Saturday, April 23, 2011

PM, Gen Kayani In Back Channel Talks : Sunday Times Report

London : Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has opened secret talks with Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to build on the diplomatic headway made during the PM’s meeting with his counterpart during the cricket match in Mohali last month, the Times newspaper of London reported today.

The daily reported that Singh “appointed an unofficial envoy to make contact with General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani about 10 months ago”. The Pakistan Army chief is known to have de facto control over Pakistani foreign policy.

The talks, conducted via a “back channel,” says the Times, has “encouraged” Washington and London which are keen to see a resolution of the two neighbours’ rivalry in Afghanistan through a bilateral peace process.

Kayani visited Kabul this week to hold talks with members of Afghan President’s High Peace Council and build contacts with Taliban groups. He was accompanied by ISI’s head, General Ahmad Shuja Pasha.

New Delhi’s silence over the visit, the Times said, which in the past would have drawn accusations of meddling, is proof that the meeting between prime ministers Singh and Gilani at the World Cup semi-final on March 30 has brought about a thaw.

This reported contact with Kayani comes after repeated feelers from Washington, London and other Western interlocutors to establish a channel of conversation with the Pakistan Army.

Even Pasha had indicated to Indian military attaches that he would like to meet his counterpart in a third country to discuss the entire gamut of security issues after 26/11. However, India had desisted such overtures on the assessment that such an interaction could undermine civilian authority in Pakistan.

Despite a strong view within the government that there was a need to engage Kayani just like every other power is doing, the considered decision was always to hold back.But going by the report, there has been a review of this position to the extent that it would help reopen the conversation between India and Pakistan with the backing of some vital security assurances by the Pakistan Army.

The PMO declined to comment and the Ministry of External Affairs was not available for a response tonight suggesting that Indian officials did take up the advice of their Western interlocutors. This, if accurate, may help add more durability to the renewed peace effort initiated between the two PMs at Thimphu last year and recently emphasised at Mohali.


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