Sensitive issues out of media glare

Composite dialogue on the way out, backchannel diplomacy to be in.

Talks between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Ufa went a “long way in lowering tensions”, says Pakistan’s Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz.

In an exclusive interview after returning from the Russian city where the Prime Ministers met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit, Mr. Aziz said both sides had entered the meeting with the “intention to restore dialogue and finds ways and means for future engagement”, and that outstanding issues could be dealt with away from the media glare.

The Pakistan government had come under criticism from the Opposition over the absence of an explicit reference to Jammu and Kashmir and other outstanding issues in the joint statement.

“You will agree that Kashmir, Sir Creek, Siachen Glacier are among some of the sensitive issues being tackled by both sides. Backchannel diplomacy is one option open to us which I feel would be more suitable to discuss these issues. Also there is more flexibility in the backchannel form of diplomacy to discuss sensitive issues,” he said.

Mr. Aziz’s remarks indicate that Pakistan could be willing to move away from the composite bilateral dialogue that had guided previous engagements. In May 2014, both sides had toyed with the idea of moving away from the structured composite dialogue to deal with all outstanding issues and rather move forward with “limited engagements” preferred by the Modi government. Mr. Aziz had then hinted this in Delhi saying, “The [peace process] agenda has to be updated and restructured. The entire process has to be reviewed.” This appears to have happened on Friday in Ufa, where terrorism, the Mumbai case trial and border disputes were high on the agenda with no mention of Kashmir, reviving fears in Pakistan that Kashmir would be put on the back burner.

“As I said, we went into the meeting with a desire to restore the dialogue,” Pakistan’s Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz responds to criticism in Pakistan over the absence of an explicit reference to Jammu and Kashmir and other outstanding issues in the joint statement issued after the Prime Ministers of the two nations met in Ufa, Russia.

“If you look at the joint statement it is clear that we are saying, ‘India and Pakistan have a collective responsibility to ensure peace and promote development. To do so, they are prepared to discuss all outstanding issues.’ Now among these ‘outstanding’ issues are Kashmir, Sir Creek and Siachen Glacier,” he said in an exclusive interview.

According to the joint statement, Mr. Aziz is expected to meet soon his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, to discuss all issues connected to terrorism. It is yet to be decided whether it will be the two NSAs who will tackle the sensitive issues through backchannel diplomacy or whether both countries will appoint special interlocutors for the task, and where they would meet. In the past, especially during the Pervez Musharraf regime, Dubai was one of the locations for backchannel diplomacy. Both sides had claimed there had been good progress made on Kashmir with the “four-step formula”.

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 10:23:52 AM |

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