Former diplomat Satinder Lamba, who led backchannel talks between India and Pakistan, passes away
Former diplomat Satinder Lamba, who led the backchannel diplomatic process between India and Pakistan from 2005 to 2014, died in Delhi on Thursday night.
Lamba was 81 years old and had been unwell for almost a year.
As former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s special envoy to Pakistan, Lamba held secret talks with his counterpart Tariq Aziz, who was appointed by the then military ruler of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf. His role as a negotiator saw the improvement of relations between the two countries from 2004 to 2008.
During that period, India and Pakistan were reported to be close to an agreement on Kashmir at the time, and were reported to have exchanged a “white paper” detailing the terms. Bus service and trade between the two sides of the Line of Control also started during this period.
After the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai in 2008, the back channel ensured a virtual halt to the bilateral engagement with Pakistan’s flip flops to trace and prosecute Mumbai criminals until 2014.
He 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 Foreign Affairs.
Lamba also served as a special envoy to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2004, playing a major role in India’s involvement in the post-Taliban redevelopment of the country.
Lamba’s aides remember him as a self-respecting but efficient diplomat. His last posting before retirement from the Indian Foreign Service was as Ambassador to Moscow from 1998 to 2001.
During the years of Backchannel, Lamba ensured complete secrecy about his mission.
“He was very intelligent in terms of what he shared about his assessments and findings. As someone who was deeply involved with Pakistan in the form of a designated back channel liaison, he was very close to outsiders. remained insensitive to the government,” said TCA Raghavan, who served as deputy high commissioner to Islamabad during those years and later high commissioner to Pakistan.
Raghavan said, both Lamba and his wife Neelima belonged to well-connected Peshawar families and had deep connections in Pakistan and had access to their society.
A day after presenting his credentials as High Commissioner, then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif hosted a lunch for him, an unprecedented welcome for an Indian diplomat in Pakistan. Three years later, he was given an equally fitting farewell by Benazir Bhutto, who by then had replaced Sharif as prime minister.