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How to Build Bridges and Make Friends

An engaging account of how Track Two diplomacy can focus attention on contested issues through people-to-people contact in a facilitated environment

Written by Vivek Katju |
July 11, 2016 7:47:57 pm

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Track Two Diplomacy in Theory and Practice
Peter Jones
Stanford University Press
237 pages
` 1,420

For many, including international relations (IR) scholars and professional diplomats, Track Two diplomacy remains a suspect and amateurish pursuit of influencing global conflicts. Peter Jones attempts to disprove these notions in his recent book, Track Two Diplomacy in Theory and Practice. In doing so, he seeks to show that although its roots do go back less than five decades, Track Two diplomacy is, by now, a conceptually well-grounded and serious discipline in IR theory; its practice has yielded results, though it is difficult to precisely measure them. As a former diplomat-turned-academic and now as an active practitioner of Track Two

diplomacy, Jones has excellent credentials to write this well-researched and well-argued book.

For all the attention that some Track Two endeavours attract, it has remained an enigma, giving rise to suspicions and, at times, allegations of “sell out” against those who take part in these processes. Jones does well to enumerate the many and varied kinds of activities that can come within its ambit. His definition of Track Two is comprehensive and noteworthy: “unofficial dialogues generally between two antagonistic parties, and often facilitated by an impartial third party and involving individuals with some close connections to their respective official communities, focussed on cooperative efforts to explore new ways to resolve differences over, or discuss new approaches to, policy relevant issues” (pg 24).

Ever since India decided that it would address all its issues only bilaterally with Pakistan, the very words “third party” evoke the notion of interference and consequent harm to the country’s national interest. This has also been fuelled by India’s own bitter experience of the position taken by the great powers on Jammu and Kashmir at the United Nations. Thus, it has ensured that the quiet and periodic meetings of unofficial Indians and Pakistanis in the Neemrana Dialogue, that is now financed by the two governments, has no third party presence. Interestingly, Jones’ experience of the Iran-US Track Two from 2005 to 2010 showed that “many on the American side” saw no need for a third party, though “they were quite prepared to see the value of a third party in other disputes, where the United States was not directly involved” (pg 89).

Generally, Track Two processes are sponsored and financed by “third” government/s institutions and conducted by practitioners. Jones tries to show that the latter have no agenda and only act to help parties to manage, resolve or transform long-standing, often intractable, problems. This can be accepted for honest and serious academics but can it be said of governments? It would have been useful if Jones had examined the motivations of sponsoring governments, for their financial support has become integral to Track Two diplomacy.

Jones has surveyed Track Two literature to delve into the beginnings of Track Two diplomacy and the many and varied issues that concern its methods and practice. It has evolved over time to encompass a range of activities: from mobilising people at the grassroots to influential non-officials to consider conflict situations to search for resolutions. In themselves, these exercises improve communications between peoples and are, therefore, useful. This is also in keeping with the traditional Indian diplomatic position which has always stressed people-to-people contact as good in itself.

For Indian diplomats and members of the strategic community the book provides an opportunity to look at how different people-to-people contacts can take place in “controlled” and “facilitated” fashion with a view to focus on contested issues. Innovations can be attempted by Indian think-tanks through the Track Two diplomacy approach on India’s issues with some neighbours and regional issues where India is not directly involved but has an interest.

Jones writing is clear, precise and engaging but for the general reader the next edition could have anecdotes and a greater focus on his own Track Two experience.

The writer is a former diplomat

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