Track Two diplomacy can put India-Pak ties on track

Representative purpose only. Photo: iStock.

The proposed Kartarpur Peace Corridor between India and Pakistan, a product of Track Two Diplomacy between the two South Asian neighbours, is a welcome step to increase people to people contact and thereby ease tensions between the two neighbours.

The Kartarpur Peace Corridor will allow Sikhs visa-free access from India to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Pakistan. This Sikh shrine which holds the ashes of Saint Guru Nanak, (1469–1539), the founder of the Sikh religion is located in Pakistan, but viewable from India and separated after demarcation of the India-Pakistan border in 1947.

Track Two Diplomacy is non-governmental, informal and unofficial contacts or activities between private citizens or groups of individuals, who are also called non-state actors.  It is distinct from Track One Diplomacy, which is official, conducted between government channels. Track Two cannot substitute Track One diplomacy but only supplement state actors to manage and resolve conflicts through exploration of possible solutions.

Former US Ambassador and Chairman Emeritus of the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy (IMTD) John W McDonald, S-CAR advisory board member emeritus, envisioned the Kartarpur Peace Corridor. When McDonald with Sikh leaders visited Dera Baba Nanak in Punjab, India, in 2008 he learned from Kuldip Singh Wadala about the dream of 36 million Sikhs across the globe was to visit their holiest shrines at Kartarpur in Pakistan.


For almost 11 years, ambassador McDonald and IMTD, at Arlington, Virginia, US had advocated for the free access of all Sikhs to these holy shrines. They hired an architect to draw up the plans for a peace corridor, and in the ensuing years, they worked through their multi-track systems approach to peace-building with patience and perseverance to create a trust-building measure that was plausible and feasible for the leaders of India and Pakistan. Their plan was often considered, then again rejected, but hope kept their dream alive.

In April 2018, former Indian diplomat Vivek Katju led an Indian delegation of civil society members to Islamabad and revived Track Two Diplomacy. The Pakistani side included former minister Javed Jabbar among others. To that extent the Track Two diplomacy examined the Kartarpur Corridor proposal and cleared the path to make it acceptable to Track One diplomacy. In November 2018 Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Imran Khan officially approved construction of the Kartarpur Corridor.

Over the years, peace initiatives between New Delhi and Islamabad have helped to reduce war hysteria and improve relations between India and Pakistan. These include the: Chaophraya Dialogue which is an Indo-Pak Track-Two initiative jointly undertaken by the Jinnah Institute (JI) and Australia India Institute running since 2008. Workshops by WISCOMP Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace works have conducted regular interactions to tap ideas of cultural peace.

The Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs brings together scholars and public figures to resolve conflicts and focusses on the nuclear weapon dimension to India-Pakistan relations. Similarly, the Ottawa Dialogue, a collaboration of the United States Institute of Peace, the University of Ottawa has been working to prevent the nuclear conflict between the two states. While civil society groups who have no connection to mainline government drive all these peace initiatives there are two interesting groups which are also keen to reap a peace dividend between New Delhi and Islamabad.

These are two different groups one which constitutes former soldiers and another senior intelligence officers. Only a few years ago these two groups of veterans once in uniform and the other in plainclothes during their time in government were at the helm of hostilities. Their familiarity with how positive and negative perceptions take shape within government prove useful to promote peace from the outside.

This refers to the India Pakistan Soldiers Initiative for Peace (IPSI) and the India-Pakistan Intelligence Dialogue. The latter provides a platform for retired intelligence chiefs from these two countries to develop strategies to reduce the destabilizing effect that intelligence institutions introduce into the troubled bilateral relationship. They meet in third countries for confabulations.

Therefore, these two initiatives assume added importance in the backdrop of the “American Clausewitz” Bernard Brodie’s statement: “Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them. It can have almost no other useful purpose”.  This thinker uttered these words in the post Second World War period which coincided with the Cold War era which went off peacefully under a nuclear overhang.

For instance, the IPSI under the leadership of the late Gandhian Nirmala Deshpande paved a path for the Agra Summit between New Delhi and Islamabad held in 2000. It was in the backdrop of the 1999 Kargil conflict when the two sides militarily clashed with each other and their bilateral relations went into the deep freeze. The IPSI was able to reach out to Pakistan President General Musharaff through Track Two Diplomacy and initiate Track One Diplomacy.

The original India-Pakistan Track-Two initiative — the Neemrana Dialogue — was first held in 1991-1992 at Neemrana in Alwar district, Rajasthan. The next round was held at Nathiagalli in Pakistan and every year the venue shifted between the two countries and was also conducted at Sri Lanka in October 1999. The US NGO Ford Foundation funded the Neemrana Dialogue, which included influential former diplomats, military veterans, media and academics and had the unofficial backing of New Delhi and Islamabad.

Even after seven decades of nationhood neither India nor Pakistan have been able to reap the peace dividend on the Indian Sub-continent. Perhaps this is because the two sides solely pursued Track One or government to government diplomacy and failed to progress.

Just as Track Two has limitations Track One also has its own constraints and therefore each Track needs to feed off the other one. The first victory of Track Two Diplomacy proves sweet to rationale citizens in both countries keen to promote peaceful relations in South Asia.

(The writer is a Professor of International Relations and Strategic Studies at the Christ Deemed to be University, Bengaluru)   

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