ANALYSIS: The case of Shah Mehmood Qureshi —Anwar Syed - Tuesday, March 01, 2011

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Even if Mr Qureshi does not suffer penalties for his independent stances at the present time, one may be sure that the PPP leadership will not nominate him as one of their preferred candidates in the next election. One may wonder what his options in that case will be

Mr Shah Mehmood Qureshi, widely respected for his integrity and diplomatic adroitness, was our foreign minister until a few weeks ago. He stated at a recent press conference that, after thorough examination of the record, the foreign office had concluded that Raymond Davis was not a diplomat, and that he was therefore not entitled to diplomatic immunity. His statement did not go down well with Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State. She conveyed her disapproval to President Asif Ali Zardari, and presumably demanded Mr Qureshi’s dismissal. The list of ministers that Prime Minister Gilani submitted to the president after a cabinet reshuffle did not include Mr Qureshi’s name. He had been discharged.

Considering the traditional subservience of the successive governments in Pakistan to the administration in Washington, Mr Zardari’s compliance with Hillary Clinton’s demand is not hard to understand. But it is puzzling why the US government made the disposition of the trial of Raymond Davis for murder a vital interest of its own. He used to be a Special Forces member and since his retirement he has been operating a private security agency somewhere in Texas. He is one of the hundreds, indeed thousands, of secret agents who work for American intelligence agencies on a contract basis. They go out into the field in foreign countries to do the jobs assigned to them at their own risk. It is understood that if they run into trouble with local individuals or agencies they will have to fend for themselves, and that their employer back in the US may or may not intervene to rescue them. I imagine Mr Davis knew very well the terms of his employment.

The US embassy in Islamabad had not registered Mr Davis with the Pakistan foreign office as a diplomat. He was subsequently described as a technician working in the embassy in Islamabad and/or the US consulate in Lahore. Some experts maintain that technical or clerical personnel in a foreign mission are entitled to partial immunity, but not if the wrongdoing which they have committed is grave. Mr Qureshi is then right in asserting that Mr Davis, the wanton killer of two Pakistani citizens in a crowded neighbourhood in Lahore, does not have diplomatic immunity. My intention here is not to reiterate known facts but to draw attention to the speech Mr Qureshi delivered before a large crowd of his constituents and admirers back home in Multan on February 17.

I have known all along that he has excellent command of the English language. I heard his entire speech in Multan and was surprised to see that he is capable of speaking chaste Urdu just as eloquently and effectively. His delivery was remarkably forceful, and it was not without a flare of oratorical skills. He said that, yes, the US was great, wealthy and powerful but had he committed a sin in keeping his head high and telling American officials that we valued our sense of national honour? The audience roared applause and shouted long live Shah Mehmood. He went on to say that he was willing to work with the Americans in pursuit of the two sides’ common interests, but he would do so as an equal and not as a puppet. Once again he asked his listeners if this attitude on his part was sinful. They shouted no and applauded him once again.

Mr Qureshi’s skills as a politician may have been obscured by his role as a diplomat. It should however be kept in mind that he is a member of the National Assembly and has been contesting and winning elections in his constituency. Considering his insight into the affairs of this nation and the world and his other capabilities, one may say that he is prime ministerial timber. But his passage to that station would seem to be fraught with many difficulties and complications. First, President Zardari, head of the PPP, of which Mr Qureshi is a member, does not approve of him. The 18th Amendment to the constitution allows the head of a political party dictatorial powers over any of its functionaries. He can be penalised if he speaks or acts contrary to the party chief’s declared position on issues of public policy. He may even be divested of his membership of the National Assembly.

Even if Mr Qureshi does not suffer penalties for his independent stances at the present time, one may be sure that the PPP leadership will not nominate him as one of their preferred candidates in the next election. One may wonder what his options in that case will be. The doors of other political parties will be open to him if he wants to join the ranks of any of them. They will take him as one of their more important members but not as their top leader. On the other hand, it is likely also that he will not want to give up the PPP even if its present leadership has no use for him. He may join hands with likeminded persons within the party who are also dissatisfied with Mr Zardari’s leadership. They may become a faction within the party and call themselves a “forward bloc”. Party members who wish to disassociate themselves from its widespread corruption may gather around him.

Mr Qureshi is not likely to become head of the government in the foreseeable future but he will remain a shining star in this country’s politics and will probably emerge as an influential participant in its governance. We need him also as one who will talk sense and speak for the national interest in parliament.

The writer, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, is a visiting professor at the Lahore School of Economics

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