A behind-the-scenes diplomatic shadow boxing is going on between India and Pakistan ahead of the 23-24 August talks between their national security advisors.
Both sides are trying to score brownie points over one another on many issues, two of which are: (i) whether the Kashmiri separatists will meet Pakistani NSA Sartaj Aziz before or after his talks with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval; and (ii) what will be the agenda of talks, whether only terror will be discussed as India has been claiming or whether Kashmir too will figure in the talks as is being asserted by Pakistan.
Firstpost has learnt that the entire top leadership of Hurriyat Conference has been won over by the Narendra Modi government and these leaders will be meeting Sartaj Aziz after his talks with Doval. Obviously there is some quid pro quo but those details remain nebulous.
Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) leader Yasin Malik is learnt to have decided to skip the meeting with Aziz while another important Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani will reach New Delhi on Monday and will be meeting Aziz after the NSA-level talks are over. Geelani has decided to send his two associates – Shaukat Bakshi and Ghulam Rasool Dhar – to New Delhi on Sunday to attend the power dinner being hosted by Pakistan high commission in honour of Aziz.
Another key separatist leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq too will be meeting Aziz after his talks with Doval. Mirwaiz, chairman of the Awami Action Committee, is expected to reach Delhi by Sunday afternoon. This denotes that the Modi government has scored an important diplomatic point over Pakistan.
Pakistan has been claiming that the separatists will be meeting Aziz before his talks with Doval. If that were to happen, Pakistan would have successfully conveyed an impression across the world that it is micro-managing and choreographing the Kashmiri separatists. The message to India in such a situation would be that Kashmiri separatists are Pakistan’s puppets and Pakistan has been controlling their strings and would continue to do so.
Such a scenario would have been a big no-no for the Modi government. Against this backdrop, subterranean moves were made to ensure that the separatists do not meet Aziz before the talks while the government will look the other way when they do meet Aziz after the talks.
The high drama in Kashmir over the house arrest of the separatists and their release after a couple of hours is a sub plot of the larger script. Instructions for their house arrest and the release were sent to Srinagar from New Delhi, a not-so-subtle message to Pakistan to convey who is the boss and who is in-charge of the state.
However, the move has a stamp of covert operations. The entire drama was enacted to provide a face-saving to the separatists so that they can tell their people that the government is taking recourse to force and they have nothing to do with the government. This way, the separatists can project to their followers that no deal had been cut between them and the Modi government.
Moreover, the Indian side is clear that the only agenda of the talks between the two NSAs is terror while Pakistan has made it clear that Kashmir will be discussed in a big way. The Pakistani strategy is obviously an attempt to make up for its loss at Ufa where the K word was conspicuous by its absence from the India-Pakistan joint statement after the summit meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif.
While India and Pakistan are engaged in one-upmanship in the run up to the NSA-level talks, one can very well make out the fate of the 23-24 August talks given the fact how diametrically opposed the two sides are in the run up to the event. A pithy tweet by former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah sums up the bizarre situation.
This is what Abdullah tweeted: “I’ve never seen an Indo-Pak dialogue where both sides are so keen to sabotage it. India & Pak competing to give reasons to call off talks.”
Needless to say next couple of days are full of high drama.
(The story was first published, and sourced from Firstpost. PollUpdates is not responsible for accuracy and authenticity of the content of this article.)