Diplomatic Correspondent

Pakistan government has decided at the highest level to resort to active back-channel diplomacy to lower temperatures on both sides of the border and to ensure that the 29 September meeting between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan is held as scheduled in New York.

In Delhi, Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid also made it clear in a television interview that while the military was to respond to the developing situation on the LoC, diplomatic options were to be decided by the government. On the proposed September meeting in New York, between PMs Sharif and Singh, he told NDTV, “we will analyse possibilities and implications and also see this in the light of national interest and then we will take any decision, of course.”

In Islamabad, according to informed sources, one of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s key aides on Foreign Affairs suggested during the premier’s visit to the Foreign Office on August 8 that his special envoy for India, Ambassador Shahryar Khan, should touch base with the Indian PM’s special envoy for Pakistan, SK Lambah, to try and salvage the fragile peace process.

The Nation has reliably learnt that the Prime Minister gave the go-ahead for this initiative and set the ball rolling by asking Ambassador Shahryar Khan, who was visiting London at the time, to establish contact with his Indian counterpart.

India’s pointman for Pakistan, Mr Lambah, met Mian Nawaz Sharif in Lahore shortly after his party won the May 11 general elections. Lambah was sent by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with a letter of felicitation for Sharif, in which he noted that he looked forward to working with him.

Sources told The Nation that it was proposed at the Foreign Office meeting that the back-channel should be used and the two diplomats representing the top leadership of the country meet in a third country. It is quite likely that they will meet in a neutral territory, such as UAE, that was also the venue of Pak-India track II diplomacy during Musharraf’s regime. The 2003 ceasefire agreement across the LoC is also said to be an outcome of the back-channel diplomacy between Pakistan and India.

Ambassador Shahryar Khan, Pakistan former Foreign Secretary, was appointed by Prime Minister Sharif end June to conduct track II diplomacy to give impetus to the dialogue process. On July 5, he went to Delhi to present Mian Nawaz Sharif’s letter of goodwill to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Behind the veil of hostile exchanges channels of communication between the two nuclear armed neighbours remain open at the official and military levels. Foreign Office Spokesperson Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry told media at a briefing here on Friday that Islamabad was using all the necessary avenues including diplomatic and military to ensure tension-free ties with New Delhi. That it was pursuing a policy of restraint, responsibility and dialogue which it considers the only way forward.

Analysts agree that de-escalation on the LoC is an urgent priority. This was also the crux of a roundtable discussion hosted by the Jinnah Institute here on Friday, that brought together policy-makers, parliamentarians, former military personnel, state officials and journalists.