ISLAMABAD - EXCLUSIVE - Pakistan’s former Foreign Secretary Shehryar Khan and India’s ex-ambassador SK Lambah, the two men appointed by their respective prime ministers to conduct back-channel diplomacy, will meet in Dubai today (Thursday) to ease tensions and firm up the planned meeting between the two leaders in New York next month.

The Nation has reliably learnt that the decision to initiate back-channel diplomacy on Pakistan-India front was taken at the last meeting of Defence Committee of the Cabinet on August 24.

The two seasoned envoys will meet in UAE’s port city to work out dialogue’s details of the New York meeting away from the media’s watchful eyes, it is learnt.

Ambassador Khan was asked to fly to Islamabad from London so that he could proceed for his Dubai meeting after being briefed by the government.

Prior to his departure for the talks, Khan had meetings with the prime minister, his top foreign policy aides and the Foreign Office team.

Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Salman Bashir who was here recently also shared his assessment of the situation.

According to the mutually agreed schedule, the Nawaz-Manmohan meeting will take place on September 29 on the margins of UN General Assembly session. However, the LoC flare-up had cast a shadow over the likelihood of the two prime ministers’ getting together for breakfast as planned.

Sources privy to the latest developments told The Nation that it now appears the ruling Congress party in New Delhi has decided to go ahead with it and ignore frantic calls by hardliners in India, including the opposition BJP and hawks in Indian media to call off the New York meeting.

Back-channel diplomacy has support in Pakistan across all the security institutions and this will be the second Shehryar-Lambah meeting since the Nawaz Sharif government has come into power.

Since the August 6 LoC firing and killing and subsequent cross-border flare-up, the governments in both the countries have sought to prevent its negative fallout on the political and diplomatic front.

With soaring temperatures along the LoC, the top leadership of Pakistan and India stepped in to contain the situation. Realising that dialogue is the only way forward, the two prime ministers recently gave green signal to their respective special envoys to meet in Dubai to salvage the fledging peace process.

Islamabad has repeatedly called for the bilateral dialogue to remain on track while also strengthening the LoC monitoring mechanism to prevent recurring violations. Pakistan has also called for the New York meeting to go ahead.

The Nawaz Sharif government has been keen from the outset to remain engaged with India and to move forward through constructive and result-oriented dialogue.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appointed former foreign secretary Shehryar Khan his special envoy for India early July to give impetus to a constructive, result-oriented dialogue and peace process.

Notably, amid the continuing ceasefire violations and escalation of tensions on the border, channels of communication between the two countries have remained open at the political, diplomatic and military levels. DG MOs have been using the hotlines to discuss violations and related border issues. The prime ministers of the two countries have kept in touch through exchange of at least seven letters of felicitations and goodwill since May 11 general elections in Pakistan. Pursuing peace, friendship, cooperation and constructive engagement have been the common themes in all. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif specifically mentioned in his last letter to Manmohan Singh that he looked forward to their meeting in New York next month.

Pakistan released 340 Indian fishermen as a gesture of goodwill last week.

Apparently, the Americans and British have also been working behind the scenes to make sure that the planned Nawaz-Manmohan meeting is not derailed by the otherwise very serious border incidents that have already stalled the secretary-level composite dialogue. The New York meeting between the two South Asian leaders, therefore, acquires special significance as the resumption of Pakistan-India Composite Dialogue hinges on it.

Incidentally, the 2003 ceasefire agreement was also an outcome of back-channel diplomacy during Musharraf’s regime. The venue for talks then was Dubai.