Pakistan and India are likely to rely on ‘secret diplomacy’ to broker an elusive deal on the longstanding Kashmir dispute in a move that emulates the path adopted by the Musharraf-Manmohan administrations to find an ‘out of box’ solution to the conflict that has sparked three wars between the two countries.
The two countries recently decided to resume peace talks with a new name – Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue – to discuss a range of issues from terrorism to Kashmir dispute.
However, official sources that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi decided for in-depth discussions on Kashmir through their respective confidantes.
Under the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue, the two countries’ foreign secretaries are supposed to discuss the Kashmir issue along with peace and security.
Sources said the foreign secretaries will discuss Kashmir but their mandate will be restricted to necessary confidence-building measures (CBMs) for improving the atmosphere as well as situation along both sides of the Line of Control (LoC).
“As far as the hardcore issues related to Kashmir are concerned, they will be dealt through backchannel talks,” an official source claimed. The two countries have had in the past used back channels to break a stalemate on Kashmir.
Former foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri in his book revealed that Islamabad and New Delhi were close to striking a deal on Kashmir through secret talks during former military ruler Pervez Musharraf’s tenure.
The two sides through their respective national security advisers at that time even exchanged non-papers suggesting ‘out of the box’ solution to the longstanding problem.
Former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh’s point-man, SK Lambah and Musharraf’s close aide Tariq Aziz reportedly held over 200 hours of discussions on the draft agreement during their over two dozen secret sittings in Dubai and Kathmandu.
The proposed agreement suggested joint management of both sides of Kashmir and demilitarisation of the disputed territory. However, political upheaval as a result of lawyers’ long march in Pakistan against Musharraf in 2007 disrupted the process.
Now after eight years, the two countries are set to revive the ‘back channels.’
It is not clear, though, whether the current national security advisers, whose recent meeting in Bangkok led to the major breakthrough, will spearhead the secret diplomacy or the two sides will appoint some other interlocutors for the delicate job.
Source said once negotiations begin, the two sides will discuss ways and means for Kashmir settlement and also examine a draft agreement, exchanged between Musharraf and Manmohan administrations.
The two sides believed to have kept the record of secret talks during Musharraf-Manmohan time.
Indian media in October reported that Manmohan personally handed over complete record of secret meetings and draft agreement to Modi soon after he took oath as prime minister.
When contacted, a senior government figure said it was too early to draw any conclusion about the prospects of forward movement with India. “Modi’s policy on Pakistan has been like blowing hot and cold,” said the official, adding that one could not predict the future given the Indian prime minister’s approach.
Although Pakistan shared a roadmap with India for swift trial of Mumbai attacks’ suspects, any hiccup on this issue can still jeopardise the entire process, cautioned the official.