A U-turn that puts the clock back

S. Madhusudhana Rao

Even before the euphoria generated by the talks between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Russia, died down, Islamabad did a U-turn on key points mentioned in an official  joint statement. One is voice samples of the main accused in Mumbai attacks case Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, and the other is the PMs’ handshake was not the beginning of a formal dialogue.

First, a re-look at the official statement issued by foreign secretaries of the two countries after the Modi-Sharif meeting held on the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Ufa on Friday last.

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S. Madhusudhana Rao

The joint statement, in part, said: “They agreed that India and Pakistan have a collective responsibility to ensure peace and promote development. To do so, they are prepared to discuss all outstanding issues. Both leaders condemned terrorism in all its forms and agreed to cooperate with each other to eliminate this menace from South Asia. They also agreed on …a meeting in New Delhi between the two NSAs to discuss all issues connected to terrorism and ways and means to expedite the Mumbai case trial, including additional information like providing voice samples.”

There is no ambiguity in words and actions proposed to be taken up by the two countries to kick-start a peace dialogue stalled after 2008 Mumbai attack. On the other hand, the statement had raised new hopes for a fresh round of Indo-Pak talks to resolve all outstanding issues, including border firings at LoC.

While the Indian media has widely welcomed the two leaders breaking new ground, the Pak press struck an ominous discordant note, calling Sharif’s talks with Modi “a sell off.” Equally vocal was opposition parties who lambasted Sharif for not mentioning Kashmir dispute and taking a ‘soft’ line in talks with Modi.

As if validating these allegations, Sharif’s advisor on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said on Monday that the Modi-Sharif meeting “was not the formal start of any dialogue process” and it was held at the request of the Indian side and served to achieve “one major objective, which was to reduce tension and create an environment for meaningful talks on all issues.”

He told a press briefing in Islamabad, “I can assure you no dialogue will take place (with India) unless Kashmir is on the agenda. Pakistan will make no compromise on the core issue. Kashmir of course tops the list of outstanding issues, but there are also other important issues like Siachen, Sir Creek, interference and water. The Kashmiris’ “right to self-determine their destiny has not been granted and Pakistan will continue to extend political, moral, and diplomatic support to our Kashmiri brethren.”

On the trial of the Pakistani suspects linked to the Mumbai attacks, Aziz stressed “Pakistan needs more evidence and information to conclude the trial”. Lakhvi has been repeatedly rejecting to give voice samples and his lawyer says he can’t force Lakhvi under Pak law. Delhi believes it can provide conclusive proof to Islamabad with voice samples since Pakistan has been refusing to try Lakvi citing lack of evidence although India has given tapes of conversations recorded during 26/11.

Although six years have passed since Mumbai siege, its mastermind has remained elusive and roaming freely in Pakistan, campaigning against India, after an anti-terror court granted bail to LeT chief in December last, citing, again “lack of evidence.”India’s all efforts, including moving the UN, have hit a roadblock. Thus Lakvi’s issue continues to be another major irritant, like Kashmir, between India and Pakistan to normalize ties.

Pakistan’s U-turn, just three days after holding out the promise of a dialogue, and Sharif inviting Prime Minister Modi to the 2016 SAARC summit in Pakistan, is an anti-climax to the hyped-up Ufa meeting. It appears that the Sharif government has ‘clarified’ its position under pressure from Army brass through a press briefing by Sharif’s top aide Sartaz Aziz.

Though it was held ostensibly to give details of the two leaders’ talks in Russia, the Pak government’s real intention is to let India and its BJP leaders know –as well as Sharif’s critics – that there is no change in Islamabad’s position on ‘core’ issues and it will continue to maintain that stand whatever gestures India make. This rigid stand, stated umpteen times, brings us back to the basic question, is Pakistan trustworthy? Is it not playing the same card time and again to throw a spanner in the works?

With Pakistan raking up the Kashmir issue once again and linking it to the future of peace talks, chances of an Indo-Pak breakthrough in the near future are bleak. Modi-Sharif meet might have augured well for broader discussions and taking forward the process to break the peace deadlock. But if Pakistan has its own agenda, how can India alone push Modi’s initiative? Another lesson for the government in dealing with Pakistan.

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