Thimpu adopts Sharm-el-Sheikh doctrine to jeopardize Indian sovereignty
by Hari Om on 12 Feb 2011 0 Comment

Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir on Feb. 6 met at Thimpu (Bhutan) for 90 minutes on the sidelines of the meeting of the standing committee of the South Asian Association of Regional Co-operation (SAARC). They met six months after the collapse of talks between Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in July 2010, at Islamabad. These talks collapsed due to Pakistani belligerence and provocative stand on issues it held, and continues to hold, very dear.


The Pakistani Foreign Minister had then virtually humiliated and taunted the Indian Foreign Minister and ridiculed India during the joint press conference, equating Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai with Hafiz Saeed of Jamaat-ud-Dawa/ Lashkar-e-Toiba, who plotted against India and masterminded the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Qureshi had said, “Pakistan has no control over Hafiz Saeed.”


Back in India, Krishna, instead of exposing Qureshi, took on Pillai, snubbed him publicly and held him responsible for the collapse of the Islamabad talks: Talks failed because Pillai vitiated the whole atmosphere on the eve of talks by making a statement on David Headley, privy to the conspiracy hatched against India by Hafiz Saeed & Co. and certain elements in the Pakistani Army.


If talks between the Indian and Pakistani Foreign Ministers took place in a surcharged atmosphere in July 2010, the environment was hardly cool and salubrious on February 6, 2011, despite the fine weather in Thimpu. A number of developments had taken place in Pakistan on the eve of the Foreign-Secretary level talks. A brief reference to at least five developments that vitiated the atmosphere before commencement of talks aimed at resuming the stalled composite dialogue between the estranged neighbours would be in order.


One, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari stated that Islamabad’s stand on Jammu & Kashmir “is very clear” and it would want a settlement consistent with the age-old Pakistani stand – merger of Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan.


Two, Pakistani President Yousuf Raza Gilani stated that Kashmir “is a core issue” for Islamabad and Pakistan could not alter its stand. India will have to address all Pakistani concerns and accommodate its viewpoint on Jammu and Kashmir, he said. In other words, he made it loud and clear that Islamabad considered Kashmir an unfinished agenda of partition.


Three, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Abdul Basit accused India of not bringing to justice the “Hindu extremists” involved in the terrorist attack on Samjhauta Express. “India seems to be lacking courage to unearth culpability of Hindu extremists and their links with some Indian Army personnel,” he said in Islamabad.


Four, Hafiz Saeed addressed a public rally in Lahore on Feb. 5 and spewed venom on India. In fact, he asked Islamabad to go in for a nuclear attack on India in case New Delhi refused to free Jammu and Kashmir. Quit Kashmir or face nuclear attack, he told the Indian Prime Minister. That he threatened India in Lahore should clinch the issue and establish that he is conducting anti-India operations with the full backing of or at the behest of Islamabad. It would be reasonable to say that the Pakistani political establishment, Army, ISI and the dreaded terrorists and Jihadis like Hafiz Saeed are working in unison.


Five, in Pak-occupied-Jammu and Kashmir, Syed Salah-ud-Din, Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) chief and head of the United Jihad Council (UJC), denounced India in outrageous language and threatened dire consequences in the event of New Delhi not quitting Kashmir. Both Saeed and Salah-ud-Din poured venom on “Solidarity Day” which is observed across Pakistan and POJK to express solidarity with Kashmiri communalists and separatists.


It was in this surcharged atmosphere that the Foreign Secretary-level talks were held at Thimpu to prepare ground for talks between the Indian Foreign Minister and his Pakistani counterpart. There was no doubt whatever that nothing tangible would emerge out of the talks. This was the general impression in India. The grapevine said they would sit together for a few minutes, have a photo session, restate their already stated positions and then disperse.


However, what happened at Thimpu was to the contrary. Both Nirupama Rao and Salman Bashir expressed the hope that the stalled composite dialogue process between the two countries would be resumed sooner or later. The tone and tenor of the Pakistani Foreign Secretary this time was sober for reasons not difficult to fathom.   


Reflecting on the outcome of the talks with Salman Bashir, Nirupama Rao, who is on extension, said: “India is ‘cautiously optimistic’ on charting a way forward in the dialogue process with Pakistan and would like to see the process mature keeping in view ground realities.” Of course, she did not disclose what these “ground realities” were, but everyone who knows something about Indo-Pak relations knows these “ground realities” and India-Pakistan watchers have repeatedly catalogued them. It would suffice to say that Islamabad wants to grab Jammu & Kashmir at any cost in order to establish its control over the state waters; it wants India to demilitarize the state; it wants India to quit Afghanistan.  


“We had a good meeting, useful meeting. We were able to discuss a number of issues of relevance with the (Indo-Pak) relationship…We talked about the (dialogue) process and charting the way forward, what the best modalities would be…All in all it was a useful meeting…Both the sides had adopted an open and constructive attitude. I’m satisfied…we need to wait and see…We have to wait for this process to mature. We should be optimistic, cautiously optimistic because there are many issues that remain to be resolved…Nature of India-Pakistan relationship had been complex…We have to remain realistic. We should be aware of the realities… (There is the) need for a vision for the future of the relationship,” she stated a day after the meeting. Besides, she said: “Bashir has told her that his government also is committed to taking forward the dialogue process on outstanding issues in a constructive way.”


Indian Foreign Office spokesperson, Vishnu Prakash, issued an identical statement, “The Foreign Secretaries had useful and frank discussions...They agreed on the need for constructive dialogue between India and Pakistan to resolve all outstanding issues…They affirmed the need to carry forward the dialogue process."


Nirupama Rao and Vishnu Prakash raised hopes that a meeting between the Indian Foreign Minister and his Pakistani counterpart could be possible in the next few months. (a Feb 10 PTI report suggests the Pakistan Foreign Minister might visit India in July). Yet her observation “we need to wait and see; we have to wait for this process to mature; and we should be optimistic, cautiously optimistic because there are many issues that remain to be resolved” served to demonstrate that nothing had emerged out of the talks and that it would be naïve to expect that Indo-Pak relations would be harmonized after a few round of talks. It appears the Indian Foreign Office only hoodwinked Indian public opinion. 


It was Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi who made it clear that Pakistan would not deviate from the path it had been treading since 1947. In an interview to Gulf News on February 7 at Thimpu, he said: “Both Islamabad and India need to have a fresh look at the Kashmir issue, and search for ways to address the longstanding demand of self-determination of its people...Kashmir is one of the core issues bedeviling progress in India-Pakistan relations. Now, a stage has come when even the Indian intelligentsia and the Indian media are asking to revisit the Kashmir policy. It is a political problem and needs political solutions. So, I will urge my Indian counterpart -- S M Krishna -- to have a fresh look to address this problem. Other issues to be discussed are Siachen and Sir Creek…I would ask India to include Kashmiris as a third party in the dialogue over Kashmir, as a decision on Kashmir cannot be taken without their consent. I am going to suggest that they (India) need to engage with the Kashmiris in addition to Pakistan. The Kashmiris within India are very unhappy with the state of affairs. Economy and tourism in Kashmir are suffering badly due to the trouble. It is important to give them place in the parleys between both the countries as they are the third force. A solution of the Kashmir issue is not possible until Kashmiris are on board…There has hardly been any progress on Kashmir and the situation is not satisfactory at all. I do not suggest any solutions at this stage because it will pre-empt the whole thing. Let the discussions begin and let the situation evolve. Let all the three players sit together and see what is doable and what is the way forward, and chart out a solution in that direction."


The fact of the matter is that Nirupama Rao did not defend the Indian case. She didn’t raise the issue of illegal occupation of the so-called Azad Kashmir and illegal merger of Gilgit-Baltistan with Pakistan. She also didn’t rake up the issue of transfer of 5000 square kilometer Aksaichin area in the Gilgit-Baltistan region to China where Beijing is working overtime to weaken the Indian position on the northern frontiers, vital for the Indian national security. No report from Thimpu or Islamabad or even New Delhi suggested that Rao had raked up any of these issues during her meeting with Qureshi on February six.


On the contrary, statements emanated from Thimpu two days later indicating the Indian ambivalence or unclear stand on Jammu & Kashmir and suggesting that New Delhi has gone back to Sharm-el-Sheikh. (The joint statement issued by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Yusuf Raza Gilani at Sharm-el-Sheikh had dumbfounded and outraged India because it had de-linked the issue of terrorism from the dialogue process.) In fact, On February 8, Rao told reporters that dialogue process was back on track and “India and Pakistan will have a series of interactions to discuss outstanding issues like Jammu and Kashmir, terrorism and Siachen over the next few months before Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi visits New Delhi in the middle of this year.” It would be only appropriate to reproduce here what she said on February 8 to put things in perspective and show that she and Pakistan Foreign Minister, who a day earlier explained the Pakistani viewpoint during his interview with Gulf News, were on the same page.


Rao, inter alia, said: “The two countries are in the process of bridging the ‘trust deficit’…The process of re-engagement should not be ‘killed’ by anybody through any statement or action. ‘Let it breathe’…For the next few months, things are not going to remain dormant. There will be activity... There will be a lot of activity, lot of interaction that had in a sense been put in abeyance for many months now. The intention from both sides is to resume that process…The issues that would be discussed between departments concerned on both sides as Jammu and Kashmir, Peace and Security, terrorism, narcotics trafficking, Sir Creek, Siachen, trade, promotion of people-to-people contacts and cross-LoC trade. There are issues to be discussed and when you say all outstanding issues are to be discussed, obviously, you have to discuss all outstanding issues and who discusses these issues—a number of stake-holders, a number of government departments. It will be a comprehensive exercise…”


When asked “whether it would mean resumption of the Composite Dialogue, that was halted by India after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, as all the issues named were being discussed by departments concerned under that process,” she shot back and said: “I don’t want to get stuck in terminology. What is in a name…It is a ladder, we have to climb. There will be a sequence. Obviously, it will have to be a sequence. The things which need to be done quickly, will be done first. The things which need more preparation will be done a little later. But we hope to have all this well in place before the visit of Foreign Minister Qureshi (to Delhi)…The two sides will have to build the ‘right atmosphere’ and ‘more confidence…”


What she said made things clear. She desisted from calling the resumption of talks between the two countries composite dialogue process, but left none in any doubt that the composite dialogue process has been resumed for all practical purposes. It’s no wonder then that Pakistan Prime Minister Gilani has hailed the Thimpu outcome. On February 10, Gilani “appreciated the progress made by Pakistan and India during talks between their Foreign Secretaries” after he was presented a report by Foreign Secretary Bashir regarding his talks with his Indian counterpart. The talks between the Foreign Secretaries were "a continuation of his meeting with the Indian Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh) at Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt" in 2009, Gilani said and added that the “Foreign Secretary-level talks were fully in conformity with the spirit of his parleys held with Singh.” “Gilani hails Thimpu thaw” was the bottom-line of the report filed from Islamabad and New Delhi by PTI on February 10. As for our uninspiring Foreign Minister S M Krishna, who has let down India umpteen times, he has also hailed the Thimpu Talks.


Is there any need to explain further the implications of what happened at Thimpu? There is no need. Nirupama Rao, Yousuf Raza Gilani and Shah Mahmood Qureshi have cleared all the cobwebs of confusion. The message from Thimpu is loud and clear: Indian stand on Jammu & Kashmir ambivalent and Pakistan (which otherwise is on the brink of ruin) clear, assertive and aggressive. This is the Indian foreign policy towards Pakistan. The question is: What is the BJP doing? It has not commented even once on the Thimpu outcome. Should it be presumed that the BJP and the Congress-led UPA Government are on the same page as far as the Indian stand on Jammu & Kashmir is concerned?


Don’t take the Indian nation for a ride. It is not prepared to allow New Delhi to compromise the Indian position on Jammu and Kashmir, as also to allow it to outrage the Indian nation by adopting the Sharm-el-Sheikh’s doctrine that allows Pakistan to bleed India and coerce New Delhi to talk to Islamabad on the Pakistani terms.


The author is former Chair Professor, Maharaja Gulab Singh Chair, University of Jammu, Jammu, & former member Indian Council of Historical Research

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