The well wishers of Pakistan-India relations were expecting that the recent exchanges of fire on the LOC and the verbal exchanges through media would be curbed during Foreign Secretary level talks scheduled in Islamabad on 25th August, 2014. All these expectations were shattered when India on August 18, 2014 called off foreign secretary-level bilateral talks with Pakistan. Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) conveyed the decision to the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi, and said that it will not send Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh to Islamabad for talks scheduled for August 25. Pakistan termed India’s decision to call off foreign secretary level talks a setback to efforts by the Pakistani leadership to promote “good, neighbourly relations” with India. The meeting was called off on the pretext that why Pakistan’s High Commissioner met with Kashmiri leaders prior to the talks. Pakistan has rejected Indian reservation stating that it has been a longstanding practice that, prior to Pakistan-India talks, meetings with Kashmiri leaders were held to facilitate meaningful dialogue on the issue of Kashmir. It was nothing new. Pakistani envoy just followed the old tradition.
Calling off Foreign Secretary level talks on a tiny matter has raised many questions. What implications the Indian decision of cancelling talks with Pakistan would have on future engagements between the two countries? Why India is taking such a tough stance on Kashmir? Are the Indo-Pak Relations are becoming hostage of Indian Domestic Politics? What measure both countries should take to normalize their relations?
From Pakistani perspective, cancellation of Foreign Secretary level talks by India is a very serious matter specially the grounds on which the talks have been called off. Pakistan High Commissioner’s meeting with Kashmiri leaders was not aimed to undermine the constructive diplomatic engagement initiated by the two Prime Ministers -Mr Narendra Modi and Mr.Muhammad Nawaz Sharif. The cancellation of meeting will have negative implications for normalization of relations between the two countries and will delay the resumption of peace process. The meeting was fundamental to the future engagement in setting agenda for dialogue between the two countries. Pakistan was keen to discuss the revival of the dialogue process covering all issues of concerns including Kashmir.
Any effort to resolve Kashmir issue has been termed by India as interference in India’s internal affairs. Indian stance on Kashmir issue has consistently been becoming harder day by day. Why India is taking such a tough stance on Kashmir? India is planning to end the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir through revocation of Article 370. In a recent development Indian government has decided to ask United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) to vacate its office in New Delhi. Pakistan’s position on the measures India is undertaking on the Kashmir is very clear, it says: “As long as the Kashmir dispute is not resolved, the UNSC mandate remains. These measures are inconsequential and they do not have any impact on the legal status of the dispute.” For quite some time now India is putting pressure on China to stop development work in Azad Kashmir. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has clarified her position by issuing a statement on July 29, 2014. China has defended the presence of its personnel in Azad Kashmir by stating that they were not targeted against any country but were only involved in “cooperative activities” to improve the livelihood of local people. The statement further said that China’s position was clear and consistent on Kashmir issue. It was an issue left over from history between India and Pakistan and should be properly resolved through dialogue and consultations.
Today, Indo-Pak Relations have become hostage of Indian domestic politics. According to media reports the Congress accused the Modi government of doublespeak, questioning why the talks had not been called off and warned that it could be a “major security risk in the days to come”. Pakistani envoy’s meeting with Kashmiri leaders met with criticism from various political quarters in India, with the main opposition Congress hitting out at the government for allowing Basit to meet the Hurriyat leaders. In view of criticism from Congress, BJP government cancelled the foreign secretary talks. This clearly proves that Indo-Pak Relations have become hostage of Indian domestic politics.
Kashmir is one of the important political issues between India and Pakistan that should be settled through peaceful means by engaging all the stakeholders. Without taking into confidence the Kshmiri leadership, there would be no meaningful dialogue on the issue. Pakistan’s envoy’s meeting with some of the Kashmiri leaders was part of consultation and should not be termed as interference in internal affairs of India.The Kashmiri leaders are in favour of talks between Pakistan and India. For example, the prominent Hurriyat leader Shabir Ahmad Shah on August 18, 2014 welcomed the upcoming India-Pakistan foreign-secretary level talks. He added that the Kashmir issue could not be resolved without the inclusion of the “true leadership” of Jammu and Kashmir in the resolution process. During a press conference on August 20, 2014, Mr. Abdul Basit, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India has defended his recent talks with Kashmiri leadership saying that including them in a dialogue is the only way to find a lasting peace between the South Asian rivals.
India and Pakistan have not held formal talks for almost two years now. The Jammu and Kashmir’s ruling National Conference and the opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Srinagar have expressed disappointment over the decision to call off the Foreign Secretary-level talks. Mehbooba Muftim, President, PDP stated that it was a highly negative development that cast a shadow on the atmosphere of reconciliation generated by the invitation to Nawaz Shareef for the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. She added the meeting between Pakistan High Commissioner and Hurriyat leaders was nothing new and it was a very flimsy ground for shelving bold initiative that was taken by the BJP government in resuming diplomatic talks with Pakistan. There was no alternative to dialogue between the two countries, it is beyond comprehension as to what was achieved by such a reaction to the routine events like the Pakistan High Commission invite to separatists which has been a tradition for many years. The response of Kashmiri leaders shows that they are not against any dialogue between India and Pakistan. They desire the bold initiative that was taken by the BJP government in resuming diplomatic talks with Pakistan should continue.
Voicing disappointment over the cancellation of Pakistan-India dialogue in the wake of New Delhi’s unilateral decision, the United States on August 19, 2014 announced it was engaging with both South Asian countries as it wanted them to improve relations in all aspects.USA and other global powers should put pressure on India to resume composite dialogue with Pakistan as it has long been avoiding of having any talk with Pakistan by using various excuses and putting conditions for Talks. In July 2014, Indian Defence Minister in stated that the early conclusion of the trial of the Mumbai attack accused was mandatory for normalisation of relations and continuation of dialogue. Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson, Tasnim Aslam has asked India not to set any conditions for talks. She stated very rightly and I quote, “You cannot have dialogue and at the same time impose pre-conditions”. Without resolving political issues, any cooperation in other fields including trade and commerce would not be sustainable. In order to meet their respective economic agendas the leadership in both countries should work for normalization of relations.
Published in Pakistan Observer on August 24, 2014.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.