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It’s The Monofocals

Unprepared, indecisive, India changed the agenda, allege the Pakistanis

It’s The Monofocals
Photographs: AP, Sanjay Rawat, Reuters (From Outlook, August 02, 2010)
It’s The Monofocals

Why Pak Was Miffed

  • Home secy G.K. Pillai’s remarks on ISI indicated India was coming to talks with  a changed agenda
  • Nirupama Rao was constantly on phone for directions from Delhi
  • India was unprepared for what came up on the table
  • India was inflexible on what
  • Pakistan sees as core issues, like Kashmir, water or Siachen
  • Delhi wanted the focus only on terrorism
  • India should recognise that Pakistan too is a victim of terror


When she visited Islamabad in June for secretary-level talks, foreign secretary Nirupama Rao carried a small idol of Guruvayoorappan (the Krishna deity of the famed Kerala temple) in her handbag. The gods were kind: her meeting with counterpart Salman Bashir went without a glitch, with the two continuing to smile and exchange small talk well after the end of formal engagements.

Cut to the recent foreign ministers’ dialogue, and it was a cellphone that Rao, clad in a khaki-coloured tussar silk sari, slipped into her handbag. And she used it no less than five times in the course of the day-long meetings. It led officials in Pakistan to conclude that the Indian side was unprepared for what had come up on the table and was hence interrupting the dialogue continuously to get ‘directions’ or ‘guidelines’ from home. Later, foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told Outlook, “I did not leave the talks even once to discuss the progress by telephone. Why did instructions keep coming in from New Delhi in the presence of the Indian foreign minister?”

As Pakistan sees it, the talks collapsed not because of lack of momentum but owing to an undue wariness on India’s part about a roadmap for future talks that would not shy away from specifics. Pakistan wanted the Kashmir, Siachen issues to be formally on the agenda, as had been the case in the erstwhile composite dialogue, a phrase subsequently abandoned in favour of the more open-ended “sustained dialogue” in the wake of the Mumbai incident. New Delhi, Pakistan feels, was more interested in “cherry-picking” and wanted these “core” issues to be dealt with at a later stage.

As an official at the foreign office points out, a lot of progress had been made already on these issues in the composite dialogue and it just did not make sense for the Indian side to play hardball on even their inclusion in a future talks agenda. Pakistan reminded the Indian delegation that the two countries had started this process as far back as 1997 when they agreed on an eight-item agenda and a structured mechanism to deal with it. “This was the first time in their 50-year history that the two countries had agreed formally on pursuing as a process an integrated and sustained dialogue to address their outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir,” former foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmad points out.

He is, however, not in the least surprised at the outcome of the present talks. “Given the troubled history and complex nature of India-Pakistan relations,” he says, “even Paul the octopus would have predicted this deadlock.” He says it was evident that India wanted to return to the dialogue on its own terms. “By doing so, it is seeking to redefine the India-Pakistan talks agenda with the focus on terrorism alone. This also enables it to continue to exploit the international sentiment against terrorism, and thereby keeping Pakistan under constant pressure,” he adds.

Pakistan’s security establishment had been on its guard even as Indian foreign minister S.M. Krishna’s plane flew into Islamabad. They had been forewarned about the “mood” in the Indian National Security Advisor’s office as articulated in Indian home secretary G.K. Pillai’s “timely” statement.

“Pillai’s statement accusing the ISI of masterminding and carrying out the Mumbai attacks was a clear indicator that Krishna was coming to the foreign ministers’ meet with a changed agenda. Pillai had all the time in the world to share the information during the recent Indo-Pak meeting of home ministers,” an official who participated in the ill-fated talks told Outlook.

The Pakistani side also says  investigations into the Mumbai attacks may seem to be proceeding slowly but there is nothing to indicate it is not moving forward on them. “The Indian courts took nearly two years to hand down a verdict to Ajmal Kasab,” says an official, “we too have an independent judiciary. What the state can do is request the judges to speed up the dates for the hearings instead of the big gaps we saw this summer.”

There is also a change in the mood in Pakistan following the recent spate of terror attacks there. Express TV host Quatrina Hosain put it piquantly, “About 170 people were killed in the attacks across Mumbai. We lose more of our people to terrorism every alternate month. I refuse to be apologetic about the Mumbai attacks anymore. The Mumbai card has worn thin and no longer elicits sympathy—not when we have to weep over our dead on a daily basis.”

The mood is changing in the security establishment too, where together with the daily accusations against ISI, the cold start doctrine, the impending water wars and the streets of Srinagar heating up, the clear instructions from ghq are: “No backing down on Kashmir.”

“Every day we see the Indian army brutally suppressing Kashmiris and these images are flashed into the homes of the Pakistanis,” sources in the security establishment told Outlook. “We would like to see our eastern borders cool down. We have told Washington that they have to intervene if they want our total focus on the west. At this stage, it is a joke that Kashmir and peace and security are not a priority for India.”

Simultaneously, Pakistan has been holding fast to its lately-gained advantage in Afghan affairs to thwart New Delhi’s attempt to get a slice of the cake in Kabul in the post-US withdrawal scenario. The failure of the two foreign ministers to meet in Kabul this week on the sidelines of the global conference there, as they usually do, offered scope for more attritional words—correctly reading India’s stand-offishness as result of pique, Islamabad called it a “dangerous deadlock”. Earlier, despite Hillary Clinton literally breathing down Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s neck to include India in the about-to-be-inked Pak-Afghanistan Transit Trade Treaty, no one in Islamabad relented and India was left in the cold.

“Both countries need a radical change in attitudes, a fresh vision and a new sense of dynamism,” said an editorial in Pakistan daily, The News. “This will come only if people can be pushed forward into the picture and used to build up the momentum needed to take talks forward, past the awkward bends in the road and the tendency of some drivers to apply the brakes too hard.”

Try telling this to GHQ or India’s National Security Advisor!

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