By Sehar Kamran
During a recent television interview, Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi gave what can be best described as an ultimatum to the Saudi Arabia-led Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). He asked the OIC to stop dawdling on a meeting on the issue of Kashmir. If the OIC is unable to do so, he said, he would be “compelled to ask Prime Minister Imran Khan to call a meeting of the Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us … to support the oppressed Kashmiris.”
This irresponsible statement by the foreign minister, which was later reiterated by the Foreign Office, took many by surprise as public criticism of friendly countries is an extremely rare occurrence in the diplomatic world. It was also presented not as an opinion of an individual but one reflecting a stance by the State of Pakistan.
The public criticism of the OIC is not only unfortunate but also uncalled for as the organization has always supported Pakistan’s position in the Kashmir dispute. The OIC’s Contact Group on Jammu and Kashmir was established in 1994 and has always expressed its support and helped put the spotlight on the issue.
A day after making his statement, in another TV interview Qureshi made a clarification by stating that there was no ill will between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and Riyadh was still Islamabad’s “ally.”
A question needs to be asked what was the need for Qureshi’s controversial and irrational statement to be publicly made at this time when Pakistan is battling a pandemic and facing an economic crunch? Can Pakistan afford such misadventures on the diplomatic level?
These unfortunate words also came at a time when an agreement between Islamabad and Riyadh for provision of $3.2 billion worth of oil on deferred payments expired two months ago, and Saudi Arabia was going to decide whether it would extend it. Even though Pakistan has repaid to Saudi $1 billion of the loan, it did so by borrowing from China, which it underscores that all’s not well between the two major states in the Muslim world.
It needs to be remembered that Islamabad and Riyadh do not just share a religious bond but are also strategic allies whose interests converge on a number of issues. Saudi Arabia has always supported Pakistan’s stance on issues concerning its national interests and territorial integrity and has stood by it in times of crisis. In addition, many members of the Pakistani diaspora live and work in Saudi Arabia, so the minister’s words could affect them.
The government of Pakistan is free to take decisions in order to safeguard its policies and interests, but they can’t be undertaken at the cost of damaging our bilateral relations with our strategic allies. Saudi Arabia is one of the driving forces of the OIC, but the organization comprises of 57 members.
The need of the hour for the current government is to look into and review its outreach strategy to highlight the plight of Kashmiris in Indian-administered Kashmir. How many OIC countries did it reach out to over the Jammu and Kashmir dispute? What are the difficulties faced by Islamabad in acquiring diplomatic support to address humanitarian issues that followed India’s revocation of Kashmir’s special autonomous status? Instead of issuing ultimatums, Islamabad’s policy should be realistic and based on ground realities if it wants to amplify its position in the Kashmir dispute and draw attention to atrocities committed in the region by Indian forces.
Public statements broadcast in the heat of the moment can significantly harm Pakistan’s interests in the long run and should be avoided at all cost. Any and all bilateral reservations should be communicated via diplomatic back channels, not at television studios, as no good has ever come from jeopardizing friendships and alliances.
(Sehar Kamran is the President of the Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS), she is a prominent politician, acadmeician and practitioner in the areas of regional, international defense and strategic studies. Twitter @SeharKamran)