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Bhasin finds a stop-gap job

New Delhi, March 5: Dressed up and waiting for nearly three-quarters of a year, Harsh Bhasin finally has somewhere to go.

Designated India’s high commissioner to Pakistan in May, Bhasin has been cooling his heels in South Block for the past several months. But late last month, the Centre decided to make him the “chief inspector” of the ministry of external affairs, ending the prolonged suspense and Bhasin’s agony.

Sources in South Block, however, said Bhasin’s job as the ministry’s “inspector” is temporary and, officially, he is still India’s high commissioner to Pakistan.

“There were some problems in some missions which needed to be looked into urgently. Since Bhasin was not only a senior diplomat but also the only one available, he was asked to visit these places,” a senior foreign ministry official said.

There may, however, be more to the decision of not officially announcing Bhasin’s new assignment. One, if he is officially made the ministry inspector, a clear signal will go out from Delhi it is not interested in upgrading its mission in Islamabad.

Two, it will become evident India is in no hurry to move to the talks table with Pakistan and normalise bilateral relations.

India has made it clear — as recently as yesterday when US President George W. Bush spoke to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee — that it is not going to resume the stalled dialogue with Pakistan till the Pervez Musharraf regime completely stops cross-border terrorism.

The international community appears to understand and appreciate the Indian position. Keen that a dialogue between the countries should resume as early as possible, world leaders have been assuring Delhi that pressure is being exerted on Pakistan to ensure it takes care of India’s security concerns. So appointing Bhasin to a new job now may alarm many of these leaders.

This is one reason why India, while expelling Pakistani deputy high commissioner Jalil Abbas Jilani last month, was quick to announce it was not thinking of downgrading the level in the mission and will readily grant visa to a suitable replacement. Pakistan had reacted by expelling Sudhir Vyas from India’s high commission in Islamabad.

The new charges d’affaire of the rank of a deputy high commissioner have since been given visas by the two countries. T.C.A. Raghavan, who replaced Vyas, has already taken charge of the Islamabad mission, and Munawar Bhatti, Jilani’s replacement, is scheduled to take up his new assignment next week.

Delhi had withdrawn high commissioner Vijay Nambiar from Islamabad after the December 13, 2001, Parliament attack, prompting Pakistan to call back its high commissioner, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi.

In May last year, after Musharraf assured to “completely stop” cross-border terrorism, India identified Bhasin as its new high commissioner for Islamabad. Though South Block had clarified Bhasin will be the country’s next man in Islamabad, it had held back his “agreement” thus hinting at using the move as a diplomatic bargaining chip.

South Block also made it clear that Bhasin’s name would be sent across formally only after Delhi was satisfied Pakistan had acted to take care of India’s security concerns.

The Centre has been toying for a while with the idea of having an “inspector” for the external affairs ministry. It is an important job as the official is supposed to be the interface between South Block and the various Indian missions across the world.

Whether the job is permanent or not, sources said Bhasin appears to be enjoying his new assignment thoroughly. He has already visited some missions and spent time with officials to understand their problems. Given his past experience with the ministry, he must be raring to visit the next mission.

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