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Pakistan’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi: Maverick Or Islamabad’s ‘Sounding Board’? – OpEd

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On June 24, The Express Tribune reported that “Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Wednesday [June 23] India was making attempts to misuse the forum of the Financial Action Task Force [FATF] for political purposes and doing continuous propaganda against Pakistan.”Coming just two days before international terror funding watchdog Financial Action Task Force [FATF] was scheduled to making public its findings on whether or not Pakistan should be taken off its grey list, such a comment was expected, because Islamabad has a conspicuous proclivity to blame others for its own mistakes and Qureshi is prone to either blow hot and blow cold on every contentious issue, shoot and scoot or just shoot his mouth off.

Readers may recall that after New Delhi abrogated Article 370, Qureshi wrote several letters to UN Secretary General António Guterres contending that this decision was “illegal, unilateral, [and] coercive”and exuded full confidence that UNSC would compel New Delhi to revoke this decision. However, just before the informal UNSC meet on Kashmir, his confidence suddenly gave way to what patently appeared to be reluctant resignation triggered by reality. Perhaps this explains why he forewarned his countrymen by saying that they “Should not in live fool’s paradise [as] nobody will be standing there [in UNSC] with garlands in hands. Nobody will be there waiting for you.” Similarly, when his announcement that “An in-principle decision has been taken to take the issue of Kashmir to the International Court of Justice,” never materialised, it would be fair to assume that Qureshi was just playing to the gallery by pulling a fast one!

However, these aren’t the only diplomatic gaffes for which Qureshi is responsible. Readers may recall that during August last year, Qureshi made a not-so-veiled threat to Riyadh by telling OIC that “If you cannot convene it [OIC meet], then I’ll be compelled to ask Prime Minister Imran Khan to call a meeting of the Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us on the issue of Kashmir and support the oppressed Kashmiris.” To add insult to injury he even went as far as saying that “now Pakistani Muslims are demanding to show leadership on the [Kashmir] issue”.

Expectedly, this brazen affront wasn’t taken well by the House of Saud and even though Pakistan army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa air dashed to Riyadh in an attempt to pacify Saudi royalty, such was their level of anger that Gen Bajwa wasn’t even accorded the courtesy of an audience with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman- a first for any Pakistan army chief. Furthermore, just days after Qureshi’s outburst, without spelling it out, Riyadh hit back with vengeance. It not only refused to renew the loan of $3.2 billion worth of oil on deferred payments, but also pressed for premature return of a $1 billion Saudi loan. 

Despite his miserable track record of committing monumental faux pas resulting in national embarrassment, strained relations with traditional allies and even humungous financial losses, Qureshi has not only survived but continues dropping bricks in the diplomatic arena as hitherto fore. This raises the question- since in no way an indispensable entity, why is Islamabad and Rawalpindi still suffering him? The only plausible answer is that Qureshi may not be such a moron as he appears to be. Au contraire, in him, Imran Khan and Gen Bajwa seem to have found a willing harbinger of bad news as well as a dependable ‘sounding board’ for gauging public response to contentious proposals under consideration in Islamabad. 

For example, his fore warning asking people not to live in a “fool’s paradise” as that none at UNSC were waiting for Pakistan “with garlands in hand,” was a clear case of preparing the public for the inevitable outcome of Islamabad’s demand to restore Article 370 not being entertained by UNSC as it lacked substance. Rebuffed by UNSC and fully aware that its case against Article 370 abrogation will not stand up to legal scrutiny at ICJ, there is a distinct possibility that Islamabad may be mulling over a possible alternative to its Kashmir narrative, which has now got inextricably trapped in the Article 370 abrogation mire. Thus, Qureshi’s “Article 370 is their [India’s] internal issue”remark could well be Islamabad’s cunning manoeuvre to gauge public reactions on both sides of Line of Control [LoC], which if rejected by the people could always be remedied as a slip of the tongue or an expression taken out-of-context [as was ultimately done]!

Similarly, Qureshi’s intemperate tirade against Saudi led OIC could well be an orchestrated attempt to convey to Riyadh that with Turkey’s backing, Islamabad was no pushover in the comity of Islamic nations. It could also be an attempt to humour Turkey, which was upset with Pakistan for skipping the December 2020 Kuala Lumpur meet on Saudi Arabia’s directions. That it misfired badly is another story, and possibly Islamabad has realised that even though Pakistan army may be guarding the Saudi royals while its former army chief,Gen Raheel Sharif heading the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition of 39 countries, it can’t still afford to mess around with Riyadh.

In Pakistan we have a country whose Prime Minister eulogises Al Qaida founder and 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden as a “martyr” on the floor of National Assembly while his Foreign Minister ducks the question of whether he considers Laden to be a “martyr” with a puerile “I will let that pass” reply. So, even though Qureshi may insist that “there is no justification [for FATF] to keep Pakistan on the grey list,” but the international community will obviously not take Islamabad seriously. 

So rather than accuse all and sundry [especially India] for maligning Pakistan’s image by falsely accusing it of supporting terrorism, it would do Islamabad good to set its own house in order. Telling FATF that Islamabad has no clue regarding whereabouts of UN designated global terrorist Masood Azhar [who is also chief of Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Pulwama car bombing mastermind] since the door of his house was found locked, fools no one. Furthermore, Islamabad’s attempt to project itself as a victim of terror by blaming India for carrying out terrorist activities inside Pakistan and trying to prove its point by citing the recent bomb blast incident outside the residence of what Inspector General of Police [Punjab] Inam Ghani mentioned was a “high value target” [ euphemism for US designated global terrorist and 2008 Mumbai attacks mastermind Hafiz Saeed], will find few takers. 

Ghani has stated that “There is a police picket near the house of a high value target, which is why the [bomb laden] vehicle could not have gone near the house.” However, if one goes by Islamabad’s announcement that having being convicted on terror financing charges by an anti-terrorism court, Saeed was serving a nine-year sentence in jail, then the question that arises is, if the Mumbai attack mastermind was indeed in jail [where he should have rightly been], then why had a police picket been established outside the house of this “high value target,” who wasn’t there? 

Thus, it isn’t at all surprising that Islamabad’s attempt to jaundice FATF’s decision by posing as a victim of terror hasn’t succeeded and so despite Qureshi’s theatrics, Pakistan continues to languish in the international terror financing watchdog’s grey list. Therefore, as long as Rawalpindi continues to patronise the likes of Hafiz Saeed and Mehmood Azhar as well as provide safe sanctuaries and succour to terrorist groups like the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and many others, where’s the need for the so called ‘inimical forces’ to waste their time, energy and resources to badmouth Pakistan? 

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Nilesh Kunwar

Nilesh Kunwar is a retired Indian Army Officer who has served in Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. He is a ‘Kashmir-Watcher,’ and now after retirement is pursuing his favorite hobby of writing for newspapers, journals and think tanks.

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