From 2005 to 2014, the late Indian diplomat, S.K. Lambah, was the Indian face of the back-channel with Pakistan, when a draft agreement or a “non-paper” was produced by the two sides on Jammu&Kashmir, which New Delhi believed would make borders irrelevant without redrawing them.
So, his book under review, In Pursuit of Peace on India-Pakistan relations, is a go-to text for a comprehensive account of behind-the-scenes efforts to secure peace. But, as a careful diplomat, Lambah quotes his own 2014 speech that was short on specifics, and even Pakistani journalists, on the “accord” seemingly reached by the two countries.
As someone who knew Lambah as a professional journalist, I can vouch for his ability to listen and disarm, without giving away his own thoughts. Lambah and his wife, Nilima, were, arguably, India’s most successful diplomatic couple in Pakistan — having access to all shades of political leaders.
In a sense, key elements of the “accord” — bus services between the two sides of Kashmir as well as the use of state identity cards for Kashmiris on either side of the Line of Control to cross over had been put in play when Manmohan Singh was Prime Minister. Pakistani insistence that passports would not be the cross-over document was conceded by India.
For most of his career, Lambah dealt with Pakistan — as Deputy High Commissioner and Joint Secretary in New Delhi — and then as High Commissioner to Pakistan. His roots in Pakistan, his knowledge of Punjabi opened many doors that were otherwise closed for Indian diplomats.
If a diplomat combines intellect, the ability to reach out (and entertain, for which the Government of India pays them) and an interest in the country where they are posted, then s/he is a winner. Much like a journalist, a diplomat’s job is to gather information and analyse it for use back home.
Chronicle of failure
Lambah’s book will give the reader an insight into the grades and combinations of back-and-front-channels that have been used since the Simla Agreement of 1972 between India and Pakistan. It will equally prove to be a chronicle of failure down the decades where brilliant diplomats of both countries could not arrive at a modus vivendi for their people to live in peace.
The promise of the Delhi-Lahore bus service that began in 1999, the path-breaking visit of Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee in 2004 to Islamabad, Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s visit to India in 2005, the near-reopening of consulates in Mumbai and Karachi, cross-LoC bus services all point to the possibilities that exist in India-Pakistan relations.
Today, there are no direct flights between India and Pakistan. Hardly any visas are issued by the two countries. No bus services. No trains ply between Attari and Lahore. The Khokrapar-Munabao rail route is closed.
As Lambah gently notes, India-Pakistan hostilities have become an instrument of political mobilisation. “We see each other principally through the prism of religion. The painful memories of partition are being revived,” he writes.
He is right. India and Pakistan mirror each other today. As long as hate is their guiding political philosophy, no channel — front or back — will work.
In Pursuit of Peace — India-Pakistan Relations Under Six Prime Ministers; Satinder Kumar Lambah, Penguin Random House, ₹799.