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Pakistan, India revive Track-II diplomacy

May 02, 2018

ISLAMABAD: A former Pakistani foreign secretary confirmed to The News that the once dormant Track-II initiative — the Neemrana Dialogue — had awoken from its long slumber to hold a meeting in Islamabad at the end of April.

The dialogue came at a time when for the first time apart from being together with the UN Peace Keeping Mission, India and Pakistan will be part of a multi-nation counter-terror exercise in Russia in September under the framework of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

China and several other countries will also join the exercise. The two National Security Advisers (NSAs) have also been in touch as have been the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs). While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Pakistani delegates of Neemrana kept it under wraps for reasons best known to them, the Indian External Affairs Ministry (EAM) leaked the news to selected members of the media.

Some Indian media outlets, including Times of India, ran reports about this in camera meeting, though a few days ago a Pakistani news channel ran a ticker saying a Track-II meeting was on, but gave no details nor did it follow the report.

Diplomats told The News that Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua and Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria had hosted the Neemrana delegation, though till date, there is no word as to what was exchanged by the delegates.

Did Washington nudge the two sides? This is quite likely, as it was the Ford Foundation in the initial years which funded Neemrana with one session seeing an American in the chair.

One former foreign secretary rubbished suggestions that China could have brought the two neighbors to the negotiating table.

Track-II meetings aren’t new, with the Jinnah Institute-led Chaophraya Dialogue, one of the longest run dialogues. However, of late all these Track-II dialogues have been held outside Pakistan and India, as acquiring visas for delegates had become an impossible task. Former foreign secretary Inamul Haque led the Pakistan side while it was his Indian counterpart Vivek Katju, a frequent delegate at Chaophraya, who led the Indian side in the Islamabad meeting. Another plus point of Islamabad’s meeting is that diplomats and delegates from other areas have access to the civil and military officials, on their side, and the informality at Neemrana helps governments from both sides to gauge the mood of the ‘other’.

Talking to diplomats on both sides, the approach to April talks appears to be quite realistic and there are no high hopes attached to the informal meeting.

The PML-N government already in the election mode really does not have relations with India on top of its list, and after having learnt bitter lessons in these past years of trying to improve relations with India, it will certainly not want to give a chance to opponents of being labeled “Modi ka yar”.

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