India-Pakistan peace process: Indian experts fear an end to back-channel diplomacy
By Iftikhar Gilani
NEW DELHI: Experts fear that Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s decision reverting foreign policy back in the control of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) bureaucracy may seriously affect the pace of peace process with Pakistan. He has completely wrested diplomatic initiatives from the new national security (NSA) advisor M K Narayanan.
By introducing major changes in the national security management as it had evolved under the previous BJP-led government and until the death of J N Dixit, experts in India fear an end to the powerful back-channel diplomacy that had successfully put the peace process with Pakistan on rails. Pakistan has now been left to deal with the bureaucracy of India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), who will take their own time and stretch things beyond the patience of President Pervez Musharraf.
According to the new system, Prime Minister will have three advisors on foreign policy issues instead of keeping it in the domain of his NSA. Though there has been no official announcement yet, the names in circulation are Chinmaya Gharekhan for the Middle East, Satish K Lamba for Pakistan and Vijay Nambiar for China. All three are retired diplomats and reportedly close to External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh.
Experts here believe since the security advisor is close to the Prime Minister the last stamp of authority; he is, therefore, best placed to sustain the “momentum” generated by political breakthroughs in long-standing problems particularly with Islamabad and Beijing. The events under Brajesh Mishra and J N Dixit have proved this argument.
But, the External Affairs Ministry mandarins here believe that the security adviser should not burden himself with diplomatic negotiations, which are best handled by envoys. The appointment of M K Narayanan, who was earlier Prime Minister’s internal security advisor, has indicated that a larger role in the conduct of foreign policy is not part of Singh’s concept of a national security adviser.
The sources stressed that since both Dixit and Mishra were from the Foreign Service, an impression had been created that the security adviser’s priority was “diplomacy”.