Foreign Office under fire over Kashmir issue


By Sibtain Hyder

Pakistan’s campaign against India on the latter’s Kashmir policy is in disarray as its ambitious federal ministers quarrel in public. It adds to the prevailing confusion caused by Islamabad blaming all and sundry for its failure and trying to curry favour with Turkey at the cost of permanent benefactor, Saudi Arabia.

Not exactly lying low since she spoke out in February this year, Federal Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari on August 15 again attacked the Foreign Office, a euphemism for the minister in charge, Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

That Mazari, a globally known academic on security affairs but a political lightweight, has always nursed hopes of becoming the foreign minister is well known. She got close to PTI chief Imran Khan as his spokesperson, but when Khan formed the government in August 2018, she lost to Qureshi, a political heavyweight. For Qureshi, too, this was the only option left after his ambition to become the Punjab Chief Minister was filed when he lost the assembly elections that year to a confidante-turned-rival.

Qureshi, it may be recalled, was foreign minister in PPP government. When sought to be shifted in a cabinet reshuffle, he quit the government and the party and took refuge in the Khan-led PTI. Political observers say if ousted from the foreign office again, Qureshi may have no place to seek refuge this time.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Federal Minister Dr. Shirin Mazari criticising working of Foreign Office in regards to not highlighting the Kashmir issue while addressing an event organised by “Youth Forum for Kashmir” in Islamabad.

Domestic politics apart, the differences on how to convince the world on India’s “wrongdoings” in Jammu and Kashmir are sending out negative signals abroad.

Qureshi had recently attacked the OIC for failing to convene a Foreign ministers’ meeting to discuss the Kashmir issue and had dared it that if the OIC did not convene, Islamabad would. It was a thinly concealed attack on Saudi Arabia.  

Diplomatic circles in Islamabad link Mazari’s attack on Qureshi to the Army chief, Gen. Bajwa talking to Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman and planning a visit to Riyadh to assuage the Saudi anger at some of Qureshi’s public utterances. They wonder if Qureshi would be made the sacrificial goat to placate Riyadh, other Gulf nations and the OIC for failing to meet at the foreign ministers’ level and discuss the Kashmir issue.

Mazari expressed her deep disappointment over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for “letting down the Kashmiris and (Prime Minister) Imran Khan” by “not taking his nuanced narrative forward and merely resorting to traditional diplomacy,” Dawn newspaper (August 16, 2020) reported.

The newspaper report called the criticism of the Foreign Office ‘rare’, but in February this year, Mazari had done precisely this and it had been refuted by the then FO spokesperson (The News International, February 6, 2020).

Mazari had then let it be known that she would take up the Kashmir issue at the UN Human Rights Commission. But that was not to be. It was retained as the principal foreign policy issue aimed at hitting India, especially after US President Donald Trump visited India and engaged in much bonhomie with the Indian leadership.

 Last Saturday, Mazari held the Ministry of Foreign Affairs responsible for the country’s failure in internationalising the Kashmir issue in an effective manner. She regretted that the FO was still following ‘obsolete and uni-dimensional’ approach towards the Kashmir issue that according to her would not work in the present age of modern technology and social media, Dawn and other media outlets reported.

Her quarrel was with Qureshi as she lauded Khan’s efforts for putting the Kashmir cause on the global platform and for changing the narrative on Kashmir, “which was appreciated worldwide.”

Mazari emphasised that Pakistan needed to take this narrative forward to help the Kashmiris reach their goal of self-determination but for this, she noted, Pakistan needed to “go beyond traditional diplomatic tactics and highlight the Kashmir cause globally through culture, music and poetry.”

She said that in this age of modern technology and social media platforms, adding for good measure, “merely making a speech once in a while’ was not enough.

She disclosed that her ministry had sent letters to 18 special rapporteurs highlighting the “brutalities of the Indian army in IOK, but there was no follow-up by the Foreign Office”.

She said her ministry had also written a letter to the UN special rapporteur, seeking establishing of a humanitarian corridor for supply of food and medicines along the lines of Syria. The minister said she had requested Pakistan’s ambassador at the United Nations to follow up, “but this did not happen. Our diplomats just make speeches at different forums and there is no sense of urgency while Kashmiris are dying every day”, the federal minister observed.

The minister said once Benazir Bhutto attempted to bring a resolution on Kashmir in the UN HR council but the efforts failed. Since then, she said, “our diplomats are so much psychologically under pressure that they are not even making an attempt to do it”.

Even Burkina Faso succeeded in bringing a resolution against the US. “Has Burkina Faso got more diplomatic clout than Pakistan?”

Arifa Noor (Dawn, August 11, 2020) refers to a report on Kashmir by the United States Institute of Peace that claims infiltrations (into Kashmir from Pakistan) are increasing and to the resultant pressure of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on Pakistan asking it to desist from sponsoring terrorism in the Kashmir Valley.

“Of course, such reports can be easily dismissed by pointing to the bias of the author or the organisation but it may prove more helpful to ask why — despite the efforts of the state in this regard — Pakistan has not been able to convince the world at large of its efforts to turn its back on proxy groups.”

Noor observed that these were “uncomfortable questions” that need to be answered in Pakistan’s view on Kashmir is to be heard and believed.