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. As the talks progress, a deciding factor will be the response of Kashmiris on the streets.

A key change Doval recently made in his team was shifting Shivaji Sinha from the China desk of the IB to the desk which tracks Pakistani Islamic and cyber movements. Another important player is former Sikkim governor Balmiki Prasad Singh. He said attempts would be made to keep Kashmir calm to provide suitable backdrop to the talks. “The idea is to have a long season of talks which will proceed uninterrupted and will give us incremental benefits rather than a windfall,” he said.

As the preparations for the talks begin, the buzz in South Block is that India is determined to avoid surprises from Pakistan. “There will be no surprises like the last moment Pakistani invite to the Hurriyat leaders that spoiled last year’s peace efforts,” said Alok Bansal, senior fellow at the Indian Foundation. The foundation recently hosted a delegation from Baltistan in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Many sessions of back channel talks have already taken place and more will happen even during the talks to convince Pakistan of the need to stay positive on India. There are reports that one of Doval's advisers will be Lt-Gen. Kamal Davar, the first chief of India’s Defence Intelligence Agency. A seasoned expert on Pakistan military, he currently runs the Strategic Studies Cell in Kasauli.

The talks will be watched for Modi trying to leave his mark on India-Pakistan ties. “An understanding has already been reached on Sir Creek between India and Pakistan, and an announcement can be made at the right time,” said Bansal. That would be a perfect start for Doval to fulfil Modi's desire to leave a legacy.

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