Pakistan, India Exploring Innovative Options On Kashmir In Track-II Talks
21 October 2004
Islamabad: Pakistani and Indian officials have been engaged in a renewed effort to explore innovative options for the resolution of Kashmir dispute for the last one and a half months on a track different from the bilateral talks but still enjoying the official blessing at the highest level. There have been more than one meeting between the personal emissary of President Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the two capital cities during the last 40 days, more than one senior official confirmed in the background interviews. The meetings are aimed at exploring some of the already existing options for the resolution of Kashmir dispute and working for providing alternatives to their respective leaders for moving beyond the stated positions on Kashmir. In this back channel diplomacy the Pakistani side is represented by Secretary General of National Security Council (NSC) Tariq Aziz, who is a close confidante of President Musharraf. While India's National Security Advisor J.N. Dixit has been nominated by the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh as his emissary. Dixit once served in Islamabad as Delhi's High Commissioner and later rose to the position of Indian Foreign Secretary. He is known for his closeness to the Congress leadership and was appointed National Security Advisor by Prime Minister Singh after assuming the office. Aziz, on the other hand, acted as a power broker for Musharraf in the three years following the general elections. He was serving as principal secretary to the President before joining the National Security Council as its secretary. Dixit is an astute diplomat well versed in the power dynamics of South Asian region. Tariq Aziz has a distinguished career as a bureaucrat and during the last four years he treaded the power corridors due to his personal closeness to President Musharraf. Official sources confirmed that these back channel talks have been going on for some time and the issue on the agenda of these talks is undoubtedly Kashmir and exploring innovative options for its resolution. On the main track, the foreign secretaries of Pakistan and India are discussing the issue of Kashmir as part of composite dialogue process that includes other issues such as peace and security. In the bilateral talks the two sides don't seem to be making any headway as in the last foreign ministers level talks, in which Kashmir was discussed, both the sides stuck to their traditional positions on Kashmir. There is no clarity as to what exact options are being discussed in the back channel diplomacy between the two senior officials of Pakistan and India. However the previous 11 secret rounds of talks on Kashmir in 1999 do provide some clue in this regard. The first experiment of conducting back channel diplomacy on Kashmir was done in 1999 when former Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif agreed to establish a back channel at the time of Lahore Summit conference. It was decided between the two leaders in one-on-one meeting that they would work 'together to bring about forward movement on Kashmir before the end of the century'. The single agenda back channel was established immediately after the Lahore Summit when Nawaz Sharif nominated his principal secretary Anwar Zahid and Vajpayee nominated a newspaper tycoon R.K Mishra as their respective emissaries. Anwar Zahid died after the first meeting in Islamabad and was replaced by Pakistan's former Secretary Niaz A. Naik. Talks between Mishra and Naik started in March 1999 and continued even during the Kargil crisis. In the initial rounds of talks the emissaries chalked out four-point agenda to give a fresh look to Kashmir dispute. The first principle that these two agreed to was to move beyond the publicly stated positions on Kashmir. Secondly, the two sides agreed that the agreed upon solution must be final and not partial, and it should be feasible for all the three parties to the dispute-Pakistan, India and Kashmiris. The two Prime Ministerial representatives in their 11 rounds of talks in New Delhi and Islamabad discussed some nine different options for the solution of Kashmir issue that included the division of the former princely state according to the much talked about Chenab Formula. The participants of Neemrana talks compiled most of these nine options. Declaring LOC as permanent border was another proposal floated from the Indian side. During these 11 rounds of talks the Livingston Plan, formulated by Kashmir Study Group, remained the focus of these talks and according to many sources Livingston plan had the support of many Pakistani policy making circles at that time. The Kashmir Study Group proposed that the portions of former princely state be reconstituted as a sovereign entity without any international character with its own legislature and police force. It also proposed a plebiscite to ascertain the wishes of Kashmiri people on both sides of the Line of Control, which has to be demilitarised according to the Livingston Plan.