Much as I am tempted to see the fuss over Ved Pratap Vaidik’s posturing as a warning against busybodies and meddlers, wholesale condemnation of what is known as Track Two diplomacy might be unfair. It would also arouse the hostility of all those academics, communicators and retired foreign office and armed forces worthies who tend to make a full-time vocation of such parleying. Nor must I forget the thousands of think tanks and non-governmental organisations — NGOs — that loom so large in public life today and usually hanker to have a finger in every pie that’s going.
There is certainly scope in theory at least for unofficial dialogue to bring about a change of heart and influence official action. I am reminded of an episode in the BBC television series on the Crusades where Saladin rejects Richard the Lionheart’s request for a tête-à-tête with the wise advice that great kings must not meet until all differences between them have been removed. Presumably, the greatest achievement of an unofficial Track Two dialogue would be just that, so that the principals — the politicians and officials who are sole custodians of mainstream or Track One diplomacy — can get together and take necessary action.
But, then, there’s now Track Three diplomacy, which consists of people-to-people contact to encourage interaction and understanding between hostile communities and raising awareness within them, as well as the fourth category of multitrack diplomacy which I like best. It sounds a glorious free-for-all that might leave the full-time diplomats responsible for handling relations wondering whether they are coming or going.
Multitrack diplomacy involves operating on several tracks, official and unofficial, at the same time, as well as carrying on exchanges in business, science, culture, sports and anything else you care to name.
There’s no prize for guessing that an American invented these supplementary forms of negotiation. Joseph Montville, a state department employee, coined the phrases Track One and Track Two diplomacy in an article that appeared in Foreign Policy in 1981. However, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Track Three and Multitrack diplomacy are Indian additions. This is a country where nobody minds his own business. Whenever All India Radio introduces a broadcaster as a “political commentator”, I immediately say to myself there are more than a hundred crore of us. There’s no dearth of ever ready players in every track you care to name.
What have they accomplished? There is no joy in recollecting as Israeli forces viciously bulldoze and bombard Gaza. The Oslo Accords of 1993 between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation were once hailed as the epitome of Track Two success. Looking back, their only achievement seems to have been an uneasy handshake on the White House lawns between Israel’s Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and Yasser Arafat. Rabin paid with his life for that grudging gesture. Arafat earned the undying contempt of Hamas militants.
Another initiative cited is Camp Tawonga which brought hundreds of adults and youths from 50 different towns in Israel and the West Bank together. It may have generated goodwill at a private level at the time but that goodwill must have evaporated long ago in the bitterness over Israel’s absolute refusal to give up conquered territory and allow a sovereign Palestine to take over the reins in West Bank.
The Neemrana Dialogue, started in 1990 under the auspices of the United States Information Services (as it was then called) and later joined by American foundations and German NGOs, is probably the best-known Track Two initiative between India and Pakistan.
It accommodated diplomats trying to make up in retirement what they failed to do while in harness, military personnel who had probably fought each other when in service, media personnel who felt they were both making and recording history and, of course, academics and NGO workers.
There have been lots of other initiatives since then, including the Chaophraya Dialogue, the Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace workshops, the Pugwash Confer-ences, Ottawa Dialogue, and so on.
According to one estimate, more than 12 institutionalised Track Two groups as well as over 20 other people-to-people exchange programmes are engaged in establishing harmony between India and Pakistan.
Dedicated Track Two, Three and Multitrack activists will swear hand on heart that but for their diligence, India and Pakistan would long ago have destroyed each other and themselves in a nuclear holocaust. Kargil would have led, they will maintain, to a full-scale retaliatory invasion. The Mumbai bombings would have provoked similar punishment. The Samjhauta Express would have been even more a hostage to security fears, local disturbances and terrorist attacks. Who is to say “Nay” to these boasts?
Three points must nevertheless be made. First, unofficial delegates and dialogues can at best create a climate. They can’t take corrective action. For that we must fall back on those who monopolise Track One diplomacy and whose sins of omission and commission brought all the other tracks into being in the first place. Second, Track Two participants are largely drawn from quasi-official spheres and are as unlikely as retired civil and military officials to go against the government’s perceptions. Not only have these people represented their government at some point in time but they also know that the same government is paying for the entire enterprise. That only confirms their position as prisoners of national stereotypes.
Finally, although it’s acknowledged that Vaidik went off on his own after the Track Two mission was over, the escapade (if that is all it was) does underline the need to choose responsible participants who can make some serious contribution to bilateral discussions. Just as not all NGOs and think tanks are above board, not all journalists are reputable.
The writer is a senior journalist, columnist and author