More articles by

Kallol Bhattacherjee
Kallol Bhattacherjee


U-turn in Ufa

  • Setting the agenda
    Setting the agenda: Narendra Modi with Nawaz Sharif at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Ufa | PTI
  • Ready to talk
    Ready to talk: National Security Advisers Ajit Doval (standing) and Sartaj Aziz | PTI

Sober thoughts return to diplomacy machinery

After prime ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif met in Ufa on July 10, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar had just half an hour to draft the Indian part of the joint statement. He sat on a sofa with Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, as curious diplomats walked by, trying to get a glimpse.

The joint statement said terrorism was the central issue and both parties, THE WEEK was told, had agreed to leave Kashmir out. However, Pakistan National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz later backtracked in Islamabad and brought up Kashmir. He said talks would not happen unless Kashmir was the central issue. Apparently, Pakistan plans to take up several issues, including the Samjhauta Express blast and India's alleged interference in Balochistan. Pakistan made another U-turn as Aziz said the country required more evidence against 26/11 mastermind Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi to take the case forward. In Ufa, Sharif had agreed to expedite his trial.

The joint statement also said that the two NSAs, Ajit Doval and Aziz, would meet in Delhi to discuss terrorism. The director general of the Border Security Force and the director general of military operations (Army) would also meet their Pakistani counterparts soon.

However, the lack of clarity on the issues to be discussed has complicated the meetings even before the parties sit down to talk. A source privy to the negotiations said the joint statement was “drafted in a hurry” as both prime ministers had to meet heads of other countries 45 minutes after their meeting.

The source said Aziz’s comments on Kashmir were made under compulsions of his “domestic constituency”. “When the NSAs meet, they will speak only about ways and means of expediting the trial for 26/11 accused in Pakistan. So where is the question of India backtracking?” he asked.

Interestingly, despite Pakistan's flip-flop, it was Modi's U-turn—the decision to engage Pakistan—that hogged headlines. This indicates some sober rethinking by Modi's diplomacy machinery.

In August last year, Modi had suspended bilateral talks when Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit met the Hurriyat leadership in Delhi on the eve of the foreign secretary-level talks. The Ufa meeting, therefore, is bound to raise questions about why India chose to resume talks. And, as if to test India’s sincerity, the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi has once again invited the Hurriyat representatives to its Eid Milan programme.

The move to resume talks was not a snap decision; conciliatory gestures have been made by both sides since January. On April 8, both prime ministers talked about India's Operation Rahat, which rescued many Pakistanis from crisis-hit Yemen. In April, Sharif called up Modi and thanked him for India’s quick response to the Nepal earthquake. On June 18, Sharif, after a talk with Modi, released 113 Indian fishermen, and India responded by releasing 88 Pakistani fishermen. On July 1, four days before Modi left for his trip to Central Asia, India handed over the list of Pakistani prisoners lodged in Indian jails in keeping with the consular agreement of 2008. In mid-February, Modi added a bit of cricket diplomacy by wishing the Pakistani cricket team luck for the World Cup. All these small but symbolic gestures became regular after Jaishankar went to Pakistan in the first week of March as part of his SAARC yatra.

However, there have been some disagreements within team Modi. While External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj stuck to her “no talks without action on terror accused” line, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu said the initial unplanned aggression by Modi's foreign affairs machinery was being replaced by a sober, more regional approach to issues. On June 25, while releasing the foreign ministry's South Asia Development and Cooperation Report, Prabhu aggressively pitched a regional approach to South Asian growth and welfare. “South Asia is among the fastest growing regions in the world today,” he said. “We have to work in areas like regional tourism, regional transfer of energy and security because India cannot grow alone. It will have to grow along with its neighbours.” He also asked for a direct connection to be established through Pakistan and Afghanistan for the Central Asian energy market, especially for the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline, which was discussed during Modi’s visit to Central Asia and Ufa. Prabhu’s comments came in the backdrop of growing regional cooperation between India, Bangladesh and Nepal.

In Ufa, Modi and Sharif also agreed to create an uninterrupted mechanism for religious tourism to encourage more people-to-people contact. Modi's plan to visit Pakistan in 2016, therefore, is being seen as a sign of growing realism in the government.

India’s U-turn on Pakistan might have been influenced by some international forces. India does not have hard options as Russia and China have refused to corner Pakistan. Instead, Pakistan, despite its record of terrorism, was treated at the same level as India and both were admitted to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. China had earlier blocked India’s demands at the United Nations to bring Lakhvi to justice. Russia, meanwhile, has increased defence cooperation with Pakistan.

While India maintains that talks will be held on the points mentioned in the joint statement, the central agenda of terrorism could throw up some unpleasant situations for India. By pitching the NSAs on both sides to talk on terror, India and Pakistan are experimenting with a new model of dialogue over security and terror. But it remains to be seen if India can withstand the turbulent weather in Kashmir and Pakistan’s efforts to use the talks to push Kashmir back into the spotlight.


Joint statement
* The NSAs would meet in Delhi to discuss terrorism.
* The DG BSF and the DGMO (Army) would meet their Pakistani counterparts.
* There would be a mechanism to facilitate religious tourism.
* Will decide on the release of fishermen in each other's custody.
* Will discuss ways to expedite 26/11 trial.

* Both parties agreed to leave Kashmir out. Aziz, however, brought up the issue in Islamabad and said talks would not happen unless Kashmir was the central issue.
* Pakistan plans to take up several issues, including the Samjhauta Express blast and India's alleged interference in Balochistan.
* Aziz said the country required more evidence against Lakhvi. In Ufa, Sharif had agreed to expedite his trial.

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