Book Review: A critique of Pakistan’s diplomacy

Book Review: A critique of Pakistan’s diplomacy

Hostility: A Diplomat’s Diary on Pakistan-India Relations by Abdul Basit Harper Collins Publishers, Noida

The latest book to offer insight into India-Pakistan relations is ‘Hostility: A Diplomat’s Diary on Pakistan India Relations’ written by Abdul Basit. From his experience as the High Commissioner of Pakistan in India from 2014 to 2017, Basit gives a detailed and in-depth description of India-Pakistan relations and also brings into the public domain diplomatic moves that were carried out behind the curtains during his tenure.
The book is divided into eight chapters. Chapters, II, III, IV, and V are titled according to the years of the author’s assignment as the High Commissioner of Pakistan in India, starting from 2014 and ending in 2017. Chapter I, titled ‘From Berlin to New Delhi, Not Islamabad’, discusses the author’s experience of nepotism and favouritism in Pakistan. Chapter VI, titled ‘Back to Pakistan’, gives details of his engagements in Pakistan after his retirement. The seventh chapter, titled “Fine Words: Butter, No Parsnips”, Basit writes of the failures of Pakistan in taking a strong position, and effective strategy, in dealing with the constitutional changes done in Kashmir by India. The last chapter, ‘Epilogue’, gives some suggestions about Kashmir and other emerging regional issues.
Each chapter of the book starts with some revelations and provides insight into the events that happened behind the curtains. There are also ten annexures attached at the end of the book that include Pakistan and India statements issued at different times, the UN resolutions on Kashmir, and an official communication document about the process of appointment of Abdul Basit as the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan.
The book attracted much attention because of its controversial take on Indo-Pak relations. However, the controversial sections are only like the tip of an iceberg beneath which are to be found deep insights into different things that were going on simultaneously. The book gives first-hand information of different aspects that either directly or indirectly affect India and Pakistan relations, which can be broadly categorised as: (1) Issues within Pakistan, and (2) Issues within India.
One of the main issues within Pakistan is the power struggle within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan. The historical civil-military trust deficit in Pakistan is well known and has given birth to serious problems in the form of favouritism, nepotism, and power struggle. That has led to incompetence in the bureaucracy and has dented the image of the country all over the globe in general and in India in particular. The level of the trust deficit is such that on the pretext of being loyal or close to the military, people at the helm of the state affairs (Prime Minister) kept their appointed High Commissioner in the dark about state affairs, and even informal ways of communication were adopted in diplomacy (pp 61, 63, 69, 122-123).
The incompetence as well as the adoption of informal lines of communication on the part of Pakistan in dealing with India resulted in a misunderstanding of India’s policy and attitude towards Pakistan, Basit argues. The extension of unilateral and untimely concessions and goodwill gestures by Pakistan was taken as a sign of weakness and a change in Pakistan’s stand, as desperation of Pakistan for starting dialogue with India (pp 66-67, 70). In addition to that, in spite of having a strong position on the issues, the unilateral concessions and adoption of an apologetic approach never allowed Pakistan to talk from a position of strength with India during bilateral negotiations (pp 66-67, 70).
The second major focus of the book is the issues within India in dealing with Pakistan. The two main points that are touched and discussed are: (a) India’s inflexibility and belligerent attitude towards Pakistan, and (b) Media propaganda. In fact, the issues within Pakistan and India are similar and correlated. They have a cause-and-effect relationship. The apologetic approach and compromises of Pakistan, for example, strengthen the belligerent attitude of India towards Pakistan. As per the author, the perennial problems of personal interests, power struggle, and nepotism have caused huge damage to the process of securing Pakistan’s national interests. Likes and dislikes, rather than merit, are the criteria for appointing people on important posts. The appointment of incompetent persons, as well as the unilateral and undue concessions given to India by Pakistan, has weakened Pakistan’s bargaining position (pp 84, 126), Basit argues.
India’s policy towards Pakistan is a tactic to derail and delay the dialogue process, as well as make propaganda against Pakistan to damage its image globally, Basit says. The author lambasts the Pakistani leadership for being unable to understand the derail-and-deflect tactics of India and for being unable to protect themselves from the traps in which they always get trapped. Basit says that Pakistani leaders fail to understand India’s jingoistic, extremist and antagonistic towards Pakistan which will never leave any opportunity to destabilise Pakistan overtly and covertly. The book gives details of Basit’s various meetings with the people at the helm of affairs in India and gives a detailed description of their mentality and thinking towards Pakistan.
Yet another issue the book puts light on is the Indian media. The author has mentioned a few reasonable media persons and his interactions with them, but most of the Indian media, as per him, always try to create controversies and negative reporting on Pakistan (pp 91, 164-165, 219). The Indian government tries to use the media as a tool for domestic consumption and vote bank. On many occasions, the Indian authorities shared one-sided communication of the meetings of the Pakistani High Commissioner with the Indian authorities, for strengthening their position in India’s domestic politics and building a false counter-narrative against Pakistan (pp 74-75).
A reader will also notice the suggestions that the author has given to his higher-ups for dealing with India. The most persistent one of these is “Patient Diplomacy” (p70), establishment of a Presidential form of government in Pakistan through constitutional amendment, and appointing a special envoy for Kashmir for carrying out multi-dimensional diplomacy on Kashmir (p 288).
Considering Basit’s position as a former High Commissioner of Pakistan in India, it is quite unexpected that the author has not given any roadmap or framework for strengthening India-Pakistan relations. The book is too focused on advising Pakistan how to strengthen its position and carry on relations with India from that strengthened position. Similarly, the book mentions UN resolutions on Kashmir and taking the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir into due consideration, but he has not said anything about how this can be implemented and achieved. What kinds of steps or measures are needed to be taken?
Also, the book talks about problems of corruption, nepotism, and favouritism in Pakistan, but again it does not mention anything about the political parties of Pakistan nor about ways of eradiating such corruption, nepotism, and favouritism.
In a nutshell, the book gives in-depth information only about the author’s own view and way of dealing with India. It, however, gives some information about how the governments of India and Pakistan have usually dealt with their issues, what are the pull and push factors, and what is the nature of diplomacy. It is a good read for those interested in Pakistan-India relations.

—The writer is a post-doctoral research fellow at JMI, New Delhi. [email protected]


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