The Personal and the Political

The Personal and the Political

Hostility edited | BookStore, Featured from Narratives Magazine
Author: Abdul Basit
Publisher: Lightstone Publishers Pages: 334
Price: Rs. 1,795
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Mr. Abdul Basit

If one wants to understand how timid, weak and self-centred leaders damage a legitimate cause, like challenging the Indian occupation of Kashmir, then Hostility is the book that provides a first-hand insight into this sorry saga. If one wishes to find out how selfish interests, and petty office-politics come into play at the cost of national interests, this is the book to read. Hostility is basically about the tumultuous Pakistan-India relationship, but it also exposes the chinks in Pakistan’s armour as the world’s lone nuclear-armed Muslim state attempts to defy an enemy at least four times its size.

Abdul Basit, one of Pakistan’s star diplomats and the country’s former high commissioner to India from March 2014 to August 2017, has penned down an account of his days in New Delhi that saw Narendra Modi’s rise to power in May 2014, the few efforts that were made to normalise relations between the two South Asian rivals and why they did not succeed. Alongside, Basit also explains the many nuances and finer points of diplomacy and suggests a way forward for Pakistan on how to deal with India and its hegemonic designs. 

For those interested in Pakistan-India relations, Basit’s book would serve as the most authoritative and insightful account, from the Pakistani side, about the days that brought the relations between the two countries to their current impasse. There is a historical context of this stalemate, which the author effectively weaves into his narration.

“Instead of resolving the Jammu & Kashmir dispute through a United Nations-supervised plebiscite, as pledged by the two countries, we created more issues and more cleavages,” he writes. “Resultantly, we fought wars, went nuclear and tried to undermine each other at all levels with the implacable mutual hostility continuing to be the major impediment in fostering regional cooperation.”

In broad strokes, the author explains the origin of the Kashmir dispute, the condition of minorities in India, particularly Muslims, who face increasingly tough times as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) implements its agenda of transforming India into a Hindu state, and New Delhi’s dream of establishing its undisputed dominance in the region. The author also analyses the more recent events, including India’s August 5, 2019 measures which unilaterally made Occupied Jammu & Kashmir its union territory by scrapping the nominal special status guaranteed in the Indian constitution and its organised bid to change the demographics of this Muslim-majority region.  

For the common man, Modi’s unilateral decision to revoke the special status may have come out of the blue, but not for the Pakistani leadership. “Not that Pakistan was not aware of the RSS/BJP intentions and was caught unawares on 5 August 2019… the Imran Khan government was visibly in a blue funk. Pakistan simply did not know how to go about the illegal and perilous Indian action beyond making bombastic statements,” the author discloses.

The author points out the disturbing fact that Pakistan’s diplomacy lacked coherence before and after Modi’s decisive actions in Kashmir. “Every step was taken in fits and starts and thus failed to generate the desired momentum.”

Pakistan’s handling of its diplomacy in the pre- and post-August 5, 2019 days makes for a sorry read, manifesting poor and weak leadership at every level as the country failed to draw and assert its red lines.

“India as well as the international community soon realised that Pakistan was indulging in brouhaha only for domestic reasons. Pakistan did not have any plan of escalating the situation on the LoC in a managed way which, in my view, was then essential to get the international community involved in the tension-riven situation which had the potential of flaring up into even a nuclear war.”

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Abdul Basit meets with Syed Ali Shah Geelani, chairman of the Hurriyat Conference, to celebrate Pakistan National Day at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi on March 23, 2015.

The author meticulously describes Pakistan’s diplomatic blunders and an apparent lack of commitment by its leadership to the Kashmir cause.

“When diplomacy is conducted episodically and as an event and not as a process, then such outcomes should not be surprising at all,” Basit writes.

But the latest decline in Pakistan’s diplomacy on Kashmir started much earlier.

Basit quotes the much-publicised joint statement issued on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Sharm-el Sheikh, Egypt where the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, met his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, on July 16, 2009.

The statement talked about terrorism, including the Mumbai attack, but there was no mention of the Samjhauta Express blasts. Gilani did raise the issue of Indian interference in Balochistan, but made no mention of Jammu and Kashmir.

“In my view, the statement was heavily [tilted] in favour of India, but since Prime Minister Singh was drawing unending flak from the Indian opposition, nobody in Pakistan reflected as to what we had lost.”

Nawaz Sharif’s ascent to power, for the third time, as prime minister in 2013, further weakened the Kashmir cause.

“Prime Minister Sharif’s Kashmir policy was indeed undergoing some undesirable modulation,” Basit writes in the second chapter of the book, in which he gives a candid account of the first Sharif-Modi meeting in which the Pakistani prime minister made some out-of-place remarks and deliberately avoided taking up the Kashmir issue, though his Indian counterpart did not mince his words when putting across his country’s position. 

In chapter 5, the author writes that somehow, he could “see that Sharif had an emotional attachment to India and the Indians which, at times, and if I may say so, went beyond his stature as the prime minister.” Basit quotes a number of instances in which Sharif went out of his way to accommodate Indians, both in diplomacy and for cultivating personal relations with Indian leaders, businessmen and media persons alike.

The author’s account of how Nawaz Sharif tried to unilaterally oblige Indians — at every level — reads like a charge-sheet, and he backs all his charges through annexures and fool-proof references.   

“The problem with the Prime Minister was that he was too easily accessible to Indian journalists and refused to follow the established protocols.”

Highlighting the Sharif family’s close ties with Indians, the author writes; “I would, on and off, receive calls from his nephew, Salman Shahbaz to issue visas to Indian engineers for the maintenance of their sugar mills. They were also planning to establish a new state-of-the-art sugar mill in Pakistan to be imported from India.”

Apart from close business ties, which apparently were being conducted at the cost of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif was happy to bypass the Pakistan High Commission in India and conduct diplomacy through his trusted Indian businessman, Sajjan Jindal.

The meeting between Prime Minister Sharif and Modi, on the sidelines of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) Summit in Ufa, proved to be a new low for Pakistan’s diplomacy. Not just the optics of the Sharif-Modi meeting were embarrassing for Pakistan (See details on page xx), but the Pakistani side, in a bid to appease Indians, did not press for the inclusion of the Kashmir issue in the joint statement. To quote Basit, “… the joint statement was an unnecessary disaster. It was the first prime minister-level joint statement in which Kashmir was not specifically mentioned. Kashmir was specifically mentioned in the Simla Agreement of 1972, the joint statement in New York in 1998, the Lahore Declaration of 1999, the draft Agra Declaration of 2001, and the joint statement in Islamabad in 2004. Not this time,” Basit quoted an article of another former Pakistani diplomat Ashraf Jahangir Qazi.

The author bemoans the mishandling of the case of Indian spy and terrorist kingpin, Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav, who was arrested on March 3, 2016 from Balochistan.

The book narrates the optimism of Modi that by using his “personal equation” with Sharif, he would be able to get Jadhav out of Pakistan. “On 26 April, he (Modi) dispatched Sajjan Jindal for a day trip. While the purpose of the visit was not shared publicly, I was told by a senior staff member of Jindal’s that it was about Jadhav. We had already received instructions from Islamabad, through the Foreign Office, to issue him a visa immediately for Lahore and Islamabad.”

But as soon as Jindal landed in Rawalpindi on his private jet, he was escorted to the hill resort of Murree for which a visa was not issued, Basit recalled giving details of how the Pakistani media played up this irregularity.  

While the book gives details of how Pakistan’s top elected leaders, especially Nawaz Sharif, made compromises with India, gave them unnecessary unilateral concessions, it also sheds light on the continued Indian belligerence and its hegemonic agenda in which New Delhi even presented talks for the sake of talks as a favour to Pakistan and opposed the tradition of meetings of Pakistani leaders and officials with the leaders of Occupied Kashmir.

According to Basit, Kashmiri leaders, especially one of the most respected names of the freedom struggle, Syed Geelani, were fully aware of Modi and the RSS agenda.

Geelani was of the view that if Modi became prime minister, he would be more dangerous for Kashmir and that he would indubitably pursue the RSS agenda. He was spot on. According to the book, “He (Geelani) had no doubt that the ultimate objective of New Delhi was to convert Jammu and Kashmir also into a Hindu-majority state and, in view of Pakistan’s own political and economic mess, India would literally have a walkover.”

Basit maintains that subjective problems and a myopic approach are letting Pakistan down: “Our problem is not Modi, but our own leaders who are too timid and too weak-kneed to stand up for Pakistan’s interests in the face of external pressure. The people of Pakistan surely deserve better.” 

Another aspect the book touches on is the sharp decline of professionalism in Pakistan’s Foreign Office.  

“We shower praise on mediocrity and even end up rewarding those who knowingly play havoc with state interest,” Basit complains.  “Nepotism is the biggest curse for any organisation; the Foreign Office has, unfortunately, seen more of this in the last fifteen years or so.”

At several places in the book, Basit underlines the fact that during the Sharif period, the Foreign Office was undermining the Kashmir issue. “I was uncomfortable since I did not see my own Foreign Office concerned about Kashmir. Nor were they willing to listen to the need to have a plan of action.” 

He also repeatedly mentions how the Foreign Office bypassed their own high commissioner in New Delhi and sent messages to the Indian leaders, including Modi, through the Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad. For Basit, it was like a two-front battle: conducting diplomacy in hostile India and, at the same time, keeping an eye on petty efforts aimed at undermining him by none other than the Foreign Secretary.

“When the house is divided and headed by people who nurture grudges and do things beyond their bailiwicks, such weird things become normal and there is little realisation of their long-term negative effects for the institution as a whole. For the MoFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi did not exist,” the author complains.

The book suggests that Pakistan needs to go back to the drawing board if it is serious in giving an impetus to its Kashmir policy. Rather than indulging in delusional verbosity revolving around the mantra of talks and talks alone, Basit stresses the need of taking practical steps to build pressure on India, including closing Pakistani airspace for Indian aircraft, and he supports the suggestion of scrapping the Simla accord. “Once Pakistan had reverted to the pre-1971 war situation, converting the LoC (Line of Control) into a ceasefire line, the stakes for peace would heighten, and the international community might get involved in the potentially volatile situation between the two nuclear powers.”

Basit warns that it would be “a huge misstep to start moving towards normalising everything with India without the latter showing any tangible and consequential flexibility on Kashmir.”

The gist of his message to the readers is that, “Pakistan-India relations would never move from confrontation to cooperation irreversibly without the resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.”

It is Modi who is trying to dictate new rules for bilateral engagement and Pakistan must not bow to the Indian dictates.

All in all, Hostility is a captivating read as it gives an eye-opening insider account of what went wrong with Pakistan’s Kashmir policy, underlining the need for putting our house in order. It should not be read and taken just as a diplomat’s account, but of a committed nationalist Pakistani who was prepared to anger vested interests when it came to protecting and presenting national interests at the cost of his career.

Amir Zia Profile | BookStore, Featured from Narratives Magazine
Amir Zia
The writer is a senior journalist and managing editor, Narratives.
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