Is India-Pakistan back channel still working? (Capital Buzz)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

NEW DELHI - Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, Pakistan’s foreign minister during the five years when the two countries came closest to a settlement of its outstanding disputes, particularly on Jammu and Kashmir, surprised a packed audience at Sapru House last week when he said the backchannel talks between Indian and Pakistani interlocutors had almost produced a settlement ready for signature but had got aborted by the lawyer’s stir in Pakistan that finally brought down president Pervez Musharraf’s administration in 2007.

He even said Pakistan Army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, backed these covert talks and all decisions taken had his imprimatur. It is now being speculated that the 90-minute address by Kasuri - who came here at the invitation of his friend and Cambridge colleague Mani Shankar Aiyar, MP - that was a virtual tour-de-force on bilateral ties could not have been made unless it had the go-ahead of Kayani.

When a question on this was posed a couple of days later to Satinder Kumar Lambah, the Indian interlocutor in back channel diplomacy, by an intelligence officer after a lecture by him at the RAW headquarters to a select audience, Lambah would only say: “I will disappoint you by not commenting on this.”

He in effect confirmed that such talks were indeed being conducted away from the public gaze when he said “back channel diplomacy will lose its purpose if they came out in the open”.


The secret of Manmohan’s Kabul visit

Initial preparations are under way for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Afghanistan, the war-ravaged country where India has invested $3 billion in construction projects.

Manmohan Singh will visit Kabul to inaugurate a new Indian embassy complex building in the Afghan capital. The visit, the dates for which are yet to be decided, is being kept under wraps for security concerns. It will be the first by the prime minister since August 2005.

Sources say the building complex which would be readied soon will house the offices and residences of Indian diplomats, so they don’t have to travel too much and can escape terror attacks.


Caribbean diplomacy and UN dreams

Cricket, Bollywood and diplomacy mingled at a reception held in the capital for a dozen UN diplomats from the Caribbean countries. The permanent representatives (PRs, as they are called in diplomatic lingo) waxed eloquent about inspired lunacy for cricket, a common passion that, among other things, binds India and the far-flung Caribbean countries.

Bollywood was another favourite topic of conversation. The PR from Guyana, where nearly half of the nearly 800,000-strong population comprises people of Indian origin, said she was a fan of Hindi films which are shown on TV channels in her country. It’s not just old timers like Amitabh Bachchan and Sunil Dutt who are known in Guyana, but a new generation of actors like John Abraham and the lissome Priyanka Kapoor.

Clearly, India is not content with a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council. New Delhi is now leading the charge for its long-delayed dream of a permanent seat and is wooing smaller countries as the campaign for the reform of UN Security Council gathers momentum. St.Kitts and Nevis, a picturesque two-island nation in the West Indies, and the US have, after all, one vote each on the UN Security Council!


Praful to play hard ball for AIFF

New Heavy Industries Minister Praful Patel will be tapping his ministry to get sponsors for the ‘beautiful game’. Patel, who is also president of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), has been trying hard to bring back the glorious days of Indian football.

In his earlier role as civil aviation minister, he had got Indigo Airlines as the travel sponsor for I-League, the national football league. Now the buzz is that Patel may get one of the heavy industries corporations to sponsor the national football team in having more international exposures, something which they sorely lacked.


Secret of Pamuk’S glow

They make an unusual couple: the witty middle-aged Nobel prize winning Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk and the reedy author of “The Inheritance of Loss” Kiran Desai. He is 58 while companion Desai is 38.

The duo was in the capital Thursday for the launch of Pamuk’s new book, “The Nave and Sentimental Novelist”. Desai, dressed in a colourful shirt sprinkled with tinsel and long gold earrings, could not stop gushing about her trip to India with her beau.

She is on Cloud Nine while Pamuk - in deference to his Indian younger half - has agreed that this book and some of his future books will be published in special Indian editions at special price.

Television presenter Sunil Sethi of Just Books who moderated a discussion on Pamuk’s books quipped in jest - the secret behind the glow on Pamuk’s face was in the front row - pointing to the blushing Desai.


Unlawful people on board

The private plane which carried Bharatiya Janata Party leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley from Delhi to Jammu for the ‘Ekta yatra’ was flown by a Canadian pilot who had no idea of the dignitaries on board.

He was embarrassed when Jammu and Kashmir government officials entered the plane soon after its landing in Jammu and prohibited VVIP passengers from disembarking. The pilot informed his higher-ups in Delhi that his passengers may be some unlawful people as police were preventing them from getting out!


No room for all VVIPs

Military custom has it that army chiefs invite the creme-de-la-creme of the national capital’s elite for an ‘At Home’ on Army Day Jan 15. But this year, the reception by army chief Gen. V.K. Singh was hosted at the newly built Manekshaw Centre in Delhi Cantonment.

Officials said the occasion was touted as an opportunity for the army to showcase its swanky convention centre to VVIPs and improve its utility. According to insiders, another reason for this deviation from tradition was that the Rajaji Marg residence of the army chief had insufficient space for all the guests.


Imtiaz’s irresistible Delhi

It seems film director Imtiaz Ali is head over heels in love with Delhi as he frequents the capital city often. A Hindu college alumni, the filmmaker captured the city in “Love Aaj Kal”. He is again exploring the city’s nook and corner for his next film “Rockstar”.

And if that was not enough, Imtiaz just strengthened his connect with the capital by launching a new TV show called “Love You Zindagi” here.

Imtiaz has conceptualised the show, inspired by his hit film “Jab We Met”. But do they plan to shoot the show also in Delhi?

“Aap bulaayenge, toh hum zaroor aayenge (If you call us, we will definitely come),” said the director.


TAILPIECE: Overheard at Congress headquarters after Sonia Gandhi was reported to be suffering from flu: When Soniaji sneezes, Congress catches cold.

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