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New Yorker: The Back Channel

Author: Steve Coll
March 2, 2009

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A REPORTER AT LARGE about back-channel negotiations between India and Pakistan over the disputed region of Kashmir. Two years ago Pervez Musharraf, who was then Pakistan's President and Army chief, summoned his most senior generals and two Foreign Ministry officials to review the progress of a secret, sensitive negotiation with India, known to its participants as "the back channel." For several years, special envoys from Pakistan and India had been holding talks in hotel rooms in Bangkok, Dubai, and London. Musharraf and Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, had encouraged the negotiators to seek what some involved called a "paradigm shift" in relations between the two nations. The agenda included a search for an end to the long fight over Kashmir. The two principal envoys, Tariq Aziz and Satinder Lambah were developing what diplomats refer to as a "non-paper" on Kashmir which could serve as a deniable but detailed basis for a deal. By early 2007, the back-channel talks on Kashmir had become "so advanced that we'd come to semicolons," recalled Khurshid Kasuri, who was then Pakistan's foreign minister. Details for a visit to Pakistan by Singh were being discussed. Neither government, however, had done much to prepare its public for a breakthrough.

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