Wednesday, 20 August 2014

New Delhi’s new red line on dialogue with Pakistan

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Aug 14

By calling off a scheduled meeting between India’s and Pakistan’s foreign secretaries, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has placed an onus of good diplomatic behaviour on Pakistan. New Delhi’s new red line is --- if Islamabad wishes to talk to New Delhi, it must not talk to the Hurriyat Conference.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has confirmed to Business Standard that the ban on talking to the Hurriyat includes the spectrum of Kashmiri separatist parties. This includes non-Hurriyat leaders like Yasin Malik of the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front; and newer leaders like Masarat Alam, who emerged from three years of violent street protests in Kashmir from 2008-2010.

This impasse was triggered on Aug 18, when Pakistan’s high commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, insisted on meeting Hurriyat leader, Shabir Shah, the first of several consultations with Kashmiri separatists scheduled for this week. The MEA responded swiftly by cancelling the foreign secretaries’ meeting scheduled in Islamabad on Aug 25. An MEA press statement said: “(T)he invitation to so-called leaders of the Hurriyat by Pakistan’s High Commissioner does indeed raise questions about Pakistan’s sincerity, and shows that its negative approaches and attempts to interfere in India’s internal affairs continue unabated.”

New Delhi has never before formally objected to Pakistani leaders and diplomats meeting with Kashmiri separatist leaders. Numerous such meetings have taken place during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) decade in government. In 2001, when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government invited President Pervez Musharraf for the Agra Summit, he met Kashmiri separatists at a reception hosted by the Pakistan High Commission.

New Delhi has itself facilitated meetings between the Hurriyat and Pakistani leaders, recognising the Hurriyat’s utility in anchoring any India-Pakistan settlement on Kashmir. In the mid-2000s, when back-channel negotiations between India and Pakistan were close to sealing a deal on Kashmir, New Delhi encouraged Hurriyat leaders to travel several times to Pakistan. The Hurriyat leaders met Pakistan’s then foreign minister, Khursheed Kasuri, and foreign secretary, Riaz Khokhar, in 2004; President Musharraf the next year; and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in 2007, with New Delhi’s silent approval.

There is irony in Pakistani leaders meeting Kashmiri separatists before discussions with India, since any Indo-Pak settlement on Kashmir would be at the cost of the Hurriyat’s demands. India’s former high commissioner to Pakistan, Satyabrata Pal, says: “The Pakistani High Commissioner meeting the Hurriyat before talks is like the cook consulting the chickens before a banquet.”

Indian diplomats in Islamabad too have met separatist leaders from Baluchistan. Mani Shankar Aiyar, who was posted in Islamabad during Zia-ul-Haq’s rule, recounts that he met numerous Baluchi separatist leaders, including Ghaus Bux Bizenjo, Ahmed Nawaz Bugti and Akbar Bugti (who was killed in 2006 by the Pakistani military in an operation in Baluchistan).

The current impasse underlines the need for clarity about India’s Red Lines, since it is unclear what Pakistani actions would invite a cessation of dialogue. Going by recent precedence, it would appear that the death of Indian soldiers in firing on the Line of Control is acceptable, but a red line gets infringed when a soldier’s body is mutilated. Similarly, terror attacks in Srinagar will not prevent talks from going ahead, but an attack in Delhi or Mumbai would trigger reprisals, even war. Indian diplomats accept that New Delhi’s reactions have been inconsistent, and that red lines must be demarcated with greater clarity.

While the need for firmness with Pakistan is undisputed every unfriendly act cannot be allowed to interrupt dialogue. If peace talks are called off for every minor reason, New Delhi may find it can negotiate only with close allies. As the adage goes, one negotiates peace with ones enemies, not with ones friends.

Effectively, New Delhi has decided that Pakistan cannot talk to Hurriyat leaders because they are Indian citizens; and that would be tantamount to interfering in India’s internal affairs. Yet, New Delhi itself has failed to initiate a dialogue with its own disaffected people, the Kashmiri separatists.

New Delhi’s latest red line becomes viable only if it implements an open, new, holistic approach to internal dialogue. It must boldly declare that the Kashmiri people are Indians and New Delhi, not Islamabad, will deal with their grievances. With the latest interruption of dialogue, New Delhi has only half a strategy --- flexing its muscles at Islamabad, but not reaching out to Kashmir.


captainjohann said...

A brilliant analysis>> Modi must not allow Indian Media (beholden to west)to hijack the foreign policy

Anonymous said...

Kashmir is, was & will be a disputed territory.

raj said...

A very insightful and pragmatic view of Indo Pak talks on Kashmir.

Anonymous said...

You have said new Delhi needs to reach out, can you elaborate how?

For e.g. kashmiris are running the administration in Kashmir and policing is done by the Kashmir police. Looks pretty normal to me. Do Kashmiris expect a pat on the back every time there is some kind of separatist violence over there? Let us be honest with ourselves and, honest and tough to our adversaries ( internal and external).

I have to say that this government has shown some spine and about time too, after the ineptitude of the previous one. Hopefully this is the first among a few more red lines that ensure the nation's self respect and dignity.

Anonymous said...


I completely agree with your summary that we need to offer a new deal to Jammu & Kashmir which may include noticeable measures like AFSPA revocation and a less visible military presence, especially in urban areas. It is a risk but at such decisions are articles of faith taken in the hope that majority of the residents want to lead a normal life. This government can do it with the confidence of a huge parliamentary majority and a perceived image of right wing patriotism firmly behind them.

Having said that, I don't understand the Pavlovian response on the need to talk. What does India really lose if we don't talk to Pakistan? Yes, we have to manage them but in my view, every year of 8%+ growth that India achieves while Pakistan wallows in its misery will serve to strengthen our position and put daylight between us and Pakistan. The self flagellation of liberals in India on suspension of talks is befuddling. Perhaps it is a unique North Indian / Punjabi feeling similar to the behavior of politicians in my home state on the Lankan Tamil issue!

We should downgrade the High Commission in Islamabad and put Pakistan lower on the foreign ministry agenda and focus on Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives. Pakistan just merits benign neglect and the use of other means to make the cost of supporting terror strikes in India prohibitive. If we could do it during the Punjab insurgency in the 90s when Pakistan was much more stabler and India had far lesser resources, we should have the capability to do so now. It is a different matter if there is political will to stomach these decisions in an un-Gujral like manner.