India says it will only talk about terrorism in a Late Night Letter to Pakistan

Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar has written to his Pakistani counterpart, calling for talks on cross-border terrorism, describing it as a threat to “regional security”. The letter, delivered to Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry on Wednesday night, also proposes a dialogue on the status of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Pakistan had written to India on August 15, calling for a dialogue on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, and humanitarian issues related to the violence there.

The letter, government sources said, was cleared by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, after consultations which involved the heads of the intelligence services and the Ministry of Home Affairs.

New Delhi’s letter, in essence reiterates its earlier, August 19, response to Pakistan’s letter, stating its willingness to engage in Foreign Secretary-level talks, but not on issues chosen by Pakistan. Pakistan had responded to the August 19 letter the same day, drawing the Indian response delivered Wednesday.

Behind the letter, government sources say, is a foreign policy team that has pulled together to shape a strategic response to combat multiple crises that have threatened to leave India isolated from several of its neighbours.

“The letters tell Pakistan that if you want a serious conversation of the kind we’d hoped we were beginning when Pathankot happened, we’re open to that,” a senior official involved in drafting the documents said. “However, if you want to reduce our engagement to scoring propaganda points at home, fine, we can play that game too”.

National Security Advisor Doval and Foreign Secretary Jaishankar have been working closely to craft a wider strategic response to the crisis in response to the impasse in relations with Pakistan, officials working with them told The Indian Express.

“It’s obvious to everyone that while talking to Pakistan isn’t a policy, not talking isn’t a policy either,” the senior official said. “The big question is how to compel Pakistan to cut back its support for terrorist groups and secessionists in Kashmir, and that will involve carefully thinking about our diplomatic, political and security options. This isn’t something there is an easy answer to, but we’re agreed we have to try new things.”

The key to the strategy is broadening engagement with China, putting aside the bitterness which flowing from that country’s opposition to India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, to avoid a crisis in relations with both of India’s major adversaries.

Earlier this month, during Chinese Foreign Secretary Wang Yi’s visit, Foreign Secretary Jaishankar initiated a new dialogue on a range of issues, including, among other things, climate change and India’s demand for the listing of Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar on the list of sanctioned individuals maintained by the United Nations Security Council.

For his part, National Security Advisor Doval remains in charge of the critical Special Representative-level negotiations on China-India border negotiations. Yang Jiechi. Jiechi, as a State Councillor, outranks China’s Foreign Secretary; Doval, for his part, has the rank of a Minister of State.

“The Special Representative talks had expanded to include a number of non-core areas like energy security under former National Security Advisor MK Narayanan,” an official said. “The thinking shared by both China and India is that this is an impediment to the business at hand”.

“Keeping China engaged served India best”, another official said. “Even though many bitter statements were made in the wake of the failure to gain NSG membership, we have nothing to gain by sabotaging the entire relationship”.

Both graduates of the King George’s Military Schools, now known as the Rashtriya Military Schools, Doval and Jaishankar have have been cast as hawk-dove opponents in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strategic team. The two men are, however, described by officials working with them as pragmatists, whose decision-making processes do not appear coloured by strongly-held ideological beliefs.

Following the attack on the Pathankot Air Force Base on January 2, 2015, both men had pushed for diplomatic efforts to secure action against the Jaish-e-Muhammad. The two men argued that India ought to test Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s promises to act against terrorists operating against India, which led on to National Security Advisor-level talks and a parallel diplomatic engagement between the Foreign Secretaries.

However, their critics contend the strategy—leading up to Prime Minister Modi’s December 2015 visit to Pakistan—was based on the flawed assumption that Lieutenant-General Nasser Khan Janjua, Pakistan’s National Security Advisor, had the backing of that country’s military establishment.

Doval and Jaishankar also worked closely together through the Nepal crisis, an issue on which they were reported to have deep differences over the blockade imposed on commercial traffic into that country. The two men agreed on fundamentals, including the need to back ethnic communities living in Nepal’s plains, who were angered by its new Constitution.

“The fact is that that Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli’s government, with its anti-Madhesi bias, fell, and the country’s pro-China tilt has been reversed”, an official argues. “Indian policy has not turned out to be the disaster that it was claimed to be”.

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