Ahead of Tillerson visit, Centre yields on J&K dialogue

Nayanima Basu New Delhi | Updated on January 08, 2018

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson holds a press conference with the Qatari foreign minister in the capital Doha on October 22, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / KARIM JAAFAR

Will hold talks with ‘all stakeholders’

A day before US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in India, the Indian government made a U-turn of sorts by announcing that it will have a “sustained dialogue” with all stakeholders of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) to resolve the long-standing dispute.

Signalling the shift in policy, Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Monday said Former Director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) Dineshwar Sharma has been selected as the government’s representative to kick off dialogue with all stakeholders of J&K, including the Hurriyat.

“There is no bar on him (Sharma) to talk to one group and not another ... We want to understand the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” Singh said at a press conference.

Ever since Narendra Modi-led government has come to power, it had maintained that any solution to the Kashmir dispute can only be discussed between India and Pakistan and no other third party can be involved in it.

In fact, one of the main reasons why India stalled the resumption of Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue (CBD) with Pakistan was because its former High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit chose to speak to the separatists.

India-Pakistan ties

Interestingly, the announcement by Singh came when Tillerson was holding meetings with his counterparts in Kabul and Islamabad. Last week, during his India-policy speech, Tillerson had made it clear that Pakistan is an important partner of the US and that both India and Pakistan need to talk even as he batted for better India-Pakistan ties.

Pakistan, on the other hand, had made it clear that in order to have a dialogue with India, all outstanding issues, including that of Kashmir, have to be first resolved.

“From ‘No talks’ to ‘Talks with all stakeholders’ is a major victory for those who had strongly argued for a political solution in Jammu & Kashmir. With appointment of interlocutor, I hope government has finally admitted ‘muscular approach’ has failed in Jammu & Kashmir,” former Home Minister P Chidambaram tweeted.

Tillerson’s visit will be preceded by a working visit by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday. Afghan policy is at the heart of India-US strategic ties.

During his address on India, Tillerson had cajoled India to mend ties with Pakistan, which in turn will augment its developmental efforts in Afghanistan.

Format for Indo-US talks

Tillerson’s visit may also see the announcement of the new 2+2 dialogue format that will be taking place in lieu of the India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue. The 2+2 will be jointly presided over Tillerson and Defence Secretary James Mattis from the US side while India will be represented by Ministers of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and Defence Nirmala Sitharaman.

The dialogue format has not yet been officially announced, but it was discussed during a phone call between US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in August.

The India-US Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) is also likely to get a push during the visit. Under DTTI, US is keen to push for the sale of Guardian drones, aircraft carrier technologies, the Future Vertical Lift programme, and F-18 and F-16 fighter aircraft. However, technology transfer remains a crucial stumbling block in order for these deals to get fructified.

Published on October 23, 2017

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