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Backchannel diplomacy: Pak-India civil societies to set the agenda for peace

By Arif Rana
March 29th 2012

ISLAMABAD: The ‘ultimate goal’ of peace will be top priority for a group of former military and civilian leaders from India and Pakistan who are due to congregate in New Delhi at a two-day conference on ‘Pak-India strategic relations’ from March 29 onwards.

The conference, organised for ‘civil society to review strategic relations’ between the two arch-rivals, is more than a mere conference. The participants will be sitting down to discuss the current level of strategic relations between the two countries and make recommendations for a way forward.

“The conference is a part of US- sponsored backchannel diplomacy and it proposes to formulate recommendations for both Islamabad and New Delhi to move forward towards its ultimate goal of turning the two foes into friends so that they live as ‘peaceful neighbours,” a participant said.

The United States has been using backchannel diplomacy as a means to keep communication links open between the two countries. Furthermore, it has also used it as tool to avoid an escalation or worsening of ties during strained times between the neighbours, such as the days after the Mumbai terror attack.

At least a dozen heavyweight speakers, including prominent PPP leader and renowned lawyer Senator Aitzaz Ahsan, retired generals and former foreign secretaries, whose voice matters in opinion-making at home and abroad, are participating in the conference.

It is generally believed that the views of Pakistani speakers will provide valuable input for Islamabad and New Delhi in framing their respective future bilateral foreign policies.

Aitzaz Ahsan, who is currently defending Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in a contempt case, will be a keynote speaker at the opening session of the conference and his participation is said to be of extraordinary significance. Other than Aitzaz, Pakistan’s former ambassador to US Gen (retd), Mahmood Durrani, Lt Gen (retd) Talat Masood and former foreign secretary Najamuddin Shaikh are also among participants from the Pakistani delegation.

Representing the other side of the border at the conference will be former deputy chief of army staff of India Satish Nambiar, former Indian finance secretary SP Shukla, former Indian minister and Congress leader Mani Shanker Aiyar, former foreign secretary of India Rajiv Sikri and Michkund Dubey.

The agenda distributed among the participants said: “The governments of both India and Pakistan have set the relations at a see-saw, swinging to respective concerns other than the need for peace and security in the region.”

According to the agenda, the conference will attempt to put together a consensus reflecting the view of participants on the issues of strategic importance and make specific recommendations to their respective governments to ground relations in an institutional and meaningful dialogue with specific time-bound action to move forward to make this region peaceful and stable. The conference will also help facilitate civil society to review some major issues, such as Afghanistan, Kashmir, terrorism, nuclear issues and water.


Originally published in the Express Tribune

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