COMMENT: Dreaming of the top —Zafar Hilaly - Friday, October 29, 2010

Source :\10\29\story_29-10-2010_pg3_2

What was the cause of much ire was not Qureshi's political daydreaming but the advice he rendered to the Iranian foreign minister, saying that Iran had no justification to pursue nuclear weapons because no one is threatening Iran. As a rule, in diplomacy, when one can say nothing, one should say nothing

The Washington correspondent of a national daily quotes Foreign Minister Qureshi as saying that “he will have a much bigger political role in Pakistan” because he and General Kayani had a complete understanding on all issues at the recent Washington confab. Mr Qureshi further disclosed that they worked in tandem “as Pakistanis and not as political leaders”.

What are we to make of what Mr Qureshi says? That Kayani will give him a leg up as he manoeuvres for the prime ministership? Is it to Kayani, rather than his party, that Qureshi looks for a boost in his political career? If so, it does not speak much for the prospects of democracy in Pakistan.

Nor was one aware that Kayani is a ‘political leader’, although another high office aspirant named in the article, Husain Haqqani, once conveyed that for all practical purposes, the army is a political party and hence its chief can be likened to a political leader. By the looks of it then, all three aspirants for promotion mentioned in the article, Qureshi, Haqqani and Ahmad Mukhtar, think that there is room at the top. And why not? The present incumbent is hardly a roaring success.

Those who have been in and around the PPP know that Qureshi has a high opinion of himself, perhaps because he believes that as modesty is a form of self-flattery, why conceal it? And it is true that Benazir Bhutto, as was also reported, found his antics irksome but only at first. Thereafter she viewed him not as a rival but as another, albeit well spoken, handyman.

Mr Qureshi was obviously pleased by his own performance in Washington and that the visit had managed to extract a new pledge for a further $ 2 billion (2012-2016) for the military. However, the US Congress has yet to sign off on it. And, hopefully, Mr Qureshi has read the small print invariably attached to the US’s munificence, namely, that it is conditional on Pakistan visiting, in so many words, mayhem on the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan.

But none of this bothered Mr Gilani, who lost no time in pointing out that the allocation of $ 2 billion that was making headlines here was, in fact, less than the amount that had already been spent in fighting the insurgents; in other words, that what Qureshi was claiming as a success was nothing of the sort. This unusual and pointed rebuff says much for the kind of sentiments the prime minister harbours for his fellow Multani. And who can blame him? Mr Qureshi is reputed to be extremely ambitious.

But what truly worried many here, and was the cause of much ire, was not Qureshi’s political daydreaming but the advice he rendered to the Iranian foreign minister, saying that Iran had no justification to pursue nuclear weapons because no one is threatening Iran and that, as Iran faces no immediate threat, Tehran should give up the idea of making nuclear weapons and instead grasp the olive branch that the US has extended.

Anyone — what to speak of a foreign minister — who is aware of the importance Iran attaches to acquiring the capability to enrich uranium and of Iranian sensitivities on the matter, and Pakistan’s need to steer clear of the controversy would have parried the question. Mr Qureshi, on the other hand, did the opposite. As a rule, in diplomacy, when one can say nothing, one should say nothing. But not, it seems, our would-be Metternich; he invariably says something when he should say nothing.

In any case, it hardly behoves a Pakistani leader to tell Iran whether or not it faces a threat or to insinuate that while we could steal and lie our way into manufacturing a bomb because of India, if Iran did the same — because of the threat it faces from the US and Israel — that would be inexcusable. It is amazing to what lengths our politicians go to please the US. But then, I suppose, it is all right on our part as Qureshi thinks that he has the army behind him and Allah too, given his semi-divine status in Multan. Therefore, all that remains to propel him into the top job is the US. To be fair, Qureshi, one hears, has denied that he said what was reported. Too late. Besides, no one believes him.

Pakistan, for some odd reason, has never grasped the importance of cultivating Iran either for our energy requirements or our Afghan policy. Sixty-three years on and there is not a single pipeline for oil and gas connecting resource-rich Iran to energy-starved Pakistan. And till recently, the two countries were fighting proxy wars for dominance in Afghanistan. Sadly, Iran’s relations with India are far better than those with Pakistan, and what has been the government’s response to rectify this deplorable state of affairs? To send Mr Abbassi, without a day’s experience in diplomacy or a mite’s knowledge of foreign affairs, to represent Pakistan in Tehran. In contrast, the Quaid-e-Azam and/or Liaquat Ali Khan sent Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan, their close political confidante and a major figure in the Pakistan movement as our first envoy to Iran, demonstrating thereby the importance they attached to friendship with Iran. One is often asked why Pakistan is constantly stiff-arming Iran. Is it the Saudis to whom we are kowtowing? Is it the Americans who want us to keep them at arm’s length? One knows, of course, and the reasons are sordid.

Mr Qureshi can continue aspiring for ‘a bigger political role’ for himself, for all anyone cares. However, to remove the impression that his government cares a fig for Iran and may line up with Iran’s enemies, he might begin by nominating a respected and prominent Pakistani as Abbassi’s successor, or perhaps condescend to visit Iran. It might just make amends for decades of neglect and his alleged gaffe in Washington.

The writer is a former ambassador. He can be reached at

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