How India Lost The Plot In Talks

March 3, 2010

By M.J. Akbar | The Daily Star

DELHI lost its own plot one day before foreign secretaries Nirupama Rao and Salman Bashir sat down at Hyderabad House to reopen the dialogue between India and Pakistan.

Salman Bashir came to Delhi for two sets of talks, not one. The Indian government was the second half of his agenda. The first, and from his perspective the more important, part was the resumption of dialogue between Islamabad and secessionist elements in Jammu and Kashmir, Hurriyat leaders and the more extreme Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

Bashir did not want to talk to Omar or Farooq Abdullah, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Mehbooba Mufti or Ghulam Nabi Azad, who represent parties that won a substantial number of seats in the assembly. He wanted to hear what Geelani said, that there was a storm brewing in the valley. Bashir reassured Geelani that Pakistan had not abandoned its dream of altering the map of India.

These pre-arranged meetings were held with the consent of the Indian government. If the Indian government had wanted to prevent them, Hurriyat leaders and Geelani would not have been able to catch the flight from Srinagar to Delhi. Precedence — the fact that we have enabled such meetings before — is not the point.

India stopped the ongoing dialogue under unusual circumstances, after the terrorist invasion of Mumbai. Delhi offered a resumption of talks, but with one condition, that they would focus on terrorism; and issues like Kashmir (part of the composite dialogue) would be taken up only after Pakistan had provided satisfaction that it had acted against known terrorists and instigators of Mumbai, like Hafiz Saeed.

If that was going to be our focus, if that was the agenda we had set, why did we permit the meetings between Pakistan and Hurriyat-Geelani? We could have explained that Pakistan could talk to the Kashmiri leaders on Indian soil the next time around, if there was a next time; on February 25, it would only be about terrorism.

When we did not, Pakistan inferred that it was business as usual, and that our position on terrorism was rhetoric meant for domestic consumption. Pakistan voiced such an inference when Salman Bashir briefed the media, saying that Kashmir had been discussed “extensively” and suggesting that India had returned to the negotiating table because of international pressure.

It was, he implied with that little smile on either corner of his mouth, a diplomatic triumph for Pakistan.

Perhaps, the time has come for India to demand reciprocal rights. It would be interesting if Nirupama Rao insists, during her next visit to Islamabad (she has received an invitation), upon meeting insurgents from Balochistan — assuming that they are either alive or outside jail.

Let us be clear about one reality: Salman Bashir could have returned without undue damage to his professional health, if talks with Rao had been sabotaged before they started, but he might have had to take a flight to some other country if he had returned without meeting Hurriyat and Geelani. Kashmir is the heart and head of Pakistan’s policy towards India.

There is insufficient recognition, certainly among Indians and possibly within the Indian government, of the fact that Pakistan’s policy has hardened after the Mumbai terrorist onslaught, rather than softened. Pervez Musharraf’s “close-to-a-solution” is now denied as mere waffle, since nothing was put in writing.

Mumbai is not cause for mea culpa, but reason for accusation: India deserves what it got because it holds Kashmir “illegally.” In such a narrative, Hafiz Saeed becomes the daring maverick who brought Kashmir back to the centre stage as the “core” issue (a term Salman Bashir used repeatedly, as was his brief).

India and Pakistan might agree, therefore, that terrorism is an evil, but they have totally divergent definitions of who constitutes a terrorist. Salman Bashir can agree on terrorism without blinking an eyelid, and moan about thousands dead in his own country — but they died from Taliban bullets and bombs, not from a Hafiz Saeed gun. India’s terrorist is Pakistan’s freedom fighter.

As Bashir coolly explained in Delhi, Hafiz Saeed was within his democratic rights when, at his Lahore rally, he told followers armed with Kalasnikovs that one Mumbai was not enough. The Pakistan army would have opened artillery fire if the Taliban had dared to hold a similar public meeting in Peshawar.

Rao, who was firm enough during the talks, made one serious mistake. She forgot a basic law of Indo-Pak diplomacy. She left the last word to Salman Bashir. Her hurry to brief the media was inexplicable; it was Bashir who had to go take a flight out of Delhi. She could have waited. We lost the plot both before and after the talks.



  1. Hafiz Saeed did not say that one Mumbai was enough. He compared the terrorism in Pakistan and India and said that compared to what is happening in Pakistan, the Mumbai attack was nothing.
    This is what i call brain washing via media!!!

  2. Brilliantly written article….

  3. What has India to do with baluchistan when M J Akbar mentioned that like pakistani foreign secretary asked to meet hurriat leaders then mrs rao has to ask (abt baluchistan people) the same in her next meeting in islamabad.Is it indian part occupied by pakistan????Is it a disputed territory for india?

    • Mu-salman Khan from India,

      Do you ever consider that part of your problems is because you think of yourself as a Mu-salman first and an Indian second (if at all)… Be a proud Indian, be a proud human being…

      • well u see a musalman wont be a musalman at all if he dsnt place his faith above everything else,a simple fact every hindu and most indian muslims are not aware of

  4. Some one really needs to wake this silly Indian writer up from his day-dreaming. He seems to live in a world of his own with non-existent realities and skewed logic. His disorientation and disillusion apparently force him to keep thinking the Indian occupied J&K as a real part of India and that Pakistan is out there to change India’s map. After keeping a part of J&K under their illegal occupation, Indians started getting the illusion that the occupied land has become a part of Indian while the people of Kashmiri have lost their hopes for breaking the jaws of illegal Indian occupation, people of Pakistan have given up their justified claims as recognized by the world at the UNO, and the world community has forgotten and abandoned the UN resolutions. In the real world, however, that stupidity has no place. While the Indians can indulge in self-deceptive belief and keep their propaganda mills running day and night, no one in the world is willing to accept the Indian falsehood. Kashmiris do not accept Indian occupation and are continuing their fight against more than half a million occupying Indian forces. Pakistanis, the second party to the Kashmir dispute after the people of J&K, do not subscribe to Indian claims either. The people of Pakistan have not really joined yet the armed Kashmir freedom struggle but they have the right to do so. In fact, the time is not far when Pakistanis would join the Kashmiri freedom struggle to give a final and fatal knock to Indian occupation forces in J&K.

    The insane writer has a strange logic of asking Indian leaders to demand a meeting with Baloch militants during their official visit to Islamabad as a reciprocal to Pakistani delegates meeting with Kashmiri leaders in New Delhi. Only a pig-headed Indian can suggest that kind of logic. The Baloch problem in Pakistan has apparently no semblance with the Kashmir dispute. The latter is globally recognized dispute with related UN resolutions bearing testimony of its disputed nature. According to these resolutions, Pakistan is a party in the Kashmir dispute. None of that is true for Indian supported Baloch insurgency in Pakistan. Such a demand by India would only expose the real ugly face of the Indians who officially support and use terrorism as a tool to achieve their strategic political goals.

    Finally, I couldn’t help but wonder how an Indian Muslim can have such a brazen and absurd thinking about Pak-India issues. The writer perhaps keeps looking for the opportunities to prove his loyalty to India. But, one has to be really careful. Hindus always eliminate this kind of black sheep and then blame and blackmail their opponents (the Muslims of Pakistan and of course India too) to get some political mileage towards achieving their petty goals.

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