Career diplomat Abdul Basit has been Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India since 2014. Before that he was Pakistan’s ambassador to Germany from 2012 to 2014. Basit holds a Masters degree in international relations and joined the Pakistan Foreign Service in 1982. During his lengthy career, he has been posted in Moscow, New York, Sana’a, Geneva and London. In a freewheeling interview with Junaid Kathju and Zulkarnain Banday, Basit spoke about the challenges of his job and the future of Indo-Pak relations. Excerpts:
Q: Being Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India is one of the toughest jobs in the world of diplomacy. How has your experience been in the past three years?
I was honoured to represent Pakistan in New Delhi and by and large I have enjoyed my stint here. It has been rewarding in many ways. Professionally speaking, I think this place is driven by many challenges but my effort has been to bring the countries together, resolve all our issues and move towards a cooperative relationship. Unfortunately as things are between Pakistan and India, it is not easy. I wish our two countries are able to settle their bilateral problems because that is imperative for durable and viable peace in the region. We must realise our potential, economic as well as otherwise, as soon as possible.
Q: Considering the new low in relations India and Pakistan have witnessed lately, do you think the two governments can restart the longstalled dialogue at an early date?
First of all we need to understand that Jammu and Kashmir is the root cause of all our problems. I think unless we resolve this problem as per the aspirations of the people there it will continue to be difficult to have a viable peace in the region. It is important not to shy away from settling this issue, because that is the cause of our mutual distrust. We have fought wars because of this dispute. India also agrees that the Kashmir dispute needs to be settled, whether you take UN resolutions or the Shimla Agreement or Lahore declaration or Islamabad joint statement. So we should sit and solve it amicably. Once that is done, there is hardly anything between our two countries that cannot be settled easily and quickly.
Q: India has always stressed that cross-border infiltration and terrorism must stop before any dialogue. What is Pakistan’s view on it?
As far as Pakistan is concerned we do not believe in setting pre-conditions for talks. If we can address all these issues then there is hardly anything left for talks between the two countries. Our approach is more practical because we also have concerns about terrorism. The conviction of Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav clearly shows that Pakistan too is suffering at the hands of terrorism which has internal and external dimensions. My own take is sooner or later India and Pakistan will have to come to the negotiation table. I am convinced that we are not destined to live in hostility forever.
Q: Talking about Jadhav, will consular access be granted?
The ICJ in its provisional order discusses this issue in the realm of plausibility, so there was no ruling on the issue of consular access. The ICJ has very clearly said the provisional order will not have any bearing on the final judgment. We need to understand Commander Jadhav is not an ordinary citizen. He was convicted for sabotage, subversion and terrorism.
Q. Pakistan has also said that they are going to give strong evidence against Jadhav?
Yes, we are considering it. I will not discuss our strategy here but we do not have a shred of doubt about his involvement in terrorism. Pakistan is on terra firma. We are on a stronger wicket in this case.
Q. India has also put forth the argument of fairness of military courts in Pakistan. According to India, Jadhav did not go through a fair trial and that is the reason it is seeking consular access.
First of all these military courts are functioning because of the constitution of Pakistan, so they are very much part of a legal framework. Secondly, he (Jadhav) is not the only one who has been tried by military courts, even Pakistanis who are involved in terror activities or violence have been tried and sentenced to death, and many have been executed already. There is no discrimination taking place against Commander Jadhav.
Q. What was the reason for industrialist Sajjan Jindal’s visit to Pakistan? Did it have anything to do with the Jadhav case? Was it a kind of Track-II dialogue on the issue?
No, (laughs) as you know he went there to meet the Prime Minister. They have known each other for many years, so there wasn’t anything official about it.
Q: Do you see the possibility of the two Prime Ministers meeting in Kazakhstan on the sidelines of the SCO Summit?
I haven’t seen any proposal to this effect yet. There is nothing as of today.
Q: Do you agree with India’s objection to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) on the ground that the project runs through sovereign Indian territory under the illegal occupation of Pakistan?
I think these objections are misplaced. CPEC is a development project not only for the welfare of Pakistan but for the South Asia region. It is a flagship project which would enhance regional connectivity and open up many new opportunities. Pakistan will continue to pursue this project and will not leave it halfway. Pakistan is destined to emerge as an economic hub and this project will play an important role in realising that objective.
Q. There is a perception in India that Pakistan is acting on the directions of China to contain India.What is your comment?
You know China is one of our most important strategic partners. Our friendship goes back many decades. China is our partner in economic development, but this partnership is not against any third country. It is to our mutual advantage and I am sure it would also help other regional countries.
Q. The Kashmir issue as you said is the core issue between India and Pakistan. Why is Pakistan seeking to take political and diplomatic advantage of the current uprising in Jammu and Kashmir? Do you think Pakistan’s open support to separatists in Kashmir has vitiated the atmosphere in the state?
I don’t think so, because Pakistan has always said that Kashmir is an indigenous movement. We need to understand that for decades the people of Jammu and Kashmir have been struggling for their right to self-determination which is very much enshrined in the UN charter as well as in the universal declaration of Human Rights. This is a legitimate struggle. So I don’t see how Pakistan can vitiate the atmosphere by supporting it. There are many voices inside India also who are emphasising on the need to resolve this problem politically.
Q. Recently an Indian news channel did an expose in which a senior separatist leader was shown saying that they are funded by Pakistan to create unrest in Kashmir and that Rs 100 crore was sent by hawala channels to keep the situation there on the boil.
You know all such things have been used in the past too to tarnish the legitimate struggle of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. So people do not really subscribe to these theories. It is important to remember that this is an indigenous movement. It is important to focus on how we can resolve this issue.
Q. India has always said that Pakistan internationalises Kashmir while India believes that it is a bilateral issue and should be resolved by India and Pakistan.
It is an international issue. There are UN Security Council resolutions on this issue. If the Indian position is that Pakistan and India should talk to each other and it can be resolved only bilaterally because of the Shimla agreement, Pakistan is ready to resolve it bilaterally but 47 years have already elapsed since the Shimla Agreement. I do not know how many more years you would need to discuss this issue bilaterally. I think the time has really come now for India to do some introspection. Pakistan is not averse to bilateralism, provided it leads to results.
Q: Why has Pakistan not taken strong action against JUD chief Hafiz Saeed, JEM chief Masood Azhar and others involved in terror attacks in India?
These are claims which India has not been able to substantiate with hard evidence. Having said that JeM is proscribed in Pakistan, so is LeT and many other organisations. Hafiz Saeed is presently under custody, so we are taking action wherever we feel it is necessary against violence.
Q: One can understand border skirmishes between India and Pakistan but we often see Pakistani soldiers commit the heinous crime of mutilating Indian soldiers?
These are just allegations. The Pakistan army is a very professional army, one of the best in the world. We do not get into these things. As far as Pakistan is concerned there was no beheading at all.
Q: Why is Pakistan opposed to India’s involvement in the reconstruction programme in Afghanistan? Why can’t Pakistan and India sit together and jointly undertake reconstruction activities in the war-ravaged nation?
First of all, we share a 2500 km border with Afghanistan. Afghanistan is our immediate neighbour and whatever happens there ineluctably and inevitably affects Pakistan. So stability and peace in Afghanistan is essential for our own security and stability. Afghanistan is a sovereign country and has the liberty to have relations with any country. We have no issues as long as those relations do not directly affect or harm us. Unfortunately, we have seen how in the past Pakistan has been destabilised through Afghanistan. We are in touch with Afghanistan and we hope that given our brotherly relations its territory is not used to destabilise Pakistan, particularly Baluchistan and the FATA region.
Q. The new US administration under President Trump has clearly indicated that it would seek to consolidate relations with India while coming down heavily on Pakistan on the issue of terrorism. Do you think Pakistan will come under pressure from the US?
We have our own relations with the US, India has its own. It is not a zero sum game. Pakistan and the US have diversions, we have convergences, but we keep talking to each other and that is our strength. The US continues to be our trading partner and we would like this relationship to enhance further during the Trump administration.
Q: You were the top contender for the post of Pakistan’s foreign secretary. Why do you think your seniority and merit were ignored by the Nawaz Sharif government in choosing the new foreign secretary?
(Laughs) Maybe I didn’t have the merit for the post. It was the decision of the top brass and we should all accept it. That’s all I have to say on the subject.