The NDA government is loath to any official engagement with Pakistan but, in a sign of some forward movement, it seems to have agreed to reviving the Track II diplomacy process with its western neighbour.
The original Track II initiative, Neemrana Dialogue, received a fresh start with a high-powered delegation of former Indian diplomats, military veterans and academics travelling to Pakistan to discuss ways to improve India-Pak relationship . +
The delegation was headed by former MEA secretary and Pakistan expert Vivek Katju. J S Rajput, former NCERT head, was also part of the delegation. The talks took place from April 28 to 30. Pakistan was represented by former foreign secretary Inam ul Haque and Ishrat Hussain among others.
While like other track II mechanisms, Neemrana is also a non-governmental dialogue, it is different from others in that both foreign ministries have in the past associated themselves with it.
India will wait to see the outcome of the upcoming elections in Pakistan before taking any call on official talks with Islamabad. To many though the revival of Neemrana would suggest that the policy of not having any engagement with Pakistan has run its course.
“There have been other track II initiatives but these were mostly funded by third parties. Neemrana had more India-Pakistan character,” said former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan T C A Raghavan.
Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, who is a member of the Neemrana group, chose not to visit Pakistan for the dialogue. He, however, said that Neemrana was an important initiative which had even survived some very difficult times in the relationship.
“Neemrana has had a tough time over the past few years. Both sides felt though that it was important to keep alive that tradition but I didn’t go because I don’t think it would yield significant results in the current circumstances,” said Sibal.
Official sources said that it was Pakistan’s turn to host the track II dialogue but it could not take place earlier because Islamabad refused to approve it. This was apparently to show its displeasure over India’s position that there could be no official talks with Pakistan until the time it reined in terrorists looking to attack India.
Pakistan finally decided to go ahead with Neemrana Dialogue, which gets its name from the Neemrana fort where it was first held in 1991-1992, earlier this year. The thinking behind India’s decision to allow the meeting to take place, according to sources, was that it would help those participating to assess the mood in Pakistan on important issues related to security, economy and also Afghanistan. Pakistan is likely to go to polls in July.
Leaving humanitarian issues aside, India has been reluctant to acknowledge any engagement with Pakistan even in the domain of people to people contacts. Its decision to sponsor the participation of 4 Indian authors in the Karachi Literature Festival last year had sparked a public outrage.