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    Wednesday, 2 May 2018

    Pakistan, India relaunch track II diplomacy

    Pakistan and India are hoping to revive the dialogue process for peace in the region through the relaunched track II diplomacy, officials said.

    Senior officials at the foreign ministry told The Nation that the two neighbours had been engaged in talks through back channels for a while but this remained an ‘irregular’ feature during the recent rise in the tension.
    One official said: “Track II diplomacy has been a part of our efforts for a full-fledged dialogue. All efforts are being made to revive the talks suspended by India.”
    He said: “The United States, China and Russia all support the Track II diplomacy. This is an option used by all the countries that have (bilateral) issues.”
    The tension between Pakistan and India had been high since the killing of Kashmiri freedom fighter Burhan Wani in July 2016. An attack on Indian forces in September 2016 — that killed 19 soldiers in Uri area of held Kashmir — further heightened the tension. India also claimed it had carried a “surgical strike” to avenge the Uri attack. Pakistan rejected the Indian claim.
    Reports said that cross-border clashes between nuclear-armed Pakistan and India had reached the highest levels in 15 years. Hundreds of people have been killed or wounded in the clashes instigated by India.
    The nuclear-armed neighbours have fought three wars since gaining independence from the British in 1947. The two also regularly trade allegations of harassment and espionage against diplomats.
    In December 2017, Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Nasir Khan Janjua and his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval had held an unannounced meeting in Bangkok to build the trust level. Reports said Janjua and Doval discussed the Kashmir issue, terrorism and overall bilateral ties.
    Days before the meeting with Doval, Janjua had said the back-channel diplomacy with India was on where the solution to the tension was being discussed. There was a pause in contacts for some months as the tension escalated. 
    However, reports said, the original Track II initiative, received a fresh start with a high-powered delegation of former Indian diplomats, military veterans and academics travelling to Pakistan to discuss ways to improve the India-Pak relationship.
    The delegation was headed by the former ministry of external affairs secretary and Pakistan expert Vivek Katju. J S Rajput, former National Council of Educational Research and Training head, was also part of the delegation. The talks took place from April 28 to April 30. Pakistan was represented, among others, by former foreign secretary Inamul Haque and Ishrat Hussain.
    Another official at the foreign ministry said the backchannel talks will pave way for the open dialogue process in the future. “In such (backchannel) talks, we speak openly about the issues that are a hurdle to the peace process. This gives us a better understanding of the irritants,” he said.
    Lately, Russia has been active to defuse Pak-India tension which threatens peace in South Asia. Pakistan and India will be part of a multi-nation counter-terror exercise in Russia later this year, which will also be joined by China and several other countries.
    The military exercise in September will take place under the framework of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a Russia and China-dominated security grouping, which is increasingly seen as a counterweight to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
    The main aim of the exercise dubbed ‘Peace Mission’ aims to enhance counter-terror cooperation among the eight SCO member countries. Pakistan will be represented by President Mamnoon Hussain at the SCO’s Heads of State Council summit in Qingdao while Prime Minister Narendra Modi will represent India in June.
    Moscow and Beijing have expressed optimism that the two nuclear-armed neighbours’ entry into the SCO could strengthen prospects for peace across the region. Russia and China have also several times offered Pakistan to play their role in defusing tension with India and Afghanistan respectively.The NDA government is loath to any official engagement with Pakistan but, in a sign of some forward movement, it seems to have agreed to reviving the Track II diplomacy process with its western neighbour.

    The original Track II initiative, Neemrana Dialogue, received a fresh start with a high-powered delegation of former Indian diplomats, military veterans and academics travelling to Pakistan to discuss ways to improve India-Pak relationship.                               

    The delegation was headed by former MEA secretary and Pakistan expert Vivek Katju. J S Rajput, former NCERT head, was also part of the delegation. The talks took place from April 28 to 30. Pakistan was represented by former foreign secretary Inam ul Haque and Ishrat Hussain among others.While like other track II mechanisms, Neemrana is also a non-governmental dialogue, it is different from others in that both foreign ministries have in the past associated themselves with it.

    India will wait to see the outcome of the upcoming elections in Pakistan before taking any call on official talks with Islamabad. To many though the revival of Neemrana would suggest that the policy of not having any engagement with Pakistan has run its course.

    "There have been other track II initiatives but these were mostly funded by third parties. Neemrana had more India-Pakistan character," said former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan T C A Raghavan.

    Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, who is a member of the Neemrana group, chose not to visit Pakistan for the dialogue. He, however, said that Neemrana was an important initiative which had even survived some very difficult times in the relationship.

    "Neemrana has had a tough time over the past few years. Both sides felt though that it was important to keep alive that tradition but I didn't go because I don't think it would yield significant results in the current circumstances,'' said Sibal.Official sources said that it was Pakistan's turn to host the track II dialogue but it could not take place earlier because Islamabad refused to approve it. This was apparently to show its displeasure over India's position that there could be no official talks with Pakistan until the time it reined in terrorists looking to attack India.
    Pakistan finally decided to go ahead with Neemrana Dialogue, which gets its name from the Neemrana fort where it was first held in 1991-1992, earlier this year. The thinking behind India's decision to allow the meeting to take place, according to sources, was that it would help those participating to assess the mood in Pakistan on important issues related to security, economy and also Afghanistan. Pakistan is likely to go to polls in July.

    Leaving humanitarian issues aside, India has been reluctant to acknowledge any engagement with Pakistan even in the domain of people to people contacts. Its decision to sponsor the participation of 4 Indian authors in the Karachi Literature Festival last year had sparked a public outrage.

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