No high commissioner in India, Pakistan: What it means

As has been observed throughout the history of the strained bilateral relations with Pakistan, India announces a retaliatory measure within 24 hours of the western neighbour dismissing any Indian diplomat

Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad
The Indian High Commission in Islamabad

Islamabad: Pakistan on Wednesday expelled Indian high commissioner Ajay Bisaria, minutes after it decided to downgrade the diplomatic ties with India over what it called New Delhi’s “unilateral and illegal” move to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

As has been observed throughout the history of the strained bilateral relations with Pakistan, India announces a retaliatory measure within 24 hours of the western neighbour dismissing any Indian diplomat. “India is very likely to react tomorrow (8 August),” said a source in the Ministry of External Affairs.

This was announced after Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan chaired a crucial meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC), attended by top civil and military leadership, during which it was also decided to suspend the bilateral trade and review the “bilateral arrangements”.

“Our ambassadors will no longer be in New Delhi and their counterparts here will also be sent back,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said in televised comments soon after the NSC meeting.

Later, the Foreign Office in a statement said that “Pursuant to the decision of the National Security Committee today, the Government of India has been told to withdraw its high commissioner to Pakistan.” It, however, did not give any time line for India to pull back its envoy.

“The Indian Government has also been informed that Pakistan will not be sending its high commissioner-designate to India,” the statement said. Pakistan’s new high commissioner Moin-ul-Haq was expected to leave for India this month to take up his responsibilities.

India on Monday revoked Article 370 of the Constitution to withdraw the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the State into two Union Territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

A statement issued after the NSC meeting read that the committee discussed situation “arising out of unilateral and illegal actions” by the Indian government, situation inside Jammu and Kashmir and along the Line of Control.

The committee decided “downgrading of diplomatic relations with India” and “suspension of bilateral trade with India,” the statement said.

Pakistan will also take the matter (abolition of the Article 370 by India) to the United Nations, including the Security Council, the statement said.

India has said, as it has throughout the history of independence, that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. On this issue again, it has maintained that the issue is strictly internal to the country.

The statement said that the country would observe this Independence Day on 14 August in solidarity with Kashmiris. “15 August will be observed as a Black Day,” it added.

Pakistan Prime Minister Khan directed that all diplomatic channels be activated to highlight the alleged human rights violations in the Valley. He directed the military to continue vigilance, the statement said. The foreign minister, defence minister, interior minister, adviser on finance, Kashmir affairs minister as well as the joint chiefs of staff committee chairman, three services chiefs, ISI chief, and other top officials attended the meeting.

The NSC met after the meeting of top military generals and and a rare joint session of parliament on the Kashmir issue on Tuesday. It was the second meeting of Pakistan’s top decision making body this week.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Khan had convened the NSC meeting to discuss issues pertaining to national security in the wake of developments in the region. The NSC is the highest forum of civil and military top leadership to come together and discuss important matters of national security.

On Tuesday, Khan expressed apprehension that Pulwama-like attacks could follow the revocation of the special status for Jammu and Kashmir, which could trigger a conventional war between Pakistan and India. “This will be a war that no one will win and the implications will be global,” he warned while addressing a rare joint sitting of Parliament that was convened to discuss the Kashmir situation.

Khan said that his government would approach the world leaders and apprise them of situation in Kashmir. “We will fight it at every forum including the UN Security Council,” he said, adding that Pakistan also plans to take the matter to the International Court of Justice.

Speaking in Parliament, Foreign Minister Qureshi said on Wednesday that India had only harmed itself by revoking the special status of Kashmir. “History will prove that this action of India will badly impact its union,” he said.

Qureshi said all bilateral agreements with India would be reviewed by a special committee already setup by Prime Minister Khan to suggest measures against Indian actions.

The foreign minister said that he might dash to China for consultations over the issue.

Pakistan lawmakers unanimously passed a resolution condemning “Indian action in Kashmir and pledging support for Kashmiris.” The resolution was adopted by the joint session of parliament after the lawmakers discussed the situation in Kashmir for two days.

The resolution reiterated the “strong conviction of Pakistan that the Jammu and Kashmir dispute would be resolved only through dialogue and diplomacy and in accordance with international law.”

India has not been talking to Pakistan since an attack on the Air Force base at Pathankot in January of 2016 by Pakistan-based terrorists, maintaining that talks and terror cannot go together.

Early this year, tensions flared up between India and Pakistan after a suicide bomber of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM) killed 40 CRPF personnel in Kashmir’s Pulwama district.

Amid mounting outrage, the Indian Air Force carried out a counter-terror operation, hitting the biggest JeM training camp in Balakot, deep inside Pakistan on 26 February.

The next day, Pakistan Air Force tried to retaliate but couldn’t reach the Indian military headquarters, which was their target, in the face of a strong resistance put up by the IAF. In the dogfight that was part of the military engagement, an upgraded MiG-21 Bison being flown by Sqd Ldr Abhinandan Varthaman was hit after it downed a modern Pakistani F-16. The Indian pilot fell on the Pakistani side of the LoC and was captured. He was handed over to India on 1 March under tremendous international pressure on the Khan government.

What discontinuing high commissioner would mean

There are two levels of diplomatic ties between countries. If in a given pair of countries, both are members of the Commonwealth, their highest diplomatic office of one in the other country is called a high commission. If even one of the two is not a Commonwealth nation, such an office is called an Embassy. The downgrading of India-Pakistan diplomatic relations would mean that now the two countries will have only consulates in the cities of each other.

Even during the process of establishing diplomatic ties, the first step is to open a consulate, as was done by Israel in Mumbai of India in 1953. Israel now has a full-fledged Embassy in New Delhi as India has one in Tel Aviv since full diplomatic relations were established between the two countries on 29 January 1992.

An embassy and a high commission are headed by an ambassador and a high commissioner respectively, who are spokespersons of their respective countries. These offices are full diplomatic representations. Whereas a consulate merely facilitates public administration of one country in the other, with powers depending on the specific purposes for which the consulates were set up. Mostly, consulates are established to facilitate bilateral trade. The downgrading of India-Pakistan diplomatic relations means that neither country can any longer represent its case with authority in the other country. Consular presence will only ensure that if an Indian has some business in Pakistan or a Pakistani has some work to do in India, the consulate of the other country in the city the person lives in can guide him/her.

Congress leader and former external affairs minister Salman Khurshid on Wednesday called Pakistan’s decision to send back the Indian high commissioner and downgrade diplomatic ties with India “very short-sighted”.

“In these times it is important to maintain bilateral ties and the decision (of Pakistan) is very short sighted and it is not going to make any difference to India,” Khurshid told reporters.