Islamabad/Lahore, Jul 2 (PTI) Satinder Lambah was an “epitome of diplomacy” and if Pakistan and India can ever forge peaceful relations, its credit will also go to the veteran Indian diplomat and his tireless efforts will not go “waste,” an ex-foreign minister of Pakistan and prominent former diplomats said on Saturday.
Lambah, 81, passed away in New Delhi on Thursday. He headed the crucial backchannel diplomatic negotiations between India and Pakistan from 2005 to 2014. He was India’s High Commissioner in Islamabad from 1992 to 1995.
Riaz Mohammad Khan, a Pakistani counterpart of Lambah in the backchannel communication process, paid tribute to the Indian diplomat, saying if ever peace was created between Pakistan and India “its credit will also go to Lambah”.
Khan, former foreign secretary, was the point person from Pakistan between 2010 and 2013 to interact with Lambah, as the two sides made a vain epic effort to untangle their complex relationship by trying to address among others the Kashmir issue.
Former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshed Kasuri said the foundation Lambah laid in the form of back-channel diplomacy will eventually bear fruit one day.
“I offer my deepest condolences to the family of Lambah. His efforts for peace between India and Pakistan will long be remembered,” Kasuri told PTI.
Showering praise on Lambah, Kasuri said: “I had worked with him and his efforts for peace between the two countries will not go in waste… I tell you.”
He said some six persons including the civil and military leaders from each side were involved in Track-II diplomacy in the 1990s in which Lambah from India’s side and Tariq Aziz from Pakistan were overseeing the peace efforts.
Kasuri also said that when he became a foreign minister he met a number of people in India including Lambah who agreed with him that in the case of India and Pakistan the relations suddenly went up and down and there was a need that both sides remained engaged in dialogue.
In a telephonic interview with PTI, Khan, the former foreign secretary, recalled his first meeting with Lambah in January 2010, as the two diplomats exchanged their views within the parameters of the ongoing backchannel communication process.
“First of all, I am deeply saddened by his passing away. I have immense respect for him and his efforts,” Khan said, adding that Lambah was a great diplomat and “a man of peace who cared a lot for our region. He was a very positive person.”
Khan was asked to lead the process from the Pakistani side after Tariq Aziz, a trusted fellow of then-president Pervez Musharraf and the original architect of the backchannel communication along with Lambah, asked the government to relieve him of the onerous assignment.
Khan recalled that Pakistan and India had come a long way to develop an understanding of how to address their thorny issues through backchannel communication.
“The major success of the process was that we had everything in black and white. We developed a framework in writing by 2007 when the final draft came from India,” he said, adding that New Delhi had taken about two years to return the draft sent by Islamabad.
Talking about Kashmir, Khan said that the two sides had agreed on the formula of self-governance for the sub-regions of Kashmir.
Khan said several joint mechanisms were proposed to resolve various issues arising out of the self-governance formula.
He said that the process of backchannel communication was first hit by the judiciary movement in Pakistan in 2007 and later the 2008 Mumbai terror attack stalled it. But Khan said that secret efforts and communications went on between the two sides until 2014 when the process was stopped.
“The formula we had worked out with Lambah was the best possible approach that the two countries could have developed under the (then) circumstances,” he said, adding the paperwork was complete and the entire process owed a lot to Lambah, who led the Indian sides in those long years of secret communication.
“Whenever something is resurrected out of the work done so far, leading to peace between Pakistan and India, the credit will also go to Lambah,” Khan said on the late Indian diplomat who was born in Peshawar.
Former high commissioner to India Abdul Basit also talked to PTI about his interaction with Lambah and his impression of his efforts for peace.
“I met him many times during my stay in India and found him to be a thorough diplomat. He had good connections in Pakistan as he served as deputy high commissioner and high commissioner here, and was involved in backchannel diplomacy,” Basit said.
He said that Lambah was close to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif who hosted a lunch in his honor even against the advice of the Foreign Office.
Basit acknowledged Lambah’s desire for peace, saying “all diplomats generally work for peace”.
He also said that Lambah never compromised on the interests of his country, which he said was the best quality of any diplomat.
Former foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmad Khan in an interview with PTI termed the death of Lambah an irreparable loss to the peace diplomacy between Pakistan and India while offering his heartfelt condolence to his family.
“Lambah was among those people of Indian foreign service who could be called as epitome of diplomacy,” he said.
Khan said that Lambah made sincere efforts for peace but his efforts could not succeed due to the peculiar dynamics of relations between the two countries. “I have a lot of respect for him,” he said.
He said what Lambah did for peace was the “most meaningful and purposeful effort” ever made between the two nations.
“If Lambah was my counterpart and we had the full backing of the political leadership, I can assure that we would solve all problems between Pakistan and India within two months,” Khan said, adding that Lambah has died but he created a tradition which ” we need to resume as early as possible”.
Senior Pakistani defense analyst Hasan Askari said Lambah had personal friendships in Pakistan that no one in the diplomatic fraternity has today.
“For Track-II diplomacy between two rival countries like India and Pakistan, you need diplomats with personal relations in each other’s country… Lambah had that. But unfortunately, today neither in India nor in Pakistan we don’t have diplomats who could claim that they have good personal relations in each other’s countries. And this is so because of strained relations between the two countries for years,” Askari said.
He said Lambah with his experience and personal relationship in Pakistan remained effectively engaged in Track-II diplomacy and helped in easing out tensions between them.
“Actually, the track-II diplomacy (between India and Pakistan) began back in the late 1980s on the efforts of some friendly countries, especially the US to find non-official ways to improve the relationship between the two countries. And this helped too at the times of tensions between them,” he said.
Askari who also remained part of the think tank in Lahore is of the view that Pakistan and India need to engage in dialogue as currently, the relations between them are at the lowest ebb.
Both sides’ governments are shy of taking any such step because of their domestic troubles. If the (Narendra) Modi government initiates talks with Pakistan, its own party workers would turn against it and if the Shehbaz government extends hands of friendship to India the opposition here will take it to task,” he said, adding that the resolution of long time disputes between the two countries needs formal dialogues, not track-II diplomacy.
Mohammad Zamir, a veteran former Bangladeshi diplomat who was entrusted with the task of opening the India Desk at the foreign ministry soon after the independence in 1971, said he was in touch with Lambah at that time.
“I am very sad to know that he has passed away. May his soul remain in eternal peace. We used to (fondly) call him Sati Lambah. He was a person who valued friendship and had a very proactive engagement in Bangladesh.
“He was involved with Bangladesh in different ways and different processes, while I was the Director in charge of the India Desk in the foreign office after the 1971 Liberation. He was based in Delhi but used to visit Bangladesh frequently and also stayed in Dhaka for some time,” Zamir said.
Lambah, who had a wealth of experience in dealing with India’s neighborhood and was instrumental in setting up of the Indian High Commission in Dhaka soon after Bangladesh’s Liberation, the Indian mission in Bangladesh tweeted.