India-Pakistan FS-Level Talks Inconclusive

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The Foreign Secretary (FS)-level talks between India and Pakistan ended inconclusive on Tuesday, raising some tough questions for the Narendra Modi government in New Delhi.

Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and his Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry met in Delhi on the sidelines of the ‘Heart of Asia’ meet in order to take a step forward towards the initiation of a Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue (CBD). However, the outcome of their talks was not satisfactory, as the two senior officials failed to finalise the date of next bilateral meeting.

According to sources close to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Jaishankar and Chaudhry were to discuss various important issues, including the Pathankot investigations and moves against Maulana Masood Azhar and Hafiz Saeed. But, they only exchanged ideas “on taking the bilateral relationship forward and agreed to remain in touch”.

A senior MEA official said that the two foreign secretaries were in an “eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation mode” from the very beginning of their meeting. Immediately after Pakistan broke the basic protocol by issuing a statement while the dialogue was still in process, India responded strongly by saying that Islamabad could not deny the impact of terror on bilateral talks. The Indian FS also emphasised that New Delhi expects urgent action against Masood Azhar, the chief of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror group that had attacked the Pathankot Air Force base in January. “Terrorist groups based in Pakistan targeting India must not be allowed to operate with impunity,” he told Chaudhry. For his part, the visiting Pakistani FS stressed that Kashmir still remains the core issue that requires a just solution in accordance with UNSC resolutions. As the meeting was deadlocked on Kashmir and terror, the fate of the CBD remained uncertain.

Although no forward movement was made, the two sides stated their positions, indicating that the meet was a direct, one-to-one official meeting to discuss ‘serious’ issues. Later, the two foreign secretaries told the media that their discussions also covered humanitarian issues, including those related to fishermen and prisoners, and people-to-people contacts. Speaking at a joint press conference, Jaishankar and Chaudhry said that their discussions were frank and constructive, as they raised issues of concern to them.

Meanwhile, China said that India and Pakistan should resolve the issue over Masood Azhar through direct and serious consultations. When the two foreign secretaries were holding talks in the Indian capital, Beijing issued a statement, saying that China is ready to help both India and Pakistan normalise their ties. Interestingly, the Asian giant issued the statement weeks after blocking India’s bid in the UN to ban the JeM chief. As expected, China’s move generated negativity in Sino-Indian ties.

The outcome of the FS-level talks has put Prime Minister Modi and his party under tremendous pressure. Opposition parties in India have launched fresh attacks on the Modi government, saying that holding talks with Pakistan will serve no purpose unless Islamabad changes its attitude towards terrorism. They also urged the Modi administration to understand the fact that talks on terrorism would never be successful, if India receives no assurances from Pakistan. And if Pakistan is facing a backlash of terrorism, then it is something Islamabad will have to deal with. So, according to Oppositions, it is New Delhi’s stupidity that it accepts every argument that Islamabad places before it.

Opposition leaders have further described Prime Minister Modi as a person who does not know his own mind. Otherwise, how Modi can maintain ‘personal’ relationship with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif even after mentioning in his 2014 election manifesto that he will adopt zero tolerance against terrorism, they asked. Diplomacy is indeed a messy business when it involves two strong-arm neighbours, like India and Pakistan.

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