Saturday September 25, 2021

Foreign policy tragedy

September 02, 2020

Politics and governance are as poles apart as cricket and politics. Like cricket, which cannot be mastered without hard practice and vast experience, politics too needs hard struggle and practical experience. Similarly, the art of governance can be acquired only through vast practical experience.

No doubt, Imran Khan was a great cricketer who played an important role in making Pakistan a cricket world champion. He has been in politics for 22 long years. But unfortunately, he had no practical experience of governance prior to assuming such a great responsibility. Which is why he needed an experienced team to address the daunting challenges of governance, economy and foreign policy.

However, he has unfortunately gathered around himself ministers and advisers who are only experts in oratory. Their first priorities seem to be to impress the PM by flattering and making lofty claims instead of focusing on their jobs. Most of them have reached parliament and the cabinet by chance. Prior to this, they had no experience of a ministership even at the provincial level. In fact, some of them seem to be visiting us from abroad.

This inexperienced team has caused chaos in every sector of the governance. Though some experienced politicians such as Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Pervez Khattak have become part of the federal cabinet, unfortunately they are neither in the prime minister’s good books or in his kitchen cabinet.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s problem is that he wanted to be the chief minister of Punjab. But Imran Khan and Jahangir Tareen tactfully played their cards. Although Qureshi halfheartedly accepted the portfolio of foreign minister, he seems unable to concentrate on his main job. The prime minister also seems to have been alerted to doubt Shah Mahmood's intentions. Perhaps he now remembers how Qureshi once betrayed Zardari.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi too seems confused. Sometimes he dreams of becoming the prime minister and sometimes he behaves like Faisal Vawda and lambastes the opposition to assure Imran Khan of his loyalty. Even with his experience and articulate manner he has failed to become a strong foreign minister. He looks towards many quarters before taking decisions even about trivial issues in foreign policy.

Practically, the prime minister is playing the role of foreign minister, which is unfortunate given that he does not understand the nuances of foreign policy. He has ended up making major blunders on different diplomatic fronts whether it is with China or with Saudi Arabia. The military leadership always needs to intervene and fix the issue. But the very next day, the prime minister or his courtiers make yet another blunder.

The PM’s promising relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman turned into tension and then to animosity – thanks to irresponsible and shortsighted steps on the diplomatic front.

What is strange is that though, Shah Mehmood understands diplomatic nuances, he does not dare give the right advice to the prime minister at the right time.

For instance, Imran Khan used the Saudi crown prince’s plane for his visit to New York, agreed to the Kuala Lumpur summit and boasted of mediation between the US and Iran. These blunders could have been avoided. It was Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s duty to brief the PM that it was not appropriate for him to use the Saudi crown prince's private plane for such an important visit, or the possible reaction of Saudi Arabia about the idea of the Kuala Lumpur summit. He did neither. Instead of stopping Imran, I am pretty sure Qureshi would have praised the PM just to please him.

These blunders could have been avoided and could have been fixed by backdoor diplomacy with Saudi Arabia. We had three months between the UN General Assembly session and the Kuala Lumpur Conference which was scheduled for December 2019.

The foreign minister and the Foreign Office should have settled matters with Saudi Arabia prior to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Malaysia. If they could not convince the Saudi leadership, then they should have advised the prime minister to cancel the Malaysia visit with a valid excuse. But they let the matter get to an embarrassing twist. At the eleventh hour, the prime minister himself went to Saudi Arabia to pursue the Saudi leadership. Then he realized there that his Malaysia visit could make things worse. So, he cancelled his scheduled visit to Malaysia and brought home huge diplomatic embarrassment.

And then, instead of tactfully handling the first mistake, a second blunder of the same magnitude was committed when the PM visited Malaysia earlier this year – and then accepted that he had made a mistake by not attending the Kuala Lumpur summit. One wonders why he felt the need for such an announcement.

On top of it all, Shah Mehmood Qureshi recently criticized Saudi Arabia for its silence over the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. At this stage, his outburst is just beyond understanding. If a reaction on Saudi Arabia’s role on Kashmir was necessary, then why did he wait for one long year. Saudi Arabia has great influence over the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the OIC experts group issued, for the first time, a statement in favour of Kashmir on August 5, 2020. Pakistan should have thanked the OIC and Saudi Arabia. But instead, Shah Mahmoud lambasted Saudi Arabia and the OIC the very next day.

Someone may wonder why things keep going wrong despite Imran Khan’s hard struggle. The answer is simple. Foreign policy is a complex game, and Pakistan is facing serious challenges at different diplomatic fronts. Global politics has entered a new phase of strategic shifts with realignment of alliance and priorities. That demands learned, shrewd, seasoned experts.

Diplomatically, we are facing expert diplomatic players and shrewd politicians of India. But our team consists of naïve and inexperienced players who want to learn during the match. The result is crystal clear. The tough challenges of foreign policy demand the right person for the right job. Otherwise, diplomatic failure will be the ultimate result.

The writer works for Geo TV.

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