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Abdul Basit's Tenure Comes to a Premature and Inglorious End

Abdul Basit was appointed as the High Commissioner to India just two months before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarkable victory in May 2014.

Zakka Jacob | CNN-News18

Updated:July 26, 2017, 2:06 PM IST
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Abdul Basit's Tenure Comes to a Premature and Inglorious End
Basit's tenure has been marked by numerous terrorist attacks from Pathankot to Uri to Nagrota. ( Photo: Getty Images)
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New Delhi: Abdul Basit’s tenure as Pakistan High Commissioner to India and his career in Pakistan’s Foreign Services has come to a premature and inglorious end.

Basit had reportedly asked for early retirement after his India posting and now Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has approved it.

Basit was appointed as the High Commissioner to India just two months before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarkable victory in May 2014.

Over the last three years, Basit has had a ringside view of the highs and lows in the India-Pakistan bilateral relationship.

His innings started on a high when Narendra Modi, much to everyone’s surprise, invited Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif among other South Asian heads of state for his swearing-in ceremony.

Basit himself told me that he was “pleasantly surprised”.

Sharif was not reportedly keen on coming to India since he was besieged by street protests taken out by both Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri at the time.

Visiting India then would have been too risky, foolhardy even. But Basit played an important role in convincing Nawaz to accept the invitation.

The bilateral that happened on the sidelines of Modi’s swearing-in also was a remarkable success, much to everybody’s surprise. Sharif reportedly went back home, telling some very close officials “this is a man I can do business with”.

Unfortunately, that bonhomie didn’t last too long.

In August, Basit met some Hurriyat leaders on the eve of Foreign Secretary-level talks. It was a routine meeting that Pakistani High Commissioners had been undertaking from the early 2000s.

Basit thought he was just following standard protocol.

But much to his surprise, on the eve of those talks, India’s then Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh summoned him to South Block and told him rather curtly, “Either you talk to them or you talk to us.”

Basit had no clue that the red lines had changed under New Delhi’s new dispensation.

Basit did hit it off with the new Foreign Secretary Dr. S Jaishankar initially. The Foreign Secretary even had a pretty successful SAARC yatra which included Islamabad in the guise of promoting cricket during the 2015 World Cup.

Things looked slightly upbeat once again when, out of the blue, the Prime Ministers of both countries decided to meet in Ufa, Russia on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit.

That meeting came about after some nudging by the Americans (primarily then US President Barack Obama) and was also followed up by Russia and China — countries that have some amount of leverage with Pakistan.

Basit had also quietly worked the back-channels to help bring about that meeting.

But things went further downhill after that. The meeting of the NSAs that was agreed upon in Ufa never happened because the Pakistanis insisted on meeting the Hurriyat. I have asked Basit on a number of occasions how he reconciled his genuine desire to kick-start talks with this constant outreach to the Hurriyat which clearly irked the Indian leadership. Till date, he has not been able to give a convincing enough explanation.

Basit’s tenure has been marked by numerous terrorist attacks from Pathankot to Uri to Nagrota. Basit has said in the past that there were things outside the control of the civilian establishment in Pakistan. Things that he couldn’t talk about. But he did talk, sometimes out of turn and sometimes to the detriment of ties.

His constant references to the ‘Kashmir’ cause in numerous Independence Day and Pakistan Day celebrations constantly irked the Indian establishment. In the last 18 months, he was not entertained much by the Indian diplomatic establishment.

Finally, it’s the cloak and daggers within the Pakistan foreign establishment that cost Basit the top job and eventually the remainder of his career in the Foreign Service. Basit was peeved at being overlooked for the post of Foreign Secretary in favour of Tehmina Janjua who was many batches his junior. He has privately told journalists that he has no interest in working under her.

Basit will now be replaced by Sohail Mahmood who is currently Pakistan’s Ambassador to Turkey. Mahmood takes charge next month.
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| Edited by: Swati Sharma
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