THE former high commissioner to New Delhi, Abdul Basit, in an enlightened discourse here Saturday evening, felt sorry that India being a “tough neighbor” chances for resumption of dialogue with Pakistan are dim with the present BJP government in power, and one will have to wait till the next Indian elections in 2019 for a fresh review on prospects for improving Indo-Pak ties. There had been times, especially when Morarji Desai was prime minister, and Vajpayee’s bus journey to Lahore, but his three and a half years posting as high commissioner next door, were in “hostile environment”, Basit told a meeting of Karachi Council on Foreign Relations (KCFR). His speech, eloquent in character, was more of an overview of a situation which perhaps is bleak and pessimistic in character.
In words candid and simple, Basit, who ended his illustrious career in foreign office rather unceremoniously, also remarked that Pakistan and United States will have to work closely for restoring peace in Afghanistan. Any hitch or reluctance on the part of stake holders, will perhaps invite bigger problems. He refused to be drawn into controversy as to why he had a dig at former foreign secretary, Aizaz Chaudhury, now ambassador in Washington, saying he apologized for that but differences among people, in their official or personal capacities, instead of being discussed indoors, should not have been leaked out for public comment.
Admitting that Indo-Pakistan ties, so important for regional security, and indirectly for world peace, had seen ups and downs, but in the new scenario with Nirender Modi, despite getting for the first time simple majority in Lok Sabha, and forming his own party government, was almost a prisoner to Hindu extremism. Hehad to protect his political interests. His elaboration of such an argument sounded bitter but realistic because according to him, Modi ever since donning the mantle of high office of premiership, has been constantly facing elections in one part of his country or the other. Whether this was UP or West Bengal. He knew that his own political career had to be safeguarded which is natural, Basit said and recalled that barely 5 percent of Indian population backed Pakistan, and 85 held opposite view. Not much dissimilar was the opinion gap in Pakistan about India. Hostile views about each other were on both sides of the border.
That made his task of being friendly towards Pakistan diffciult, if not impossible, supporting his remarks by events like personal visit to Lahore of the Indian prime Minister as guest of the then Pakistani counterpart, and repeated fixation of dates for visits and meetings of foreign secretaries and their cancellation or postponement under one pretext or the other. Events like Kargil, or Pathankot were exploited to brush off chances of reconciliation or building up of good relationship, which from historical or academic viewpoint, was so essential but which had fallen victim to un-natural expediencies. Saying that Kashmir was the root cause of tension, the former diplomat, beginning in career as third secretary in Moscow under Shahid Amin as ambassador deployed massive force but appeared helpless in controlling the mounting demand for self determination in held Kashmir. However, he did win over 20 seats in Jammu and Kashmir.
As Pakistan’s chief representative in India, he said, he had been inviting Hurriyat leaders for dialogue and official functions. These leaders had even visited Pakistan, but lately the Indian foreign office denied him permission to do that which vitiated the atmosphere further. He said Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj visited Pakistan at the Heart of Asia conference, and a former Indian foreign secretary came to Islamabad for SAARC conference , but neither of these two development, could help break the ice.
He said Pakistan had agreed to discuss terrorism, an agenda item Indians had been insisiting for priority discussion, but even then the conference on that did not materialize. As experienced diplomat, who had even acted as official spokesman for foreign office in Islamabad, and served as ambassador to Germany, regretted that arrest of Indian Naval officer, Kulbashan Yadav for working to destabilize Balochistan, was a golden opportunity for Pakistan to mobilise world opinion in our favour, but not much was done to benefit from such a rare chance. He agreed that Pakistan had lacked in putting its case before the world opinion at right moments, and suffered because of that. He said Indians still were bent on destroying chances of CEPAK, which aims at building Pakistan economically strong. Islamabad, therefore, has to be careful and handle the situation tactfully to protect its interest, and benefit fully from the chances coming its way.
Indian was suffering from a kind or arrogance, wanted to be regional leader, but its designs for regional hegemony, would obviously be hampered by developments in the area. It wanted to compare itself with China, forgetting that China had gone far ahead. Indian dream will remain elusive. The two countries will cooperate in commercial sector, both being huge countries in terms of population and area, but comparison will be futile to be drawn as to whether India’s desire to come up to level of China.
Former Ambassador Shahid Amin, also immediate past president of KCFR, and Vice Admiral Khalid Mir, acting chairman of the Council, presented their own viewpoints on Indo-Pak scene, while the founder secretary general of KCFR Ahsan Mukhtar Zuberi drew substantial satisfaction at the successes he had achieved in building such a massive think tank with an initiate 14 years ago. He said he was working to have a conference of SAARC ambassadors under the aegis of theorgansisation. He recounted various measures, and moots organized by the KCFR as means to work for world peace and international goodwill.