It’s counted among the most prestigious and most challenging of diplomatic postings—India’s high commissioner to Pakistan and vice versa.
Now, Pakistani career diplomat Moin-ul-Haque is all set to be the envoy to New Delhi with his country’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi announcing the appointment on Thursday. It comes at a time when a new government will take over the reins in India and against the backdrop of heightened tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad.
The 56-year-old French-speaking Haque is currently Pakistan’s ambassador to France, having moved to Paris in July 2017. His name was among the 18 diplomats whose new ambassadorial assignments were announced by Qureshi in a tweet: “After consulting the Prime Minister, I am happy to announce following appointments. I wish the newly appointed officers good luck & hope they represent Pakistan with utmost dignity and effectiveness.”
Pakistan’s foreign secretary and his country’s envoy to India until recently, Sohail Mahmood, would have played a significant role in deciding who the next high commissioner to India would be. During his two-year tenure in India, the soft-spoken Mahmood maintained a low profile unlike his predecessor Abdul Basit who freely aired his hawkish views on India during his four-year stint in New Delhi. This clearly didn’t endear him to South Block.
The man now succeeding Mahmood is two batches junior to him in the Pakistan Foreign Service, having joined it in 1987. With a new government set to take charge in India and Islamabad having signalled its intent to engage with it, Haq will have to hit the ground running once he’s in New Delhi.
Both the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan are expected to attend Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in mid-June, raising the possibility of a re-engagement between the two neighbours.
Haque has never served a posting in India or even been in the Pak ministry of foreign affairs division dealing with India as has been the case with several other previous Pak envoys to New Delhi. The only country in the neighbourhood where Haque has been posted was Sri Lanka where he was a Counsellor from 2002 to 2005. As a young diplomat, Haq was a Desk Officer for Bangladesh during 1989-90, a country with whom Islamabad’s ties are fraught too.
The new Pak envoy to India has also served two stints with the office of his country’s foreign secretary. First, as a young diplomat working as deputy director in the foreign secretary’s office from 1997 to 1999 and later as director/chef de cabinet between 2005 and 2007.
The Indian establishment, however, might be familiar with him in his avatar as the Chief of Protocol in the Pak ministry of foreign affairs, a post he held between 2013 and 2015.
As India prepares for the declaration of its election results out Thursday, the Imran Khan-led Pak government has been sending out conciliatory signals. Foreign minister Qureshi was quoted by the widely circulated English daily of Pakistan Dawn as saying that a new engagement between Islamabad and New Delhi could be started after he had announced 18 ambassadorial postings including that of Haque on Tuesday.
There have also been news reports from Islamabad attributed to “official sources” about the Pak government mulling the appointment of a National Security Adviser (NSA) to hold backchannel talks with his Indian counterpart. But days later, other news reports sought to quash them.
With India having made it clear that it is seeking “immediate, credible, irreversible and verifiable actions against terrorists and terror organisations operating from territories under Pakistani control,” it remains to be seen if the two sides can work around the red lines.
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