The ‘Saffron’ Line

Delhi and Islamabad went back to their stated positions and cancelled the scheduled NSA talks. This time, again, Kashmir was the main factor. Amid the gloom over the cancellation of engagement, MA Shah says the two countries will reinvent the wheel and repeat the cycle

The handshake that did not materialize.
The handshake that did not materialize.

For the second time since Narendra Modi’s took over, India-Pakistan talks were cancelled, days ahead of the meetings. To the chagrin of everybody in Srinagar, talks were cancelled because of Kashmir. In August 2014, Delhi initiated the cancellation process invoking its new ‘red line’. A year later, Pakistan set its ‘green line’ to undo the process early last week. Eventually, Sartaj-Doval meeting could not materialize.

In an apparent ‘course correction’, Modi regime is disallowing Pakistan’s ‘consultation’ with the Kashmiri separatists in anticipation of the talks with Delhi. It sees bilateral engagements an exercise between two sovereigns. Negating the policy of his predecessor Atal Behari Vajpayee and even hardliner, LK Advani, Modi’s ‘red line’ has only helped internationalizing the Kashmir issue, an unfinished task of the United Nations Security Council.

The latest crisis amid allegations and counter allegations over border skirmishes have added to the confusion of the international community. Now, there are voices suggestive of consulting third parties like UNMOGIP to confirm the accusations from the two countries.

UNMOGIP is in J&K since partition but India has restricted its cooperation with it since 1971. It hosts the UN mission but does not interact with it on LoC issues unlike Islamabad. Pakistan is routinely seeking its intervention and it has even facilitated its two visits to the LoC during recent fire exchanges which killed many civilians on both sides. Pakistan too has succeeded in raising Kashmir thrice in UN during latest tensions.

Modi’s ‘course correction’ by breaking of ‘tradition’ of Hurriyat-Pak meeting in anticipation of Indo-Pak talks, according to many is helping separatists in regaining their relevance. Though they are always in touch, preventing physical meetings makes them get the best of newsprint share.

“The latest move of New Delhi have the capacity to make Hurriyat Conference a permanent block,” said Shawkat Ahmad Parray, a college level Political Science teacher.

Ever since Musharraf doctrine, termed as ‘sell out’ by a section of separatists and Islamabad, was replaced by Pak army backed new policy of ‘Kashmir first’, Delhi too decided to tighten her Kashmir policy. Delhi has all along been trying to convert LoC into IB. Pakistan, now has pushed its policy to a new high, to the extent that its Premier is now saying that there can be no dialogue with India without Kashmir.

The cold war between nuclear armed neighbours has added heavy costs to Kashmiris. “When Islamabad and Delhi give vent to their anger, Kashmiris become cannon fodder and get killed on both sides of the LoC,” Parray said, adding, “This is another argument of Kashmir being the principle party of the dispute.”

But what went wrong between India and Pakistan, that they could not hold NSA level talks, is a question being debated by analysts on both sides of the divide.

The onus, many think, lies on the two Premiers who failed to clear the issues in their meeting in Russian city of Ufa on July 10, 2015. The joint statement was carefully drafted with terminology suiting both. Knowing the fate of Secretary level talks in August 2014, they could have issued a statement with agreeing upon something to avoid its repetition, they point out.

Mani Shankar Aiyar, MP and former minister, had raised the same issue in his statement 24 hours before the talks were stalled. “Why seek dialogue at any level before first sorting out the tangled issue of Pakistan’s interaction with the Hurriyat?” he asked.

There were two distinct parts to the Ufa agreement. First, “They agreed that India and Pakistan have a collective responsibility to ensure peace and promote development. To do so, they are prepared to discuss all outstanding issues.” Second, “Both leaders condemned terrorism in all its forms and agreed to cooperate with each other to eliminate this menace from South Asia.”

For Pakistan “prepared to discuss all outstanding issues” remark implies Kashmir tops her list of “outstanding issues”. But neither side insisted on according any priority to the “outstanding issues”. Apparently, terrorism is the main issue for Delhi and Kashmir for Islamabad.

The question (of not listing the issues) even disturbed Hurriyat patriarch, Syed Ali Geelani, who in order to protest boycotted Eid Millan party at Delhi’s Pak High Commission. Pakistan’s NSA Sartaj Aziz on August 22, 2015 implied that India must be confused. “We have always been clear on our stand on Kashmir. It is India that has misinterpreted it,” Aziz said.

Experts believe that terrorism was always a part of the eight point composite dialogue and was discussed simultaneously with other issues between the Interior Secretaries of India and Pakistan.

Analysts like Mohammad Sayeed Malik believe that India and Pakistan were not ready to talk to each other because of their own problems so Sartaj-Doval meeting could not materialize.

“BJP was not interested because of upcoming Bihar elections and Nawaz regime had to please army and separatists who were annoyed for not including ‘K’ word in Ufa statement so not holding talks this time suited both,” Malik said, adding it seemed that there was an agreement on breakdown of talks this time. “Every step they took and every word they utter clearly showed that both the countries were not interested in talking this time.”

Interestingly, Bihar elections led Congress to backtrack from its ten years old policy to engage Pakistan and separatists, though separately.

Knowing that Sartaj and Doval were not expected to fix the date of independence of J&K, both sides remained adamant to their stated positions, according to Washington insisting they ‘lost another opportunity’.

The talks schedule coincided with skirmishes at LoC and IB and both sides were busy in accusing each other for violating 2003 ceasefire. On August 27, nine people were killed across Kashmir border with  over fifty injured.Interestingly, the ceasefire has virtually lost its relevance as both sides shell each other, quite routinely now.

Pakistan on August 22, accused Delhi of “concocting” the situation along the LoC. “Considering that many terror incidents blamed initially by India on Pakistan eventually turned out to be fake, it is not improbable that India can delay the Resumed Dialogue indefinitely by concocting one or two incidents and keeping the LoC hot,” it said.

In her counter Delhi raised infiltration and accused Pakistan of “helping militants by resorting to firing”. However, the people straddling the divide say the LoC was never silent ever since its birth in 1949. Let alone crossfire, its trespassing has been a routine.

But Delhi’s hard-line was visible in Srinagar too. Most of the separatists invited for ‘consultations’ to Delhi by Pakistan were arrested initially and freed later.

Ahead of talks PDP was projecting itself as a strong force behind Delhi’s resumption of dialogue with Pakistan and a possible revival of talks with separatists. BJP, its ‘north pole’, however, sees separatists as “Pakistani agents” and wants them to follow Sajjad Lone.

Interesting part was that Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed, also the home minister, was unaware about detention of separatists on August 20. “Yes, it was PDP president Mehbooba Mufti who protested against their arrest and suggested her father to leave the matter to Delhi,” one cabinet minister told Kashmir Life. “Mufti was in Uri when his daughter contacted him and registered her protest.” The minister said Mufti was surprised to know that his police chief had received instructions to arrest separatists from Delhi, the minister said.

Now everybody across J&K except octogenarian Geelani is dismayed over talk’s failure. Geelani argues that had bilateral efforts been helpful there should have not been any tension between the two neighbours who met more than 150 times since 1947. Geelani strongly advocates a tripartite dialogue between India, Pakistan and Kashmiri separatists to resolve, what he calls “the basis of tension”.

The talks breakdown will revive the back channel. Track-II players say both Modi and Nawaz in their present tenures want something “extraordinary”.

“They are stuck to their traditional stances, however, in the coming year or so world will witness both sides tactfully giving up there stands and trying to resolve issues,” informed a well known figure of back channel diplomacy on the condition of anonymity.

Since Delhi is unwilling to even recognise Kashmir as an issue, people keep their fingers crossed. Are there chances of re-engagements in future? But the diplomatic history of the two countries suggests they are habitual of reinventing the wheel, almost every time.

Back home India and Pakistan may not allow each other to cross the lines they have set, for some more time unless third-parties (US or EU) rediscover their interests in giving them a push.

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