India-Pakistan NSA meet: All's well again?

It clears the decks for the first ministerial visit by the Modi government to the neighbouring country.

 |  3-minute read |   06-12-2015
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Folks, expect a high-voltage India-Pakistan engagement 48 hours from now. Expect the Narendra Modi government reaching out to Pakistan in a manner seen never before in its 18-month stint so far. Expect external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj to be in Islamabad on December 8-9 for attending the 29-nations Heart of Asia conference on Afghanistan.

This is how one can decode a rare meeting between Indian national security advisor Ajit Doval and his Pakistani counterpart, the recently-appointed General Nasir Janjua, in Bangkok on Sunday. What makes the Bangkok meeting even more significant is the fact the two countries' foreign secretaries were also present at the meeting.

That the two sides hit the ground running in Bangkok was evident from the fact that they came up with a joint press statement, which in itself is quite a rarity and signifies their readiness to move forward.

What can be a bigger move forward than clearing the decks for the first ministerial visit by the Modi government to Pakistan and that too at the level of the foreign minister?

But before we discuss that, here is the complete reproduction of the joint press statement issued after the Bangkok meeting.

"Pursuant to the meetings of the prime ministers of India and Pakistan in Paris, the national security advisors, accompanied by the foreign secretaries, met in Bangkok today. Discussions were held in a candid, cordial and constructive atmosphere. They were guided by the vision of the two leaders for a peaceful, stable and prosperous South Asia. Discussions covered peace and security, terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir, and other issues, including tranquility along the LoC (line of control). It was agreed to carry forward the constructive engagement."

As I have argued in my two previous pieces here, one can surmise that Prime Minister Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif could have possibly discussed two things during their three-minute pull-aside meeting on the sidelines of COP-21 climate conference in Paris on December 1. These could possibly be:

1. The visit of Swaraj to Pakistan for attending the Heart of Asia conference.

2. Resumption of cricket ties between India and Pakistan, albeit at neutral venues.

The first one, it looks like, would be a reality within the next 48 hours while the second one may have a fair chance of becoming a reality depending on the success of the first.

Available diplomatic signals indicate that Swaraj may travel to Islamabad on December 8 evening and return home on December 9 evening.

The Bangkok meeting may well prove to be a healthy process between the two sides and reflects their sincerity of having substantive engagement, both at bilateral and multilateral levels. It is worthwhile to note that Heart of Asia is essentially a multilateral event and the Modi government could have given it a miss if it wanted to.

But Modi has shown his capability of thinking out of the box, more so in foreign policy issues and even more so when it comes to Pakistan. Pulling off a meeting of the NSAs of India and Pakistan, and that too in a third country like Thailand, without the media of the Indian subcontinent getting a whiff of it shows that Modi and Sharif can pull it off away from the media glare.

Much will depend on how Swaraj's meetings with her Pakistani interlocutors go off. It will be absolutely essential that the two sides focus on convergences, keep away divergences and sticky issues, stay away from throwing barbs at each other and have meaningful discussions away from the media glare.

When the two sides have done it in Bangkok there is no reason to believe why they can't do it in Islamabad.

Writer

Rajeev Sharma Rajeev Sharma @kishkindha

The writer is an independent journalist and a strategic analyst.

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