Former Indian diplomats visit Pakistan

March 29th, 2008 - 5:34 pm ICT by admin  

By Gulshan Luthra
New Delhi, March 29 (IANS) Ten former Indian diplomats are in Pakistan as part of Track II efforts aimed at building friendship with Islamabad. Led by Ishrat Aziz, president of the Association of Indian Diplomats (AID), the delegation left Friday night.

They are scheduled to meet Pakistan’s foreign secretary, chairman of the senate foreign relations committee, the governor of Punjab and possibly some members of the newly elected government.

The visit is being viewed as a “new contact” in the plethora of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) under way to improve diplomatic and economic relations.

The visit is at the invitation of the Association of Former Diplomats (AFA) of Pakistan that sent a delegation to India in 2005.

But the timing now, with the installation of a new elected government, is significant. This will be India’s first contact - albeit informal - with the new political dispensation.

The visit has the blessings of both governments. A meeting with Pakistan’s new foreign minister - if appointed by then - is also on the cards.

“The people of Pakistan had elected and welcomed the new democratic government, and so should we and other countries,” Aziz told IANS.

Pakistan is an important neighbour “and realistic and strong bilateral ties will be in the interest of both the countries”, said Aziz, a former Indian envoy to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and other countries.

AID secretary R. Rajagopalan said the Indian delegates would also hold a session with the Institute of Strategic Studies (ISS) of Pakistan.

The ISS had signed an agreement with the New Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) for exchange of publications and attendance at conferences.

“That agreement was in itself a milestone in building strategic bridges,” said Rajagopalan, a former ambassador to Morocco who is also a member of the IDSA executive council.

Another important engagement on the delegation’s list is a meeting with the Lahore Chamber of Commerce, whose members are keen for trade with India through the land route.

Diplomatic sources described this “outside the box contact” as a useful addition to the confidence building measures attempted between the two neighbours.

This linkage is informal. But as it is a contact between informed retired diplomats of both countries, its usefulness cannot be underestimated, added the sources.

They said the diplomats on both sides have spent a lifetime on bilateral and foreign relations and thus are definitely in the opinion-forming strata of their countries.

Also, as the contact is informal, members involved would be relaxed in dealing with a number of issues.

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