India’s new envoy to Pakistan likely to face tough challenges

Ajay Bisaria faces possibly one of the most challenging assignments of his career as relations between the two countries show no signs of warming.

world Updated: Dec 15, 2017 20:13 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Ajay Bisaria,Indian envoy to Pakistan,Kulbhushan Jadhav
Ajay Bisaria is a 1987-batch IFS officer.(via Twitter)

India’s new envoy to Pakistan, Ajay Bisaria, faces possibly one of the most challenging assignments of his career as relations between the two countries show no signs of warming.

Bisaria’s immediate challenge will be to handle the case of Kulbhushan Jadhav, with hopes in India rising that the former Indian Navy officer, sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court, would be eventually released.

The hopes have arisen after Pakistan agreed to allow a meeting between Jadhav and his wife and mother on December 25. However, there are no such hopes on the Pakistani side of the border.

Jadhav’s execution was stayed after India approached the International Court of Justice, which is expected to rule on the matter next year. India has so far not been given consular access to Jadhav, who was accused of involvement in spying.

“If the case is mishandled in any way, it could have serious political repercussions in India,” said analyst Naveed Hussain, adding the Indian government’s expectations from its high commissioner in this regard “may be unrealistic”.

Normalisation of bilateral ties continues to be a much talked about issue in Islamabad but repeated accusations of cross-border terrorism from India and the tensions on the Line of Control in Kashmir suggest that no serious dialogue can take place between the two countries at this point.

“The initiative has to come from India,” said another policy expert who did not want to be named. India has so far avoided Pakistan’s overtures at a time when there are fears in Islamabad of New Delhi’s growing influence in the region.

Pakistan says it continues to monitor India’s actions in the region and has complained to its allies, as well as the UN, that India is supporting terror groups that attack Pakistan.

Both countries have a different take on terrorism. Pakistan feels its side of the story is not being heard even though it has paid a heavy price in terms of casualties in terror attacks. Bisaria will hear a lot of this in his meetings with Pakistani officials.

And yet, the biggest challenge for Bisaria, who served as private secretary for former premier Atal Bihari Vajpayee during 1999-2004, would be to engage all stakeholders in Pakistan. There is a power vacuum in Pakistan, with the PML-N government functioning at half-strength and the military-led establishment trying to oust Nawaz Sharif and his family and install another civilian set-up.

So far, Sharif has managed to check the moves of the establishment. The weak point for the civilian government remains India, as the army high command has consistently accused Sharif and his government of being pro-India.

“There is clearly a difference of opinion on how to engage with India,” said Zafar Hilaly, a former ambassador. Hilaly said different quarters are giving different messages. “That is why we see (Lashkar-e-Taiba founder) Hafiz Saeed in and out of jail and other such contradictions.”

Bisaria’s job would be to see how to can engage with all quarters. That, of course, will be his biggest challenge.

First Published: Dec 15, 2017 20:13 IST