How And Why India Called Off Talks With Pakistan

21 August 2014
Kashmir Observer

Islamabad: India informed Pakistan on Monday, 18 August, that it was calling off the August 25 Foreign Secretary-level talks scheduled in Islamabad, because the Pakistani high commissioner to India- Abdul Basit met Kashmiri separatist leader Shabir Shah on Monday, despite being asked not to. In the clearest sign yet that there is a new man in-charge, Narendra Modi, India's new Prime Minister has covered quite a spectrum in deciding the course of India-Pakistan relations within just over three months of taking the top job. In a move that gave Pakistan a jolt, and surprised many even in India, Modi made a definite departure from the dilly-dallying approach of the past drawing a new red line in bilateral relations- 'You can have a dialogue with India or separatists,' Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh told the Pakistani high commissioner in a telephone call on Monday. However, Basit- told Singh, his meetings would help the political process between India and Pakistan. The Hurriyat leaders, also- used to India either ignoring meetings between them and Pakistani officials in the past or India issuing mere perfunctory objections, disregarded India's position. Basit went ahead and met Shabir Shah on Monday. He had also fixed meetings with other Hurriyat leaders through Tuesday, 19 August. The moment Shah stepped out of the Pakistan high commission in Delhi's diplomatic Shanti Path area, the Indian government executed the decision- PM Modi and his cabinet colleagues had taken earlier in the morning. India's Foreign Secretary- Sujatha Singh called the Pakistani envoy. She told him that the foreign secretary level talks stood cancelled. Media reports in Pakistan described India's decision 'a great setback' for peace efforts in the subcontinent and 'a jolt' for Pakistan. Mariana Baabar reports for The News that 'Pakistan, once again lost the media narrative with a delayed response' to India's move. According to her, 'the Indian government went into an overdrive with press releases, tweets and comments on Facebook while Islamabad took its time to respond with a lacklustre statement.' She writes, 'after hours of deliberations at the Foreign Office, the spokesperson finally reacted by agreeing that the Indian decision was a 'setback' but did not express any great disappointment nor proposed a re-think on this decision. The Spokesperson for the Pakistan Foreign Office- Tasnim Aslam defended her country's consultations with Kashmiri separatists, saying 'It is a longstanding practice that prior to the Pakistan-India talks, meetings with Kashmiri leaders are held to facilitate meaningful discussions on the issue of Kashmir.' In a statement she said Pakistan's prime minister had accepted the invitation of his Indian counterpart to attend his inaugural ceremony because he wanted good neighbourly relations with India and he believed in a 'vision of peace for development.' Earlier, the Indian spokesman at the Ministry of External Affairs- Syed Akbaruddin had announced that Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh telephoned Basit and told him 'in clear and unambiguous terms that Pakistan's continued efforts to interfere in India's internal affairs were unacceptable.' The spokesman said, the Pakistani envoy was told that, his 'meetings with these so-called leaders of the Hurriyat undermines the constructive diplomatic engagement initiated by Prime Minister Modi in May on his very first day in office.' The Indian spokesman also told the Press Trust of India (PTI): 'At a time when a serious initiative was taken to take bilateral ties forward, an invitation to Hurriyat leaders raises questions about Pakistan's sincerity. Pakistan high commissioner's meeting with so-called Hurriyat leaders undermined the constructive diplomatic arrangements made by PM Modi.' The Pakistani high commissioner said in Delhi that the decision to cancel the talks did not augur well for the Subcontinent. 'We expected that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was willing to solve all issues including Kashmir. His move to invite Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for oath-taking ceremony, which was responded to with equal enthusiasm, was seen as a silver lining in the dark clouds over Kashmir but this move of cancelling the talks will only contribute to confusion,' he said. Why Modi decided to call off the Indo-Pakistan meeting The decision, according to Indian diplomatic and intelligence sources, was well thought out and taken by PM Narendra Modi himself. Hindustan Times reports that this is a sharp departure from India's past practice of ignoring such meetings between Pakistani officials and Hurriyat leaders or admonishing them with cursory objections. However, early Monday morning, Modi, had taken his senior cabinet colleagues into confidence, according to anonymous government sources. 'He spoke with Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj and told them that he was in favour of calling off the dialogue if the Pakistani envoy went ahead and held meetings with separatist leaders,' an official said. National security advisor Ajit Doval, too, was apparently informed. It was decided that India would let the Pakistan high commissioner know that it did not appreciate him meeting Hurriyat leaders a week ahead of the important bilateral engagement between the two foreign secretaries. MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin confirmed that foreign secretary Sujatha Singh had called up the Pakistani envoy- Abdul Basit and told him not to go ahead with his Hurriyat meetings. When Basit told Singh that his meetings would help the political process between India and Pakistan, Singh made it clear that his meetings would be 'unacceptable' and seen as interference in India's internal matters. The Intelligence Bureau then apparently kept a watch on the Pakistan high commission to see if Basit would go ahead and meet Shah. Basit had fixed meetings with different Hurriyat leaders over Monday and Tuesday. The moment Shah stepped out of the Pakistan high commission in Delhi's diplomatic Shanti Path area, the government executed the decision Modi and his cabinet colleagues had taken in the morning. Singh called and informed Basit that the foreign secretary level talks stood cancelled. India had invited Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif for Modi's swearing-in, but conveyed that his meeting Hurriyat leaders would be inappropriate. Sharif did not meet the separatists during his two-day May visit. 'If that template was fine with Sharif, why is it not good enough for Basit?' said the official. Initial Modi-Sharif bonhomie had given way to a growing chill in relations. India claims more than 50 ceasefire violations by Pakistan this year, with a surge in the last ten days. In a speech in Kargil last week, Modi had attacked Pakistan's 'proxy war'. On Monday, Jaitley termed the violations 'deliberate' and said powers in Pakistan did not want normal ties. Jammu and Kashmir heads for elections this year, and observers believe that the move is also driven by domestic political calculations. A few hours before meeting Shah, Basit, had underplayed his talks with the Hurriyat. 'Such meetings have happened before. One shouldn't create hype around this,' he told HT, emphasising that Kashmir remained a dispute between India and Pakistan. But later in the evening, Akbaruddin said the invitation to 'so-called leaders of the Hurriyat' raised questions about 'Pakistan's sincerity'. The MEA said 'under the current circumstances', India felt 'no useful purpose' would be served by the foreign secretary going to Islamabad. 'This is a new government. Modi likes to send out clear messages.' New Indian PM wanted ties with Pakistan to be clearly demarcated: Indian media reports suggest that it was a myth that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was eager for a deep engagement with Pakistan. He wanted a relationship, but one marked by clear red lines and with minimal leeway for Islamabad, says the Hindustan Times. Pakistani high commissioner Abdul Basit crossed one of those lines when he invited the All Parties Hurriyat Conference to meet, despite a clear warning from New Delhi that it would end the foreign secretary level meeting. The report suggests that many misunderstand Modi's invitation to Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif to his inauguration. It wasn't a peace move. Modi berated Sharif in their one on one on Pakistan's support for terrorism. He knew full well that a Lashkar-e-Taiba team that attacked the Indian consulate in Herat just days before had wanted a hostage crisis that would have made a mess of his oath taking. Islamabad was warned. India had agreed to talks, but with conditions and fine print attached. In this, Indian officials say, Modi is closer to the standoffish Pakistan policy of PV Narasimha Rao than the magnanimous stances of Atal Behari Vaypayee or Manmohan Singh. Basit's decision to call the Hurriyat, despite Sharif having avoided such a meeting when he had come, also reflected the lack of enthusiasm in Islamabad for talks, the report says. A besieged Sharif and a Pakistani army caught in a fight with the Taliban would be happy to be able to say they stood up to Indian duplicity. While, in the past India has given Pakistan a free pass on such provocations to preserve a peace process, former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal says, 'There is no peace process worth its name.' He says 'foreign secretary level talks can be resumed any time.' However, given the domestic chaos Pakistan is faced with, it is not clear who in Pakistan, Modi would be able to hold substantial talks with. The priority for the Indian Prime Minister is to hold successful Kashmir elections- due early next year. A Modi campaign advisor says, 'the last two prime ministers held successful Kashmir elections. It is important to Modi that he does so as well.' In the past, meetings between Pakistani envoys and Hurriyat leaders have been followed by spikes in protests and unrest in the valley. With both countries turning inwards, the talks were hanging by a thread. The Hurriyat perhaps proved to be the proverbial 'hair' that broke the camel's back. There is also an overwhelming sense in India that the Modi government has actually called Pakistan's bluff at long last.