Benefits of full-time foreign minister are now clearly visible

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Salahuddin Haider

Reservations, even pessimism may still be visible, but this is natural in a democratic or open society, which Pakistan is now today. Critics can still look for weaknesses in foreign policy perceptions of Islamabad, but the truth will have to be acknowledged that ever since the country had a full time foreign minister, positivity has far outnumbered the opposite in presenting our case before the outside world.
Khawaja Asif may not yet be a master, may have weaknesses, but a delicate job he has been asked to handle takes time to be perfect. Many a foreign ministers, we had during the last 70 years, but late Sir Mohammad Zafarullah Khan, and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto were outstanding. Others like Sharifuddin Pirzada, Abdus Sattar, Khursheed Mohammad Kasuri, Hina Rabbani Khar, Asif Mohammad Ali, etc did have plus points, but left much to be desired.
Many may not agree, but the fact remains that on his very first outing, Khawaja Asif, totally new to the assignment, did well by being bold and outspoken before his counterpart, State Department officials, media in America, and even in speeches at semi or unofficial paltforms. He unhesitatingly admitted that the real issue was of “mistrust”. This was a bold statement, Prior to leaving on the long journey, he had unashamedly stated that ‘we needed to set our own house in order”
Obviously it outraged quite a few on the opposite side, and Imran was the first to demand his apology and resignation for making a shameful statement. But whatever Khawaja Asif said, was a bitter truth. Foreign policy of any country worth the name, is a reflection of its internal situation. Unanimity of views of vital issues, has to outweigh political instability, or division within the ranks of the people. Then alone will the world will pay attention to your viewpoint.
All these important factors were missing when the newly appointed foreign minister ventured out for his highly sensitive journey to a capital with which Islamabad’s relationship had remained unstable, fluctuating from time to time, and blamed for everything for which Pakistan could not be held responsible. He began his assignment with meetings with US counterpart Rex Tillerson and National Security Advisor McMaster. Asif presented Pakistani viewpoint primarily on Pak-Afghan relations, for that obviously was the sore points in US-Pakistan ties, Three days after he concluded his trip to Washington,a top American think-tank blurted out that their bilateral relationship was in “serious trouble” and the mistrust between the two countries runs deep”.
Moeed Yusuf, a senior expert on Pakistan at the United States Institute of Peace, a top American think-tank funded by the US Congress said that, “I won’t be extravagant. Meeting with the Secretary of State went very well. Meeting with McMaster, I will be a bit cautious about, but it was good. It wasn’t bad. I think we need to pursue this course of contact in discussions and exchange of views. I think we need to pursue it more rigorously,” Mr Asif said when asked what message he was taking back for Islamabad.
A well known expert on US-Pakistan relations, Mr Yusuf said the real issue here was that of mistrust. “The mistrust is so deep and that is going to be very difficult for both sides to work a system to rely on each other, trusting that they would be sincere to whatever is being done. On both sides the default position is one that is very sceptical of the intentions on the other side,” he said.
Mr Yusuf said that no one should expect “a major breakthrough” anytime soon. Moeed Yusuf, the renowned Pakistani origin of the US-funded organisation pointed out that”the foreign minister himself said something to that effect,” “I won’t be extravagant. Meeting with the Secretary of State went very well. At best this relationship is going to muddle through and limp along till both sides are able to find a way to work together or till there is a sense that both sides are willing to give and take in a way that the other feels that there is a real incentive to do that,” he said.
Observing that there is a very serious divergence of interest when it comes to Afghanistan, Mr Yusuf said Pakistan sees “a very curtailed” Indian influence in the war-torn country. “The US view of stability in Afghanistan is one that sees a much larger influence for India by default, because of the Kabul’s preference, but also a role for itself ensuring that there are no continued threats coming out of Afghanistan for the US,” he said, explaining the sharp difference emerging between the two countries on the role of regional players in Afghanistan.
That being the case, Khawaja Asif in a prepared text before a renowned forum admitted that both sides will have to show flexibility. US is an old ally, and Pakistan needed its support, but Afghanistan situation also ought to be understood in unbiased manner. Blame game would not help solve the problem. In the eyes of many an expert at home, Asif had presented Pakistan’s case well. He is known to be outspoken, and straight forward, and although diplomacy is a different ball game, and needed caution at almost every single stage, sometime one is forced to explain the situation in its original form. That was Asif did, and did it well.
Good luck for Pakistan, intelligence agencies of America and Pakistan, in a joint exercise and after sharing reports, succeeded in recovering an American-Canadian couple from Taliban captivity after three years from inside Afghanistan. That brought word or praise from US President Donald Trump, which was well received in Pakistan. Even other important functionaries of United States, appreciated Pakistan for that. However, CIA, in a statement few days later give a new twist to the whole episode claiming that the couple was in Pakistan for few years.
This was not surprising and merely went to prove the point that important US departments lacked cohesion in their working. Perhaps State Department, Pentagon, or CIA needed to justify their presence. This was too evident to ignore sometime back when former President Bill Clinton visited Islamabad for few hours and appeared glum obviously on briefing from his advisers. But having a full time foreign minister has paid dividends, and should the policy be pursued relentlessly, greater benefits is likely to flow from pursuance of such policy in future.