NEW DELHI - In a unique initiative, 12 former envoys of India and Pakistan in each other's countries, with over half a century's worth of diplomatic experience between them, met in Delhi over two days to discuss how Delhi and Islamabad can stay engaged.

Organised by the Ananta Aspen Centre, the Track 2 dialogue brought Humayun Khan, Riaz Khokhar, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, Aziz Ahmed Khan, Salman Bashir and Shahid Malik to India from Pakistan. On the Indian side were KS Bajpai, SK Lambah, G Parthasarathy, Shivshankar Menon, Satyabrata Pal and TCA Raghavan. The Pakistani envoys met vice-president Hamid Ansari, NSA Ajit Doval and former prime minister Manmohan Singh.

Although the bulk of the dialogue was held out of public view, the participants engaged in a public session to give a sense of their deliberations.

SK Lambah, former Indian special envoy for the backchannel dialogue with Tariq Aziz, said formal dialogue can happen after there is peace on the border, absence of terrorism, early trial and justice on Mumbai and Pathankot cases. Only then India can think of other areas.

Shivshankar Menon, former NSA observed between 2003 and 2007, India and Pakistan moved forward on a number of issues, including backchannel discussions largely because the ceasefire on the border held.

Salman Bashir, former Pakistan envoy said if India suspends foreign secretary-level talks because of the Hurriyat, then a lot of what had been achieved so far could be called into question. "We should pick up from where we left off during the Congress-led regime. That file seems to have been deleted. We are now wondering, what is India's Pakistan policy?"

Ashraf Qazi said there was a prevailing sentiment in Pakistan, both within the military and civilians that India wanted to destabilise Pakistan. Indian envoys said Pakistan’s dual power structure was a deterrent to proper engagement. Both Lahore initiatives — by Vajpayee and Modi — had been met by Kargil and Pathankot respectively. It raised serious questions about whether Pakistan army wanted meaningful engagement.

Menon said Prime Minister Modi's Lahore visit was a worthwhile effort, even if it was stalled by Pathankot. "There are no guarantees we will move forward. There are many accidents in our relationship, but we have to keep trying."

Questioned on the role of the Pakistan army and whether General Raheel Sharif was the real ruler of Pakistan, Aziz Ahmed Khan demurred, saying the Pakistan army played an important role in Pakistan's national life but there was no question of them conducting another coup. "Today is a very different Pakistan," he said.

G Parthasarathy said there is continuity in the Pakistan policy, but Pakistan needs to understand that public opinion in India is hostile. The participants were agreed that the NSA dialogue should continue, in fact these sensitive conversations should stay out of public glare if they were to succeed. Not only the NSAs, even the DGMOs and heads of RAW and ISI should hold talks.