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Back to backchannel

Resumption of talks with Islamabad is welcome,even more so given Pakistan’s instability

Written by The Indian Express |
February 28, 2012 2:52:31 am

Resumption of talks with Islamabad is welcome,even more so given Pakistan’s instability

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s go-ahead to the resumption of backchannel talks with Pakistan is a welcome step in the right direction. As this newspaper reported,India’s Satinder Lambah and former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan Riaz Mohammed Khan have met once over the last few months and are in regular contact. Pakistan’s civilian government and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani have been pitching for talks for a year. These talks were designed with Kashmir in mind and,this time,too,the envoys from the two sides will discuss primarily Kashmir in addition to other bilateral matters. The backchannel talks played a very important role in India-Pakistan diplomacy during the Musharraf years. As a leaked US diplomatic cable revealed last September,the two countries were close to reaching a “non-territorial solution” to Kashmir,which would allow freedom of movement and trade.

Even now,India would like an acknowledgment from the Pakistani side of the understanding reached under former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and the progress made in bilateral relations then. However,not only had the backchannel talks been on hold after Musharraf’s exit — under a new government and a new army chief — but Islamabad is not keen on associating itself with that legacy today. But the talks,as Singh rightly believes,can do no harm. Rather,they can ease a lot of other issues,including the peace proposals discussed with Musharraf. As it happens,the Pakistani cabinet is scheduled to take its “final” decision on the negative list in trade with India on February 29. If trade were to open up,a whole new dimension of opportunities would be added to the relationship. Eventually,the backchannel diplomacy can help discuss Kashmir and Afghanistan too.

Nevertheless,patience is India’s great virtue in dealing with Pakistan and the backchannel conversation has to frame itself within its own opportunities and limitations. While New Delhi has doubts about the Pakistan military’s interest in and support for the civilian government’s agenda,the primary problem is the uncertainty about what is happening in Pakistan. With Gilani’s troubles with the supreme court and the military,the question of the civilian government’s survival casts a shadow over everything else. But that instability and unpredictability are all the more reason India should establish as many lines of communication with Pakistan as possible.

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