Bypassing dialogue

AN interesting development now seems to be in the offing but one which raises a number of questions as well. The government is once again seeking to revive the role of a Special Envoy, this time specifically on Kashmir. The name coming forward is that of former foreign secretary Riaz Mohammed Khan, who is well known and a favourite amongst influential US circles. However, the issue is one of principle: when India is not prepared to resume the dialogue process, which is structured and transparent with institutionalised inputs and records, why would Pakistan seek to push for a Special Envoy? Our past experience with special envoys has hardly been positive. There have been tales of backdoor deal-making and a persistent confusion over what sort of agreements successive special envoys managed to create. Because there is no official record or institutional memory, we have also seen claims of how non papers through special envoys almost brought about solutions to conflicts like Kashmir. On the other hand, many doubts were also created as to the sort of concessions that may have been ceded. At the end of the day, more questions were raised than issues resolved through these undoubtedly competent gentlemen who comprised the successive chain of special envoys. Given the level of suspicions and past experience, it would be far more viable to push for resumption of the dialogue process where Kashmir would be dealt with at the ministerial level. This would allow for valuable inputs from relevant institutions and there would be an institutional memory for historic record. Special envoys tend to undermine this more accountable system since they tend to report to one man at the top in this case, it would be President Zardari. Riaz Mohammed Khan already met with the President along with the Foreign Minister. Effectively, special envoys tend to sideline the relevant ministries since they are under no compulsion to either take the relevant ministries into confidence or be answerable to Parliament. That is why there is no record of the discussions, decisions and so on of previous special envoys in the Foreign Office and the assumption is this record actually exists in a formal way and may be in the Presidency. At present, it would appear intriguing as to why India would be prepared to allow special envoys to meet on Kashmir when it is not prepared to even begin the dialogue process with Pakistan. From the Pakistani standpoint, unless the Prime Minister is able to secure a strong mandate from Parliament on the course of future negotiations on Kashmir with India, India will have the advantage because Prime Minister Singh already has such a mandate from the Indian Parliament and also keeps the opposition informed on latest developments. In Pakistan, where credibility of the rulers is a major issue, transparency rather than backdoor deal making is required especially on a sensitive national issue like Kashmir.

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