The Hindu Lit Fest 2024 | India’s Last High Commissioner to Pakistan: the inside story

In conversation with Varghese K. George, former diplomat Ajay Bisaria shares insights from his new book Anger Management  

January 27, 2024 08:42 pm | Updated March 11, 2024 11:53 am IST - CHENNAI

India’s Last High Commissioner to Pakistan: The Inside Story | Ajay Bisaria in conversation with Varghese K. George, at The Hindu Lit Fest 2024 at Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao concert hall in Chennai on Saturday.

India’s Last High Commissioner to Pakistan: The Inside Story | Ajay Bisaria in conversation with Varghese K. George, at The Hindu Lit Fest 2024 at Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao concert hall in Chennai on Saturday. | Photo Credit: R. Ravindran

Urdu poetry, diplomatic missives, the nuclear question, and forcing a Prime Minister to take a toilet break – the last High Commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria shared his journey and gave his insights on India-Pakistan relations in a conversation with Varghese K. George at The Hindu Lit Fest 2024 on Saturday.

Quoting snippets from his new book, Anger Management, in a session titled “India’s Last High Commissioner to Pakistan: The Inside Story”, he regaled the audience with anecdotes from his stint in Pakistan – he was posted there in 2017 and expelled in 2019 after the abrogation of Article 370 - and as private secretary to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1999-2004). From the note he handed over to Vajpayee at the Agra summit in 2001 when he was talking one-on-one with General Pervez Musharraf, after which everything went downhill, to engineering a fake toilet break for Vajpayee at the SAARC summit in Nepal later that year, Mr. Bisaria spoke about the interventions used to send the right message to Pakistan, with Urdu ‘shayari’ (poetry) et al.

Read our live updates of The Hindu Lit Fest 2024, Day 2

Mr. Bisari said when he went to Pakistan in 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told him to take a message of peace for the people of Pakistan, saying “that is what we expect in return,” and that became a mandate for his public conversation in Pakistan. But there were challenges in the form of threats, aggressive surveillance and other kinds of harassment. “But at the same time beyond the professional context, there is goodwill, and ill will too – either can surface anytime.”

He said before the surgical strikes of 2016 and the Balakot air strikes of 2019, India did not have an answer to Pakistan’s proxy war. These two events, he said, have created a certain deterrence for future acts of terrorism.

On the tit-for-tat nuclear tests that both countries went for in 1998, Mr. Bisaria said while now there is nuclear protection for a sub-conventional warfare, the problem [of terrorism] has not really gone away, neither has the danger of an escalating conflict. Asked whether the nuclear option should have been kept unexercised, he said, “In my view, it was important to become an overt nuclear power than being a covert one.”

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