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Back Channel Diplomacy for India & Pakistan?

September 26, 2009

Riaz Mohammad Khan is being considered for the position of Pakistan’s Special Envoy to India says Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. Attempting to resume talks that are stalled since the Mumbai atrocities, Minister Qureshi suggests using “backchannel diplomacy” through informal talks and in parallel with a formal peace process to achieve a warming of relations and overall progress in relations. In a recent statement to Indian TV networks, Qureshi clearly states he is “instructed by the President to move on. We want to normalize with India”. Such top level recommendations reflect Islamabad’s growing desire for more progressive relations with their neighbor, as consistently pursued by the Zardari administration.

Attributing initial moves toward back channel diplomacy to Musharraf era policies in resolving the Kashmir issue with India, Qureshi stresses that progress can only be made if both “front and back channel (diplomacy) move in tandem”. It’s a reasonable assessment given relations have been held up despite three high level meetings between leaders at the sidelines of international summits since June. Back Channel diplomacy, being secret and inherently less formal can eliminate domestic political concerns policymakers face that might stifle open, progressive discussion.

With a climate of mistrust exacerbated by the Mumbai atrocities and on the Pakistan side, claims that India is constantly funding militant separatists in Baluchistan, back channel diplomacy can mitigate both states political need to formally construct ever toughening stances against one another.

The Baluchistan and Mumbai issues are highly sensitive to citizens in both countries and assuaging those concerns is rightfully a priority for politicians on all ends. As a result, official talks between India and Pakistan wind up inherently staunch  as they are subject to international media portrayals and reactionary sensitivities of masses in either country. This has done little to advance peace talks in any tangible way. And because the United States has a stake in ensuring stability in Pakistan given increased investment in the form of the Kerry Lugar bill and additional troops to Afghanistan, perhaps special envoy Holbrooke, or another appointed official on behalf of Washington might serve to mediate initial attempts at back channel diplomacy.

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One comment

  1. parallely the unanimous vote on the Kerry-Lugar Bill has raised vocal protest’s from the Indian govt. Especially after recent statements by former President Musharraf that some of the US aid funded direct hostile and defense operations against India, raising concerns over tripling the aid over the next 5 years.

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