Former Diplomat Satinder Kumar Lambah Passes Away at 81

As former prime minister Manmohan Singh's special envoy to Pakistan, he was credited for his role as a negotiator when the relations between India-Pakistan improved in the 2004-08 period.

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New Delhi: Former diplomat Satinder Kumar Lambah, who headed the backchannel diplomatic negotiations between India and Pakistan from 2005 to 2014, passed away in Delhi on Thursday, June 30 night.

Lambah was 81 years old and had been unwell for nearly a year, according to the Indian Express.

As former prime minister Manmohan Singh’s special envoy to Pakistan, he led several talks in the background with his counterpart Tariq Aziz, who was then appointed by Pakistan’s military ruler General Parvez Musharraf. He is credited for his role as a negotiator for a thaw in the relations seen between the neighbouring countries during the 2004-2008 period. During those years, Lambah is said to have ensured complete secrecy about his mission.

It is believed that, at that time, India and Pakistan had almost reached some consensus on the Kashmir issue and were to sign an agreement, and a ‘white paper’ to this effect, detailing various aspects, were also said to have been exchanged between two countries.  It was indeed during this period that bus services and trade across the Line of Control (LOC) took off.

However, things changed drastically after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks (2008), with India demanding Pakistan bring the perpetrators to book. The backchannel communication, as a result, suffered overtime until 2014 and was eventually suspended altogether.

Lambah served as deputy high commissioner and high commissioner to Pakistan, and also held the post of joint secretary on the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran division at the ministry of external Affairs.

He is credited for playing a major role in India’s participation in the post-Taliban redevelopment of Afghanistan in the early 2000s, when he served as a special envoy to Afghanistan between 2001 and 2004.

His colleagues in the foreign service establishment recall him as a “self-effacing but skilled diplomat”. As his final posting before retirement from the IFS, he was the ambassador to Moscow from 1998 to 2001.

Lambah, who was born in Pakistan’s Peshawar, was said to have had deep contacts across the Pakistani society. This, many diplomats believed, helped in his role as prime minister’s special envoy to Pakistan.

“He was very discreet in terms of what he shared of his assessments and conclusions. As someone who was deeply engaged with Pakistan as the designated back-channel contact, he remained inscrutable to outsiders,” T.C.A. Raghavan, who served as deputy high commissioner in Islamabad during those years and was later high commissioner to Pakistan, told Indian Express.

It is said that when Lambah presented credentials as high commissioner, the then Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif hosted a lunch for him, which is still seen as an unprecedented welcome for an Indian diplomat in Pakistan. Similarly, three years later, he is said to have received a huge farewell from Benazir Bhutto, who took over as prime minister of Pakistan after Sharif.