Foreign Ministers and Change

Imran Khan has been making quite a splash in the headlines lately as ‘electables’ pour into PTI. This has caused some smirking as people ask if these ex-officials are so ‘electable’ how come none of them are actually elected to anything? But one of the more interesting traits of this group of recruits is what many of these ex-officials did when they were actually in power.

Immy’s biggest catch of all, of course, was Shah Mehmood Qureshi who served as FM under President Zardari until February of this year. As Foreign Minister from 2008 to February 2011, Shah Mehmood Qureshi was high-ranking members of Zardari’s inner circle.

SMQ with his best friend Hillary ClintonBack in February, I wrote a controversial post criticising SMQ’s tenure. As I’ve written since, I do believe there’s a lot to admire about Qureshi’s record, but we shouldn’t pretend that his record is something other than it was – a mixed bag.

During his tenure as Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi was soft on America and unsuccessful with India. He oversaw the growth of drone strikes and American incursions into Pakistan while also being unable to bring India to the table. America and India are probably the two most important nations to deal with, and his record on both was less than stellar.

Of course, he did a better job than the most recent ex-Foreign Minster to jump on the PTI bandwagon. Imran Khan’s embracing Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri is in some ways even stranger than his embracing SMQ. At least SMQ managed to get elected last time. Khurshid Kasuri, on the other hand, lost to Sardar Asif Ahmed Ali (PPP).

As Foreign Minister during the dictatorship of Gen Musharraf, Khurshid Kasuri was also the man in charge when the Americans really put together their whole “AFPAK” strategy, setting up CIA cells and taking over air bases for drone strikes. Pretty much everything that Imran Khan has built his popularity opposing was carried out under the leadership of people who are now part of his own political party.

Mian Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri with Donald Rumsfeld

Khurshid Kasuri laughing with Donald Rumsfeld

So that’s the ‘untested change’ that PTI is offering. If you liked Pakistan’s foreign policy from 2002–2010, you’ll love PTI. In comparison, take a look at what the current Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, has managed to accomplish since only nine months.

After a decade of hearing the ‘do more’ mantra, it was Hina Rabbani Khar who finally took a firm stand with the Americans and said ‘enough is enough’. Who could watch her speech before the UN General Assembly and not be reminded of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto demanding respect for the country also?

After years of escalating drone strikes, it was Hina Rabbani Khar who finally sent notice to US to vacate Shamsi airbase withing 15 days. And for perhaps the first time, the Americans listened and vacated the airbase within the given time limit – an event that even rightist newspaper The Nation termed as ‘steps towards repairing damages to our sovereignty’.

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar addressing the UN

FM Hina Rabbani Khar standing up for Pakistan at the UN

And it’s not just relations with American that are becoming more balanced. With India, too, we are finally seeing a change for the better.

On her first trip to India, the media there reported that she ‘won a flurry of fans’. In an interview with Reuters last month, Foreign Minister Khar noted that relations with India are improving and that expanded trade is helping move towards progress on critical issues including Kashmir.

Additionally, the proposed MFN status for India promises great economic benefits for Pakistan that have been missing for decades. Already we have seen an increase in cross-border visits of businessmen, and the door to greater economic opportunity could be opened even wider as our two nations discuss liberalising visa policy for businessmen which can further help increase two-way trade by billions.

When the government appointed Hina Rabbani Khar as the new Foreign Minister, many people mocked the decision and belittled Khar as too young and too inexperienced. But what they were seeing was the face of a new Pakistan that has dignity without being defiant, and improvement without isolation. As Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar has accomplished in nine months what Khurshid Kasuri and Shah Mehmood Qureshi failed to do for years. Is this not the ‘change’ that we are looking for?