Pakistan may name envoy for informal peace talks with India

Pakistan may name envoy for informal peace talks with India

London: Pakistan is considering naming a former top diplomat as a special envoy for informal peace talks with India, foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said.

He said Pakistan might appoint former foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan to handle the informal dialogue known as “backchannel diplomacy".

A resumption of these talks would be an important step in easing tension between Pakistan and India, whose rivalry complicates US efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan.

But Qureshi said informal talks would work only if they were held in parallel with a formal peace process broken off by India after last year’s attack on Mumbai.

“One can understand the usefulness of the backchannel diplomacy, especially when the atmosphere is so charged," Qureshi said. “It could be useful and Pakistan is open to that."

But for these to succeed, the two countries would also need to create an environment of trust. “That can only be done, in my opinion, if the front and the backchannel move in tandem."

New Delhi has refused to reopen formal talks until Pakistan takes more action against Pakistan-based militants whose campaign in Kashmir it says has spread to the rest of India. Pakistan says it is seeking evidence with which to prosecute militants.

Qureshi, who meets Indian foreign minister S.M. Krishna in New York on 27 September, has said he does not expect any breakthrough there. The two countries’ foreign secretaries will also meet in New York on 26 September, he said.

But he said the talks might help pave the way for another meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of a Commonwealth summit in Trinidad in November.

India and Pakistan have held three bilateral meetings on the sidelines of international gatherings since June.

But the thaw has been undermined by political opposition in India and by what New Delhi sees as Pakistani foot-dragging in tackling the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group blamed for Mumbai.

Last week Pakistani police filed complaints against the group’s founder Hafiz Saeed, accusing him of encouraging jihad and raising funds for a banned Islamist charity.

However, he has not yet been arrested, and Pakistan is also seeking more evidence over his alleged involvement in Mumbai.