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Paper no. 764      18. 08. 2003

by B. Raman

The recent high-profile visit of a fairly large delegation of Indian parliamentarians, journalists and others to Pakistan to participate in a seminar at Islamabad organised by a non-governmental media organisation has been hailed by many as a good example of track 2 diplomacy in action to contribute to an improvement of the relations between the two countries.

2. The various lines of governmental and non-governmental communications and people-to-people contacts between the two countries have been so badly clogged up since 1994 that any contact at any level for any purpose receives widespread media publicity and is hailed as track 2 diplomacy.

3. The decay of the lines of communications started in 1994 when the Benazir Bhutto Government, suspecting that the violence and disorder in Karachi since 1990 were being orchestrated by Indian intelligence officers posted in the Indian Consulate-General in Karachi ordered it to close down.  This did not lead to an improvement in the situation, thereby proving her suspicions to have been wrong.  Despite this, the Government of Pakistan has till now not allowed the Indian Consulate-General, which used to provide consular assistance to millions of Mohajirs (refugees from India) in Pakistan and their relatives in India, to be re-opened. Surprisingly, for reasons which are not clear, the Government of India too has not been pressing the Government of Pakistan to allow it to be re-opened as part of the current exercise for improving bilateral relations initiated by the Prime Minister, A.B.Vajpayee, in April last.

4. Periodic meetings or interactions of officials not connected with the Foreign Offices of the two countries such as the bi-annual meetings of the two Home Secretaries assisted by their senior intelligence officers, to discuss border security problems, of the heads of the narcotics control agencies to discuss co-operation in the fight against narcotics smugglers, of the two Directors-General of Military Operations (DGMO) etc have also been discontinued. The only meetings of officials not connected with the Foreign Offices, which continue to take place, are of those responsible for the implementation of the Indus Water Treaty.

5. Even meetings of senior officials of the two Foreign Offices to discuss bilateral problems have not been held since Gen.Pervez Musharraf seized power on October 12,1999.  Suggestions from India proposing visits by the Indian Foreign Secretary and DGMO to Pakistan to prepare the ground work for the summit talks between Vajpayee and Musharraf held at Agra in 2001 were peremptorily rejected by Musharraf.  This lack of preparatory work was one of the factors, which contributed to the failure of the summit.

6. The terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament House in New Delhi in December 2001 led to India withdrawing its High Commissioner from Islamabad and ordering Pakistan to withdraw its and to cut down the size of its mission in New Delhi.  All bus, train and air links and even overflight rights were suspended.

7. The repeated postponements of the summits of the SAARC deprived the leaders and senior officials of the two countries of opportunities even for an informal pow-wow in the margins of such multilateral meetings.  The matters came to such a pass that even when they happened to attend other multilateral meetings, not connected with the SAARC, they were noticed avoiding even eye-contact with each other.

8. Since the initiative taken by Vajpayee in April, things are on the mend---slowly, but steadily.  The new High Commissioners of the two countries are back in position in their respective posts. Diplomatic and official visas are again being issued after a long suspension enabling the two countries to rotate their staff in their respective missions.  The bus service between Lahore and New Delhi has been resumed and talks on the restoration of civil aviation links are to take place shortly.

9. Before the attack on the Indian Parliament House, at least non-governmental experts of the two countries, including retired senior government servants, were visiting each other's country periodically to attend seminars on matters such as confidence-building measures, which produced a lot of bonhomie, but no substantive results or wisdom.  Even instances of such seminaring declined after the attack.

10. Against this background of an almost total lack of communications and interactions, any visit by anybody of some importance to the other country attracted media hype and was projected as the resumption of the track 2 diplomacy circuit.  It is in this context that the excitement created in the two countries over the recent visit of Maulana Fazlur Rahman, the leader of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam of Pakistan, to India in July and of the non-governmental Indian delegation to Pakistan this month have to be viewed.

11. Were these really track 2 diplomacy visits as the dramatis personae have claimed or goodwill missions or just shopping jaunts or an Indo-Pakistan jamboree as some have sarcastically dismissed them? In the sub-continent the expression track 2 diplomacy is used so loosely that there must be more track 2 diplomats roaming all over the place, followed by TV camera crews, with expressions of goodwill oozing out of their face than the official track 1 diplomats.

12. The expression track 2 diplomacy was first coined by two officials of the US State Department in 1982, in an article on US foreign policy.  They defined track 2 diplomacy as diplomacy through "informal, unofficial interaction between members of adversary groups or nations.  "Subsequently, others have defined it as unofficial or citizen diplomacy.  In other words, diplomacy to avoid or resolve conflicts through the intermediary of persons not forming a member of a State or a Government involved in the conflict.

13. The definition has been further fine-tuned and one now talks of multi-track diplomacy, involving four tracks.  Track 1 refers to diplomacy engaged in by the policy-makers themselves---at the political and bureaucratic levels.  Track 2 refers to attempts to avoid or deal with conflicts through non-governmental intermediaries with close links to the governmental policy-makers. It is undertaken by them generally at the instance of track 1 diplomats to find a way out of difficult situations without feelings of loss of face on either side, without negative consequences if the diplomacy fails and without embarrassment if there is leakage to the media and the public. Track 3 is about conflict-avoidance or conflict-resolution efforts undertaken by prominent non-governmental personalities, with or without links to the policy-makers, at their own initiative.

14.Track 4 is about creating a congenial atmosphere through people-to-people contacts in order to facilitate conflict avoidance or resolution. The objective of track 4 is not to find a solution, but to lessen or remove the poison and distrust in the atmosphere, in the hope that this would facilitate a search for an accord through any of the other three tracks.

15. To succeed, track 2 has to be discreet and unpublicised, with knowledge of it restricted to as few persons as possible.  Since track 1 officials or leaders are often at the rear of track 2 players, unwise publicity could prove counter-productive and make positions even more rigid than they were before the efforts were undertaken.

16. This requirement is not there in the case of track 3 (e.g.seminaring) and track 4 diplomacies.  In fact, publicity in a right measure could prove beneficial in their limited objective of paving the way for track 1 or 2 diplomacy.  The recent visit of the Indian non-governmental delegation to Pakistan would thus come under the definition of track 4 and not track 2 diplomacy.

17. Track 1 diplomacy itself has two facets---the formally structured and the informally designed ones.  The informally-designed ones generally fall into two categories-- back-channel diplomacy and para-diplomacy.  Both of them involve the participation of official policy-makers or advisers, but in an informal, unpublicised setting, without a formal agenda. The objective is not to find a solution, but to pick each other's brain in the search for a solution and to remove distrust by explaining official stands to the other side in a manner that could not be done openly.

18. As examples of back-channel diplomacy, one could cite the many discreet meetings between trusted officials in the offices of Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto in 1988-89 to find a way out of the imbroglio over the Siachen issue and the post 9/11 contacts between US and Iranian officials accredited to the UN offices in Geneva to discuss counter-terrorism co-operation.

19. As examples of para-diplomacy, one could cite the visit of the late R.N. Kao, the founding father of the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW), India's external intelligence agency, to Washington DC in the early 1980s at the instance of Indira Gandhi to remove certain misunderstandings between the US and India; his visit to Beijing in 1984 to test the waters for a possible visit to China by her to normalise bilateral relations; the visit of the then chief of the R&AW to China in 1988 and his role in facilitating a successful visit by Rajiv Gandhi to China; and the three unpublicised meetings between the chiefs of the R&AW and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) held between 1988 and 1991 to discuss the Siachen issue and India's allegations of Pakistani support to terrorism in Indian Punjab.

20. A typical example of track 2 diplomacy was the unpublicised meetings between two non-governmental personalities enjoying the confidence of Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif, the then Pakistani Prime Minister, at the height of the Kargil conflict in 1999 to find a way out of the crisis away from the glare of publicity.  The exercise had to be aborted because of malign leakage to the media of the information about the meetings by Musharraf, who somehow came to know of them and was unhappy over it.

21. Non-conventional diplomacy---whether track 2, 3 or 4---has limited scope for success in the case of Pakistan because of the ingrained hostility of the Pakistani military to India, its unquenched desire for revenge against India by annexing Jammu & Kashmir because of the humiliation suffered by it at the hands of the Indian army in 1971, its penchant for misreading non-conventional diplomatic initiatives and conciliatory approaches as indicators of a weakening of the Indian will and battle fatigue and its calculation that a confrontational approach and high rhetoric would bring in US intervention to its benefit.

22. Despite all the conciliatory moves made by our Prime Minister since April and the positive public reaction in Pakistan to the recent visit of the Indian non-governmental delegation to Pakistan, the military leadership and the political leadership subservient to the military have not moved an inch from Pakistan's stated positions on any of the issues, whether J&K, normalisation of economic relations or ending its sponsorship of terrorism against India.

23. In an address to a seminar organised by an Islamabad think-tank before the arrival of the Indian delegation, Musharraf claimed that as result of Pakistan's nuclear deterrence and his success in reducing the conventional military asymmetry, Pakistan has achieved what he described as a no-win situation.  He evidently meant thereby that as a result of his skilful military and political leadership, India will no longer be able to win a conventional military war against Pakistan.

24. In his apparent, but not openly stated calculation, this has provided scope for Pakistan for continuing its unconventional, indirect war against India without having to fear a conventional retaliation by India.  Since India has made it obvious through its inactions that it does not have the stomach for an unconventional response against Pakistan, he calculates that it is only a question of time before he succeeds in forcing India to come to terms with a change of the status quo in J&K.

25. So long as this mentality persists, non-conventional diplomatic approaches are unlikely to succeed.  Our repeatedly trying them would prove counter-productive.

26. As long as Musharraf continues in power and persists with his present policy of supporting terrorism, India will have only two policy options.  Either adopt a covert, deniable operational policy to make the Pakistan army pay a price for its sponsorship of terrorism or, if we do not have the stomach for it, strengthen our internal security to deny repeated successes to the Pakistan-sponsored terrorists and wait for the emergence of a more reasonable leadership in Islamabad, while keeping the normal lines of communications open.

27. Before his death last year, Kao told this writer in a correspondence:" We must let Pakistan stew in its own juice. " He was of the view that Musharraf and Pakistan must be ignored with the contempt they deserve till they come to their senses. This advice remains as valid today as it was two years ago.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and Convenor, Advisory Committee, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-Mail: )