By Vijay Darda | 24-08-2015
Once the two prime ministers agreed at Ufa to further the dialogue process, then it was incumbent on the other members of the teams on both sides to ensure that the next steps, howsoever miniscule in size are taken to achieve the best results under the circumstances. We can discuss the finer points ad nauseam, but there is no doubt that both the sides did not handle their differences in a mature way and caused the collapse of the NSA-level talks, even before the two sides could come face to face at the negotiating table. No one is naïve enough to brush aside the differences between the two sides, but the least that is expected of people entrusted with the responsibility of running the state machinery on both sides is that they conduct themselves with maturity. Making a public spectacle of differences is surely not a mature way.
When we look back at the events of the last week, it becomes clear that both the sides were actually preparing for the talks to be called off on some or the other pretext. If you really want the dialogue process to go ahead then you make sure that things like modalities and agendas for meetings at this level are not to be sorted out at the last minute. The Indian side should have internalised this message that the Pakistanis do not want these talks when there was no response for 22 days to the initial request for setting the dates. It should have put its foot down at that stage itself and not allowed itself to become a party to the charade. But once the Indian side took this tactic lying down, the Pakistanis who are known to exploit every situation to their advantage felt that they could try their luck at the propaganda war.
Then they brought in the Hurriyat angle. They did so deliberately even as they were secure in the knowledge that last time India had called off the foreign secretary-level talks in August 2014 because of the same factor. Clearly they were testing the limits of India’s patience, and we too responded clumsily. Instead of speaking to them in clear cut tones that were finally used by the external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, we needlessly complicated matters by arresting and then releasing the separatists. But there is the natural question that even if Pakistan wants a consultation with Hurriyat then is it necessary to make sure that it coincides with the re-start of the dialogue process? After all in this day and age what is it that cannot be achieved through other means of communication? Besides, the position of the Hurriyat on the Kashmir issue does not change on a day to day basis, so that Pakistan wants an update before entering into a dialogue with India. Thus Pakistan violates the first neutral condition of the beginning of a successful dialogue process – it does not come to the table with clean hands.
The internal dynamics of both the countries also need to be taken into account. Both the prime ministers face different kind of opposition on their domestic fronts. It is well known that the army and the civilian government in Islamabad have differing perspectives in dealing with India. This is said to be the cause of the increased shelling from across the border in the wake of the Ufa summit. In India, the differences may not be as sharp but then there is no love lost between the National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and the institutional mechanism of the ministry of external affairs. The external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj may be hailed for her performance at the press conference on Saturday, but this does not disguise the fact that she was not a part of the original Indian team vis-a-vis Pakistan when its NSA Sartaj Aziz was to come calling. She was scheduled to leave for a four-day tour of Egypt and Germany, and she duly left on Sunday, the day Aziz was to land here. Thus the ministry of external affairs was surely out of the loop for the preparations of this meeting. Now if this ministry with its institutional expertise and talent is not involved in the dialogue process with Pakistan, which admittedly is the toughest diplomatic challenge, then pray what is the utility of the entire apparatus?
The point is that there is too much at stake in the India-Pakistan dialogue process. It is not something that can be held hostage to the whims and fancies of the diverse elements on both the sides. Indeed, India as the bigger country (not in the conventional sense of big brother) has the larger share of responsibility when it comes to making sure that the dialogue process does work. On his part Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made two bold attempts at getting the process on the tracks. The problem is that instead of focussing on the big picture, the rest of his team has allowed itself to be distracted with irritants. We also need to ask the hard questions on our side. For instance how does the Hurriyat become the third party in the Kashmir dispute? Is it any elected body? More so, do we really accept that Kashmir is a disputed territory even after holding a position for decades that its accession is final and irrevocable? There is lot of merit in the argument that by our own actions we have created a larger than life image for the Hurriyat.
Now we must make sure that when the talks are fixed for the next time, we do not allow anything, and this means literally anything to come in the way, and ensure that the process is carried forward. It would be then that we would start behaving in a mature way, and if then Pakistan still prefers to be stubborn, then let it face the consequences. Right now the failure is on both the sides.
Before I conclude…
Our ace shuttler Saina Nehwal is now the reigning World No. 1, but then she did not cross the last barrier and fell to the Spanish star Carolina Marin in the finals and we have to be content with her silver success. But there are other reasons to celebrate in that she has signed a `25 crore sponsorship deal, and this augurs well for non-cricketing games in a country obsessed by that game. Reaching the top is always a feat, but staying there is a tougher game. Saina has the skill to be numero uno, we hope that she develops all other attributes in full measure.