Prime Minister Narendra Modi has quietly eased out national security adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval from diplomacy with Pakistan and China on foreign minister Sushma Swaraj’s advice that the foreign relations with the neighbours cannot be handled by a former cop, never groomed in finer points of diplomatic relations. He has also shot down Doval’s prime stress on the behind-the-curtain talks as everything will be now on the table.
The diplomacy responsibilities have been restored to foreign secretary S Jaishankar, who will henceforth lead India’s negotiations with the two neighbours and the PM will go by his advice, sources in the PMO said.
The limited role of Doval will be to be part of dealings on the terrorism concerns with Pakistan and the border dispute with China. The shift comes at a time of heightened tensions with both China and Pakistan, and will be implemented through two new mechanisms the Modi government has agreed on over the past week.
Jaishankar has now been authorised to confront Pakistan with India”s concerns over cross-border terrorism in Kashmir, and over the slow progress in the trials on the terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008 and Pathankot this January. Doval was, till now the sole designated points-person for discussions on terrorism with Pakistan.
The NSA, India’s special representative for boundary talks with Chinese state councillor Yang Jiechi, was over the past two years also effectively Modi’s leading envoy for talks over broader disputes with Beijing. But from now onwards, it will be Jaishankar who will hold regular talks with his Chinese counterpart, Vice-minister Liu Zhenmin, to manage a tricky bilateral relationship threatened by a series of spats in recent months – and nothing will be off the table. “The task for the foreign secretary and the vice-minister from the Chinese side will be to provide an overall perspective, look at India-China relations in their overall perspective because as you know these are people who have a bird’s eye view of all of government, so to speak,” foreign ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said in response to a question. “The idea is not to be restrictive, but to have an open agenda and all issues of mutual concern and interest between India and China can be taken up by them.”
India and China have a series of working groups – mostly headed by officials of the rank of joint secretary – that handle specific shared concerns, ranging from counter-terrorism to trade, and these will continue as the nodes for the ties between the two nations.