‘Best foreign secretary that India has never had’, leads back-channel talks with Pak

Author: Yuvi July 2, 2022

Indian Express, India news, current affairs, Indian Express News Service, Express News Service, Express News, Indian Express India News


Diplomat Satinder Lamba, who led the back-channel process between India and Pakistan from 2005 to 2014, died in New Delhi on Thursday night. He had been ill for almost a year. He was 81 years old.

As special envoy to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Pakistan, Lamba held behind-the-scenes talks with his counterpart Tariq Aziz, who was appointed by the then military ruler General Pervez Musharraf to back-channel the process. In his death, India has lost its foremost expert on Pakistan.

Lamba also served as Special Envoy to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2004. He was Delhi’s envoy to the Bonn Conference and led India’s involvement in the country’s post-Taliban reconstruction and redevelopment, which laid the foundation for a decade and a half. Successful association of Delhi with that country.

An Indian Foreign Service officer of the 1964 batch, Lamba previously served as Deputy High Commissioner and High Commissioner to Pakistan, and was also Joint Secretary in the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran Division in the Ministry of External Affairs. Colleagues remember him as a self-respecting but efficient diplomat. His last posting before retiring was as ambassador to Moscow from 1998 to 2001.

Lamba was born in pre-Partition Peshawar, as was his wife Neelima, and during his two visits to that country, he forged a strong chain of contacts between Pakistan’s political and social elite, whom he called to further bilateral ties. raised to increase.

He had gone to meet Nawaz Sharif through a mutual friend during his first posting in Pakistan in the 1980s. The young Sharif, who was then working in the family steel business and had political ambitions, waited to receive Lamba at the Lahore airport when he took off from Islamabad. The two went back to the city in Sharif’s red sports car.

When Lamba returned to Islamabad as India’s High Commissioner, a day after he presented his credentials, Sharif hosted a lavish lunch in his honor by the then Prime Minister, an unprecedented welcome for an Indian diplomat in Pakistan. did.

At the end of his term there, he was given a similar farewell by Benazir Bhutto, who had replaced Sharif as prime minister. Against the advice of the Foreign Office at the time, he hosted a lunch reception to bid them goodbye.

An aide in the Indian Foreign Service said, “He was a staple of old-school diplomacy, which was about people, personal contacts and face-to-face interactions, and he was utterly charming.”

Professor Amitabh Mattoo of JNU’s School of International Studies described him as “the best foreign secretary that India has ever had”.

Lamba’s role as Singh’s back-channel interlocutor with Musharraf saw relations between the two countries significantly improve from 2004 to 2008. The ceasefire was already in force since 2003. As of 2006, India and Pakistan were said to be close to an agreement on Kashmir. back channel. And in early 2007, the two sides were reported to have exchanged a “white paper” detailing the terms, although Lamba himself never spoke about it.

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Lamba has said in interviews that Musharraf’s downfall after his erroneous decision to sack the chief justice in March 2007 stalled the deal. Bus services across the LoC, implemented during this time, appear to be part of the proposed proposal to enable interaction between both sides of J&K as well as cross-LoC trade.

After the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the back channel continued to trace and prosecute Mumbai criminals with Pakistan’s flip-flops until 2014, as well as ensuring a virtual halt for bilateral engagement. At one point, the civilian government led by the PPP after Musharraf denied the existence of a “white paper”.

Lamba said in interviews by the end of 2015 that the formula he and Aziz had worked out was agreed by the leadership of both sides. He described it as a ‘win-win’ for both the countries and said it could serve as the basis for any future solution to the Kashmir issue.

In a speech at Jadavpur University in Kolkata in September 2018, Lamba said it was unlikely that Pakistan would radically change its approach towards India, but to be an effective regional or global player, ensure good relations with India. was in the interest of with neighbours.

For this, he said that a separate association has to be maintained from the dialogue. He also said that bilateral issues should not become an issue of domestic electoral politics. He was a supporter of an unrestricted visa system to enable more Pakistanis to come to India, arguing that he was India’s best ambassador to Pakistan. He also believed that India would have to make its home in Jammu and Kashmir to prevent outsiders from fishing in the troubled waters.

During the back-channel years, Lamba ensured complete secrecy about his mission, although he was pursued by Newshound. Even in later years, he spoke about it only in general terms, being careful not to give too many details.

“He was very intelligent in terms of what he shared about his assessments and findings. As a man who was deeply involved with Pakistan in the form of designated back-channel liaisons, he was very close to outsiders. remained insensitive to the U.S.,” said TCA Raghavan, who served as deputy high commissioner to Islamabad during those years, and later high commissioner to Pakistan.

When this reporter was going to Pakistan on a long-term assignment as a foreign correspondent, he advised: “You would be one of only two Indians (there were two Indian journalists based in Pakistan at the time) that they could see. Can write more. Listen to read others. Write a lot, write everything. We write diplomats too, but that’s for files.”

While his greatest contribution was India’s diplomacy with Pakistan and Afghanistan, he is also remembered for laying the foundation for India’s strong engagement with Silicon Valley during his years as Consul General in San Francisco in the early 1990s. goes. He also mobilized NRIs on the US West Coast to contribute to setting up the first India Study Chair at Berkeley, which was converted into two chairs due to an overwhelming response. He has given an interesting description of this in the Oral History Project of the Indian Foreign Affairs Journal.

Now few will remember that when he was ambassador to Germany, Lamba made the first contact between the Indian government and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s daughter Anita Pfaff in Germany for permission to bring back the ashes of the freedom fighter from the Renkoji Temple in Tokyo. where they are preserved. The then Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee had met Faf during his visit to Germany in 2012.

Also in Moscow, he worked on the India-Russia Strategic Partnership signed in October 2000, and initiated ONGC’s first investment abroad in Sakhalin’s gas fields, a venture that has remained productive to this day.

Author: Yuvi

My name is Yuvi, I work as Sub Editor at newscinema.in

2 July, 2022, 1:59 am

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