Shah Mehmood Qureshi: An avid personality on diplomatic front

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Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Vice Chairman and Foreign Minister of Pakistan Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Hussain Qureshi has the honour to become Foreign Minister of Pakistan for the second time. Born on June 22, 1956 in a known religious family of Multan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi got his early education from Aitchison College Lahore and did his Bachelor in Arts (BA) from Forman Christian College Lahore followed by Masters in Arts (MA) from Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge. He is the eldest son of late governor Punjab, Makhdoom Sajjad Hussain Qureshi and nephew of ex-minister Syed Qaswar Gardezi. Mahkdoom Shah Mahmood started his political career in 1983 and won first election in 1985 which was held on non-party basis. He became chairman District Council Multan in 1987 and later on remained Member Provincial Assembly (MPA) of Punjab for nine years from 1985 to 1993. He served as provincial Minister for Planning and Development from 1988 to 1990 and as Minister for Finance from 1990 to 1993.Later, he joined Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and was elected Member National Assembly (MNA) from Multan in 1993. He was made State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs. He lost in 1997 general elections. From 2000 to 2002, Shah Mahood Qureshi worked as Multan Nazim and afterwards resigned from the post on PPP chairperson Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s advice. He again won as MNA in 2002 general election from Multan by defeating Makhdoom Javid Hashmi. In 2006, the party made him PPP Punjab president and in 2008 general elections, he retained his seat third time as MNA from Multan. Qureshi was appointed Foreign Minister first time by PPP in 2008 and in 2011 the party changed his portfolio and offered him Water and Power ministry but he declined. He parted ways with PPP around after 20 years and joined PTI under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan in November 2011.

During his first tenure as foreign minister of Pakistan, raising issue of Kashmir in his speech at the UN was a great contribution to the Kashmir cause. Many journalists have the view that, Qureshi had been “grooming himself for the job of foreign minister ever since he joined politics and he has what it takes to be prime minister”. He is indeed one of the most well-read politicians in Pakistan, comes from a known religious family, is intelligent and has a strong grip on foreign affairs, economy, agriculture, etc. He understands Punjab’s politics and remains untainted by charges of moral and financial corruption. He knows how to communicate with local and international audiences and is close to the country’s powerful establishment. Ex Ambassador of United States Anne Patterson once revealed about Shah Mehmood Qureshi that he is a polished, experienced, pro-West politician and that he is a smooth and sophisticated interlocutor.

On January 27, 2011, almost three years after the PPP’s fragile coalition government had taken over, Raymond Davis, a private security contractor engaged by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), shot down two young motorcyclists on Lahore’s busy Ferozepur Road. The police arrested Davis for the murders and sent him to jail. The US government demanded his immediate release, contending he enjoyed diplomatic immunity and was protected from criminal prosecution under international conventions. The incident triggered a strong public outrage. Protests were held almost on a daily basis and fiery speeches were delivered, threatening the government against releasing Davis under any American pressure. Foreign Office issued a statement, presumably at Qureshi’s behest, that Davis did not enjoy blanket immunity from trial because he was not a diplomat according to Pakistani records.

A few days later, the PPP’s central executive committee decided to trim the size of the federal cabinet. There was talk of the reshuffle being a ploy to bring in a new foreign minister. Qureshi decided to skip the oath-taking ceremony of the new cabinet after he came to know that he had been stripped of his old portfolio. “He declined to accept the water and power ministry offered in the new cabinet because he knew that he was being punished for the statement on Davis’s diplomatic status. Qureshi portrayed his unceremonious removal from the cabinet as a “selfless act of defiance” to protect “national honour”. It suddenly catapulted him into national limelight. From being one of the 54 ministers and advisers in Gilani’s cabinet, he became one of the most sought.

Qureshi is the custodian of the shrines of Bahauddin Zakariya, the founder of the Suhrawardiyya Sufi order in the subcontinent – and his grandson, Shah Rukn-e-Alam, in Multan. British colonial rulers always sought the support of his family to strengthen their rule as did the military dictators after 1947. Qureshi contested the 2013 general election from two National Assembly seats in Multan as well. He lost his original constituency (comprising Makhdoom Rasheed and its adjoining villages) to PMLN’s Malik Abdul Ghaffar Dogar by a margin of more than 17,000 votes. He won from an urban constituency which he was contesting for the first time mainly on the strength of his party’s popularity. In his first tenure being a foreign minister, Speaking about the possibility that the TTP or other insurgent groups will take advantage of the instability caused by the floods, Qureshi said Pakistan had “flushed out” anti-government fighters, who as a result no longer “consider Pakistan to be a safe haven anymore”.

He said that the United States’ use of unmanned aerial drones to conduct targeted missile strikes in the northwest – a tactic that has ramped up under US president Barack Obama, inflicting heavy casualties on insurgents but killing hundreds of civilians – was “important” because it was a method of attacking the Taliban and other groups in tough, mountainous terrain.”Pakistan’s interest is at our very centre of foreign policy. Wherever we need to fix our foreign policy we will fix it,some forces have been trying to run Pakistan into isolation and marginalisation. And why wouldn’t they do it? Your country didn’t have a foreign minister who is meant to be your chief diplomat. This gives your opponents open playing fields,” he further added.

The foreign minister began in his recent press conference spoke of his intention to contact his Afghan counterpart and pay a visit to Kabul. “I want to bring a solid message to the people of Afghanistan. The two countries share a future and geography, and we have to work together and begin our long journey.””I want to tell the people of Afghanistan we need to become each other’s support base. And we have the capability to become a good support mechanism for each other. I have heard that we have a bilateral agreement in place which has five tracks and we want to move forward with those,” he announced.

Published in Melange Intl. Magazine September 2018.