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Sunday Sentiments


    Posted On March 5, 2023

    By Karan Thapar

    Satinder Lambah’s book, sadly published posthumously, reveals fascinating details of the India-Pakistan back-channel and how close it came to agreement. ‘In Pursuit of Peace’ confirms: “By the end of the second term of the UPA government and of Dr. Manmohan Singh’s ten-year term, the draft agreement had been approved and was ready for signature.”


    Sati, as I knew him, writes “there were thirty-six meetings of the back channel from May 2003 to March 2014”. Most of the agreement was concluded during Gen. Musharraf’s time. Nothing much happened after he lost power but Nawaz Sharif “injected new momentum and urgency into the process”. Unfortunately, by then “attention in India turned to the 2014 general elections”.


    So, if I’m right, there were two moments when a deal could have happened. First, in 2007, but it didn’t because of Musharraf’s “internal problems”. The second – and this is my interpretation – with Nawaz Sharif before India’s elections diverted attention.


    However, hopes did not terminate with Modi’s victory. “There appeared to be an intent to continue the back-channel process”, Sati reveals. “The file on the subject had been reviewed. I was even once told that no major change was required. A distinguished diplomat was being considered to be appointed as special envoy by Prime Minister Modi. I was asked to meet him.” But that envoy was never appointed.


    The Modi government tried again in April 2017. “A senior official of the PMO came to see me at my house. He said the Prime Minister wanted me to go to Pakistan to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.” Alas, a very Indian development nipped this in the bud. Whilst Sati was awaiting “details of the points to be discussed and was asked to give (his) travel documents to enable (him) to travel to Pakistan”, the strangest thing happened. “I saw a news item that a leading Indian businessman, who was an emissary, had gone to meet PM Nawaz Sharif, in his personal plane … under the circumstances, it would not be proper for two people to represent the Prime Minister for the same purpose”. Sati doesn’t reveal the businessman’s name but Abdul Basit, who was Pakistan’s High Commissioner, suggests it was probably Sajjan Jindal. “This was”, Sati writes, “the last conversation I had on this subject.”


    The details Sati reveals corroborate the view the deal was tantalizingly close to fruition under Manmohan Singh. “My diary recalls I had sixty-eight meetings with the Prime Minister”. More tellingly, “Pranab Mukherjee was kept fully informed of all developments”. In November 2006 Sonia Gandhi was briefed. Earlier, in 2005, the army chief was involved. What’s more Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L. K. Advani, Brajesh Mishra, Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Karan Singh and Ghulam Nabi Azad were kept informed.


    Efforts were made to ensure the outcome was in keeping with the Indian constitution, the Jammu and Kashmir constitution and parliamentary resolutions. Sati had six meetings between March 2006 and March 2007 with Chief Justice Anand. He also met the distinguished lawyer Fali Nariman.


    The agreement was based on Musharraf’s four-point formula as well as the three ideas proposed by Manmohan Singh in his Amritsar speech. Sati reveals the fourteen guidelines for the negotiations. They include: “There cannot be any re-drawing of borders”; “Military formation on both sides of LoC to be kept to the minimum, particularly in populated areas”; “Self-governance for internal management on both sides of LoC”; “People on both sides of LoC should be allowed to move feely from one side of LoC to another”; and “Disavowal by Pakistan of use of terrorism as state policy and allowing use of its territory by non-state actors.”


    If the agreement had happened “it is possible that it would have turned the course of history”. However, Sati suggests all is not lost. “That possibility still exists and the principles and the text of the draft agreement are still there to be taken up whenever the two sides feel the need to resume the process.” I guess hope springs eternal.

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