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April 20, 2021

Basit’s book on Pak-India relations launched

National

April 20, 2021

LAHORE: Ambassador (retd) Abdul Basit’s book “Hostility: A Diplomat’s Diary of Pakistan-India Relations” was launched at the Afkar-e-Taza ThinkFest Online in conversation with Najam Sethi on Monday.

According to a press release, when asked by Najam Sethi about why he termed his appointment to New Delhi “sui generis”, Basit explained when he was Pakistan’s ambassador to Germany, he was called by then prime minister Nawaz Sharif and told to wrap up in Berlin as he was being appointed the foreign secretary. “I went back and made all my farewell calls, and then abruptly I was told that I was not going to be the foreign secretary,” stated Abdul Basit. “Obviously I could no longer stay in Berlin and so asked for a transfer, and was given New Delhi,” he noted. “I was hurt but New Delhi is usually a dream appointment and so I thought it was a compensation for the foreign secretaryship,’ explained Basit.

Sethi then asked Basit why his book was replete with attacks on the Foreign Office and the government of the time, calling them “weakling’s, incoherent and those with apologetic mindsets”. “You thought low of them and didn’t want to follow their line,” exclaimed Sethi.

Explaining his position, Basit said: “It is simply not possible that I would not follow instructions. The problem was that I was never given proper instructions!” Basit noted that when he went to New Delhi as high commissioner, he had four objectives. The first was to persuade India that Kashmir was still the core issue between Pakistan and India. Second, to foster unity among different parties in Indian-held Kashmir. Third, to consolidate confidence-building measures, and fourth, to start a new bilateral process which was balanced and tenable. Basit noted that at no point did the Foreign Office or the Prime Minister’s Office told him that his approach was flawed. However, very soon he realised that he was bypassed: “I was not kept in the loop by either the Foreign Office or the prime minister,” exclaimed Basit, noting that the Pakistan government chose to interact with India directly through the Indian high commissioner in Islamabad, and did not even update him about their meetings. “I was kept in the dark and never taken into confidence,” he emphasised.

Commenting on the possible reasons behind the disconnect between the prime minister’s policy and Ambassador Basit, Najam Sethi then opined that Nawaz Sharif was trying to forge another way with India. “In fact, both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif wanted to break with Pakistan’s past policy over India as we were in no man’s land, but every time they tried to, their attempts were scuttled by the establishment,’ Sethi noted. Basit then replied that he would not have broken with the prime minister’s line but he was never given it. “I attended several envoys’ conferences where no one told me that my approach was wrong, or gave me new instructions. I even went to the prime minister, asking him to tell Mr Fatemi to keep me in the loop, but it didn’t happen,” explained Basit. He then also explained how at that time there was incoherence between statements of the Prime Minister’s Office, that of the de facto Foreign Minister, Sartaj Aziz, and the Advisor on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi. “With such contradictions, you cannot run a foreign policy,” he exclaimed.

Explaining the deterioration of relations between him and the government, Basit posited that it perhaps all started with his meeting with Hurriet leaders, where India reacted badly. “That meeting did not go well with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and since then some people in the Foreign Office tried to create a wedge between me and the prime minister since in 2015, I could have still become the foreign secretary,” noted Basit. Here Najam Sethi opined that it was perhaps these instances and also his strong private opposition to the statement at Ufa that led the prime minister and his team to bypass him in the future.

Commenting on the current government’s foreign policy, Basit whom Sethi called an “equal opportunity offender” exclaimed that it still seemed very incoherent. For example, he said the prime minister should not have said after India abrogated Article 370 that war was not an option. “I am not advocating war, but the PM should not have said that. At times, things are best left unsaid,” noted Basit. Commenting on Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia, he said the foreign minister was wrong in threatening an alternative to the OIC. “We have 4 million workers there, and very close relations, why would you want to jeopardise them like that?” asked Basit.

Finally, on India, he noted: ‘Normalisation was not possible at the moment. Trade can happen again, the Saarc summit can happen in Islamabad, and some contacts can be resumed, but soon it will be back to square one: Kashmir,” he exclaimed. “Unless Kashmir is resolved, we cannot have good relations with India,” Basit concluded.