Abdul Basit's tenure as Pakistan's High Commissioner to India saw heightened tensions, no movement on bilateral talks

With the Pakistan government confirming the appointment of Sohail Mahmood as its next High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit's three year-term finally comes to an end. As noted by Hindustan Times, the appointment of Basit as Islamabad's envoy came just two months before Narendra Modi took over as India's prime minister. The sheer timing of his appointment provided the senior diplomat with a close view of all that had happened in India-Pakistan ties since Modi's ascension to power.

Basit's brush with the Modi government began on a good note, with Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif accepting the invitation to attend Modi's swearing-in ceremony. Reacting to the unprecedented development, Basit had welcomed the gesture and called it 'a positive move'.

However, Basit's engagement with the Kashmiri separatists irked the new dispensation and led to the cancellation of the foreign secretary-level talks in August 2014. Basit had met Hurriyat leader Shabir Shah just prior to the meeting of the top diplomats of the two countries.

The foreign secretary is reported to have told Basit back then, "Either talk to separatists or talk to us."

Experts called it Pakistan's 'self goal' but Modi too faced embarrassment as the Opposition called his foreign policy "knee jerk diplomacy".

A lot was being expected from Basit's meeting with the then newly-appointed Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar. The Indian foreign secretary later traveled to Islamabad as part of his "Saarc Yatra".

However, after the 1982-batch diplomat met Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani in March 2015, the ties again reached square one.

Basit's idea to allow Hurriyat leaders meet the then NSA Sartaj Aziz also led to the cancellation of the NSA-level meeting between the two countries in August 2015.

Outgoing Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit. News18

Outgoing Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit. News18

A series of terror strikes — Gurdaspur, Pathankot Uri and Nagrota— reportedly originating from Pakistan effectively derailed any possibility of a bilateral dialogue between the two countries.

In fact, the lowest point in Basit's tenure came when 17 Indian soldiers were killed in a pre-dawn strike on a camp in Uri.

However, like every time, Pakistan rejected the evidence of its involvement provided by the Indian government.

The terror strike was followed by Indian Army's surgical strike against terror launchpads in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir on 29 September 2016.

Basit understandably toed the official Islamabad line of denying any surgical strike and putting the onus of showing proof on New Delhi.

It is certainly difficult for a Pakistani to defend his country in a hostile land.

Frequent ceasefire violations by Pakistani troops, including the beheading of an Indian soldier in Macchil sector in November 2016 as well as the mutilation of two jawans on 1 May continued to strain bilateral ties.

Despite tensions, one aspect of Basit's three-year tenure that remained constant was his intention to put the onus of kick-starting the bilateral talks on India.

This was best observed after the surgical strikes when he said that Pakistan was ready for comprehensive talks with India but claimed that the desire for engagement was missing from the Indian side.

However, his open references to Kashmir issue, were not in line with his desire for "comprehensive talks'.

On Pakistan's Independence Day in 2016, he was reported to have said, "Struggle for independence will continue till Kashmir gets freedom... sacrifice of the people of Kashmir will not go in vain.” He had also dedicated the celebrations to the 'Kashmir cause". Basit's statement had come at a time when the Valley was witnessing a major flare-up following Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani's killing.

Similarly, during this year's Pakistan Day celebrations, Basit praised the Kashmiri "freedom struggle" much to the chagrin of India.

The three years of Basit saw the security situation deteriorating in the Kashmir Valley, with the Indian authorities blaming Islamabad for fuelling the unrest. Consequently, bilateral talks could not see the light of the day under him. With no major breakthrough in bilateral ties, Basit's tenure will remain unremarkable to say the least.

Updated Date: May 09, 2017 08:18 AM

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