WION's diplomatic correspondent Sidhant Sibal (right) with Ajay Bisaria

Ajay Bisaria, the former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, has underscored the gravity of the February 2019 developments when it comes to India-Pakistan ties, stating, "There was a distinct probability that India would escalate the situation if Pakistan had not returned the captured Indian pilot or if he had come to harm. That was certainly a point which was clearly made by India."

Following the Pulwama terror attack in 2019, India conducted surgical strikes on Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camps near Balakot, leading to a dogfight between Indian and Pakistani air forces and the subsequent capture and later release of Indian IAF Pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthamanam by Pakistan.

Speaking to our diplomatic correspondent Sidhant Sibal, Bisaria further offered insights into the suggested path for Pakistan's interests, stating, "Pakistan's best bet for its own interest is to try to normalize the country." He has revealed several details of his tenure in Pakistan and ties between the two countries in his book "Anger Management". His book also gives account of Imran Khan's tenure and his view on India ties.

Here's the full interview:

Sidhant Sibal: Your tenure in Pakistan, India removing special status for J&K, if you can talk about that?

Ajay Bisaria: Well, I think that was perhaps the most interesting part of my tenure, that is my exit from Pakistan because it came somewhat abruptly. I had done just about 20 months at that point in Pakistan, and with India's decisions on Article 370 and the decisions by our parliament, I was asked to leave, so I had a 72 hour notice period, and on the fifth of August I was called in by the Pakistani foreign secretary for a demarche about what India had done, and expressing a great deal of concern. And of course, my response was that this was internal to India, Pakistan had no local standi in this situation. But after a point of time, Pakistan seemed to be running out of options on what it could do to express its anger about what India had done. And therefore, the position it took was to ask the Indian High Commissioner to leave and I therefore left Pakistan somewhat abruptly in three days.

Sidhant Sibal: Pulwama in February 2019, how close India, Pakistan were at war or something that was very dangerous for the region?

Ajay Bisaria: I wouldn't say war, but we will certainly be at a stage where the crisis could have escalated beyond what it went. Fortunately it de-escalated and we did not have any ugly situation at that point of time, but there was a distinct probability that India would escalate the situation if Pakistan had not returned the captured Indian pilot or if he had come to harm. That was certainly a point which was clearly made by India.

Sidhant Sibal: So since 2014, India has had a consistent policy towards Pakistan, one that links cross border terrorism. Do you think that this policy is the policy that should be or there should be some opening when it comes to talks as well?

Ajay Bisaria: I think India is always open for peace and for talks and so was the case even after 2014. Because you need to remember that 2014 and 15, Prime Minister Modi met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif five times, the first time being even at the inauguration, the swearing in of Prime Minister Modi when Nawaz Sharif came and multiple meetings in the middle until Prime Minister Modi himself went to Pakistan in the end of 2015. So the deal breaker, which prevented this diplomacy from flowering, we had agreed at that point to have resumed dialogue, we were calling it a comprehensive dialogue, was terrorism. And I think that is the lesson that at least Pakistan must draw is that we come close to agreement to take forward matters, to do constructive diplomacy. India's leaders always take that initiative. But terrorism is a deal breaker. And you know it was exactly what happened. That 2016 was a terrible year in terms of terrorism, and that's why this relationship got frozen.

Sidhant Sibal: I can ask you to crystal-gaze when it comes to the India- Pakistan relationship. Do you think that there will be a time when there will be a normalization of the relationship?

Ajay Bisaria: I think I would look at it with cautious optimism. And if I was advising the Government of Pakistan or the Government of India, right now, I'm advising neither. I would say that Pakistan's best bet for its own interest is to try to normalize the country. And what would normalize mean , normalized would mean to reduce the hold of its army in the economy, to normalize the economy with economic reform, because that is the biggest danger to Pakistan, that it might just crumble as a state. It should normalize in the sense of not using terrorism as a weapon of state policy because this is what has made Pakistan's international reputation terrible and has many economic implications for it. So I think India will be happy to engage with a normalizing Pakistan and on India's side, India needs the strategic patience and the calibration to be able to deal with Pakistan's terrorism with force, but also have the flexibility to engage and understand Pakistan, particularly when it becomes hopefully more coherent as a policy unit, after the Pakistan elections.

Sidhant Sibal: So my final question to you is any anecdote you would like to share with our viewers, something that is a story that touched you and moved you in Pakistan?

Ajay Bisaria: Well, there are multiple stories and many of them find mentioned in my book, and these are not just my stories, but those of many of my predecessors and I think what is very heart warming in Pakistan is that despite the hostility, it can melt away in the evening over music and over, so I hosted at my residence in Pakistan several times, several evenings of music. And when our people, cultural artists from India didn't get permission, I would invite some singers from Lahore who were as good and as familiar with the same music as the songs of Lata Mangeshkar or Kishore Kumar and they would sing them. So I think that's what gives us hope in this relationship, that there is a lot of latent goodwill, also in the relationship apart from the ill.