The failure of India and Pakistan to hold the planned meeting between their National Security Advisers, as was agreed in Ufa six weeks ago, is unfortunate, indeed disquieting. It should give pause to both Islamabad and New Delhi on what kind of relations they could possibly expect to have in the foreseeable future. Arguments to the effect that there were earlier periods when they had agreed to disagree are at best disingenuous.
At Ufa there was a limpid agreement on the agenda for the New Delhi meeting: that the NSAs would “discuss all issues connected to terrorism”. Ufa had also yielded a discernible road map to bring about a modicum of peace and tranquillity along the border and the Line of Control (LoC), which has been witnessing rounds of wanton firing and unacceptable casualties. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj put the number of ceasefire violations since Ufa at 91. Barely a week after Ufa raised modest hopes of an upturn in relations, there was firing in the Akhnoor sector. Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar spoke of four attempts made by the Director-General of the Border Security Force to “make telephonic contact with Sector Commander Sialkot” as per laid-down procedures, which met with no response. He mentioned how this was unacceptable. Now, with the prospects of even a limited engagement having receded, the question that arises is: how will the two nuclear-capable neighbours deal with each other?
There is no doubt that through its grandstanding on Kashmir and Hurriyat, Islamabad reneged on the understanding reached in Ufa. It is equally obvious that New Delhi has recalibrated its Pakistan policy, willing perhaps to take a calculated risk that the world would be better disposed to its preferences in the matter of dealing with Pakistan, almost 14 years after 9/11. Yet, the new situation may have willy-nilly rendered India vulnerable to facing gratuitous advice, possibly worse. To assume that those who formulate India’s Pakistan policy believed Islamabad would respect the sudden red line drawn on the Hurriyat, would stretch credulity. The Hurriyat certainly does not have a place in bilateral processes. It is at best a Pakistani side-show with some nuisance value and without much consequence. India had indeed learnt to tolerate that. Now, New Delhi’s actions may have the unintended effect of making the outfit larger-than-life — which is an avoidable prospect. Pakistan has also not covered itself with glory by overloading the agenda with issues that the two NSAs meeting for an hour or two wouldn’t have been able to come to grips with. It is best at this point to open a discreet back channel that ensures better bilateral deliverables than has been the case over the last year and a half. There is simply no alternative to talks.