Delaying #ForeignSec talks betrays India's lack of clarity on Pakistan
At its press brief Thursday, the external affairs ministry threw up two surprises, one bigger than the other.
The ministry's spokesperson Vikas Swarup said India and Pakistan had mutually agreed to reschedule the foreign secretary talks, which were to be held on 15 January, to sometime in the "very near future". The delay, he suggested, will allow the talks to be held "outside the shadow of Pathankot".
But this wasn't the big surprise since there are reasons to believe the talks would ultimately go through. For one, the NDA regime indicated as much after the Pathankot attack.
Also, both the BJP and the government responded warmly to Nawaz Sharif's assurance of acting against Jaish-e-Muhammad, a promise that news reports claimed he had delivered on, 48 hours before the scheduled talks, by having Masood Azhar detained.
So, what was the big surprise if not the pause in the talks? It was India welcoming a Special Investigation Team from Pakistan to probe the Pathankot attack.
In the statement released from his office Wednesday, Sharif had assured India that "based on initial investigations in Pakistan and the information provided, several individuals belonging to JeM have been apprehended. The offices of the organisation are also being traced and sealed. Further investigations are under way".
It went on to state "that in order to carry the process forward, additional information would be required, for which the Government of Pakistan is considering to send a Special Investigation Team to Pathankot, in consultation with the Government of India".
Many analysts saw the proposal as a clever move by Pakistan to avoid probing the JeM, and possibly its own officials, by throwing the ball in India's court. After all, India couldn't possibly agree to allow Pakistan military and intelligence officials tour one of its air bases.
But that India actually welcomed the proposal marks a new and, surprisingly, high level of trust between the two countries.
It will be the first time that investigators from the two countries will work jointly on a probe on terror emanating from Pakistan.
What's the agenda?
When Vikas Swarup was asked, for the fourth or the fifth time, what "very near future" meant, he retorted, "Jab miyaan biwi raazi to kya karega qaazi." Loosely translated, the Urdu proverb means, "when the bride and groom are ready, what's the priest to do".
It did seem a little contrived though that the bride and groom had changed their plans while the guests were ready for the big day. The manner in which the foreign ministry kept postponing the announcement of its decision on the talks - by leaking information to the media that it was waiting for the foreign secretary S Jaishankar to return from Sri Lanka before taking a final decision - didn't inspire confidence. So, once Jaishankar was back, it was said they were now waiting for the NSA Ajit Doval, who was in Paris.
Indeed, even earlier, the ministry had never really explained what it expected Pakistan to do in order to clear the way for the talks. Nor did it give any sense of the progress it thought Pakistan was making in creating a conducive atmosphere for the talks.
I'm not aware of any such arrest: Pakistan's Qazi Khalilullah on reports of Masood Azhar's arrest
In contrast, how did the Pakistani foreign office deal with the situation? Without really doing much, except for leaking information to the media, Pakistan gave a sense of being very serious in combating terrorism and initiating dialogue with India.
The first action it took after the Pathankot attack was setting up a Joint Investigation Team, comprising officers of the Intelligence Bureau, the military intelligence and the ISI, on 12 January, 10 days after the strike. It, however, never made the JIT's mandate or the scope of its investigations clear.
No action beyond words
Then, government sources were quoted in the Pakistani media as saying that some JeM operatives had been arrested during raids in Sialkot, Gujranwala, Jhelum and Bahawalpur, believed to be the base of Masood Azhar's outfit which India has held responsible for the Pathankot attack.
Similar raids were reported to have been carried out on Wednesday, and Azhar and his brother were supposedly apprehended and put in protective custody.
However, there were no specifics as to when the arrests were made, who had been detained, which agency was leading the operation against JeM, and how many individuals had been taken into custody.
As it turned out, neither had Azhar been detained nor indeed had the raids taken place.
This is what one of Pakistan's largest national dailies, Dawn, reported Thursday morning: "Officials in Bahawalpur, Bahawalnagar, Rahmiyar Khan and Multan, where these arrests were initially believed to have taken place, were totally unaware of any such development in their areas."
Not pause in talks, welcoming Pak SIT to probe #Pathankot was the big surprise of MEA press briefing
"Bahawalpur District Police Officer Sarfaraz Ahmad Falki expressed ignorance about the house arrest of Maulana Azhar or any other arrests in his district."
Later on Thursday, Pakistan's foreign office spokesman Qazi Khalilullah, on the question of Azhar's arrest, said, "I am not aware of any such arrest. I don't have anything else apart from the statement issued by the PMO yesterday."
Neither, of course, was the news of Azhar's arrest confirmed by the Indian foreign office.
Come clean, please
So, if action against the JeM, which allegedly orchestrated the Pathankot attack, isn't happening, what exactly is India expecting its neighbour to do to get talking. Swarup would have done well to clear the fog.
Is India looking to have Azhar and his brother extradited or at the very least questioned. Or does it expect Pakistan to use all its might to shut down, once and for all, the operations of one of the deadliest terror groups operating from its territory, 13 years after it publicly vowed to do so.
A clear, more transparent appraisal of each other's work is what Indian and Pakistani leaders owe not only to each other but to the people of the two nations.