Wanted: Principled Leadership

The Raymond Davis saga took a turn for the worst over the past few days as principled leadership on the issue has been sacrificed on the altar of political ambition and populist groveling. The explosive statements of former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has changed his reputation in the media from an American puppet to a Ghazi almost overnight. We should stop and ask ourselves if what is really going on is as it is being spun in the media (that would be a first) or if perhaps this new story line is once again not exactly as it seems.

FM Qureshi with US Secretary of State ClintonFirst let me say that a lot of people have taken to attacking Mahmood Qureshi, which is unfortunate. He’s not a bad guy. Actually, he’s really smart and capable man, if a little out of his element lately. Trying to define him as a demon does not do anything for the case of reason and rule of law over rule of mobs. Unfortunately, those same people who would demonize him as an American puppet last week are now ready to present him with his very own laal topi and declare him as one of the faithful. So let’s throw out all the self-serving statements and take a look at the facts.

Qureshi’s recent behaviour is unfortunately not out of the ordinary. Between Rehman Malik’s telling that he will kill blasphemers with his own hands and Babar Awan‘s trying to trade Raymond Davis for Aafia Siddiqui as if he were a bakriwallah bartering in a market and not Law Minister – too many of our politicians continue to play to the populist gallery rather than provide real leadership on hard issues.

When I first read Malick’s column in the The News I thought, ‘this is rich’. Suddenly the Americans’ darling Mahmood Qureshi is now their victim? The whole thing seemed a bit too tidy to me. It was just too convenient a headline. But there was more to the article than simply the headline that bothered me.

According to Malick, this supposed story starts in a high level meeting in Islamabad that was attended by President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, Babar Awan, Rehman Malik, Shah Mehmood Qureshi and the DG ISI Gen Shuja Pasha. Let’s stop here for a minute. If this is the cast of characters who was in attendance, it means that one of them has to be the leak. Reading the rest of the article, it’s clear that the source for Malick’s article is none other than Qureshi himself. This becomes even more clear as more articles begin pouring into the media with quotes from Qureshi which shows that the man whose silence got us into this mess is now incredibly accessible to every journalist in the country. So we must ask what is the purpose of Qureshi leaking his own story to The News which is not exactly a mouthpiece for the government?

And let’s consider Qureshi’s previously impenetrable silence, can we? The shooting that started this whole mess happened three weeks ago. According to Qureshi now, he has “strongly argued the case that Raymond did not enjoy unlimited diplomatic immunity under law, flatly refused and even said that if need be, he’d rather resign”.

Really? Since when? Because everyone has been demanding that the FO decide the question of diplomatic immunity for weeks and Qureshi was nowhere to be found. If he was really being pressurized to act against his convictions and was so adamant about resigning rather than facing the tune, why did he never resign? In fact, it’s only since he’s been sacked that Qureshi has suddenly found this adamant conviction on the issue.

And then there’s the issue of Qureshi’s sacking, which wasn’t really a sacking at all. When the PM dissolved the cabinet in order to reduce the bloated number of ministers and began making reappointments, it was decided to offer Qureshi a new portfolio – Water and Power. Unfortunately, Qureshi felt that he deserved foreign affairs, and if he wasn’t given the position he wanted, he was going to take his ball and his bat and leave the game. In fact when he was supposed to be sworn in as a cabinet minister, he didn’t bother to show up at all, rather he sent a terse note saying, “I am not interested in water and power ministry in place of foreign affairs”. This is a curious response to the offer of a cabinet portfolio, a position for which only a handful of people are selected out of the 180 million citizens. Could it be that Mr Qureshi’s reason has fallen prey to his personal ambitions?

And rather than a punishment, offering a cabinet position to Qureshi was actually something of a token. After all, has there not been constant frustration with his performance as FM over the past years? Manmohan Singh blamed Qureshi personally for his poor handling of talks last summer. This was an ongoing problem that Qureshi had, pushing his Indian counterparts away when it was his job to hold talks and find solutions to issues. And it was under Qureshi’s guard that India has become considered for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, while Pakistan remains without a civilian nuclear deal. Also he has taken great criticism from diplomats such as Tayyab Siddiqui for his comments on Iran.

He skipped the SAARC meeting in Bhutan last month, and in the midst of the negotiations over Raymond Davis, he even skipped a meeting with an American delegation last week. More on that point: As I stated earlier, if Shah Mahmood Qureshi truly felt so  adamant about Raymond Davis’s status, why was he silent and missing in action for the past weeks? Why did he not make statements when it could have mattered? If he was actually being pressurized, why did he not resign then? He said himself that he would have kept his position of FM if it was offered, so don’t try to have it both ways please.

And let’s not forget that it was only a few short days ago that the Foreign Office under the leadership of FM Qureshi stated that Raymond Davis at a minimum does enjoy at a minimum “partial immunity”. Then Salman Bashir calls the newspapers and says that if he committed some immoral act, he would not request diplomatic immunity for himself, which is essentially admitting that Raymond Davis does have diplomatic immunity, but it is annoying to the FO. This is another example of the failure of the foreign office by trying to have everything both ways. Whether or not Salman Bashir would invoke diplomatic immunity is irrelevant – Raymond Davis has invoked it. If Qureshi was unable to make a decision one way or the other, the country needed someone in the Foreign Office who could.

But the problem is not just Qureshi’s failure to act on principle. We’re also seeing other leaders like Babar Awan trying to barter Raymond Davis for Aafia Siddiqui as if Islamabad was filled with goat traders at a market, or Altaf Hussain comparing apples to peaches by saying that “Just the way US court gave the decision of Dr. Aafia’s case, US must also wait for Pakistani court’s decision on Raymond’s case”. Whether or not Aafia should be repatriated, she has no claim to diplomatic immunity, so her case is nothing like that of Raymond Davis.

Last fall, Shah Mahmood Qureshi warned against being influenced by concocted messages sent through media over Pak-US relationships. He now seems to be playing the same game. Unfortunately, he is not the only one doing so. It is now three weeks since the tragic incident that has brought diplomatic relations with the US to stand still. As Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi could have ended this mess weeks ago by declaring Raymond Davis’s status one way or another. But when Qureshi had the opportunity to speak, he was silent. Now that his opinion carries no consequences to his own skin, suddenly he has found his voice. Elsewhere, our political leaders are asking the courts to help them out of a difficult situation and making populist speeches and goat trading to protect their own hides. The courts are telling those responsible in government to please do their jobs. Outside in the street it is the same as in the media – we are blinded by ghairat when the situation requires objective reason.

Again let me state that I do not think any of these are bad, dishonest, or incompetent people. I think the problem is one that is a larger problem in society. We allow issues to be hijacked by people who use emotional blackmail to keep us from using our brains. As a result,  good and capable men lose all sense of reason and proportion.

At present, everyone appears to be playing hearts and demanding to take the trick. But spades are trumps in this game, and diplomatic immunity is the ace of spades. If Raymond Davis plays the trump card, he takes the trick no matter how many hearts are thrown. But we should also keep a sense of proportion. The Raymond Davis case is only one trick and it is not for game. We need to stop acting like it is for all the chits. We need leaders with the courage and principles to play by the rules instead of trying to upend the table when they don’t like their hand.

8 thoughts on “Wanted: Principled Leadership

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  2. I don’t think this article is a fair analysis of what FM Qureshi achieved over three years as Minister for Foreign Affairs. The 3 succssful US-Pak Strategic Dialogue has not been mentioned at all and it is unfrtunte that a Pakistani blog would actually quote Indian PM Manmohan Singh rather than the stance of the countrys Foreign Minister. One must not forget that it was only after FM Qureshi made a trip to the United States was the Kerry-Lugar Bill ($7.5billion non-military grant) able to get acceptability within Pakistan. As suggested in the article, the author states that FM Qureshi could have put to rest the Raymond Davis issue by stating RD’s immunity status. I really dont think it was that easy. Had it been so simple, MoFA now has a new leadership for 4 days – why hasn’t anything been made public? And why has the Presidency or the Prime Minister not made a statement in regards to the Raymond Davis case? If it is subjudice for the these two gov’t officials then it was also subjudice for FM Qureshi.

    To blame FM Qureshi for the Raymond Davis debacle is not fair. Personally I believe FM Qureshi stuck his neck out for the President Zardari by not releasing the actual status of Raymond Davis. That would have put President Zardari in a very precarious position and with approval ratings already matching George Bush, I really do believe President Zardari lost a competent and qualified minister. It was only when various govt officials requested FM Qureshi that Raymond Davis be issued a back-dated letter providing the murderer with diplomatic immunity did the Minister stand down. It was more of an insult to provide him with a Water and Power portfolio than privilege.

    and if it is truly a blessed position “This is a curious response to the offer of a cabinet portfolio, a position for which only a handful of people are selected out of the 180 million citizens” to be water and power – it is truly disgusting and pathetic that the only minister who PM gilllani could find was raja perveaiz ashraf. when there are soo many other better qaulified ministers.

    • I don’t disagree that FM Qureshi achieved a lot in his career. Like I said, he’s a really smart and capable guy. But he’s not perfect, and lately he did seem to be slipping. I just think that he let himself get distracted, and I don’t know why. I also don’t disagree that it’s frustrating that people keep terming the issue sub judice. It’s not sub judice because it is not a matter for the judiciary. Fauzia Wahab’s statement today, even if you or I don’t agree with her, is a step in the right direction of making a decision. I certainly do not blame FM Qureshi for the entire debacle, but how can he not take some responsibility for where we are when he was in fact the FM for the past three weeks? An insult to provide Water and Power portfolio?!? I wish someone would insult me so badly as to offer me a cabinet position. 🙂

  3. Your argument is valid, the premise is based on how much Shah Mehmood Qureshi is telling the truth,

    Why he turned the other cheek is definitely worriesome, but a major piece of the puzzle lies in the fact there is a serious drift between Gilani and Shah Mehmood Qureshi – SM Q has been eying for the PM since long, and gilani was out the door early this year but MQM back tracked and came back into the coalition else he had his party all set

    It might not be a save thy pakistan motivation – I just feel he was simply pissed off, and when another chance came knocking he was too pissed off to let this go without a fight.

    A lot depends on what facts the news has – I am guessing there is a lot of substance in them, News doesnt usually go out on a limb [it does sometimes ;)] but it definitely has something to spice up their coverstory And in Pakistan all is not precisely as it is projected by the govt.

    Why the US has gone mum — Im ready to bet with the shit hitting the fan and sensitive discussions coming out in the open they were compelled to go-low – I would have pushed them from the start to keep a low profile but you can understand them, for the past 10 years they got what they wanted merely bullying and bribing our leaders, why would this time had been any different – they never factored a disgruntled Foreign Minister giving them the stick while he himself takes the fall

  4. Dr Awab, I’m also confused by this US response. As much as I’ve been harping on our own leadership, the US has not been innocent either. I don’t buy complaints about the Americans pressurizing Islamabad – of course they are, and we would do the same thing (at least I hope we would).

    But I do think you’re right that the Americans have for too long been using a strategy of bully or bribe and have not figured out that they will get much better results if they come to us respectfully as equals, especially when they’re asking for difficult decisions. My greatest fear here is that politicians in Washington and Islamabad both are too proud to admit some inconvenient facts and make the hard decisions that might be unpopular in their streets but actually move things towards the right solution.

    Everyone wants to wish that Raymond Davis would just disappear, but he’s not going to. I’m hoping that this crisis is used as an opportunity to find a new way for us and the Americans to communicate. One that doesn’t involve accusations of bullying, bribing, or beggar bowls. But before we can ask the Americans to be honest about their own actions, we have to be honest with ourselves also.

    Let me also say that I think that you and I having this debate proves that people can disagree and debate on issues without resorting to personal attacks and accusations. I wish our anchors would take a lesson. 😉

  5. @Mahmood Adeel
    I understand where you are coming from, but you also need to understand that Qureshi was most probably saving President Zardaris face by not publicly displaying Raymond Davis documents about his diplomatic immunity. I am sure it could not have been difficult for Qureshi to ask any one on the 3rd floor to present Raymond Davis file and show whether he had immunity or not. Also you mentioned fauzia wahab and how her statements yesterday was a step in the right direction, if that was the case why did she immediately retract her statement once she randomly declared Raymond Davis had immunity. And even for the sake of argument if Qureshi did falter and for reasons unknown to us, was not able to showcase Raymond Davis immunity status, why has the Prime Minister or President for that matter not release Davis status? afterall, they are the PPP party leadership and I am sure they realize how detrimental this episode is to their electability. why dont they just clear the air and come out with any statement? washington is only playing what is in their national interest. this episode highlights the trust deficit and the non-serious attitude the united states has towards Pakistan. if the US is the beacon of democracy for the world, are they really going to let a man who shot dead two pakistanis (even if they are robbers) go free? If i don’t pick up my dog’s poop in the United States I can get a fine from the police and here they want a man who in broad daylight shot dead two men go innocent? if they won’t at least the United States should announce they would prosecute davis in their own courts. No statement. Has the US embassy approached the aggrieved party? no.

    as for water and power – you said 180 million citizens to chose from? first of all that is incorrect only members of the parliament can become a federal minister so you are already limited to 350 MNAs and a 100 odd senators. secondly if it was such a blessing and prestigious post, i wonder why president zardari chose to put in place such a corrupt gentlemen who lied to the public on numerous occasions and his one pet project of RPPs was also questionable and is still pending in the Supreme Court of Pakistan due to kickbacks, and a tainted contract.

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