External Affairs

Kashmir Talks So Long as Focus is on Terror, India Tells Pakistan

Modi has been ‘ruminating’ on Balochistan situation, is ‘troubled by human rights violations by Pakistani forces there’, say sources in New Delhi.

Pakistan Rangers present sweets to Indian bordr guards on August 14, Pakistan's independence day. Credit: PTI

Pakistan Rangers present sweets to Indian bordr guards on August 14, Pakistan’s independence day. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Putting the talks ball back in Pakistan’s court after having formally ‘accepted’ an offer for the two foreign secretaries to meet in Islamabad soon to discuss Kashmir, India on Wednesday said it was happy to discuss the subject of “cross-border terrorism” since this topic was “central to the current situation in Jammu and Kashmir.”

Hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had mentioned ‘PoK’, Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan in his independence day speech, Pakistan’s foreign secretary, Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry called in Indian envoy Gautam Bambawale to the foreign office in Islamabad.

Bambawale was handed over a letter for foreign secretary S. Jaishankar, inviting him for talks on the “Jammu and Kashmir dispute that has been the main bone of contention between India and Pakistan”. Chaudhry also wrote that India and Pakistan had an international obligation to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, in accordance with the resolutions of the UN Security Council.

On Wednesday,  India responded to the démarche, conveying Jaishankar’s “willingness” to visit Islamabad. But it argued that discussion should be on cross-border terror.

“Since aspects related to cross-border terrorism are central to the current situation in J&K, we have proposed that discussions between the Foreign Secretaries be focused on them,” South Block sources told the media, adding, “We have also conveyed [to the Pakistani side] that the GOI rejects in their entirety the self-serving allegations regarding the situation in J&K, which is an integral part of India, where Pakistan has no locus standi”.

The Indian response is clearly formulated to ensure that Islamabad withdraws the offer of talks. Pakistan has asserted that talks will only focus on Kashmir as a “dispute”, while India does not want to look into the wider issue but only on terror in context of “current situation” in the valley – in keeping with its view that Pakistan is fuelling the unrest that has led to the death of 60 civilians since the July 8 encounter killing of militant commander Burhan Wani.

It is almost a reprise of how India forced Pakistan PM’s foreign affairs advisor Sartaj Aziz to cancel his trip to India for the NSA-level talks in 2015, when New Delhi made it clear that Kashmir would not be on the agenda and that Hurriyat leaders would not be allowed to the visitor from across the border.

This time, India is saying Kashmir can be on the agenda, but that ‘Kashmir’ today means only cross-border terrorism and “aspects” related to it.

In an interaction with journalists at the Foreign Correspondents Club on Wednesday evening, Jaishankar added that the issue of terrorism now impedes progress on any aspect of the bilateral relationship between the two South Asian neighbours.

jaishankar

Foreign secretary S. Jaishankar. Credit: PTI

He was speaking first in the context of Pakistan allegedly being the only country in South Asia which hasn’t bought into the “assumption” of greater connectivity and closer people-to-people relations in the region.

“In looking at the neighbourhood, we have a unique challenge in respect of one country, Pakistan. The reason is that if we look at these assumptions in the neighbourhood, in terms of greater connectivity, closer broader cooperation, more people to people connect, there is no buy-in (by Pakistan) on those issues,” he said.

He then went on to describe how Pakistan has not been helpful on the terror front, despite outreach by the Modi government.

“What you have seen in the region in the last two years is a great effort to reach out to Pakistan and find common ground on many issues that face the relationship. But the last time it was done was in December when foreign minister (Sushma Swaraj) went there for the Heart of Asia (ministerial meeting on Afghanistan) and agreed to look at a comprehensive bilateral dialogue, which we hoped to begin in January this year”.

But, Jaishankar asserted, “the problem is that the terrorism issue has become so central … that effectively it makes it difficult for the relationship as a whole to progress”.

He referred to “lack of progress on the Pathankot (attack) investigations”. India had, so far, explicitly linked visible movement on the probe by Pakistani authorities on the attack on the Indian military base in January to the launch of the comprehensive bilateral dialogue.

“The challenges that we faced in the last few weeks underscored those points,” Jaishankar said, listing alleged cases of Pakistan being proactive in fomenting militant attacks.

“We have had a number of cross border terrorist infiltrations and attacks. We have today an incident in Jammu and Kashmir. We had more than one on August 15. We recently highlighted the case of Bahadur Ali, the Lashkar-trained terrorist that we managed to capture alive,” he stated.

He reiterated that there was “one stand-out country”, while the rest of region is “on our side in terms of having a more cooperative, connected South Asia”, “a country which not only has different view of region, but also has attitude of use of terrorism as an instrument of policy which makes it a difficult partner.”

‘Not indigenous’

Asked if there was no indigenous component in the current Kashmir clashes, South Block sources asserted that Burhan Wani’s social media post were “educative”.

“Here is a guy who was a recruiter for Hizb-ul-Mujahidden. Now Hafiz Saeed and Syed Salahuddin said that he was in touch with him. The genesis started from an encounter killing of a Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander who was a poster person for them.. After that, the police commandant who died in April 15 was killed by two armed persons who were not Kashmiris. Five people who were killed in Baramulla were not Kashmiris,” the sources added.

In both the prime minister’s speech and Jaishankar’s statement, there was no mention of Modi’s sudden visit to Lahore  last December, but only to Swaraj’s Islamabad visit. “The reason is that it was at the EAM’s visit that we decided on the comprehensive bilateral dialogue. The prime minister went for a social occasion. It was a wedding-cum-birthday. There was no substantive policy level outcome of that visit,” the sources argued.

In his public statement, Jaishankar made no reference to Modi’s mention of the troubled Pakistani province of Balochistan, which dominated media reports of his independence day speech.

Pakistan had reacted by asserting that Modi’s reference to Balochistan lend credence to its long-standing claims that the Indian external intelligence agency, R&AW, is behind the Baloch insurgency.

‘No follow-up on Balochistan at this time’

On Wednesday, highly-placed Indian sources did not give an indication that Modi’s mention of Balochistan would have any concrete follow-up. However, they again sought to link the mention of Balochistan with India’s concerns over Kashmir, especially in the context of the all-party meeting last Friday.

“Please bear in mind that there was an all-party meeting which discussed the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. The fact is that the situation was significantly driven by cross-border terrorism. The fact is that the terrorism was coming from a country which used it as state policy, within and outside… In that context, he (Prime Minister Modi) said Balochistan,” the sources claimed.

The message was that Modi’s statement did “not come out of the blue”, but that apparently he had been “ruminating on the issue”.

“He had clearly been troubled by the human rights violations by Pakistan military. He has clearly been a recipient of communication from Balochis across the world. He was acknowledging that in the context of the all-party meeting, it was a perfectly natural thing to do (mention Balochistan)”.

But the sources dismissed questions about whether India would take any concrete steps to back of its concern.  “At this time, all that seem somewhat premature and irrelevant,” they said.

The Prime Minister’s statement was an “expression of concern”, with a globalised word made aware of instances of oppression through “mechanisms like social media”. “My humanity does not stop at the border”, the sources added.

“What you have at this time is an expression of concern and an acknowledgment that the expression of concern has evoked a response from very oppressed and long suffering people some distance away from us. That’s it”.

Asked whether India will now take up cases of human rights violations in other parts of the globe, the sources said that it was like comparing “apples and oranges”.

“In terms of what we have commented, you have to check the record about whether we have spoken whenever there have been cases of very distressing human rights violations,” the sources added.

‘Decision soon on whether Jaitley, Modi go to Pakistan’

There has been no decision yet on the visit of finance minister Arun Jaitley to Pakistan for the SAARC finance minisers meeting, but broad hints seem to indicate that he won’t be travelling soon.

“Even when home minister Rajnath Singh went, some ministers from other SAARC countries were not there. It is not necessary that every meeting, there must be a minister… My finance minister going to Saarc meeting will not affect the process, when one country doesn’t even give MFN status to another,” the sources said.

Similarly, sources have added a touch of uncertainly to the Indian prime minister’s trip to Islamabad for the SAARC summit in November. So far, it had seemed that he will be visiting Pakistan for the event, despite the downturn in ties, as India didn’t want to be the reason for the cancellation of a SAARC summit after proclaiming its “neighbourhood first” policy.

the “This is something (Indian PM’s visit) on which we will take a call at the right time for policy reasons,” the sources said.