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‘Modi-Sharif talks a breakthrough to lessen atmosphere of negativity’

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New Delhi/Ufa (Russia): The talks between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, and the subsequent joint statement that seeks to give a push towards normalcy in ties have been welcomed by former diplomats and strategic experts as a positive development, with some terming it a “big breakthrough” that would hopefully lessen the atmosphere of “negativity and pessimism” in bilateral relations.

Modi and Sharif held bilateral talks in the Russian city of Ufa on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit. A brief joint statement read out by the foreign secretaries said the two countries agreed to cooperate with each other to eliminate terrorism, expedite the trial of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and hold a meeting of their National Security Advisors – among other steps to lessen tension.

Former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh said: “On the whole, it is a positive development”.

But he also said the Modi-Sharif talks were “not substantive talks, but talks about talks; so this was not really a dialogue but a discussion on a dialogue”.

“And even then it is not complete because what they have decided is that several discussions will take place in some key sectors and only then will a view be taken on a dialogue,” Mansingh told IANS.

He said post the meeting of the National Security Advisors of the two countries, the DGMOs meeting and that of the DG of Border Security Force and of Pakistan Rangers, as laid out in the joint statement, “after taking stock of the situation perhaps another meeting would be organized on the sidelines of the UN in September. So that is as far as we can see,” he said.

Sheel Kant Sharma, a former SAARC secretary seneral, described it as a “big breakthrough”. According to Sharma, over the last several years, including the last one year of the Modi government “there has been an atmosphere of negativity and pessimism (in ties) and hopefully the joint statement issued after the 55-minute talks can ameliorate that atmosphere”.

“Between India and Pakistan, the problems and the kind of agonisations which have been there are so serious that no single event and no single thing can maybe alter it. But as diplomats, one is always looking for options and opportunities to see if things can move forward. So in that kind of context it’s a good thing,” Sharma told IANS.

Of the joint statement by the two foreign secretaries – India’s S. Jaishankar and Pakistan’s Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary – Sharma said: “I have not seen this for several years; two foreign secretaries speaking the same language and sitting on the same dais”.

“It was not even at the time of Nirupama Rao; she and her counterpart spoke, but even they were speaking in a language that was different,” he said, adding: “Today, at least we have come at a position where both foreign secretaries, on the instructions of their principals, are on the same page”, with the focus on “how to turn a new leaf on many of the very vexed issues”.

“So I think we should see things in the light of the change that might happen, otherwise we can wallow in the old problems and the perceptions and subterfuges, but this is not the occasion to do that.”

Sharma added that India, as a big country, should always be confident, but also alert, keeping the 1999 Lahore Declaration and its aftermath – the Kargil war – in mind.

“It should not be a case of ‘chain ki bansi bajayein’. We should not think that things are good and now we can go for a ball; it is nothing of the kind.”

According to noted strategic expert C. Uday Bhaskar, the Modi-Sharif talks, “while expected had resulted in some unexpected yet welcome developments”.

“The six-point joint statement is terse yet symbolically full of deep import. The fact that PM Modi has accepted an invite to visit Pakistan in 2016 is symbolically very significant – and indicative of a holistic review and reset by the Modi core team of the Indian government’s current policy towards Pakistan – in the wake of the Mumbai terror attack of November 2008 – and the limited impact it had had on the Islamabad-Rawalpindi combine.

“India’s earlier stand that there could be no resumption of the dialogue with Pakistan without tangible movement on the Mumbai attack case has been tweaked, and to my mind, reflects a certain flexibility in the Indian position,” Bhaskar, director of think tank Society for Policy Studies, told IANS.

He said the word ‘cordial’ in the statement is important, and linked to that is the opening line of both leaders “condemning terrorism acein all its forms”.

“An inclusive yet carefully chosen turn of phrase has allowed both sides to maintain their well-known positions and have their respective preferences accommodated. For example, there is no specific reference to Kashmir, yet terror has been brought under an all encompassing umbrella,” Bhaskar pointed out.

He said while the “symbolism of the Modi-Sharif meeting is significant, the substantive outcome remains uncertain – and one has to wait and watch. Will PM Modi have greater success than his predecessors? The jury is out, for it is not clear that PM Sharif can deliver on India’s principal concern – Islamabad’s support to terror,” Bhaskar said.

–IANS