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?

Immy on SMQ

Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi

“These loans, along with US and European aid money, are like bribes to the Pakistani political elite to keep fighting America’s war for them. This was painfully evident when in October 2010 Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the European parliament: ‘If you want to help us fight extremism and terrorism, one way of doing that is making Pakistan economically stable.’ Pakistan’s ruling elite threatens the West with fears about Islamic militancy to extract more money out of them”

– Imran Khan, Pakistan: A Personal History. 2011

“Addressing a rally in Ghotki, Khan said that Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s image remained clear during his service as a foreign minister in the PPP-led coalition government.”

– The News, Imran invites Qureshi to join PTI. 2011

Shah Mehmood Qureshi don’t abandon your principles

Former Foreign Minster Shah Mehmood Qureshi has announced his resignation from PPP and the National Assembly. It is a moment that surprised nobody, but I still think the whole things tastes of spoiled milk, and that’s really disappointing. The debates about diplomatic immunity are now firmly in the past, and Pakistan needs leaders who are focused on the issues of today.

Whatever SMQ decides about his political future, what is important is that he stays consistent in his principles. If his does this, he can influence whatever party he decides to join with to take a reasoned approach to close relations with the US and other nations in the west.

Looking back on his years as Foreign Minister, it cannot be denied that SMQ’s legacy is without doubt the Kerry Lugar bill that he helped pass and when it was attacked he stood with his American partner Hillary Clinton and defended it vigorously.

At the time, SMQ came under attack from certain elements who claimed that he was selling out the nation when nothing could be further from the truth. Even his son Zain Hussain Qureshi was targeted because he worked in US Senator Kerry’s office when the bill was written – an entirely unfair and pointless accusation.

Pakistan’s history is filled with the politics of betrayal and revenge, and vendetta politics never makes for good policy. So can we please set aside petty personal feuds for once and do what is right for the nation instead? Shah Mehmood Qureshi has a perfect opportunity to show young people interested in politics that the old ways of politics based on strategic alliances and personal loyalties are dead, and a new politics of principles is the way of the future.

Who gains from SMQ’s flip flop?

Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood QureshiRumours that SMQ is preparing to jump on the PTI bandwagon have been circulating for weeks. Last week, those rumours looked like they were moving a little closer to actual facts when The Express Tribune reported that the former FM will announce his decision to join PTI on 27th November and no denial was issued. Today, it looks more and more like SMQ will indeed be taking the stage with Immy as part of the latest class of converts to PTI’s ideology. But even for a man of Qureshi’s political stature, who does his flip-flopping help? Not PTI.

First of all, let’s state the obvious. Doesn’t it strike anyone as a bit odd that PTI would even want the guy who was Foreign Minister during the Kerry-Lugar bill, Aafia Siddiqui trial and increased drone strikes? I’m not saying that Imran Khan or SMQ are right or wrong on any of these issues, but it’s certainly hard to believe that they agree. For the past three years, SMQ has been Hillary’s chamcha. Now he’s Immy’s chamcha? Even for the world of Pakistani politics where last year’s enemy is this year’s ally (in Karachi, last hour’s…), this seems a bit hard to believe. It’s obvious why Qureshi would want to jump on the PTI bandwagon – the same reason all the other has-beens are: one last attempt to stay politically relevant. But it’s hard to understand why Imran would want him.

That brings me to the second point. When Imran Khan said he was bringing ‘change’, nobody thought he meant ‘paisa’, but that seems to be what is swelling the ranks of PTI these days – leftovers from the bigger parties. SMQ certainly stands head and shoulders above the likes of Tahir Rasheed, but his statements reek of personal bitterness with Asif Zardari and not a new-found affinity for Imran Khan’s brand of politics. In this sense, it’s classic political maneuvering. SMQ felt humiliated when Zardari offered him Water & Power portfolio during the cabinet shakeup in February. Qureshi’s response was first to say, “I am not interested in water and power ministry in place of foreign affairs”, and then to launch a PR campagin saying that he was resigning in protest of the foreign policy that he had been in charge of since the past two years.

So, come 27th November, Imran Khan will have Hillary’s chamcha and Asif Zardari will have Hina Rabbani Khar – the FM that boldly stood up to the Americans instead of bowing to every one of their demands. If this is PTI’s plan to change the direction of Pakistan, it certainly is a strange way going about it.

Nation Needs Patriots, Not Opportunists

SMQ with his best friend Hillary ClintonPolitical opportunists of every stripe are coming out of the woodwork to take advantage of the nation’s confusion over the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad last week. Meanwhile, the nation’s image is at a low point as the world asks how Osama bin Laden could be living comfortably outside PMA Kakul and how the US could carry out a cross border raid without raising the detection of the Army. What we need are patriots – the real kind, not the pseudo-patriot hyper-nationalists who are content to make excuses – real patriots who are willing to ask the hard questions and make real changes to put the nation back on path.

On Day 1 after the raid, the typical establishment media sources were reporting that this was a joint operation carried out with the full involvement of Pak Army. The Nation reported that 200 Pak Army men were involved. It has become clear that this was not the case, and the military appears to have be caught unaware. In the aftermath of this debacle, civilian and military leaders have called for a full investigation into two questions: 1. How was it possible for Osama bin Laden to be living undetected in Abbottabad and 2. How was it possible for a team of American commandos to get in and out of Abbottabad without military and intelligence noticing anything?

These are important questions to be investigated and answered. As citizens of a sovereign nation we must be looking at how our borders have become so weak that international terrorists and American commandos can cross without detection. We must ask what has happened in our country that international terrorists would choose to come here to hide from the rest of the world. It is a time for national introspection.

Unfortunately, while many are looking at these questions honestly, others are jumping on the opportunity to score cheap political points at the expense of the nation’s future.

Unsurprisingly, Jang/Geo continues it’s boring fight with the government by accusing the civilians of failing on the job, as if the president and PM were sleeping at the radar stations when the cross border raid took place. A recent article even lashes out at the civilians for the laughable claim that “the present government had not discussed the war on terror with the army even once during last three years”. Are we to believe that the government was conducting this war while the Army was waiting for instructions? Actually it was the generals having private talks with their American counterparts for the last years. If the government didn’t talk to the army about the war on terror, it wouldn’t matter since it was the army keeping the civilians out of the loop anyway.

Whatever is being said in the media, it’s nothing compared to the silliness coming out of the mouths of some politicians. One might expect such attacks from Ch. Nisar, but the actions of SMQ are an embarrassing display of political opportunism. Qureshi is a smart guy. It’s too bad he got overly ambitious and gambled on being the next ZAB only to find out he’s not quite cut from the same cloth. But continuing this act is only making him look ridiculous.

Thankfully, civilian and military leadership appear to be on the same page with regards to the importance of defending the country.

Sources say the civilian and military leadership were on the same page in expressing reservations about the Abbottabad operation, and decided to formulate a national security policy after taking all political leaders into confidence. Sources say the government’s reservations over the propaganda being hatched against Pakistan by US intelligence agencies and officials from the Obama administration was also discussed.

The prime minister was asked to take the political leadership into confidence so that a joint stance could be taken on Pakistan’s national security and foreign policy with regards its future relations with the US.

Sources claim there was an understanding among the troika that the country’s sovereignty and geographical boundaries would be defended. The prime minister emphasised that “the sole criteria for formulating a national stance was safeguarding Pakistan’s supreme national interest, by all means, with the help of all state institutions, in accordance with the aspirations of the people of Pakistan who above all value their dignity and honour.”

If we’re going to get through this debacle with our heads held high, we’re going to have to answer some difficult and possibly embarrassing questions. We won’t be the first nation in this position. Germany was responsible for Nazis killing 6 million Jews, the US had hundreds of years of slavery, South Africa had Apartheid. Every nation has embarrassing periods in their histories. But those that progressed to become modern, prosperous democratic nations are those that honestly and humbly engaged in self-examination and positive change.