ver the last week, I went through a couple of books, cover to cover. Both are superbly written. One is on Pakistan as a country, trundling on and on, despite all its dysfunctionalities and the other one is by a former Pakistani diplomat, posted in New Delhi from April 2014 till August 2017 as the country’s high commissioner to India.
As for the former book, I will write a separate review soon. In the present one, I will write about Hostility: A Diplomat’s Diary on Pakistan-India Relations, a book written by Abdul Basit, the Pakistani diplomat, and released on April 20, 2021.
Khushwant Singh’s phrase “with malice towards one and all” encapsulates the book so aptly. He has spared none in the book. But that does not mean the book is a degenerate commentary by some bitter ex-diplomat of the Foreign Service of Pakistan. Basit is intelligent, articulate, erudite and a hell-has-no-mercy critic of things in both India and Pakistan power corridors.
The book is a 307-page fast-paced writing, which starts from the time he was posted as Pakistan’s ambassador in Berlin to his being shortchanged out of becoming the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan by some of his colleagues in the Foreign Office to finally serving his full-term in New Delhi to voluntarily retiring from the service in 2017.
I had always been impressed by the glib, tongue-in-cheek, guarded and measured responses in the interviews that he used to give to news anchors in India. Watch his interview with Rajdeep Sardesai in March 2017 about Kulbhushan Jadhav, and one gets to understand how much dissimulation he utilizes in articulating himself. Years ago, one of my friends, commenting on Basit’s question-answer interaction ‘Off The Cuff’ with Shekhar Gupta for NDTV-ThePrint, told me, “This is absolute fielding. He is a kalheer (brainy person).” Abdul Basit is indeed a ‘kalheer‘ in the art of some serious diplomacy.
Basit uses razor-sharp wit to prise open the recalcitrant Pakistani bureaucracy and how the individual interests have led to the ruin of any objective diplomacy on the part of Pakistan being carried out. He is especially vitriolic at the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mian Nawaz Sharif, whom he has flayed in such pointed terms that one gets a feel that the ex-PM was hell-bent on sabotaging Kashmir issue in favour of his rapport with India’s Modi and his business interests. He has pulled no punches in describing his seniors in the Foreign Office like Aizaz Chaudhry, Tariq Fatemi, Salman Bashir etc and their fossilized inertia towards keeping things going for Pakistan as they are. Essentially status quoism!
As for his stay in Delhi is concerned, he is true to his principle of diplomatic unflappability. He describes how he was unfazed by the criticism of Indian media and their description of him being a hawk. In India, he has not lived in the comfort of his cocoon inside the walls of the Pakistan embassy in Delhi. He writes about his continual interactions with the media, his visits to Kolkata, Lucknow, Nagpur etc. He is livid in criticising both Pakistan and India for resorting to slapdashness, rather than following a continuous, unstinting structured bilateral dialogue. The author gives details of how difficult it had been to weather the storms of tumultuous years of the BJP government in Delhi.
Dr K.Natwar Singh, former External Affairs Minister of India (2004-05) in his autobiography, One Life is Not Enough, writes, “Pakistani diplomats are as good as India’s, if not better.”
It is amply clear from the book’s range and turn of phrase that Abdul Basit is a top-quality diplomat. His resistance to reply in the face of severe provocations by the media is marvellous. His tryst with ‘patient diplomacy’ which comes through in his constructive criticism of how the bilateral relations needed and need to be conducted shows his deftness in the art.
His point of argument throughout the book is that Kashmir remains central to India and Pakistan. All the talk on terrorism, trade, sports etc may result in what the author calls ‘artificial congeniality’ between the two countries but lacks the potential to bring permanent peace to the subcontinent. He makes trenchant remarks about how Pakistan has let down Kashmiris time and again by being just hollow and bloviating in their efforts. He calls the symbolism of observing various days like July 13, February 5, October 26 etc exercises in futility and a waste of time lock, stock and barrel. The author terms Imran Khan’s speech in the United Nations in September 2019 a thorough balderdash and a game of zero-sum equivalence.
The book is very well-written. It may not count as a unique book on the subject of India and Pakistan, but there is a lot of constructive criticism of the two nuclear powers. At many an instance, Basit would have liked Pakistan to shed its pusillanimity, but that was not meant to be. Here he aptly justifies the tag of being a ‘hawk’.
There is much to be learnt from the book.
The terms like sub rosa diplomacy, candyfloss diplomacy, patient diplomacy, pleonastic argumentation, movers and shakers (signifier for nepotism), au courant (keeping aware of, in the context of how Pakistan Foreign Office in Islamabad tried to make him irrelevant), monkeywrenching, deus ex machina, lapsus linguae (a slip of the tongue), cockamamie idea, cloud cuckoo land, baroque abstractions of diplomacy, possum playing, faute de mieux ( for want of a better alternative), ambassador-at-large, blue funk, hortatory comments, philippics (a bitter attack), bailiwick, sterile verbosity, crust of unacceptable complacency, erga omnes (to describe the fact that everyone has rights, including Kashmiris) etc, besides clauses of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the various United Nations Security Council resolutions etc are fitted brilliantly. I had considerable difficulty in understanding them.
All in all, the book is a should-read for everybody who wants to know how the present intractability has been arrived at betwixt India and Pakistan, and how Kashmir has been detested to abandon, more so by Pakistan than by India.
My rating of the book is 3.5 out of 5.