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5 weeks, 5 blunders: The story of PTI’s diplomacy so far

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I’m writing this article in response to a ludicrous claim made by Dunya News analyst Khawar Ghumman in a recent episode of the program ‘Think Tank’ where the respected analyst claimed that ‘if there’s one department where the new government has been good, it’s the foreign policy’. To qualify his claim, he argued that the government since its inception had tried to mend its ties with India, Afghanistan, US and also issued reassuring statements regarding its commitment with CPEC. I don’t want to get into the debate whether the government has taken such steps or not, the only thing I want to bring up here are some of the foreign policy blunders that the government has committed in such a short time.

So starting from the oldest, here’s a list of diplomatic disasters committed by PTI government in first five weeks:

Misinterpreting Modi’s letter

On August 20, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the media in his first press conference after taking oath that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi “has sent a letter in which he congratulated Imran Khan and … he has sent a message to open talks”.

Indian government denied the claim straightaway and Pakistan Foreign Office was thus forced to issue a clarification of Qureshi’s statement, claiming “the foreign minister had said that the Indian Prime Minister in his letter to Imran Khan had also mentioned something similar to what the Foreign Minister elucidated earlier i.e. that the way forward was only through constructive engagement”.

More on how this undue eagerness to start dialogue with India turned uglier later on.

Pompeo’s call

Later in August, Imran Khan was congratulated by the American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on a phone call, immediately after which the government released the information to the media that Pompeo had conveyed best wishes to the new government. However, the release issued by State Department also mentioned that Pompeo had urged Pakistani PM to take strong action against the terrorist entities on its soil. In what could be a textbook example of the term ‘knee jerk reaction’, Pakistan government not only rejected the statement, it even took the matter up with the US government.

US government stuck with its release. Later, sources within Pakistan Foreign Office told The Nation that the US government had shared the transcript of the telephonic call between the US Secretary of State and Pakistan PM, and it proved that the USDoS’s version of the event was right. The source told The Nation that the government had decided to ‘bury’ the issue.

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Pompeo bowing to Imran Khan

Mike Pompeo visited Pakistan earlier this month and a photo of him bowing before Imran Khan, a gesture that would have normally been taken as a show of respect to the head of the hosting country’s government, was released to the media. TV channels kept flashing the picture on their screens while newspapers published it on their front pages.

Notice the caption from Daily Express

But the next day, Pompeo was in India, where one of the harshest ever joint statements against Pakistan between India and the US was issued. This is what the Joint Communique said about Pakistan:

“The Ministers denounced any use of terrorist proxies in the region, and in this context, they called on Pakistan to ensure that the territory under its control is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries. On the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the 26/11 Mumbai attack, they called on Pakistan to bring to justice expeditiously the perpetrators of the Mumbai, Pathankot, Uri, and other cross-border terrorist attacks. The Ministers welcomed the launch of a bilateral dialogue on designation of terrorists in 2017, which is strengthening cooperation and action against terrorist groups, including Al-Qa’ida, ISIS, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Hizb-ul Mujahideen, the Haqqani Network, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, D-Company, and their affiliates.”

So he didn’t really bow, eh!

Adviser to PM tells Financial Times that Pakistan should put CPEC projects on hold for a year

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is worth around 62 billion dollars and is not only the biggest ever foreign investment in Pakistan’s history but also the biggest investment by China in any country under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Talking to Financial Times earlier this month, Adviser to PM on Commerce and Industries Abdul Razzak Dawood said that ‘the previous government had done a bad job at negotiating with China on CPEC’. He went on to add that Chinese companies were getting all the tax breaks while Pakistan companies were disadvantaged. “I think we should put everything on hold for a year so we can get our act together,” he added. “Perhaps we can stretch CPEC out over another five years or so.”

This prompted Chinese authorities into action and the government as well as the military high command remained busy throughout the next week giving assurances to the Chinese. Dawood also had to retract his statement, saying it was ‘misquoted’.

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Letter to Indian Prime Minister

Imran Khan and his party repeatedly blamed the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif of being too soft on India. He was often branded ‘Modi ka Yaar’ in talk shows and public meetings by PTI representatives. However, Imran Khan was quick to shed his pre-election rhetoric as soon as he took power and in his victory speech invited India to resolve all the outstanding disputes through dialogue.

But the PTI chairman went a bit too far in the effort as he wrote a letter to Indian PM using direct language, devoid of all diplomatic constraints, and expressed willingness to hold talks on everything, including terrorism and Kashmir. He did not even bother to mention the Kashmiri people or their aspirations in his letter.

The letter was written on September 14 but six days later, after suddenly releasing the copy of the letter to the media, Indian government cancelled the foreign minister level talks that were due to be held on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session this week.

Imran Khan’s letter to Indian PM Narendra Modi

While the Indian attitude has been anything but surprising, given its track record under the Modi government, former foreign minister of Pakistan Khawaja Asif was also spot on when he told Dawn that “giving them (India) too much reflects haste on our part to mend fences with India”. He also said that the recent joint communique by India and the US had clearly alleged Pakistan of terrorism and Imran Khan stating in the letter that “Pakistan remains ready to discuss terrorism” was a sign of weakness from our side at this point in particular.

So while we all know that misinformation is the norm for Pakistani media these days, especially when it comes to showering praises on its darling Khan, Mr Ghumman’s statement was a bit over the top, even by his standards.

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