Monday, February 23, 2009


A REPORTER AT LARGE Steve Coll has written about back-channel negotiations between India and Pakistan over the disputed region of Kashmir in The New Yorker.

Two years ago Pervez Musharraf, who was then Pakistan’s President and Army chief, summoned his most senior generals and two Foreign Ministry officials to review the progress of a secret, sensitive negotiation with India, known to its participants as “the back channel.” For several years, special envoys from Pakistan and India had been holding talks in hotel rooms in Bangkok, Dubai, and London. Musharraf and Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, had encouraged the negotiators to seek what some involved called a “paradigm shift” in relations between the two nations. The agenda included a search for an end to the long fight over Kashmir. The two principal envoys, Tariq Aziz and Satinder Lambah were developing what diplomats refer to as a “non-paper” on Kashmir which could serve as a deniable but detailed basis for a deal. By early 2007, the back-channel talks on Kashmir had become “so advanced that we’d come to semicolons,” recalled Khurshid Kasuri, who was then Pakistan’s foreign minister. Details for a visit to Pakistan by Singh were being discussed. Neither government, however, had done much to prepare its public for a breakthrough. Tells how domestic unrest in Pakistan contributed to the postponement of the summit. Musharraf slipped into a political death spiral and resigned in August of 2008. Mentions the periodic funding by India and Pakistan of guerilla or terrorist violence on each other’s soil. Describes the Mumbai attacks of last November 26, which were apparently coordinated by the Islamist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba and the concession by Pakistani officials that the attackers appear to have come from their country. India reacted to the attack with relative restraint, though many Indian politicians continue to call for military action. Writer visits the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and interviews Atta Muhammad Khan, who tends to the graves of about two hundred unknown young men in a village there. Gives a brief history of the dispute over the region and the shifting approaches taken by India and Pakistan to the dispute through the years. Writer interviews N. N. Vohra, the governor of Jammu and Kashmir, and then travels across the border to meet with Nawaz Sharif, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan. Tells about the events preceding the back-channel talks and the potentially catastrophic results of an escalation in hostilities between the two nuclear powers. Discusses in more detail the process of the back-channel negotiations. Writer visits the regional headquarters of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the educational and charitable organization that, depending on how you see it, is either the parent of or a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba. He is given a tour of the grounds by Mohammad Abbas, also known as Abu Ehsaan. Considers America’s role in Indo-Pakistani relations and how relations between the two countries bear on the war in Afghanistan. Writer attends a reception in Washington, D.C., for Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf says that he always believed in peace between India and Pakistan and that an agreement “would have benefited both.”

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