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‘Hostility – A Diplomat’s Diary on India-Pakistan Relations’ review: Why India, Pakistan relations are fraught and interrupted

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There are various layers of hostility in this candid book written by Abdul Basit, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India between 2014 and 2017. Hostility between India and Pakistan is, of course, a running theme of the book, but Basit also describes in rich detail the “hostility” within the top echelons of the Pakistani foreign office.

Basit’s posting to India itself was marred by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s decision to appoint him Foreign Secretary while serving in Germany as ambassador but this was undone, according to him, by the many rivalries in the Islamabad foreign office. Interestingly, Basit admits that he had “never served anywhere in South Asia” before getting the Delhi job. (The man initially tapped for the India job was Syed Ibne Abbas, who served as Political Counsellor in Pakistan’s mission, may have proven a better fit for India-Pakistan relations). Many a Pakistani and Indian diplomat who became High Commissioner has done at least one posting in the “hostile” country.

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Difference of opinion

Basit, in the main, says that due to differences of opinion, personality and approach, he was excluded by his foreign office from key decisions, but still managed to save the day for Pakistan by keeping the public focus on the Kashmir issue.

‘Hostility – A Diplomat’s Diary on India-Pakistan Relations’ review: Why India, Pakistan relations are fraught and interrupted
 

Referring to the suspense on whether or not Sharif would attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing in on May 26, 2014, in New Delhi, Basit says that confirmation of the Pakistani leader’s visit came in the form of a text message he received from Sajjan Jindal, an Indian entrepreneur and close friend of Sharif. The former diplomat also suggests that the sudden visit of Modi to Lahore on Christmas Day 2015 to attend Sharif’s grand-daughter’s wedding was “definitely the handiwork of Jindal”.

Basit, talking about conflicting messages coming out of Islamabad in 2016, writes: “Pakistan then had three foreign ministers; Prime Minister Sharif who himself retained the portfolio of foreign minister; Advisor Sartaj Aziz and Special Assistant Tariq Fatemi. When such was the situation, how could sanity prevail?”

Letter of reprimand

Given that Basit’s meeting with Hurriyat leaders led to a rupture in dialogue between India and Pakistan, he refers to discussions early in 2015 in Islamabad and says “some in government” (the army brass) wanted him to return to Delhi to meet Hurriyat leaders and then come for Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar’s visit to Pakistan.

Basit also reveals he received a letter of reprimand in April 2016 from Islamabad for some comments he had made about “talks” between India and Pakistan at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Delhi.

Having interacted with several Pakistani High Commissioners, this reviewer believes that public silence is an underrated virtue for Pakistani and Indian diplomats.

On this front, Basit seems to have upset not just his Indians hosts, but also his own side.

He also reveals that resumption of “back-channel diplomacy” was specifically mentioned in the agreement between India and Pakistan after the two Prime Ministers met in Ufa, Russia, in July 2015, but never made public. Basit finds “merit” in the suggestion that Pakistan should revoke the “shackles of bilateralism” on Kashmir by junking the 1972 Simla Agreement. He also suggests: “Their [Kashmiris] struggle has to be reinvigorated on both political and military fronts.”

Given the active abetment of Pakistan’s army-intelligence establishment in fomenting terror in Kashmir and other parts of India, such a statement from a former Pakistani diplomat is a dead giveaway.

It sits well with those holding among the most hawkish views on India in the Pakistani establishment. Such views also detract from the task of establishing moderate approaches in dealing with differences between Pakistan and India.

Hostility – A Diplomat’s Diary on India-Pakistan Relations; Abdul Basit, HarperCollins, ₹799.

amit.b@thehindu.co.in


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