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The diplomat who handles a hot potato with a cool head

Last updated on: December 31, 2020 18:01 IST

As the representative of his government in India, Abdul Basit runs a tight ship at the Pakistan High Commission.

Abdul Basit with former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Photograph: Kind courtesy Abdul Basit/Twitter

IMAGE: Abdul Basit with former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Photograph: Kind courtesy Abdul Basit/Twitter  

Audacity, or as some would call it, chutzpah, is a facet of diplomacy. And Pakistan's High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, practises it well.

He may be a diplomat by profession, but the art of saying the right thing at the right time is almost inborn in Basit.

However, detractors will probably snigger that he sometimes fails in his duties to also do the right thing at the right time.

They will point out how he has scuttled the imminent talks between the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan by inviting separatist leaders from Jammu & Kashmir to Delhi despite the Indian government's disapproval.

But with a certain chutzpah, Basit readily extended his hand of friendship to an irate Indian government and promised to seek a way to move bilateral ties forward -- even when his own government referred to the imbroglio as a "setback" to relations.

The talks between the foreign secretaries, scheduled for next week, were expected to revive the suspended dialogue between the neighbours.

However, Basit risked everything and went ahead with the talks with the separatists on Monday despite the Indian government's warning.

Meeting the Kashmiri separatist leaders was a hazard Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself had clearly avoided during this visit to India for the swearing in of Narendra Modi as prime minister in May.

Not the one to shy away or avoid embarrassing situations, Basit took on an indignant Indian media after the cancellation of talks and answered a volley of difficult questions with a wide grin.

But it has always been his belief that anyone can be a diplomat if he can keep a cool head.

In his 32 years in foreign service, Basit is known to have handled difficult assignments with ease and composure, probably the reason why the Pakistan government has offered him key posts in some of its important missions abroad such as Moscow, New York, Geneva and London.

Compared to other envoys, he is known to be a more patient listener -- someone who cannot be easily provoked during discussions.

Many believe this has got to do with Basit's inclination for finding poetry in every aspect of life. He writes Urdu poetry and loves to sing in private gatherings.

These, his friends believe, help him to destress from the demanding nature and nuances of his job.

Basit, who was Pakistan's ambassador to Germany prior to his posting in New Delhi, had actually hoped to be in the show business while growing up.

Hailing from a business family of Peshawar, he found his true calling in the foreign service while pursuing his master's degree in international relations from the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

As the representative of his government in India, he runs a tight ship at the high commission.

To his colleagues, he is caring and warm.

He is popular among the staff for being a people's man, someone who blurs the lines of professional hierarchy.

Basit obviously has many qualities as the practitioner of the art of finesse.

Therefore, it is doubly interesting to see how he makes both ends meet when the going has just got that much more tougher for the neighbouring countries.

Nayanima Basu
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