Published in The Hindu, January 5, 2013

A controversy erupted recently over Track Two discussions regarding the Siachen issue. “Track Two Diplomacy” is a term with which much mythology is associated. Some proponents believe that it can cut through the red tape of conventional diplomacy and resolve intractable problems. Critics argue that it is both a useless waste of time and a sinister plot to induce guileless Indians to sell out national interests — often the critics make these contradictory arguments in the same breath.

 In reality, Track Two is neither a silver bullet nor is it a plot to undermine the state. It is simply a mechanism to bring together people from different sides of a conflict to talk about issues and try to develop new ideas.

The term “Track Two Diplomacy” was first coined by Joseph Montville in 1981, who noted an increasing number of unofficial conflict-resolution dialogues taking place around the world. He wanted to give them a name and noted that, if official diplomacy was “Track One,” then unofficial diplomacy might be called “Track Two.” In my view, a fundamental mistake was made by adding the word “diplomacy.” It conveys the idea that this is somehow a diplomatic activity. It is not. Diplomacy is reserved strictly for those who represent the state. People engaged in Track Two do not represent the state and should not try to.

What they are there to do is to try to work with people from the other side to develop new ideas and understandings around how a dispute may be settled….

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