Abdul Basit, the Pakistani envoy to India, is expected to be replaced soon as part of a wide-ranging reshuffle to be carried out by the country’s new foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua, sources in Islamabad said on Friday.
Basit was one of four contenders for the top post in the Foreign Office but he was apparently not chosen by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif because his hawkish views did not align with those of the government, the sources said.
Janjua’s expertise is largely in multilateral diplomacy – she has had several stints at the UN in Geneva and New York – and her appointment came as a surprise to some in the Foreign Office.
“The new foreign secretary is expected to carry out a reshuffle to put in place a team of her choice and choosing a new envoy to India will be part of that process,” a source told Hindustan Times.
Janjua also has the backing of Sharif, and some are looking at the replacement of Basit as an indication that the government wants to reset India-Pakistan ties. Under his watch, the ties first ran into rough weather in August 2014, when India called off a meeting of the foreign secretaries after he met separatist Hurriyat leaders just ahead of the talks.
While no formal decision has been made on Basit’s replacement, Pakistan’s envoy to Turkey, Sohail Mahmood, has emerged as a frontrunner. The 53-year-old Mahmood, who joined the foreign service in 1985, has not previously served in India.
Mahmood has served in Washington and New York and was the envoy to Thailand shortly before he was posted to Ankara in early 2015.
Among other senior diplomats being tipped for the position in New Delhi are former Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam, Syed Abrar Hussain, currently the envoy to Kabul and Afrasiab Mehdi Hashmi, currently the envoy to New Zealand who earlier served as the deputy high commissioner to India during 2006-09.
Basit was among a handful of diplomats who were superseded by Janjua and the sources quoted his friends in Islamabad as saying that he had initially considered resigning on being passed over. However, the sources said he had had a change of heart and was now thinking of staying on in the foreign service.
The sources added that Basit, who was posted to India in March 2014, could be posted as the new high commissioner to the UK.