Why has the world stopped listening to Pakistan on Kashmir? A diplomat's lament

Basit’s account of his years in India is also a story of the humiliation he suffered at the hands of Pakistan's MoFA during his stint in New Delhi

M.R. Narayan Swamy Sep 21, 2021
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Hostility: A Diplomat’s Diary on Pakistan India Relations; Author: Abdul Basit; Publishers: HarperCollins India

Despite decades of high-decibel rhetoric as well as diplomatic and military support to militants, Pakistan is still largely on its own vis-à-vis the separatist campaign in Jammu and Kashmir. Abdul Basit, who was Pakistan’s High Commissioner in India in 2014-17 before returning home under a cloud, tells us why in a frank assessment.

If Basit is to be believed, the Pakistani establishment, contrary to its public image, is not committed to the Kashmir cause. The only Pakistanis who are sincere are apparently people like Basit. The worst offender is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), which “needs a major surgery; not a Panadol”. The Ministry, the diplomat says, has seen plenty of nepotism – “the biggest curse for any organization” – in the last 15 years or so. Indeed, the MoFA brass “was totally bankrupt professionally”. Worse, Pakistan’s diplomacy lacked coherence and the requisite aggression vis-à-vis India. “Kashmir has never been our priority in the real sense of the word.”

Going by Basit, none of Pakistan’s rulers in recent times has performed creditably on Jammu and Kashmir. Pervez Musharraf may have been serious in finding a mutually acceptable solution but floundered about in diplomacy. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who appointed Basit in New Delhi but later ignored him for all practical purposes and intent, was too soft on India. He was too easily accessible to Indian journalists and overly inclined to pander to India unilaterally and unconditionally. “I could see that Sharif had an emotional attachment to India and Indians which, at times, went beyond his stature as the Prime Minister.”

The report card of the PTI government on Kashmir under Imran Khan is also not very encouraging. “Their failures on Kashmir will haunt Imran Khan for years to come.” According to Basit, diluting the focus on Kashmir by raising issues that Pakistan has long forgotten makes no sense whatsoever. As an example, he cites a new political map unveiled by Islamabad that includes the former princely state of Junagarh in Gujarat. “It is important that Pakistan should stop projecting Kashmir as an Islamic issue. Pakistan is itself to blame for the international indifference.”

Basit’s account of his years in India is also a story of the humiliation he suffered at the hands of the MoFA during his stint in New Delhi.

Basit had long-running problems with his ministry, starting from the time he was told while he was Ambassador in Berlin that he will be the Foreign Secretary. The promise was not kept. Instead, he was posted in India during the end period of the Congress-led UPA regime. When he interacted with journalists in Delhi, the MoFA told him sternly to cut down his media engagement. “All our telephones (in the High Commission) are tapped. Indians were listening to our conversation… Calling me and admonishing me on the landline was hardly professional.”

Much to Basit’s chagrin, the MoFA worked through the Indian High Commission in Islamabad and not through him. “In diplomacy, there could not be anything more Kafkaesque than this; a state undermining its own established channels of communication. It simply proved that the (Ministry) leadership was totally bankrupt professionally and I was considered an outsider.”

Basit was a vociferous supporter of the Hurriyat leadership, in particular the pro-Pakistan Syed Ali Shah Geelani, and the Kashmiri separatist campaign. He found it silly that Islamabad was pandering to Modi, who Basit felt was married to the RSS ideology. Basit held strong views on Modi: “a reprehensible and despicable figure for Pakistanis in general”, “a difficult character … and would prove a hard nut to crack”, “did not inspire much hope” and “a maverick”. Unfortunately, Sharif found Modi quite forthcoming and liked his business-like approach.

Basit was frequently undermined by his colleagues in Islamabad, particularly after his meeting with Hurriyat leaders in New Delhi led to the axing of a bilateral dialogue in Islamabad. He realized there was a vicious campaign against him and a “deeply-entrenched mafia” in the MoFA wanted to cut him to size. The situation deteriorated so badly over the months that Basit was not even kept informed about important things like a telephone conversation between the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers. He was kept away from meetings where the presence of the Pakistani High Commissioner to India would have been an asset. Things came to such a pass that the Pakistan Foreign Secretary told officials not to send any communication to the High Commission in India without permission. “For the Ministry, the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi did not exist.” 

A time came when Basit felt “the Indian side must have also realized that, at the end, nobody (in Islamabad) listened to me and I was overruled on almost everything.”

Having had enough, Basit sought a transfer out of India. He wanted to get out of “a jaundiced and unfavourable environment” as he was being scuttled by his own colleagues. He concluded he was no more in the good books of Sharif, who picked a junior to Basit as the next Foreign Secretary.  Even after he chose a date (August 2, 2017) to leave India, he kept getting calls from Islamabad asking when he will pack up. In Islamabad, he was made President of the Islamabad Policy and Research Institute. But constant government interference upset him. He quit in August 2018 though his three-year contract was to end only in August 2020.

Basit feels Pakistan must name a Special Envoy for Jammu and Kashmir and revoke the 1972 Simla agreement to end the shackles of bilateralism on the Kashmir dispute. A Special Envoy is needed, he feels, because the coordination that the Kashmir diplomacy warrants, including mobilization of Kashmiris around the world, cannot be done either by the Foreign Minister or Foreign Secretary.

“Unless Pakistan itself raises the Kashmir diplomacy by appointing a Special Envoy, why would others stick their necks out for Pakistan? Pakistan urgently needs to break the crust of its unacceptable complacency to make a real difference on Kashmir.” Basit also wants Pakistan to close its airspace to Indian airlines at least once a week or fortnight. He says the Kashmiri struggle “has to be reinvigorated on both political and military fronts.”

He finds faults with all the diplomatic moves Islamabad made after India abrogated Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. “We continue to make hortatory and didactic statements to jolt the world’s conscience on Kashmir but the world appears to have stopped listening to what Islamabad is trying to convey. Even countries like Turkey and Malaysia have lost interest.”

Title: Hostility: A Diplomat’s Diary on Pakistan India Relations; Author: Abdul Basit; Publishers: HarperCollins India; Pages: 331; Price: Rs 799

(The reviewer is a veteran journalist, author and South Asia analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at ranjini17@hotmail.com)