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Manmohan using ‘unofficial envoy' to contact Kayani, says British media report

Hasan Suroor

LONDON: A British newspaper on Saturday somewhat sensationally claimed that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had opened “secret talks” with Pakistan and appointed an “unofficial envoy” about 10 months ago to make contact with Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

Under the heading, “Cricket-inspired Thaw Pushes Rivals into Secret Talks,” The Times said it had “learnt” that the move was intended to build on the “cricket-inspired diplomatic thaw between the rivals” following the World Cup semi-final in Mohali.

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani visited India at Dr. Singh's invitation to watch the match.

Observers, however, noted a contradiction in the report. How, they asked, was it possible for a move initiated “about ten months ago” to be related to the “cricket-inspired diplomatic thaw” which was barely a month-old?

The newspaper pointed out that New Delhi did not react to General Kayani's recent visit to Kabul to meet Taliban representatives. This was “evidence” of what it described as “rapprochement being driven by the U.S., after the Cricket World Cup semi-final.”

“General Kayani visited Kabul this week to meet members of the High Peace Council, a body set up by President [Hamid] Karzai, to build contacts with Taleban groups. General Kayani was accompanied by General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency. Delhi, which in the past would have condemned the visit as Pakistani ‘meddling', remained silent — providing the latest evidence of rapprochement being driven by the U.S., after the Cricket World Cup semi-final between the two nations,” it said.

The newspaper said the talks “through a back channel” had encouraged London and Washington to believe that the “competition” between India and Pakistan for influence in Afghanistan could “be better managed during efforts to start a peace process.”

“The settling of a disputed border at Sir Creek in the south, and the demilitarisation of the Siachen glacier in the north, are also being used to create an impression of diplomatic momentum,” it said, adding despite “U.S. pressure and Mr. Singh's commitment” there were still substantial obstacles to a lasting thaw. These included access for Indian investigators to the suspected Pakistani conspirators behind the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

New Delhi Bureau reports:

Senior officials were dismissive of British media reports that the Indian government was using a ‘special envoy' to reach out to General Kayani. “We are already in touch, and have contacts with the Pakistani military at different levels,” a highly placed source told The Hindu on Saturday.

He said there had been no special approach made since the Mohali match.

The Hindu has learned that the Pakistani side made a proposal last year for the commandant of its National Defence University to visit the Indian National Defence College in New Delhi. But even this proposal — the first exchange of this kind — failed to get off the ground because the Defence Ministry was not enthusiastic about it.

Eventually, the Pakistani side also stopped pressing the issue.

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