Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in his first press conference as the foreign minister, emphasised the importance of fostering better relations with neighbouring countries and vowed to try to bridge the trust deficit between Pakistan and other regional countries.
Speaking at the Foreign Office (FO) in Islamabad hours after being sworn in as part of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s 21-member cabinet on Monday he also spoke on relations with United States, India and Afghanistan and hinted that he would prefer Pakistan’s priorities and interests and foreign ministry would make policy taking other institutions and input from Opposition parties on board.
“I have worked with the US in the past,” he said. “I have worked with [Richard] Holbrooke, Hillary [Clinton] and [Condoleezza] Rice. I know about their concerns and their priorities. I will speak to them in a straight forward manner, I will tell them that we too have our priorities, our nation has some aspirations. I will tell them that bilateral relations will operate on the basis of equality.”
“We know that there will be obstructions and hurdles in our way, but we are determined,” he said.
“I will announce my first steps after a meeting with our team and consult with those who have been working in the foreign policy arena,” he said.
“We will have to set our priorities and then move forward,” he said.
“An important event is coming up; the United Nations General Assembly, where I will be representing Pakistan and where we have to present Pakistan’s case to the world. I invite them to join us.”
He asserted that Pakistan’s new foreign policy would “begin and end at Pakistan”.
“It will be my effort and wish to have a national consensus on foreign policy; a bipartisan approach. And today, bringing forward that approach, I invite our opposition Hina Rabbani Khar, Khawaja Asif, and representation from the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal to come and join us at the table to think on foreign policy.”
“Pakistan’s interest is at our very centre of foreign policy. Wherever we need to fix our foreign policy we will fix it,” Qureshi said.
“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 said.
Responding to a question about the alleged interference of the establishment in the July 25 General Election and his political party’s freedom to exercise its own policy, Qureshi said: “There are pre-conceived notions about where the foreign policy of Pakistan was formulated. Let me be clear: the foreign policy will be made here ─ at the Foreign Office of Pakistan.”
“I will engage with all the institutions for the betterment of the country,” he said, adding: “It is the policy across the world. Feedback is sought from national security institutions.”
‘Will move forward on bilateral agreement with Afghanistan’
The foreign minister began his press conference with Afghanistan, addressing the people of the neighbouring country and their leader Ashraf Ghani.
He 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.
‘Need continued, uninterrupted dialogue with India’
“My second message is for the Government of India. I want to tell the Indian foreign minister that we are not just neighbours; we are atomic powers. We have a lot of common resources.”
“Us coming to the table and talking peace is our only option. We need to stop the adventurism and come together. We know the issues are tough and will not be solved overnight, but we have to engage,” Qureshi said. “We cannot turn our cheek. Yes we have outstanding issues. Kashmir is a reality; it is an issue that both our nations acknowledge.”
“We need a continued and uninterrupted dialogue. This is our only way forward,” he stressed.
“We may have a different approach and line of thinking, but I want to see a change in how we behave,” he said.
“India and Pakistan have to move forward keeping realities before them,” he asserted, adding that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has written a letter to PM Imran Khan, in which he has indicated the beginning of talks between the two countries.
Pakistani missions there to serve, not rule
The foreign minister urged Pakistani missions abroad to remember that they are “not rulers”.
“You are meant to serve,” he said. “The intent with which PM Imran Khan addressed the nation, our attitudes will have to change towards our people.”
“A good nature, courtesy never make you lose anything. You gain friends. Treat our Overseas Pakistanis with respect. This is the duty of all our embassies abroad now,” he ordered.
He added that he would continue to work with the “very competent officers” posted at the FO.
“I will consult them, I will approach former officials, academia, others for guidance,” he said.
Answering a question about austerity measures championed by PM Khan, he said he would keep in line with the government’s policies. “We are not above the government policy.”
“Appointments will be made on the basis of performance. No one should take them for granted. I don’t like reshuffling without purpose,” he explained, when questioned about appointments and reshuffles in the ministry.
When questioned about the party’s stance on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the foreign minister said that his party “supports CPEC”.
“CPEC is a long-term project, it is a game changer,” he said, adding: “Our party supported it while in opposition too. The Chinese ambassador was in touch with me and I will be meeting him soon to get an overview on progress.”
“There has been a stress on infrastructure, but we want to talk about when we enter the speech of socio-economic development for the betterment of our people.”
Qureshi, who addressed today’s press conference just an hour after being sworn into the ministry, previously served as foreign minister during the last PPP government between 2008-13 under then president Asif Zardari and former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. Qureshi had resigned from the cabinet after developing differences with the party leadership during a reshuffle in the cabinet.
Qureshi had also once served as provincial finance minister in the cabinet of Nawaz Sharif when he was the chief minister of the Punjab during the military rule of Gen Ziaul Haq.