AMID vague indications that the Pakistani and Indian Prime Ministers might hold talks, though they have not yet been scheduled, to discuss bilateral issues at Thimphu (Bhutan) where both are attending the SAARC summit, Mr Gilani surprised the people by contradicting his Foreign Minister, who had said only a day before, that no secret diplomacy was being conducted with New Delhi. When a correspondent asked him on Monday, aboard the plane taking him to the venue of the summit, about settlement of disputes with India, Mr Gilani remarked that efforts were being made to do so through normal diplomatic channels as well as backdoor diplomacy. The words of Mr Qureshi, if one were to rephrase them, would clearly suggest that the government was not doing any backdoor diplomacy with India since the idea had not found favour with the people. It must be said that they have valid grounds for holding this view. On the one hand, these differing statements cause confusion in the public mind, and, on the other, they point to a clearly undemocratic manner with which our government operates: apparently, issues of vital importance are not debated in the cabinet to formulate a common policy; there is no effort to work out the main outlines of agreed press statements, leading to off-the-cuff observations, suiting the occasion; the top spokesman on foreign policy does not know what the Prime Minister has in mind on the conduct of relations with a neighbouring country, with whom we have a long history of hostility and tension; and the possibility of a most unethical, indeed dangerous as well, tendency on the part of the ruling circles to hoodwink the public about how matters that are of great concern to them are being handled. Precisely for that reason, Mr Qureshi should know, they are loath to the idea of back channel diplomacy. There are very strong apprehensions in the public mind that the equanimity with which the present political set-up has been continuing with the status quo on Kashmir, while the Indian security forces are relentlessly committing human rights abuses there, and accepting Indias blatant theft of Pakistans share of water, suggests that the government might have struck a secret, sell-out deal with the Indians or might be in the process of doing so. What the leaders fail to realise is that any solution that does not respond to the aspirations of the people of Kashmir and, of course, of Pakistan would have no lasting value. Not only that. It would be unjust to the people of the occupied state and contrary to the legitimate interests of Pakistan. It would stand no chance at all of bringing peace to the troubled subcontinent and would be, in fact, a recipe for greater discontent and conflicts. Only open diplomacy is the need of the hour.