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The meeting that tested future relations between India and Pakistan

Rajeev Sharma is a New Delhi-based journalist, author and strategic analyst. He tweets @Kishkindha and can be reached at bhootnath004@yahoo.com.

Published time: July 23, 2014 12:43
AFP Photo/Prakash Singh

There can be only two ways to look at the meeting between Indian journalist Ved Pratap Vaidik and Pakistan-based India-focused terror mastermind, Hafiz Saeed.

One is that the meeting in Pakistan on July 2 was just an accidental one between two loose cannons, with their respective governments blissfully unaware of it, and there is no hidden agenda.

The second is that the meeting was actually a trial balloon floated by the governments of India and Pakistan; Vaidik was used as bait to test the waters on crucial issues, without either of the two governments committing themselves to anything while maintaining a high quotient of deniability.

The meeting has triggered a political storm in India and raised questions about the new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Pakistan policy. The meeting has significant importance as the issue at stake is future relations between India and Pakistan - two nuclear rivals.

There is a perception that Modi is keen on taking over the legacy of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the most charismatic leader the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party has produced yet, and can do so only with a substantive visit to Pakistan.

Hence the importance of this meeting between Vaidik and Saeed. Let’s look at both sides of the coin.

‘Two individuals’

It was a harmless meeting. After all, Vaidik was part of an Indian delegation that included Congress leaders like the former external affairs minister, Salman Khurshid, and former union minister, Mani Shankar Aiyer.

Whatever he talked about with Saeed was as a journalist and the meeting was between two private individuals, with the Indian High Commission in Islamabad being completely unaware of the meeting, as was so painfully suggested by the two governments who strangely happen to be on the same page.

Also, just because Vaidik had no pen in his hand and the picture of him and Saeed didn’t show a camera, tape-recorder or a writing pad, it doesn’t mean he wasn’t working in a professional capacity. A journalist can ‘record’ an ‘interview’ in the hard disc of his mind and he doesn’t have to take notes or record his interview. After all, Vaidik has said that he once interviewed Babrak Karmal (Afghanistan’s third president during 1979-86) for three and a half hours without any notes or tape-recording! Moreover, the 69-year-old Vaidik is not a cub reporter but a columnist who can write about this meeting later on as an opinion piece.

What is the big deal in a journalist meeting anyone, be it a diplomat or a politician or a minister – or a terrorist!

Hafiz Saeed (Reuters/Mohsin Raza)

‘Trial balloon’

The Vaidik-Saeed meeting was actually a trial balloon, a covert way of testing the waters by the new government in India, led by the BJP.

After all, the BJP-led NDA government had in its previous avatar indulged in numerous experiments of this kind. Didn’t Jamiat Ulema and Islam leader Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, a hardcore fundamentalist, visit India in 2003 when the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was in power?

Didn’t the Vajpayee government try out the so-called ‘intelligence summits’ between chiefs of Indian and Pakistani intelligence agencies in a bid to break the ice between the two neighbors? However, the exercise had to be quickly buried as it did not yield any fruits?

All along, one hears about the need for thinking out of the box and going for bold solutions to find a lasting solution to the vexed India-Pakistan dispute. As part of this approach, it is often said that the Indian government should reach out to Rawalpindi rather than Islamabad – the import being that India should cultivate Pakistan’s military leadership rather than the political leadership.

Isn’t it a better thinking out of the box if India cultivates the terror masterminds based in Pakistan – like Saeed – or at least pick their brains to know which way the wind is blowing in Rawalpindi, the seat of Pakistan’s military headquarters? Although it may seem outlandish, it is after all an idea where the governments are not directly involved! Isn’t it a part of the cloak-and-dagger moves of spymasters across the globe to think like a terrorist and eventually best them?

And isn’t it a viable idea if the person who is the go-between for such meetings happens to be a journalist and is readily available to test the waters?

Well, these are all questions. We don’t know the answers yet.

However, it is significant that while the Indian government and the ruling BJP have distanced themselves from the Vaidik-Saeed meeting, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) has defended the journalist’s conduct.

RSS leader Indresh Kumar defended Vaidik’s meeting with Saeed, the mastermind of the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai, by saying that Vaidik was a nationalist and whatever he did was for the good of the nation. Indresh also called Vaidik a patriot and said what he did was “for the betterment of the nation.”

The perplexing Vaidik-Saeed meeting should be seen from the prism of these two scenarios outlined above. One doesn’t know whether Vaidik was a lone wolf, or acting as the Indian government’s covert emissary to feel the pulse of non-state actors in Pakistan like Saeed towards a possible trip to Pakistan by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Things like that are never confirmed, this way or that way. They are meant to remain as trial balloons only.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.