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Analysis | Backchannel diplomacy played its part in India, Pakistan decision to cease fire along LoC

Keeping peace: A security officer walking along the India-Pakistan border at Suchetgarh in Jammu and Kashmir in 2018. File   | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

Both India and Pakistan have given credit for the ceasefire agreement to military commanders, yet several signs indicate that back channel diplomacy led up to the talks and helped produce a joint statement between the two sides, beginning with Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s call for resolving the Kashmir issue “peacefully” earlier this month.

Also read: India, Pakistan agree to observe 2003 ceasefire

“Pakistan and India must resolve the long-standing issue of Jammu and Kashmir in a dignified and peaceful manner as per the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” General Bajwa said in his speech at the Pakistan Air Force Asghar Khan Academy in Risalpur of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa on February 3. The comment was interpreted as a clear sign of substantial background outreach by India and Pakistan. The back channel talks were first hinted at by the Special Assistant to the Pakistan Prime Minister on National Security and Strategic Policy Planning Moeed Yusuf during an interview with journalist Karan Thapar for The Wire  last October.

In his interview with the Indian TV anchor, Mr. Yusuf had said India expressed a “desire for conversation” but he had placed several conditions for restarting official level talks.

The comment had come in the backdrop of India’s regionwide diplomacy regarding COVID-19 in which Pakistan had participated under the umbrella of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), but had shown reluctance to engage in bilateral exchanges with India on the global pandemic. The comment had come in the backdrop of India’s regionwide diplomacy regarding COVID-19 in which Pakistan had participated under the umbrella of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), but had shown reluctance to engage in bilateral exchanges with India on the global pandemic. However, on February 18, Pakistan supported Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s five proposals for collaboration at the South Asian level on containing COVID-19. Pakistan also agreed that there was a need for such cooperation on a regional basis for fighting the pandemic.

Also read: India takes on Pakistan at U.N. Human Rights Council

India had called a virtual summit on the COVID-19 pandemic on March 15, 2020, which was held in the backdrop of months-long tough exchange of rhetoric between the two sides over the termination of special status for the erstwhile Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir. Leaders of all the SAARC countries participated in the talks though Pakistan Prime Minister sent his representative without appearing personally. This was followed by a SAARC Health Ministers’ virtual conference.

Followed by General Bajwa’s February 3 comments, Imran Khan’s latest trip to Sri Lanka was one more instance of softening of attitudes between both sides. In comparison to the airspace denial that both countries had imposed on each other during and in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror strike, India this week allowed the aircraft carrying Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan a clear passage to Sri Lanka, where the Pakistani leader declared a $50 million defence line of credit for Colombo.

During these apparent signs of back channel negotiations, both sides have maintained their respective positions on the Kashmir issue. After the Pakistan government moved to provide “provisional provincial status” for Gilgit Baltistan last November, India hit out saying Gilgit Baltistan was an “integral part of India” though India also restored the 4G telecom network in the Valley.

The two sides last connected at the highest level during the Christmas day of 2015, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed in Lahore for an unannounced visit, met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and attended the wedding of Mr. Sharif’s granddaughter. Dialogue broke down soon thereafter because of the Pathankot airbase attack of January 2, 2016, which was followed by the attack at the garrison in Uri and the Indian response with a surgical strike along the border. Bilateral ties continued to nosedive because of the Pulwama terror attack of February 14, 2019, and the Balakot operation by India.

Hours after Thursday’s announcement of “strict observance” to the 2003 ceasefire agreement, Mr. Yusuf took to social media, distancing himself from any possible back channel talks with Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

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Printable version | Apr 12, 2021 4:26:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/analysis-indications-that-india-and-pakistan-have-been-in-back-channel-talks/article33935351.ece

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