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The Ufa Fiasco

India Could Surely Do Better

S D Muni (sdmuni@gmail.com) is Professor Emeritus at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University and a distinguished fellow of Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi.

There have been two conflicting strategies within Pakistan relating to its India policy--the dominant hawkish one held by the military and a more conciliatory one often pushed by its civilian governments. The Ufa Joint Statement was an example of the latter but India let this opportunity slip from its hands. This was largely due to the fact that India's own Pakistan policy has now come to be dominated by hawks who consider dialogue with Pakistan fruitless.

The Ufa Joint Statement between India and Pakistan following discussions between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Russia in July 2015, was too good for India to be true and realistic. It focused almost entirely on terrorism and security issues, laying down a structure of talks between the National Security Advisers (NSA) of the two countries “to discuss all issues connected to terrorism”; to be followed by the meetings of the two countries’ border management forces and then of the Director Generals of Military Operations. It was also agreed that the two sides will “expedite the Mumbai case trial, including additional information like providing voice samples” that were long pending on the Pakistani side.

The two countries expressed their preparedness to “discuss all outstanding issues,” but there was no specific reference to “Kashmir,” nor any indication that the stalled “Composite Dialogue” or “Resumed Dialogue” between the two countries was to be revived any sooner. The implied thrust of the statement, if viewed in totality, underlined Pakistan’s willingness to address the terrorism issue before all other bilateral issues could be taken up for discussion.

This obviously was not acceptable to the Pakistan army that wields ultimate political power. Soon after reaching Islamabad after the Ufa talks, under the army’s pressures, Sartaz Aziz, Adviser to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Foreign and Security Affairs assured an agitated media that Kashmir will be discussed at the proposed NSA level talks. Following this, the India–Pakistan border witnessed a sudden spurt in ceasefire violations from Pakistan (91 violations since Ufa talks) and several terrorist attacks took place in India, major ones being in the Punjab’s Gurdaspur, Jammu’s Udhampur and in southern Kashmir. One of the Pakistan-based terrorists involved in the Udhampur attack on the BSF (Border Security Force) bus was captured alive.

The Pakistan army was possibly building pressure on India to accept inclusion of Kashmir in the agenda for the NSA talks. That is why Pakistan took almost 22 days in responding to the agenda proposed by India for the NSA talks and added Kashmir to it, further stating that Aziz will talk to the Kashmiri separatist Hurriyat leaders during his visit to New Delhi for the NSA talks.

It may be recalled that India had cancelled the foreign secretary level talks in August 2014 on the issue of Pakistan seeking consultations with the Hurriyat. These talks that had been proposed by India to revive the stalled bilateral dialogue following Nawaz Sharif’s visit to India on the occasion of Modi government’s swearing-in. India refused to accept Pakistan’s demand for inclusion of Kashmir in the NSA talks’ agenda and also the meeting between the Hurriyat and the Pakistan’s NSA. Some of the Hurriyat leaders were put under house arrest and India’s Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj declared in a press conference on 22 August2015, just a day before Aziz was scheduled to travel to Delhi, that Pakistan’s insistence on changing the agenda for NSA talks was in violation of the Ufa and Shimla (1972 Agreement) spirits, and if Pakistan insists on that, “there would be no talks.” In reaction, Sartaj Aziz called off his proposed visit and the NSA talks collapsed.

Pakistan’s Deviation

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s agreement at Ufa to address only terrorism at the NSA level talks was driven by his own domestic political calculations. He has been struggling to create strategic space for himself in shaping Pakistan’s India policy, which is otherwise controlled by the army. Nawaz Sharif has the support of the business community and sections of civil society in this, as these sections want increased engagements with India which they feel will be mutually advantageous. Since terrorism has become a big hurdle in this engagement, it was prudent to focus on it, at least to begin with.

Focus on terrorism in talks with India could also have a direct impact on Prime Minister Sharif’s long-standing differences with army on issues related to terrorism. Nawaz Sharif seems to be increasingly becoming conscious that for reviving engagement with India and enhancing his own say in this policy the larger than life role of the jihadi organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and leaders like Hafiz Saeed, who operate on the India front, needed to be curbed. Pakistan’s civilian regime has hardly any control on these extremist outfits as they are sponsored and supported by the army’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency with the single objective to hurt India and fuel hostility with India.

It may be recalled that after the Ufa understanding, a former director general of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) which works under the central government and not the army, Tariq Khosa, hailed the Ufa understanding and held Pakistan responsible for the Mumbai attacks. In a signed article in The Dawn newspaper on 3 August 2015, he listed seven factors in support of his assertion, including the disclosure that “LeT terrorists were implanted training near Thatta, Sindh, and launched by sea from there.” Further, he urged, “the entire security apparatus must ensure that the perpetrators and masterminds of the ghastly terror attacks are brought to justice.”

This was quite an indictment of the ISI theories and the jihadi groups’ defence of the crime. One wonders if Khosa was prompted by anyone near the Prime Minister to come out with his disclosures at a time when the Prime Minister was under pressure for his Ufa commitment. Soon he was forced to clarify that he had not held any section of Pakistan’s security establishment responsible for the Mumbai attack (The Dawn, 10 August 2015).

What Nawaz Sharif miscalculated in Ufa was his capacity to take the army along. Despite the fact that the army is locked in a tough fight with terrorism at home, especially in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province against the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) forces, and that there is also growing international pressure, including from the US and China on Pakistan to come clean on cross-border terrorism against India and Afghanistan, the Pakistan army and its ISI are not prepared to support Nawaz Sharif on the issue of terrorism against India.

It seems clear that they neither want the Prime Minister to have any decisive say in Pakistan’s India policy nor can they abandon the so called strategic assets (jihadi organisations and their leaders) created and nurtured by them to keep India bleeding. Therefore, they did not want the NSA level discussions to go through under the Ufa framework where terrorism was the primary, if not only, focus and India appeared to have built up a formidable amount of evidence in the form of dossiers as also the living proof to expose Pakistan’s army’s covert war of terrorism against India.

Failure of Indian Diplomacy

The real question for India, however, is that if the Ufa statement was to its advantage, why was that advantage not cashed upon by holding the New Delhi talks? To let Pakistan wriggle out of a difficult and defensive negotiating position was indeed bad and sloppy diplomacy. The red lines drawn by India in talking to Pakistan at the NSA level—stop terror before talks, Kashmir not on Ufa agenda and Pakistan cannot pretend to talk on behalf of either Kashmiris or Hurriyat—were reasonably justified. And yet, through the perusal of deft and resilient diplomacy, it was possible to hold the dialogue keeping its stated red lines.

The Ufa framework already underlined Pakistan’s initial acceptance of the Indian position of “act on terror before talks” though they were subsequently forced to deviate from it. To stop the Hurriyat leaders from meeting Pakistan’s NSA in Delhi was within New Delhi’s means and this was even demonstrated effectively through the house arrest of some of them, first in Srinagar and then in New Delhi. As for the Kashmir agenda, all that New Delhi needed was to reiterate that the Indian side would not engage with Pakistan on Kashmir at the NSAs talks since it did not figure in the Ufa statement. If Pakistan still insisted on raising the Kashmir question, it was up to Pakistan, and India could simply lend a deaf ear to Pakistan’s Kashmir song. India had done so many times earlier and could easily do it once again in the interest of pinning Pakistan down on terrorism.

The MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) records in New Delhi would show that Kashmir was put on the agenda of the “composite dialogue” when this dialogue had been conceived and initiated during the Prime Ministership of the late I K Gujral in July 1997. This was actually done on the basis of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s personal and informal plea to Gujral, made in colloquial Punjabi, during the Male SAARC Summit in May 1997 saying “We know that we cannot take Kashmir from India and we also know that India cannot give Kashmir to us, but then what is the harm in just talking about Kashmir.”

What the Pakistani civil leadership has therefore been seeking is the rhetorical assertion on Kashmir while talking to India so that their domestic constituencies, including the army, could be kept in good humour. It would have been a prudent and a polite gesture on External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s part to avoid giving the ultimatum of 22 August night and saying that if Pakistan does not accept India’s red lines, “there would be no talks.” This would have enabled the Pakistani side to come for the talks and the Indian side to register their demands and expectations on countering terrorism.

There are two possible explanations for India’s diplomatic slip in letting the NSA level talks collapse. One is that Indian diplomacy got fixated on the letter and technical parameters of the Ufa Joint Statement. It should have displayed the dynamism to rise above technicalities and look deeply into the operating political dynamics behind the Nawaz Sharif government’s insistence. The differences between this government and the Pakistan army on issues like Pakistan’s India policy and on dealing with extremist and jihadi forces have been underlined above.

Even politically, one of Nawaz Sharif’s cabinet ministers openly accused army leaders and ISI of plotting to overthrow the government during Imran Khan led agitation in August–September 2014. The minister was sacked by the Prime Minister in the interest of keeping harmony with the army, but some of Pakistan’s analysts, like Hasan Askari Rizvi, contend that Nawaz Sharif is maintaining a dual stance of exposing army’s misdeeds without antagonising it. In the interest of strengthening the civilian regime and the Pakistani stakeholders interested in engagement with India, Indian diplomacy must have been tactful and flexible.

The second explanation for the government failing to take advantage of the Ufa momentum could be that the Modi regime is caught in internal conflicting pressures relating to its Pakistan policy. One set of forces, within the party as well as the government, are arguing that India needs to be “tough” with Pakistan, isolate it and give no concessions on the newly defined red lines. The breakdown of foreign secretary level talks in August 2014, Prime Minister Modi’s resolve at the Kathmandu SAARC summit to take the regional connectivity projects forward even when Pakistan is not willing to come on board and his address to Indian diaspora in United Arab Emirates urging the “humanitarian countries” to isolate the terrorist sponsoring countries’ reflect the impact of this hardline constituency within the government. Prime Minister Modi has also carefully avoided even mentioning the phrase “Pakistan-occupied Kashmir” (POK), implying that he stands for a united Kashmir.

This resonates with many hardliners within the BJP and the RSS who have consistently been attacking Nehru for his failed Pakistan and China policies. Senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, in media interviews during the run-up to the NSA talks, advised the government not to bother about the talks, arguing that they would be a “dialogue of the deaf” because Pakistan was in a denial mode and would produce baseless countercharges on India. The Prime Minister’s statements are further reinforced by what his chief security managers have been saying.

Recall in this context that soon after Indian security forces’ raids inside Myanmar to destroy Naga extremist camps, NSA Ajit Doval and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said that this pattern will be followed in other cases, suggesting that the terrorist camps in POK could as well be attacked. This raised serious alarms in Pakistan, provoking them to remind India that they were a nuclear weapon state. Doval has also asserted that India in its strategic posture will no longer “punch below its weight” as in the past. Doval in a letter written to the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2013, signed with others, had urged, as recalled by Yashvant Sinha in his interview (NDTV, 18 August 2015) that dialogue process with Pakistan should be cancelled.

Another set of forces within the Modi regime are for keeping Pakistan engaged. This is not only the traditional approach followed by almost every government in New Delhi but is also supported by a large section of people in India as well as by the international community, particularly the US, with which the Modi regime wants to develop closer relations.

The impact of this strand was evident in Modi’s so-called cricket diplomacy. Within two weeks of the US President Barack Obama’s visit to New Delhi on the Republic Day, on 13 February 2015, Modi used the 2015 Cricket World Cup tournament to call some of his South Asian colleagues for wishing success of their respective teams. In his call to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Modi gave a clear indication of reviving the bilateral talks as he promised to send India’s Foreign Secretary to Pakistan on a “SAARC yatra” (SAARC journey).

Visiting Pakistan in early March 2015, India’s Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar agreed with his Pakistani counterpart that the two countries should “work together for peace and development” and “find a common ground” and “narrow their differences.” Ufa was an outcome of this initiative. The phrase “working together for peace and development” used in Ufa statement was an echo of Islamabad conversations in March 2015. The concern for keeping Pakistan engaged within the Indian policy establishment was clearly reflected in officially expressing “disappointment” over the failure of NSA level talks and the hesitation in owing any responsibility for this outcome.

What Next

In the conflict between the two competing strands within the Modi regime, the hardliners eventually won the battle on the NSA talks, but those for keeping Pakistan engaged have not lost out completely. There has been an Ufa fiasco but the Ufa understanding does not seem to have withered away fully. The two sides have agreed to continue with the talks at the levels of the Director Generals of India’s BSF and Pakistan Rangers, even in the midst of escalated violence on the LOC (Line of Control). This will hopefully also be followed by the talks at the level of the Director Generals of the Military Operations of the two countries.

The discussion at these levels will remain confined to the issues of border management and confidence building. Pakistan is also willing, as disclosed by its NSA Aziz, to establish hotlines between the two foreign secretaries as well. But will it lead to any meaningful discussion on terrorism and the “composite dialogue” is difficult to predict. The problem lies within the core policy establishments of the two countries, in the civil–military imbalance in Pakistan and the lack of consensus on dealing with Pakistan within the Modi regime.

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