India and Pakistan Talk, Yet Again!

When Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi and his counterpart from Pakistan, Mr. Nawaz Sharif met on the sidelines of the SCO Summit in Russia in July 2015, one of the agendas they agreed upon was that the NSAs of their respective countries would meet in New Delhi “to discuss all issues connected to terrorism.” While the NSAs were all set to meet, India did not see eye-to-eye with Pakistan’s precondition to meet Hurriyat leaders while in New Delhi. After a lot of back and forth, and unwelcome additions to the talks, to discuss the “K-word” (referring to Kashmir) and about LoC violations, they were cancelled or how Ms. Sushma Swaraj put it, “Toh baat-chit nahin hogi”. The possibility of a re-start of dialogue between the two nuclear powers seemed bleak at best.

However, when the two leaders met again, this time on the sidelines of COP21, it seemed like a step in a positive direction. It was within a week after their handshake at COP21 that the NSAs from India and Pakistan met in Bangkok for a four-hour meeting on December 6th. It was held away from the scrutiny of the media in both countries. The purpose, agenda and the very existence of the meeting was revealed only after the meeting had concluded. This is unusual for the two countries as Pakistan has repeatedly insisted on including the dispute over Kashmir as a precondition for any dialogue with India. Dr. Aparna Pande, Research fellow at the Hudson Institute, mapped out a threefold trend in India-Pakistan dialogues. It begins with Pakistan iterating the importance of Kashmir, followed by Pakistan’s request for assistance by the United States on the issue, concluding with the United States asking the two countries to work it out. The NSA meetings earlier this year were cancelled following a similar trend. Given this round of the beginning of talks, Jammu and Kashmir is being discussed in terms of terrorism, according to the Joint statement issued after the meeting was held. In addition, ceasefire violations will also be discussed to establish “tranquility along the LoC.” This is the first step of the established trend. The “constructive engagement” moving forward might be the breaking of this trend. It may even take a more fluid path in order to achieve some realistic goals rather than India or Pakistan being stubborn about the agendas of their respective policies towards each other. The United States has welcomed the talks with optimism. While the BJP contends that the talks were in accordance to the Ufa Joint Statement as well as the Simla Agreement, Congress party has a bone to pick with the location of the meeting. Congress Spokesperson, Mr. Abhishek Singhvi, while welcoming the prospect of talking with Pakistan, demanded that the policy towards Pakistan be clearly “coherent, consistent and known.” Mr. Manish Tiwari, a Congress leader, criticized the NDA government calling the NSA talks on the soil of a third country a “grand betrayal.” This is what he had to say-

“If you look at the track record of this government over the past 18 months, their Pakistan policy has been an extravaganza, a somersault, flip-flops and 180-degree U-turns and this [the Bangkok meeting] is absolutely the crowning glory.”

Although these criticisms continue to be played out on national media platforms, the talks between India and Pakistan have officially begun. India and Pakistan continue to undertake this long-sought after process. This could very well fall into the specter of the same trend that has been observed over and over again. Or this shift, to talks that are private, untouched by the media or by external pressures, and off-the-soil of both nations to avoid domestic influences, could become the new template of how India and Pakistan interact to discuss and possibly resolve issues.