Need for calibrated engagement with Pakistan, says former envoy Ajay Bisaria - Hindustan Times
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Need for calibrated engagement with Pakistan, says former envoy Ajay Bisaria

By, Chandigarh
Mar 17, 2024 05:56 AM IST

Bisaria was speaking while interacting with Hindustan Times executive editor Ramesh Vinayak in the course of discussion on his critically acclaimed book “Anger Management: The troubled diplomatic relationship between India and Pakistan” at the “Literati” festival organised by the Chandigarh Literary Society

While sticking to its “active defence” posture, New Delhi should consider a calibrated engagement with Pakistan to restore a semblance of normalcy in their broken bilateral ties, said Ajay Bisaria, India’s last high commissioner in Islamabad.

Ajay Bisaria, former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan (left), in conversation with Hindustan Times executive editor Ramesh Vinayak at ‘Literati’ in Chandigarh on Saturday. (HT Photo)
Ajay Bisaria, former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan (left), in conversation with Hindustan Times executive editor Ramesh Vinayak at ‘Literati’ in Chandigarh on Saturday. (HT Photo)

“With a new civilian regime in place in Pakistan and India set to have a newly-elected government, we now have certain positive dynamics to explore a calibrated engagement with Pakistan,” Bisaria said while interacting with Hindustan Times executive editor Ramesh Vinayak here on Saturday in the course of discussion on his critically acclaimed book “Anger Management: The troubled diplomatic relationship between India and Pakistan” at the “Literati” festival organised by the Chandigarh Literary Society.

On August 7 in 2019, two days after the Narendra Modi government abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution, nullifying the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and bifurcated the state into two Union Territories, Pakistan downgraded diplomatic ties with India and expelled Bisaria from Islamabad, the first time an Indian head of mission was asked to leave Pakistan amid turbulent ties between the two neighbours since 1947. Their bilateral diplomatic relations have since been in a deep freeze.

“Time has come to consolidate the gains of reduction on terror incidences of Pakistan-origin directed against India,” said the former diplomat, adding, “The long-standing tensions (between the two countries) cannot be resolved, but can certainly be managed effectively.”

Expressing himself against a policy of “strategic neglect” towards Pakistan, he said instead a policy of strategic patience, coupled with a calibrated engagement on a range of issues, will be in India’s interest.

“That’s a pragmatic way out. It is a combination of being tough on terror and, at the same time, being flexible about engagement,” he said.

Pointing out that the military establishment in Pakistan was still the final arbiter in its strategic stance on India, Bisaria said the civilian government in Islamabad will continue to play the army’s game in foreseeable future. “But something has definitely changed in recent times, particularly in the wake of publicly articulated anti-army sentiments over treatment of former prime minister Imran Khan,” he added.

Still, it is critical to engage with Pakistan’s army through a back-channel diplomacy for any bilateral initiative to move forward, Bisaria said, adding, “The ball is in Islamabad’s court as it had snapped the diplomatic relations, saying it will not talk to New Delhi till it reverses the constitutional changes on J&K. Now Pakistan will have to climb down if it wants to break the ice.”

An avid golfer and a distinguished fellow with Observer Research Foundation, a Delhi-based think tank, Bisaria recounted how he, as envoy in Pakistan, was barred from entering the Islamabad golf course as a repercussion of India not giving the Pakistani diplomats in Delhi access to the Capital’s Gymkhana Club. “That marked the end of ‘golf diplomacy’,” he said with a chuckle.

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