The veteran Pakistan diplomat met officials in New Delhi to discuss issues often neglected during official talks

While Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony are in Beijing to improve bilateral ties, New Delhi played host to veteran Pakistani diplomat and old India hand Shahryar Khan.

During the day, Mr. Khan did the rounds of the capital’s power circuit, holding discussions with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, National Security Advisor the Foreign Secretary and Dr. Singh’s Special Envoy Satinder Lambah who visited Pakistan in May.

High-level sources, back from a dinner where the afternoon’s trend of “positive conversation” continued, said it would not be accurate to call the meetings back channel or Track Two negotiations. “It only signals reinforced engagement, consonant with the imperatives of better relations,” they felt.

Diplomatic sources here have been mentioning the prospects of India and Pakistan undertaking back channel talks to clear the air or better understand issues that are normally not broached or discussed to the bone during official level across-the-table meetings.

It could not be confirmed whether interactions such as this, which reciprocated Mr. Lambah’s May visit to Lahore as PM’s Special Envoy would become a regular feature. The visit of Mr. Sharif's Special Envoy follows a meeting between the two Foreign Ministers in Brunei.

The paths of Mr. Khan and Mr. Lambah have crossed and recrossed intermittently for over two decades as principal actors from their respective capitals to build India-Pakistan ties. Better known for being involved in putting together a non-paper on Kashmir during the Musharraf years, Mr. Lambah’s familiarity with Mr. Khan and unresolved issues between the two countries actually predates that by decades. Mr. Khan is the cousin of the late Nawab Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi. While Pataudi stayed on to captain India in cricket, Mr. Khan was to join diplomatic service in Pakistan.

In addition to breaking with protocol by sending Mr. Lambah to call on Mr. Sharif before he was sworn in Prime Minister, Dr. Singh was also among the first foreign dignitaries to congratulate him after it became clear that the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) was poised to lead the next government.

During the meeting in Pakistan with the then Prime Minister-in waiting Mr. Nawaz Sharif, Mr. Lambah discussed ways to take the dialogue process — stalled since January this year — forward. There are a large number of items, primarily on the economic side, where agreements can be reached by a gentle political push from both sides. But nearly a decade after the ceasefire on the line of control, even low hanging fruits in the security sphere such as pacts on Sir Creek and Siachen could not been plucked.

“Mr. Sharif is a familiar interlocutor and the back channel, which goes back in time to Mr. Sharif as a young man from Lahore, would have a crucial role to play in the months ahead so that transparency of mutual intentions is ensured. There are positive signs in the air, which it will be foolish to ignore. After all, the graph of violence in J&K dipped by 36 per cent through 2012. There have been no major attempts at cross-border terrorism. The big picture is also encouraging. Sharif’s government will be stable and given a marked shift in the Pakistani “mindset,” as we call it, his overtures to India will not be the stuff of polemics within Pakistan,” former diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar wrote recently.

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