Pakistan agreed to the Indian proposal for an NSA Meet because it sees it as an ice-breaker. New Delhi is not looking beyond it. This difference in perception could make or mar what transpires when Ajit Doval and Sartaj Aziz get together Aug 23. The other great difference is that while the Pakistani interlocuter is a seasoned politician and diplomat and a veteran of such jaw-jaws, his Indian opposite number is an intel stalwart with no record of diplomatic hirewire trapeze acts other than what PM Modi may have tasked him with by way of nursing a parallel track to MEA on foreign policy. It is likely Doval will play it by the ear, taking his cues from how Aziz presents issues and defines problems, and how unbending or otherwise the Pakistani is.
Obviously Islamabad puts greater store by these talks than does Delhi because, in the meeting to strategize and shape instructions to Aziz that involved the Pak COAS General Raheel Sharif, interior minister Nisar Ali, and Finance minister Ishaq Dar, Nawaz Sharif placed the NSAs’ meeting in the context of making the 2016 SAARC Summit in Islamabad a success, which it will be only if Modi comes through on his promise to attend it. But Modi may find an excuse to recuse himself from the summit and Sharif believes he should be given no readymade pretext to do so. This is a very fine line Aziz will try and walk, without however any show of backing down, whence the intent to have Aziz meet with Hurriyat leaders. As reported in the Pak press, Aziz is likely to mention Swami Aseemanand who has got bail in the Samjauta Express blast-case should Doval bring up the freedom enjoyed by Lakhvi and the 26/11 episode, and parry with the mention of supposed RAW activity in Balochistan when Doval thrusts with talk of terrorists infiltrated by Pak Army/ISI across the LOC. Aziz is also likely to bring up India’s role in Afghanistan — but that’s easily turned aside — Afghanistan is not some province of Pakistan and Islamabad has no business putting on proprietorial airs when it comes to discussing that country. India will do in Afghanistan what its national interests dictate, as will Pakistan, and if the interests and activities clash, so be it, and let’s see where the geostrategic chips ultimately fall.
It is important though for Doval to note the changed circumstances. MQM and India’s alleged help in propping up Altaf Hussain will not be a peeve Aziz will bring up because the Pakistan Army’s V Corps and the commando unit SSG (Special Service Group) has all but corralled and disarmed the MQM fighters to a point when they no more pose a danger to peace in the Karachi metropolitan area, leave alone the Pakistani state. Recall that Altaf Hussain’s call to India several week back for help went unanswered, whether because India couldn’t render any help or because the Modi govt decided not to, isn’t clear. In any case, it may have convinced Gen. Raheel that talking with India is better for his army than doing otherwise. But Balochistan remains a live card India can play as long as Pak chooses to fool around in Kashmir.
There are, however, some positive developments which if followed up correctly promise good things. Aziz has been asked by his prime minister to adopt a “give and take” attitude to not just the minor territorial disputes, namely Sir Creek and Siachen, but also Kashmir. What could this possibly mean? Would Pakistan trade some Indian give on Sir Creek for a reduced Indian military presence on the Siachen Glacier? And what of Jammu & Kashmir. Would Pakistan agree to the 2007 compromise solution worked out with Musharraf as a final solution? Of course, Doval, so instructed, could choose to neither “give” nor “take” and use the meeting to merely trade charges. And India and Pakistan will remain where they have always been — frozen in time. On the other hand, if Modi means to obtain the kind of thaw in relations he has done in the east with Bangladesh, he would order Doval to push the 2007 solution for Kashmir, throw in a lot of economic goodies, and promise to make the Islamabad SAARC summit the grandest in history by promising to sign a such peace pact based on the Manmohan Singh-Musharraf template. That’s not unrealistic.