A diplomatic journey -DAWN

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DIPLOMATIC FOOTPRINTS narrates the life and career of one of Pakistan’s distinguished foreign secretaries I had the privilege of working with as ambassador and knowing much longer as newspaper editor and writer. Having wanted to write about my own diplomatic experience but been deterred by how much I can reveal I marvel at civil servants like Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry who have taken the plunge.

His book follows outstanding works by some of his predecessors including Riaz Mohammed Khan and Abdul Sattar. Jamshed Marker’s memoirs were also a rich addition to this literature. The tradition of diplomats writing about foreign policy is important not only to record the history of Pakistan’s external engagements but also learn lessons from how Pakistan navigated the challenges it confronted.

Aizaz served as foreign secretary at a particularly challenging time. His book deals with Pakistan’s four key relationships — with the US, China, India and Afghanistan. But perhaps the most detailed account is of Islamabad’s tortuous ties with Delhi. This reflects the fact that Aizaz spent a good deal of his 37-year foreign service career dealing with the ups and downs of this adversarial relationship.

He describes in a clear and concise way four significant developments in Pakistan-India relations — instituting a structured dialogue in 1997 (cast as “a year of hope”), reviving the peace process in 1998 after nuclear tests by both countries, the disruption caused by the Kargil conflict, and then the peace initiative launched by president Pervez Musharraf in 2004, and the four-point Kashmir formula that emerged from this in 2007.

In discussing Pakistan’s decision to test nuclear weapons in June 1998, the author recalls the effort by president Bill Clinton to dissuade prime minister Nawaz Sharif from carrying out tests by making three offers. They were “relief from sanctions under the Pressler Amendment, release of F-16 aircraft Pakistan had already paid for, and provision of economic and security assistance”. Clinton phoned Sharif five times asking him to reconsider. In the fifth call Sharif told him he had no choice but to press ahead. Days later, Pakistan tested and became a nuclear power.

The identification of seven foreign policy challenges is a reminder that many still have to be addressed.

Dialogue with India picked up after a hiatus later that year. It was driven, writes Aizaz, by both countries’ acknowledgement of the need to communicate in a nuclear environment. A summit meeting between Sharif and prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly paved the way for resumption of the Composite Dialogue. As conceived a year earlier, this involved six baskets of issues including peace and security, Kashmir and terrorism. This promising framework for talks was to last, albeit in an on-off way, for almost a decade because it covered the entire gamut of issues and reflected the priorities of both sides — Kashmir for Pakistan and terrorism for India.

Next came the historic visit to Pakistan by Vajpayee in February 1999. Aizaz interprets this as India’s “change of heart” due to “the new balance of power in South Asia prompted by the nuclear tests of the two nations”. Vajpayee, he argues, “might have viewed this to be an opportunity to change the course of history” and address the “mutual mistrust” between the two countries. The Lahore Declaration was signed, which called for “intensifying efforts to resolve all issues, including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir”.

But the promise of a new era in relations proved short-lived as the Kargil conflict intervened to derail the peace process. This had far-reaching consequences which Aizaz summarises as follows. “It shattered the peace process with India, dented our deterrence by opening the door for India to conceive conventional engagement below the nuclear threshold, and undermined the Kashmir cause by providing India an opportunity to falsely project the Kashmiri freedom struggle as Pakistani-backed terrorism.” He analyses the role played by the US in defusing the Pakistan-India confrontation from his vantage point at Pakistan’s embassy in Washington where he then served. For Washington, Aizaz writes, it was clear Pakistan had to back down and withdraw from the heights to prevent an all-out war. This is what unfolded bringing an end to this unfortunate chapter.

The 1999 coup and advent of the Musharraf period followed, but again the description of the military ruler’s peace effort is especially instructive. After several false starts, what the author calls a “breakthrough for peace” came in January 2004 during the Saarc summit in Islamabad, when Musharraf and Vajpayee met and agreed to resume the Composite Dialogue. This created a propitious environment for the most purposeful negotiations on Kashmir in recent decades.

Although this involved backchannel diplomacy that Aizaz was not associated with and a more detailed account is found in former foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri’s book, his summary of what it yielded is noteworthy. “The Four-Point Formula was an interim agreement that envisaged two units comprising the areas controlled by India and Pakistan.” Both would have self-governance in principally finance, law and order and elections. The defence of each unit would be India and Pakistan’s responsibility. Gradual demilitarisation of the region would start with urban centres. A joint mechanism would be established on travel, tourism, trade and disaster management.

This Kashmir ‘agreement’ fell victim to political upheaval in Pakistan that eventually led to Musharraf’s downfall. But it serves as a reminder of what serious negotiations can accomplish. The Mumbai bombings in November 2008 put paid to the peace process and brought four years of “bridge building to a grinding halt”. Another fallout, according to Aizaz, was that it led to unprecedented international pressure on Pakistan on the terrorism issue.

Read more: The long impasse

The book’s assessment of Pakistan’s “unwavering partnership” with China, including talks that produced CPEC, roller-coaster ties with the US (marked by “misplaced expectations”) and relations with Afghanistan all shine a light on the challenges Islamabad had to negotiate including aligning civil-military views on these critical relationships. The book is rich in detail for those interested in understanding Pakistan’s foreign policy at a time of changing geopolitical dynamics. The thoughtful epilogue that identifies and analyses seven foreign policy challenges is a reminder that many of these still remain to be addressed.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, UK & UN.