Why Should We Have a Full-Time Foreign Minister?
By Salahuddin Haider
Karachi, Pakistan

For the last three years, Pakistan has been without a permanent foreign minister, and has immeasurably suffered because of that. It is now being emphasized that this deficiency in the cabinet should now be removed so that Islamabad could properly project its stand on different issues to the outside world.

In any national level cabinet, portfolios of finance and foreign affairs are considered vital because of the nature and load of work incumbents on these posts have to carry and perform.

For unexplained reasons, however, the foreign affairs portfolio has been kept by the prime minister himself. The sensitivity of the post could be gauged from the fact that a single person like General Sahebzada Yaqoob Khan had served three different regimes—of General Ziaul Haq, Benazir, and later of Nawaz Sharif. His charming and mercurial personality did deliver and Pakistan was able to present its viewpoint on crucial issues to world leaders.

Benazir had committed a blunder by keeping the finance ministry to herself, and while during the first stint she had a State minister in Ihsanul Haq, in her second stint in office she relied more on a private sector representative, a textile magnate, Ali Mohammad as her unofficial financial adviser.

Late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, master of international affairs having been the petroleum and foreign minister of this country, dealt with ticklish issues himself, yet he had a veteran like Aga Shahi, respected and revered among the Muslim States envoys at United Nations, for day-to-day work.

Aga Shahi, primarily from the civil service cadre, came from an illustrious family, and still living in the hearts of old timers in Thatta, the rural district some 60 miles from Karachi. He was deputy commissioner of Thatta, and being a man of tremendous integrity and authority, had introduced such a system that people used to sleep at night with their doors open. No one could dare to commit theft or dacoity during the time he headed the district administration.

Later, as a Foreign Service officer, he rose to tremendous authority, and like his elder brother, Aga Hilaly, served as the country’s Foreign Secretary, and is remembered to this day for winning the hearts of ambassadors of different countries as Permanent Representative of Pakistan at the UN Headquarters in New York.

In her second stint as Prime Minister, Benazir had a bearded Asif Ahmed Ali who toured the world and presented Pakista’s case to the international community, constantly touring and travelling. Later that responsibility was entrusted to Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri during the Musharraf era, and to Hina Rabbani Khar when Asif Zardari was at the helm.

All of them were energetic and vibrant, moving around, meeting world leaders, explaining to them their country’s standpoint on different issues of international nature.

During the last three years, this sensitive department has remained neglected. Reports, though unconfirmed, kept circulating about a tug of war between adviser on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz, and former ambassador Tariq Fatemi. Officers or desk in-charges at the Foreign Office, did not know who to look to for guidance or leadership. That sent wrong signals to the world and to our ambassadors abroad. True, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in three different stints, has learnt or may have perfected the art of diplomacy. Yet, the prime minister house cannot send signals or messages to the foreign office all the time. As chief executive of the State machinery, Nawaz Sharif has a heavy load of work on his shoulders.

The foreign office demands a whole time foreign minister, who could take charge of the dire responsibilities, and be on the move at breakneck speed to pursue a vibrant foreign policy, meet world leaders in person, and convey to them Islamabad’s point of view or aspirations of the people of Pakistan on issues of delicate nature.

Two very ticklish issues have been dominating the region— the situation in Afghanistan, relations with India, and the deteriorating and complex happenings in Indian-held Kashmir. The government has come under criticism from PML-N opponents like Bilawal, and others for failing to come up to the nation’s aspirations.

Mere meeting with ambassadors of Muslim Ummah of the Western or European States, cannot be described as diplomacy. Such practices fall below the level of an art which needs sharp minds and tactful handling. A full-fledged foreign minister, vibrant and energetic, is now required to travel round the globe, meet his or her counterparts in person, and have a straight forward dialogue to convey our own message and know their viewpoints on oppression in Kashmir, the situation in Afghanistan, which may assume dangerous proportions if it remains unattended.

Although the State Department spokesman, John Kirby, has clarified that the boundary issue between Kabul and Islamabad did not matter for Washington, but the issue of peace in the region certainly was of immense concern to the latter,

However, the statement from US Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter promising deployment of US forces to fight Taliban or terrorists in Afghanistan alongside the local troops has to be read in totality of what he actually said.

President Obama had earlier during the visit to Washington of Indian prime minister Nirender Modi, made it quite clear that the United States would use all means to defend American interests anywhere in the world, and would use drones to achieve its goals. This was a warning to Pakistan, which though retorted, had not been effectively countered.

The Defense Secretary on Tuesday reiterated in Kabul President Obama’s policy much more forcefully and in unambiguous terms when he made it abundantly plain that Pakistan will have to differentiate between the “good and bad” Taliban. He merely repeated the words of Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, which should put Islamabad on guard.

The situation on the country’s western borders, if not explosive, is surely unsatisfactory from Pakistan’s point of view. Islamabad needs to rush a young, and energetic foreign minister who could bear the fatigue of travelling long distances to explain the country’s position to the capitals abroad, and win them over to our side.

In its present form the country’s foreign policy is not only reactive, it is virtually ineffective. It has to be much more vigorous and capable of yielding the desired results. If China had not been on our side, India’s desire to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) may well have been a reality by now.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would be well advised to pick up an energetic and experienced foreign minister and keep him moving all the time, instead of confining himself to meeting foreign ambassadors within the four walls of the foreign ministry. Such a policy will not be able to yield the desired results.




Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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