Pakistan’s response to decide India’s next envoy in Islamabad

February 10th, 2009 - 4:37 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 10 (IANS) India will wait to see the nature of Pakistan’s response to the 26/11 dossier before it takes the crucial decision of naming the next envoy to Pakistan after High Commissioner Satyabrata Pal retires Feb 28.

Senior diplomat Sudhir Vyas, who is currently India’s ambassador to Bhutan, is seen as a front-runner for this important diplomatic posting, reliable sources familiar with top-level thinking told IANS.

No official decision has been taken so far, the sources added. Vyas’s prospects of getting this job are bright as he is an old Pakistan hand and has also served as deputy high commissioner in Islamabad six years ago.

Vyas was expelled in 2003 by Pakistan in a retaliatory move after India threw out Jalil Abbas Jilani, then Pakistani Deputy High Commissioner in New Delhi, accusing him of diverting funds for separatist activities in Jammu and Kashmir.

Other names which are doing the rounds as likely successor to Pal include Sharat Sabharwal, a special secretary in the external affairs ministry, and Vivek Katju, special secretary in charge of international organisations who was previously joint secretary in charge of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

However, the sources pointed out that Pal is most likely set to continue in the job as the UPA government, which is nearing the end of its five-year term, does not want to take this crucial diplomatic position barely a couple of months before the elections.

The thinking in some circles is that it will help if continuity is maintained and a seasoned diplomat like Pal is retained at a time when bilateral ties are under severe strain in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks.

The end of Pal’s term as high commissioner in Islamabad Feb 28 coincides with his retirement from the Indian Foreign Service. He is set to become a member of the National Human Rights Commission, an appointment that has already been notified.

The government can, however, ask him to continue until an alternative arrangement is made, the sources added.

Any decision on this issue will clearly depend on Pakistan’s response to the dossier. If Pakistan persists in denial mode and continues with what Indian officials say are diversionary tactics, India may decide to keep the post vacant for a few months to send a message to Islamabad.

If the response is outright denial, New Delhi may not only weigh the option of keeping the post vacant, but can down-scale its diplomatic strength in Islamabad. It could also expel staffers in Pakistan’s high commission here if it wants to send a still stronger message - a move that will be a throwback to the bad old tit-for-tat diplomacy in India-Pakistan relations.

Expelling staffers of the Pakistan high commission is, however, not yet on the cards as New Delhi wants to focus on intensifying international pressure in the UN and other global forums to pressure Pakistan in prosecuting the terrorists behind the Mumbai atrocity.

The Pakistan government Monday said that “without substantial evidence from India it will be exceedingly difficult to complete the investigation and proceed with the case” in Pakistan.

This was seen in New Delhi as yet another ploy by Islamabad to buy time and fits in with the pattern of denial and flip-flop that Islamabad has shown in response to the 26/11 dossier presented by India linking the Mumbai attacks to Pakistan-based elements.

Underscoring growing exasperation in India at Pakistan’s response, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon Monday night again asked Islamabad to directly convey its response to the Mumbai carnage instead of airing its views through the media or other forums.

–Indo-Asian news Service

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