NEW DELHI / ISLAMABAD: Even as the Indian media was showering Pakistan with insults on Kulbhushan Jadhav’s meeting with his wife and mother and the Indian parliament was raising the emotional pitch over claims of misbehaviour by Pakistanis with the two women, the National Security Advisers (NSAs) of the two countries were meeting secretly in Bangkok on Dec 26, possibly to avoid more serious missteps, news reports claimed on Sunday.
According to the Indian Express, the meeting between retired Lt Gen Nasser Khan Janjua and Ajit Doval took place at a ‘neutral venue’ in the Thai capital. The venue and date of the meeting were not linked to trip of Jadhav’s wife and mother to Islamabad and had been decided between the two sides earlier in December. It was, as the Express reported, a “pre-scheduled meeting”.
The newspaper said the Bangkok meeting, which was not confirmed by any official source, came in the wake of a sharp statement by Gen Janjua on India-Pakistan relations. On Dec 18, addressing a national security seminar in Islamabad, Gen Janjua, according to the newspaper, had cautioned: “The stability of the South Asian region hangs in a delicate balance, and the possibility of nuclear war cannot be ruled out.”
He also reportedly stated that special efforts were needed to maintain balance in South Asia, which was “a mistake away” from a major catastrophe.
In stark contrast to the media handling of the two NSAs’ meeting by Indian officials, it was confirmed to Dawn by a senior National Security Division official, who said it took place on Wednesday (Dec 27).
Janjua raises issue of targeting of civilians along LoC; Doval talks of infiltration
According to the Pakistani official, the context of the meeting was important as it followed a goodwill gesture by Islamabad of allowing Jadhav to meet his family members, although the event degenerated into a diplomatic spat over how the meeting was conducted by the Pakistani side. But when seen together, it becomes clear that both sides are secretly working to mend fences.
“The meeting was good. Mr Doval’s tone and tenor was friendly and positive,” the source who had been briefed about the meeting disclosed.
Both sides had agreed to keep the meeting secret, but once the Indian side “did not live up to its commitment” and information about it began appearing in Indian media, Pakistani officials too started sharing their impressions about the interaction.
They thought the meeting was useful and said it might help in restarting some sort of engagement at the diplomatic level as well.
The Indian Express appeared to link the Bangkok meeting with Gen Janjua’s meeting on Thursday with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif at his Jati Umra residence in Raiwind. The meeting reportedly lasted five hours, and included discussions on matters of national security, relations with Pakistan’s neighbouring countries and terrorism.
Dawn had cited a PML-N leader quoting Sharif as saying at the meeting: “There is a dire need to improve ties with the neighbouring countries.”
It added that the former prime minister said he always talked about friendly relations with Pakistan’s neighbours because, without them, problems being faced by the people of the region could not be solved. “War is no solution to any problem,” he said.
It was not the first meeting between the two NSAs in a third country. In December 2015, the two men, along with the two foreign secretaries, had met, again in Bangkok, which was not revealed till after the meeting. That was followed, within days, by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise stopover in Lahore, to wish Mr Sharif on his birthday on December 25.
Tuesday’s meeting in Bangkok, which was believed to have lasted more than two hours, was kept under wraps, but it was believed that the Indian NSA raised the issue of infiltration of militants into Kashmir from across the Line of Control (LoC) with the alleged support of the Pakistan army.
The LoC has been very active this year, with more than 820 ceasefire violations recorded so far, the Express claimed. “This has included use of indirect firing weapons and cross-LoC raids by Border Action Teams. The Indian Army has lost 31 soldiers on the LoC in 2017,” it said.
New Delhi has offered a ‘humanitarian pact’ to Pakistan, which allows the elderly and minor children who inadvertently cross the border to be quickly returned to their home country. Islamabad has not responded to the offer, which is believed to have been reiterated by Mr Doval on Tuesday.
Pakistan’s handling of Hafiz Saeed, who has been freed from police custody and is attempting to join mainstream politics, and Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi remaining out on bail, is also assumed to have figured in the conversation, the Express said.
Gen Janjua is believed to have raised the issue of unrest in India-held Kashmir, besides alleged targeting of civilians in villages along the LoC in Azad Kashmir.
Meanwhile, a Pakistani analyst said that notwithstanding behind-the-scenes moves for lowering the tensions, India was persisting with its hardline policy on Pakistan. The Pakistani pilgrims intending to participate in the Urs of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia, being held from Jan 1 to Jan 8, were not given visas.
Islamabad is apprehensive of India sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan in collaboration with the Afghan intelligence agency. It also looks suspiciously at the massive Indian conventional and nuclear build-up, according to the analyst.
Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2018