Blessed with extraordinary qualities of head and heart, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, Honourable Mr Abdul Basit, is a career diplomat par excellence. He joined the Foreign Service of Pakistan in 1982 and during his illustrious career he has held various important assignments in Pakistan Missions abroad and at the headquarters. Prior to his posting as High Commissioner, he was the Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany. Recently, Jahangir’s World times (JWT) had an opportunity to have his opinion on India-Pakistan bilateral relations in the wake of the inauguration of Modi government in India.
Jahangir’s World Times (JWT): It is probably for the first time in India’s recent history that a party has won elections with such a thumping majority, and a new prime minister has taken over. What should be Pakistan’s response now?’
Abdul Basit (AB): Well, our prime minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif, congratulated Mr Modi on his election as India’s new prime minister the very day Election results were announced. In addition, when he was extended the invitation to attend Modi’s inauguration, he accepted it and visited India to mark a new beginning in Pak-India relations. It was a rare opportunity and both leaders availed it very well. Moreover, subsequent exchange of letters and pleasantries is also a good omen.
Pakistan has shown its willingness to establish cordial relations with India, it’s up to Mr Modi now to choose the way forward. Nevertheless, we are hoping for the best regarding our future course of relations.
JWT: Being a diplomat, you must have had contacts with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership. How they consider India’s relationship with Pakistan?
AB: Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi had been, and still is, in contact with major political parties of India. And, it is, of course, my foremost duty as a diplomat to strive for better Pak-India relations. We aspire to create positive and better relations with India. I think time is ripe for the two nations to come closer because both the premiers have a consensus on making efforts to make peace, development and foster economic growth. I believe Pak-India bilateral relationship is always maintained through High Commissions. So, we had made all-out efforts in this regard, and we will certainly go for it in future as well.
JWT: On January 6, 2004, Pakistan and India agreed on a roadmap for talks to normalize bilateral relations. But, BJP could not win the next elections and Congress government was installed in India. But now, in your opinion, will Mr Modi carry on the legacy of Vajpayee or he will formulate a new policy?
AB: We have keenly observed Mr Modi’s election campaign. I can safely conclude that he would follow the same strategy. I think both the governments should realize their position in actual scheme of things. In my opinion, if Vajpayee’s legacy is carried on, it would be much better and would yield positive results.
JWT: It is an undeniable fact that cracks in that legacy have been seen in recent elections because BJP’s many notables like L. K. Advani and Jaswant Singh aren’t as close to Mr Modi as they were to Vajpayee. Are there any indications for Pakistan in this whole scenario ?
AB: It would be premature to say something with certainty because Modi’s is still a new government. However, possibilities are still there because for the two governments, development, peace and economic growth are a common goal. Moreover, there is still a pressing need for regional cooperation. In these circumstances, I can say that outlook of Modi’s agenda seems to have some positive aspects for Pakistan. All depends on the policies Mr Modi adopts in near future.
JWT: Pakistan has shown positive gestures as Mian Nawaz Sharif made a telephonic call to Mr Modi and invited him to visit Pakistan. How Indian policymakers are taking this issue?
AB: They too are giving very positive indications for the betterment of our relationship. We have been in conflict for 67 long years. It is the right time that we carve out a bilateral narrative that is based on mutual interest and respect for each other.
JWT: As you said that interdependence would be better for Indo-Pak ties. But we have seen that mostly the focus has been on trade issue. However awarding MFN status to India has been delayed. What would you say about it?
AB: A commitment was definitely made in 2012 to work on the issue of awarding MFN status to India, but many sectors in Pakistan are strictly against any such move. These sectors do have some genuine issues but they should see that India too has agreed on some trade terms including import and export tariff. Our government would surely strive to alleviate the apprehensions of those who oppose MFN for India.
JWT: Will Pakistan be pursuing only the 8-segment agenda or all efforts will be directed to resolve minor issues first?
AB: I think all our previous agreements, like Indus Waters Treaty of 1960, must be fulfilled. And now, we have a better environment to resolve all the longstanding issues including Kashmir, Siachen and terrorism. However, as the Indo-Pak relations are known to be very complex, much negativity still prevails in these.
As far as 8-segment agenda is concerned, to be honest, it’s not possible to make progress on all fronts equally and with same speed. There is no denying the fact that for long-lasting peace between India and Pakistan, the core issues must be resolved first in order to create a mutual trust.
JWT: Public opinion in India regarding Pak-India relations is much different to that of the Pakistanis. Indians every now and then accuse Pakistan of patronizing terrorism but they don’t appreciate the sacrifices we have offered to make this region peaceful. How would you comment on it?
AB: This is unfortunately true that many segments of Indian society are against Pakistan. I had interacted with India’s mainstream media as well as civil society and I have tried my level best to convey Pakistan’s point of view especially the fact that we have been fighting against terrorism and have offered numerous sacrifices to eliminate this monster. But, this problem is not peculiar to Pakistan rather it’s a global issue. We are at the forefront in this war on terror.
So, instead of blaming and maligning Pakistan, it would be much better if we cooperate with each other in an environment of trust so that such issues are resolved effectively. Interaction of both governments, especially of political leadership, at various levels is imperative if we want to progress and develop. Positive role of media from both countries is highly solicited’and is direly needed’ in this regard.
JWT: Despite the fact that in past respective Indian and Pakistani governments took major steps like Composite Dialogue and Joint Anti-terror Mechanism, things could not get better. Is it an issue of trust deficit, or some other matters are also impeding the dialogue process?
AB: Definitely, trust deficit is the major issue but there are many disputes and differences between the two countries which call for immediate resolution under a multi-pronged strategy. When there is an environment of trust and confidence, then all issues ‘including terrorism’ will be resolved through dialogue.
JWT: In India’s recent elections, the entire business and corporate sector supported Mr Modi. Media too paved the way for his rise to the throne. What corporate sector would demand from Mr Modi in return?
AB: Basically, the agenda of Modi government is development, progress and economic growth which are the fundamental requirements of corporate sector. This makes our cooperation all the more important, essential and almost inevitable. We do support this agenda and there is compatibility in the circumstances the people of the Subcontinent are living in nowadays.