India-Pak NSA level talks: A non-starter

Balakot is a small town that is situated along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir that witnessed intense shelling from the Pakistani side, which killed six people and injured several others last weekend. Yesterday, the people of the town were asked to take their belongings and leave their homes. Some say that they were too scared to step out of their homes even to pick up the dead bodies because of the constant shelling.

Villagers watch smoke rising from a mortar shell fired by the Pakistani Army near the Line of Control (LoC) in Balakot in Jammu on Sunday. Pic/PTI
Villagers watch smoke rising from a mortar shell fired by the Pakistani Army near the Line of Control (LoC) in Balakot in Jammu on Sunday. Pic/PTI

And they live like this all through the cross-border shelling. And then there are the security checks that follow on tip-offs that infiltration has happened along the border. The humiliation and shame of having your home and hearth searched by security forces at constant intervals, the questioning of your credentials, the fear of being ‘caught’ without your IDs while just visiting friends or in the marketplace. These are just some of the things that people in border areas face.

Meanwhile in Pakistan, Jamaat-e-Islami chief, Siraj-ul-Haq, at a rally said that Kashmir was like the ‘body’ of Pakistan and that the struggle to establish the rule of Allah in Kashmir was the sacred jihad. The JuD and other Kashmiri jihadi organisations in Pakistan on Pakistan’s independence day renewed their calls for Kashmiri unification with Pakistan.

And against this backdrop the National Security Adviser level talks are to be held on August 23 and 24 ....which neither country really wants. It is like an estranged couple going in for a pregnancy in the misguided hope that by giving birth to a child the relationship would improve. Instead what it brings is a new host of problems right after the ‘act’ that may or may not be enjoyable either.

Now that I have got that awkward metaphor out of the way, lets talk about what to expect from the talks. Nothing really. Some more tu-tu-mai-mai. Both sides will not deviate from the straight and narrow, which is to blame the other side for destabilising each other, cross-border terrorism, propaganda and other stuff like ‘water terrorism’.

There is little or no warmth between the protagonists Ajit Doval from India and Sartaj Aziz from Pakistan. The Indian National Security Advisor does not come from the jhappi-pappi brigade of the India-Pak negotiators and diplomats. Doval is a man of few words, and sharp ones at that. He knows the Pakistani establishment’s ways, having been posted there and worked with Kashmiri separatists too. Needless to add, Pakistanis have deep-seated mistrust of the Indian NSA. Quite different to their opinion about India’s previous NSA who had also served in Islamabad, but as High Commissioner and was cut of a different cloth. Shiv Shankar Menon was the quintessential diplomat, who played golf with Musharraf, prepared the groundwork for foreign minister, foreign secretary and home secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan, also played a major role during the Sharm-el-Sheikh talks between Dr Manmohan Singh and Yusuf Raza Gilani.

But as NSA, Menon also did not advise Dr Singh to visit Islamabad or Gah, in Pakistani Punjab, which was the former PM’s birthplace. Towards the end of his term Dr Manmohan Singh realised that there is no place for sentimentality in dealing with Pakistan. Islamabad’s rulers have for long exploited the nostalgia of India’s partition-displaced leaders. That is now completely changed with PM Modi who will call a spade a spade in relation to Pakistan and will not extend any benefit of doubt.

These NSA level talks are going to be unusual. The Indian NSA is driven solely by facts and intelligence reports and does not believe in diplomatic niceties. The cold facts of Pakistan’s continued support to cross-border terrorism as evidenced by the Gurdaspur attack and the capture of Naved are likely to be placed before Sartaj Aziz. It will be tough, with straight talking, and no one expects a cordial outcome. ‘You wanted talks, here you are getting talks’ is the attitude that India is displaying. India-Pakistan tensions could escalate because Pakistan does not like to hear the truth. And they are getting a lot of plainspeak these days…from Afghanistan too, where President Ashraf Ghani terminated the shortest love affair between Kabul and Islamabad last week. Islamabad is finding itself without many friends. The days of proverbial burying the head in the sand are over. It’s time to see it the way it is.

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash

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