Following India’s revival of the Track-II Neemrana Dialogue diplomacy with Pakistan, a delegation, including the author, went to Islamabad recently. However, the author feels there is no change of thought at the negotiating table.
For the people of India and Pakistan, visiting each other’s country is a kind of dream-fulfilled. There is so much in common between the residents that one is left wondering what separates us. Both have roots in each other’s country and such a heritage is a dominating feature binding the two nations, regardless of any politico-military misalignment, often generating tensions.
It was during External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit in 2015 to Islamabad for the Heart of Asia Conference that the government decided to resume dialogue with Pakistan. However, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s subsequent whistle-stop visit to Lahore to felicitate then Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif on his birthday and to attend his granddaughter’s wedding that Pakistan struck India at Pathankot and Uri, derailing the peace process. It was only recently that India agreed to revive the Track-II diplomatic process with Pakistan despite strong reservations about the co-existence of terror and talks.
The Neemrana Dialogue, the nomenclature conceived from Neemrana Fort where it was initially held in 1991-92, took the initiative suggesting that it is no good having any engagement with Pakistan. It was after a lot of efforts that finally the 36th meeting of Neemrana Dialogue was given the go-ahead by the ruling dispensation amidst status quo on terrorism, infiltration and constant firing on FDLs.
A group of nine members led by Surinder Singh, former Cabinet Secretary, and comprising Ambassador Vivek Katju, Ambassador Rakesh Sood, Lt-Gen Aditya Singh, Veena Nayar, President, Women Political Watch, Jagmohan Rajput, former Director, NCERT, Vibha Dhawan, Director, Energy and Research, and coordinator Suresh Mathur and the author left for Islamabad on April 27, 2018, after administering of polio drops at our check post. Pakistan is one of the three countries in the world after Afghanistan and Nigeria with ongoing polio virus transmission.
The delegation was received at Wagah by a protocol officer of the Pakistan MOFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs). In the evening, we were hosted by Tehmina Janjua, Foreign Secretary of Pakistan. The following day, after meeting Ajay Bisaria, our High Commissioner to Pakistan, and his team, began the formal meeting with our counterparts led by Inamul Haq, former Minister and former Foreign Secretary. The other members were Ambassador Salman Bashir, former Foreign Secretary, Lt-Gen Asif Yasin Malik, Barrister Shahida Jamil, former federal Law Minister, Perviaz Iqbal Cheema, Dean National Defence University, Javed Jabbar, former Minister I&B; Ishrat Hussain, former Governor, State Bank of Pakistan, and Muhammad Munir, Fellow, Islamabad Policy Research institute and a few others.
There is undoubtedly considerable bonhomie between the common people on both sides of the Radcliffe Line. No difference in look, language and love for each other. One could feel the greatest of warmth, friendliness and hospitality that was generously bestowed on us. But when we came on the dialogue table for a formal talk, there was complete denial on various issues like firing on the borders, infiltration, the sponsored attacks on Pathankot and Uri, including even the 26/11 Mumbai attack. Rather, they resorted to putting the onus on us. Their argument was how infiltration was possible with Indian fencing on the border as also why, wherever applicable, fencing had not been completed.
There could be no resolution unless Kashmir is resolved was their constant refrain. References were made to 1947, United Nations Resolution on Self-determination, Kashmir and the Samjhauta Express. Buhran Wani was considered as a freedom fighter and frequent display of Pakistan flags in Kashmir is only a depiction of local public sentiments towards azadi, they said.
Strangely, what was evident between the two countries is that while Pakistan speaks with conviction on Kashmir, Baluchistan and Afghanistan, we are confused on Kashmir. For instance, we shall not talk on Kashmir, but are prepared to discuss it as a part of composite dialogue. No one speaks on their side of Kashmir kept as Azad Kashmir with a separate Premier and the President besides northern areas.
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