Less than a decade ago, the Indian government had declared him persona non grata and given him 48 hours to leave the country. He was Pakistan’s senior-most diplomat in New Delhi then. Two days ago, when Jalil Abbas Jilani arrived back in the Indian capital, this time as the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, that nasty episode in India-Pakistan relations was a dim memory on the red carpet that was rolled out for him.
It was in February 2003, during a particularly adversarial spell in India-Pakistan ties, that Mr. Jilani, then Chargé d'Affaires at the Pakistan High Commission, was summoned by the External Affairs Ministry here and told to pack his bags because his activities were “not in keeping with his diplomatic status.” Four others in the Pakistan High Commission were expelled along with him.
Though no official reasons for the expulsion were given, reports quoting unnamed official sources spread the allegation that Mr. Jilani had been caught handing out cash to an activist of Hurriyat, which was in the crosshairs of the Indian establishment at that time for sustaining an especially violent period in Kashmir.
It is rare for a country to expel the topmost diplomat of another country in this way. India’s action seemed not too well thought out because in diplomacy, as in politics, little is permanent.
Within a year, New Delhi, somewhat to its embarrassment, found itself dealing with the man it had expelled . Mr. Jilani was the chief co-ordinating officer for the 2004 SAARC summit in Islamabad and it was on the sidelines of that summit that India and Pakistan decided to begin talks. As Director-General(South Asia) in the Pakistan Foreign Office, Mr. Jilani, who is counted among his country’s best diplomats, was a key official in those talks until 2007, when he left to take up a posting as the High Commissioner to Canberra.
Not surprisingly, there were no more leaks in the Indian media about his alleged links with the Hurriyat. Unlike in 2003, when Mr. Jilani had made an unceremonious exit over the Wagah border back into his country, this time he was received warmly at the same border, and again at the New Delhi airport on Tuesday. That very evening Mr. Jilani met the representatives of the Hurriyat. Though the Ministry of External Affairs was disapproving, no Delhi police team was waiting to pounce on him this time.
In fact, this was Mr. Jilani's second visit to India after he took charge as Foreign Secretary in March. He was part of the presidential entourage that accompanied Asif Ali Zardari on a day's visit to the capital and Ajmer on April 8.