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HindustanTimes Mon,21 Apr 2014

Bashir is new Pak envoy, says Singh's visit priority

Harinder Baweja, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, April 11, 2012
First Published: 00:24 IST(11/4/2012) | Last Updated: 10:27 IST(11/4/2012)

Former Pakistani foreign secretary Salman Bashir will be that country's new high commissioner to India. Bashir's nomination, cleared by Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, has formally been accepted by the government of India.

Speaking exclusively to HT over phone from Islamabad, Bashir said: "Working on ensuring Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Pakistan will be a priority."

Bashir, who had famously labeled India's dossier on 26/11 accused and Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed as "a piece of literature" in 2010, adopted a less dismissive stance on the issue.

"We need to move on all tracks. We will do what is required to bring about a qualitative change," he said, when asked specifically about India's demand that Saeed and other 26/11 perpetrators be brought to justice.

"I look forward to being in Delhi and enhancing relations comprehensively and identifying opportunities," he said.

"The leaders of both countries have a shared vision not just for India and Pakistan but for the region," he added.

Bashir will succeed Shahid Malik, who has had a record five-and-a-half-year stint as Pakistani envoy, and reach New Delhi within a month.

Despite his hawkish reputation, strategic observers said Bashir's selection will allow for continuity in the Indo-Pakistani peace process initiated by Gilani and Singh.

As Pakistan's foreign secretary, Bashir has been part of the post-26/11 dialogue process - from the thaw in Thimpu in early 2011 to the bilateral meeting between the two Prime Ministers in Maldives in November last year, when Singh described Gilani as "a man of peace".

Bashir, however, has his task cut out for him. Several important meetings are planned between the two countries.

Apart from a meeting of the two home secretaries, talks are expected on the sensitive issues of Sir Creek and Siachen, apart from a meeting of the foreign ministers of both countries.

The big ticket engagement will, of course, be that of Manmohan Singh's visit to Pakistan. Singh has in principle accepted Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's invitation to visit that country.

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