New Delhi, July 17 : Pakistan Army Chief, Gen Ashraf Parvez Kayani, met President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on the afternoon of July 15, just hours before India and Pakistan resumed extended talks in the evening that soured badly, well informed sources said here.
After two days of bitter slanging match, sources with access to the government see the hand of the Pakistan Army, widely considered the real power centre in Islamabad, in the hardening of posture on Pakistan’s part at Thursday’s talks that ended in mutual recrimination without any roadmap for future engagement.
Although the purpose of Kayani’s meeting was to brief the civilian leadership about his recent visit to Australia and the security situation in the country, the India-Pakistan foreign minister-level discussions figured prominently in the discussions, the sources said.
The meeting assumes significance as both sides in the morning struck an optimistic note about the talks between External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi. When it was decided to extend the discussions, it was widely seen as sign of some progress in the talks.
In the preparatory talks of foreign secretaries and home ministers, the two sides had agreed on a set of confidence building measures (CBM) like the exchange of fishermen and prisoners, trade and people-to-people contacts across the Line of Control in Kashmir that will signal a gradual normalising of ties. There was a plan to announce these CBMs at the end of the talks, the sources said.
But things started souring when the two sides sat down for discussions in the evening with Islamabad upping the ante on Kashmir and insisting on a resumption of full-scale composite dialogue against India’s incremental approach.
The talks deadlocked after the Pakistani side asked for a time line to resolve what they called "doable issues", including the territorial dispute over the Siachen glacier in the Himalayas and Sir Creek in Gujarat by November, the sources said.
It was against this backdrop that Krishna said here after returning from Islamabad Friday, "I do not know what (Qureshi) means by a timebound solution to these problems. Given their complexity it would not be prudent to insist on a timeframe."
Says Satish Chandra, India’s former deputy national security adviser and a former high commissioner to Pakistan: "The (Pakistani) army was definitely behind wrecking the talks. The army does not want the talks to proceed for various reasons."
"A bad relationship with India works to the advantage of the Pakistani Army which calls the shots in Pakistan," Chandra said.
The shifting power games in Afghanistan has also fuelled confidence of the Pakistani Army to play for a maximalist position in its relations with India.
With the US planning a drawdown in Afghanistan in 2011 and tacitly accepting Pakistan’s role in the Taliban reconciliation plan, the Pakistani Army feels there is no hurry - a point made by Qureshi when he said "we are in no hurry for talks" - to make peace with India.
"That’s why they are increasingly confident of withstanding the American pressure on terrorism. The disturbances in Jammu and Kashmir also encouraged them not to heed to India’s concern over the Mumbai terror and trumpet Kashmir and the resumption of composite dialogue," said Chandra.