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August 21, 2018

FO to craft foreign policy: Qureshi

Top Story

August 21, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Monday said the country’s foreign policy will now be crafted at the foreign ministry with input from other institutions as was the norm in all the world capitals.

“Pakistan will try to bridge its trust deficit with the other regional countries,” Qureshi told reporters in his maiden press conference here soon after taking oath.

"There are pre-conceived notions about where the foreign policy of Pakistan was formulated. Let me be clear — the foreign policy will now be made here at the Foreign Office of Pakistan. I will contact all the institutions for the country’s betterment. It is the policy across the world. Feedback is sought from the national security institutions,” he said.

Without sounding apologetic or launching into excuses, he clearly said the country’s interest will be at the very centre of the foreign policy and ‘when we need to fix it, we will do so”.

However, confusion arose when immediately after the foreign minister’s televised address to the media at the Foreign Office, the Indian media went berserk claiming that the recent letter written by PM Modi to Imran Khan had not talked about restarting the dialogue process.

Qureshi said India and Pakistan had to move forward keeping the realities before them, while mentioning a letter by PM Modi to his Pakistani counterpart in which he had indicated commencing dialogue between the two sides.

According to a copy of Modi’s letter shown to The News, the exact words of the letter are, "PM expressed India’s commitment to build good neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan and pursue a meaningful and constructive engagement for the benefit of the people of the region."

The words, “meaningful and constructive engagement” were read by some at the Foreign Office as “dialogue”. The Foreign Office spokesman quickly stepped in to clarify and hit out at the Indian media, saying any attempts to instigate controversy and vitiate the environment are counter–productive and against the spirit of responsible journalism.

“The foreign minister has not stated that the Indian prime minister had made an offer of dialogue, but said the Indian prime minister in his letter to Prime Minister Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi had also mentioned something similar to what the foreign minister elucidated earlier i.e. that the way forward was only through constructive engagement”.

The foreign minister was also briefed about the same positivism and constructive environment prevailing during the meeting of former minister of law & information with the Indian external affairs minister during his visit to India on August 18, 2018 to attend the funeral of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Qureshi himself reached out to his Indian counterpart and stated,” I want to tell the Indian foreign minister that we are not just neighbours; we are nuclear powers. We have a lot of common resources. Coming to the table and talking peace is our only option. We need to stop adventurism and come together. We know the issues are tough and will not be solved overnight, but we have to engage”.

He added that neither could turn their cheek away as both had outstanding issues. “Kashmir is a reality; it is an issue that both our nations acknowledge. We need a continued and uninterrupted dialogue. This is our only way forward. We may have a different approach and line of thinking, but I want to see a change in how we behave," he added.

The foreign minister complained that “some forces had been trying to run Pakistan into isolation and marginalisation. And why wouldn’t they do it? Your country didn’t have a foreign minister who is meant to be your chief diplomat. This gives your opponents open playing fields”.

On top of the foreign minister’s foreign travel is a visit to Kabul for which dates are being worked out. "I want to bring a solid message to the people of Afghanistan. The two countries share a future and geography, and we have to work together and begin our long journey. I want to tell the people of Afghanistan we need to become each other’s support base. And we have the capability to become a good support mechanism for each other. I have heard that we have a bilateral agreement in place which has five tracks and we want to move forward with those," he stated.

For now all political appointees in world capitals will continue with their jobs till a final assessment has been made by the foreign minister. In a departure from the past, Qureshi said he will continue to consult with former officials, academia, others for guidance.

"It will be my effort and wish to have a national consensus on foreign policy — a bipartisan approach. And today, bringing forward that approach, I invite Hina Rabbani Khar, Khawaja Asif, and representation from the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal to come and join us at the table to think on foreign policy”, he added.

For now Prime Minister Imran Khan will be skipping the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session next month and Qureshi will be representing Pakistan.

"An important event is coming up; the United Nations General Assembly, where I will be representing Pakistan and where we have to present Pakistan’s case to the world. I invite them to join us."

Qureshi said he had worked with Richard Holbrooke, Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice in the past. “I know about their concerns and their priorities. I will speak to them in a straight forward manner. I will tell them that we too have our priorities, our nation has some aspirations. I will tell them that bilateral relations will operate on the basis of equality.

"We know that there will be obstructions and hurdles in our way, but we are determined," he said. "I will announce my first steps after a meeting with our team and consult with those who have been working in the foreign policy arena," he said.

Qureshi said the government and his party fully supported the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). "CPEC is a long-term project, it is a game changer. Our party supported it while in the opposition too. The Chinese ambassador was in touch with me and I will be meeting him soon to get an overview on progress”, he added.

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