PM Modi sent emissary to Nawaz Sharif in 2017 to restart back-channel talks, says book

PM Modi sent emissary to Nawaz Sharif in 2017 to restart back-channel talks, says book

The book by former special envoy Satinder Lambah, published posthumously, has been praised by NSA Doval as ‘authentic’

Despite several setbacks to the India-Pakistan peace process, including the Pathankot attack and the trial against former Naval officer Kulbhushan Jadav for terrorism and espionage, the Narendra Modi government sent an emissary to restart the back channel between the two countries in April 2017, a book by former special envoy Satinder Lambah says.

In addition, the Prime Minister’s Office had “reviewed” the file on the previous back-channel process led by Mr. Lambah for over a decade, which nearly led to an agreement on the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in 2007, concluding that “no major changes” would be required in taking the back-channel process forward between Prime Minister Modi and then Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif . 

The revelations by Mr. Lambah, who passed away in June 2022, are contained in a book entitled In Pursuit of Peace: India-Pakistan Relations Under Six Prime Ministers, that will be launched this week in Delhi, and was completed before he died in June 2022. While it includes a first-person account of his earlier work as a diplomat and Special Envoy on India-Pakistan talks for over two decades in some detail, a two-page note has evinced much interest as it deals with events just a few years ago. Significantly, the book has been praised by National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval himself, whose comments are recorded at the beginning of the book, while a foreword has been written by former PM Dr. Singh, both of which appear to verify the contents.

“[Mr. Lambah’s] authentic and objective narration will substantially contribute to serious historical study of bilateral relations between the two countries and also provide a rare insight for common readers,” says Mr. Doval’s blurb. “The book also holds many lessons for future diplomats and policy makers who will have to deal with a difficult neighbour for a long time and will have a bearing on our national security.”

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According to Mr. Lambah’s book, he met PM Modi twice in 2014 to discuss the back-channel talks (the book’s first version erroneously refers to dates in 2016). “There appeared to be an intent to continue the back-channel process. The file [left by the UPA government] had been reviewed. I was even once told that no major change was required,” he writes, indicating that the current NDA government was prepared to look into past negotiations. 

In the book, Mr. Lambah not only confirms the contours of the final draft agreement, he lists for the first time a 14-point list of guidelines under which the agreement was prepared. While respecting the LoC “like a normal border” between the two states was the chief tenet of the peace agreement, there would be no redrawing of boundaries and no “joint sovereignty” over parts of Jammu and Kashmir. However, people on both sides of the LoC would be allowed to move freely and there would be trade without tariffs and non-tariff barriers, as long as there was an end to “violence, hostility and terrorism”. While former Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri has included some details of the 2006-07 draft agreement in his memoirs Neither a Hawk Nor a Dove, this is the first time an Indian official with first-hand knowledge has written about the agreement in a book.

In the book, Mr. Lambah says that he was approached on April 20, 2017 by a senior PMO official asking him to travel to Pakistan for a meeting with PM Sharif to discuss restarting the back-channel dialogue. NSA Doval and Pakistan’s NSA Lt. Gen. Nasir Khan Janjua (retd.) had begun the dialogue at a December 2015 meeting in Bangkok, just prior to PM Modi’s visit to Lahore, and continued to speak via telephone for several months until the Pathankot attack, Jadhav case, the Uri attacks and India’s “surgical strikes” derailed the process by end-2016. 

Shortly after he was approached by the official, Mr. Lambah writes that he learnt that an Indian businessman had met with PM Sharif, and informed the PMO that it would not be “proper” for two separate emissaries to go to Pakistan. 

In a tweet on April 27, PM Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz had confirmed that Indian businessman Sajjan Jindal had met with the Pakistani PM in Murree. After Pakistani media criticised the government for allowing the visit by the businessman, who flew there in his private plane and went directly to the resort of Murree for the meeting, Ms. Sharif said, “Mr. Jindal is an old friend of the Prime Minister. Nothing ‘secret’ about the meeting & should not be blown out of proportion.” Just weeks later, NSA Doval and Lt. Gen. Janjua picked up the process for talks, meeting on the sidelines of an international security summit in the Russian town of Zavidovo on May 25-26, 2017, and spoke and met several times after that in 2017, The Hindu had reported. 

In January 2018, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) confirmed that Doval-Janjua talks had been held in Bangkok in December 2017 as well, as part of an “operational mechanism”. “There is a dialogue process between India and Pakistan which is that talks and terror cannot go hand in hand, but there are several other dialogue mechanisms between India and Pakistan which are continuous in nature,” the MEA spokesperson said, confirming the meeting, adding that like DGMOs and BSF rangers that talk regularly to their Pakistani counterparts, the NSA dialogue “is also a part of an operational level mechanism”.

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