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Prelims Capsule

International Relations

India Pakistan Backchannel Diplomacy

India Pakistan Backchannel Diplomacy


  • GS 2 || International Relations || India & its neighborhood

Why in news?

  • The recent developments in India and Pakistan relation suggest that there is ongoing backchannel diplomacy since 2020.


  • In a relationship between countries, many things are done away from the glare of the opposition, media, and the public.
  • Usually, between countries, some issues have defied simple solutions. The difficulties that prevent solutions may be a history of their relationships, media pressure. Public opinion, opposition views difficulties of revealing strategies, espionage, the sensitivity of negotiations, failure to reach agreements, consequences, intervening incidents, and so on.

What is a Backchannel talk?

  • Backchannel talks are used to talk to each other through non-official channels to discuss the several problems facing the countries and various options available, and consequences of each one of them and your ability enforce them, their acceptability to both protagonists.
  • More than a month after India-Pakistan border commanders agreed to strictly observe all agreements between the two countries, the absence of official acceptance of a backchannel seems far outweighed by indicators that there is, in fact, such a channel in place, approved by the Prime Ministers of both countries.

Important developments took place between India and Pakistan

  • A look at the history of backchannels, or officially sanctioned contacts between nominees from India and Pakistan, is instructional. They have operated in the worst of times, including wars, terror strikes, and military action, and their existence was brought to light only years later.
    • First, India-Pakistan agreement to follow Ceasefire reached by India-Pakistan border commanders at LoC. It indicates coordination at a diplomatic level and high-level political approval.
    • Second, the events including the scheduling of the much-delayed Indus Water Treaty talks. Further, the granting of sports visas strengthened rumors of a backchannel process.
    • Third, most recently, contrary to the usual stand, there were no references to Pakistan in electoral speeches by the ruling party. Further, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA)’s silence on U-turn by Pakistan on trade are the other clues.
  • Significance of the Latest Re-commitment to the 2003 Agreement:
    • The agreement may contribute to an improvement of the security situation on the ground in Kashmir.
    • India has often alleged that many of the ceasefire violations were aimed at providing cover to s infiltrating militants. Infiltration attempts may now drop, and go some way in meeting a key Indian demand on cross-border terrorism.
  • India – Pakistan Recent Developments
    • The two sides last connected at the highest level during the Christmas day of 2015, when the Indian Prime Minister landed in Lahore for an unannounced visit to meet the Pakistani Prime Minister.
    • Dialogue broke down soon thereafter because of the Pathankot airbase attack of 2nd January 2016, which was followed by the attack at the garrison in Uri and the Indian response with a surgical strike along the border.
    • Bilateral ties continued to nosedive because of the Pulwama terror attack of 14thFebruary 2019, and the Balakot operation by India.
  • It suggests the functioning of an ongoing backchannel talk.

Need for back-channel process in India-Pakistan Relations

  • Engagement between India and Pakistan is inevitable due to the following reasons
    • One, for Pakistan, the weakening economic condition and the increasing pressure from the Financial Action Task Force to shut down all terrorist safe-havens.
    • Two, for India, a stand-off with the Chinese Army at the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh and the possibility of a two-front war situation.
    • Three, apart from this, the geopolitical issue of engaging with Afghanistan will be one of the major reasons for the engagement.

Effectiveness of Backchannels

  • Constructive relationship possible through back-channel diplomacy.
  • In the current situation, the government’s policy is becoming increasingly reliant on the establishment of a back channel to Pakistan.
  • The earlier back-channel diplomacy gets off, the better. The government is skating on thin ice in all respects. The prospects for a “constructive relationship” with Pakistan seem grim without back-channel diplomacy.
  • Without back-channel diplomacy, the prospects for a ‘constructive engagement with Pakistan look rather bleak.
  • Need of a Backchannel now
    • In the current scenario, government strategy becomes critically dependent on opening a back channel to Pakistan. The sooner the backchannel diplomacy begins the better. All things concerned, the government is skating on thin ice.
    • As a result, the latest revelations of a backchannel being in place since 2020 should not be received with many surprises and comes with several instructional messages.
    • To begin with, what appears to be clear is that while friendship and trust between inimical neighbors with a bitter history, such as what India and Pakistan share, may seem impossible, engagement is inevitable.

Examples from the past

  • Several signs indicate that back-channel diplomacy led up to the talksand helped produce a joint statement between the two sides, beginning with the Pakistan Army chief General’s call for resolving the Kashmir issue “peacefully” earlier in February 2021.
  • A channel for peace talks began in 1988 during the Rajiv Gandhiperiod, supported by Jordanian Crown Prince Hassan. However, the death of Pakistan’s general ended the process without any solution.
  • During the Kargil War, PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee employed a back-channel interlocutor to finalize a ceasefire agreement.
  • In 2016, six former Pakistani High Commissioners traveled to Delhi for a Track-II consultation with nine former Indian High Commissioners.
  • Pakistan supported India’s five proposals for collaboration at the South Asian level on containing Covid-19.
  • India allowed the aircraft carrying Pakistan Prime Minister a clear passage to Sri Lanka, where the Pakistani leader declared a USD 50 million defence line of credit for Colombo.
  • However, during these apparent signs of back-channel negotiations, both sides have maintained their respective positions on the Kashmir issue.
  • After the Pakistan government moved to provide provisional provincial status for Gilgit Baltistan in November 2020, India hit out saying Gilgit Baltistan was an “integral part of India”.

Bureaucratic engagement vs. Backchannel talks (Track I Vs Track II/III talks)

  • The utility of back-channel talks has resurfaced amid a lack of confidence between the Indian and Pakistani governments following the Pathankot attack. Both governments want to participate, but the assault has slowed the process down.
  • The emergence of back-channel dialogue
    • Former Pakistani foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri’s novel, Neither a Hawk nor a Dove provides for the first time an in-depth account of the Back-Channel dialogue between the two countries that took place during his tenure between 2005 and 2008. The mechanism does provide a path and hope for the two countries to participate in mutually beneficial cooperation.
  • Track I talks
    • Despite terror attacks, Track I talks should proceed because non-state actors involved do not want the peace process to gain traction. However, the media’s development of unrealistic expectations has a negative impact on bureaucratic engagements. As a result, to maintain a balanced approach, India should engage Pakistan through both channels.
  • Diplomatic outreach
    • Resuming talks with Pakistan sooner rather than later is important at whatever level.
    • These should now be part of a sustained effort of diplomatic outreach towards Pakistan rather than an on-and-off affair.
    • While there may be differences on various national security issues within the political and military circles in Pakistan, there is general agreement on the perception that India is a primary threat.
    • The dialogue process can be started by taking up issues under the Comprehensive Dialogue and charting out the schedule of talks to focus on what is doable. While issues related to terrorism are supposed to be handled by the National Security Advisers, the Foreign Secretaries could focus on Kashmir.
  • Two-front war more real
    • For India, the stand-off with the People’s Liberation Army at the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh has made the possibility of a two-front war more real, and fuels the push to reduce tensions with Pakistan.
    • For both Delhi and Islamabad, it is important to be mature parties in the regional engagement with Afghanistan as well, by not providing a conflagration at their boundaries. These reasons take precedence for the moment in the absence of a terror attack in India traceable to Pakistan

Way forward

  • In a relationship between countries, many things are done away from the glare of the opposition, media, and the public.
  • Usually, between countries, some issues have defied simple solutions. The difficulties that prevent solutions may be a history of their relationships, media pressure. Public opinion, opposition views difficulties of revealing strategies, espionage, the sensitivity of negotiations, failure to reach agreements, consequences, intervening incidents, and so on.
  • Confidence-building initiatives (CBM) should be undertaken to address the “confidence deficit,” but they should not be used in place of dispute resolution.
  • To establish mutuality of interest, economic cooperation and trade should be encouraged. Terrorism and non-state actors are issues that must be tackled together through institutionalized processes.

Mains model question

  • What do you understand by Backchannel diplomacy? Present an analysis on the existence and importance of back-channel diplomacy between India and Pakistan.