The rise and fall of Shah Mahmood Qureshi

Published: February 19, 2011
The writer is an analyst and a former ambassador to Yemen, Nigeria and Italy

The writer is an analyst and a former ambassador to Yemen, Nigeria and Italy

Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s performance at his press conference on February 16 deserved a curtain call. His vocation should have been the stage, rather than politics. The affected manner, the dramatic pauses, the contrived humility, letting his expression suggest what words cannot, the fact that he did not actually cry while he made his audience think that he was crying were all expressions of that neurotic impulse that actors develop for the stage. Perhaps if Qureshi really wants to be taken seriously, he should quit acting because that would be a sign of maturity.

On the Raymond Davis matter, he prevaricated when certainty was required; he kept quiet when he needed to speak out and then spoke out when it was best to be silent. What he should have done when he discovered that his take on the Raymond Davis matter differed from that of the leadership of his party — and indeed that they differed on politics and not only principles, because some were contemplating doctoring documents — was to resign and not wait to be booted out which, for all practical purposes, he was.

The trouble with Qureshi, like his icon Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, is that he, too, is a compulsive performer. All politicians are vain but like ZA Bhutto, Qureshi does not wear his vanity lightly. Moreover, he wraps himself up in the flag at the slightest opportunity. Ever the egotist, Qureshi has assumed the role of the wronged patriot much as ZA Bhutto did in 1966 by raising the Tashkent bogey. Faced with the prospect of having lost his job, Qureshi also lashed out at the regime to which he had sworn fealty, in which he had prospered and by which he had been rewarded with high office. But all that Qureshi has succeeded in achieving is to widen suspicion about his loyalty which had always been loitering in the minds of PPP stalwarts, from a chink into a veritable chasm. Needless to say, like Bhutto, who never disclosed the secret clauses of Tashkent — because there were none — we probably won’t ever know what further disclosures Qureshi has up his sleeve.

By exaggerating achievements of his nondescript and relatively brief tenure as foreign minister and laying on self-praise with a trowel, the impression he gave was exactly the opposite of what he intended. It made him sound much like a mother who talks about her own children. Or, better still, like the fly that sat on the axle wheel of the Roman chariot and said ‘see what dust I raise’.

However, while ZA Bhutto had several solid achievements to brag about during his long stint as foreign minister, Qureshi has none. If he stood tall, it is only because, like Gulliver, he served among Lilliputians. To claim, for example, that the mention of Kashmir in his speech at the UN was a singular contribution to the Kashmiri cause amounted to what one friend described kindly as “superfluity of excess,” which is longhand for lies. The brave Kashmiris are responsible for returning the Kashmir dispute to the forefront of the international agenda, not Qureshi’s prattling from the UN podium.

Qureshi’s other claim that, but for him, the India-Pakistan dialogue would not have resumed, was more revealing of the novice that he was, and remains, when it comes to foreign affairs. It is mostly to India’s advantage that talks resume with Pakistan. India is seeking support for her candidature for permanent membership of the Security Council and talks, even if only for the sake of talking, help to show India as being conciliatory. It deflects attention from Delhi’s depredations in Kashmir, which have aroused outrage in India and abroad. On the other hand, talks and their inevitably inconclusive outcome serve no purpose for Pakistan. Thanks to this government and the other preceding it, we no longer have an image that is worth our while to maintain.

Qureshi made much of the fact that he had refused to be pressurised by his own party leaders on Raymond Davis because he did not want to be a party to the killing of ‘innocent’ Pakistanis. Indeed, if the victims are found to be innocent, that would be justifiable cause for elation. However, at the time that he was ‘heroically’ resisting such pressure, and even now, it is by no means certain that the two motorcyclists were entirely innocent. When Qureshi declared them innocent, not even the police had made up their minds, what to speak of the court where the trial has yet to begin. Was he trying to say that he knew that Davis is a homicidal maniac because who else will kill people merely because they were hanging around his car?

As for the ‘consultations’ that Qureshi claims he had with ‘experts’ of other departments before arriving at his conclusions, two of those departments, the interior ministry and presumably the intelligence agencies, would have known next to nothing about the Vienna Conventions. As for the legal wing of the Foreign Office, if those manning it had been remotely competent, they would have made their living at the Bar.

Qureshi would have been better advised to have got expert advice not from his subordinates but from independent experts of repute. Had he done so, he would have realised that the entire matter of the status of Raymond Davis hinged on the fact of whether he was a member of the technical and administrative staff of the embassy, as the Americans claim, in which case he has blanket immunity, or whether he is a consular official attached to the US consulate, in which case he does not.

One should have been able to say with near certainty that Shah Mahmood Qureshi has burnt his boats with the PPP and that his open defiance of the party leadership is as transparent an effort as any that can be made to carve out a bloc of his own supporters within the party, or perhaps to leave it altogether. However, the PPP is now in the hands of people who are all ‘loyal’ to the party, but in their own fashion and only for the moment. The likes of them may well welcome him back when, in fact, he should be stiff armed into oblivion.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (39)

  • S
    Feb 19, 2011 - 11:09PM

    Shah Mehmud is the new chief justice of pakistan. Becoming a hero out of nothing!!!!Recommend

  • parvez
    Feb 19, 2011 - 11:39PM

    The argument in the write up appears logical. The thing that comes through in the article is a strong sense of personal animosity, which considering the seniority and experience of the author was, at least to me, uncalled for. Recommend

  • Umayr Masud
    Feb 20, 2011 - 12:06AM

    Everybody loves Raymond Recommend

  • Samim
    Feb 20, 2011 - 12:21AM

    After each action, Shah Mehmud elevated Pakistan to the next level.

    And finally, when he is booted out of office, Pakisatn is branded as an isolated, bankrupt, terrorist country worldwide! Even reliable friends are running away from us.Recommend

  • Haider
    Feb 20, 2011 - 12:46AM

    What a silly article. “It’s not certain if the 2 people were innocent”, well it’s not certain if they were guilty either, so innocent until proven guilty :). SMQ never bashed the PPP, and that was the best part of the conference, He said he was, is and always will remain in the PPP, because he believes in the ideals of ZAB and BB.Recommend

  • Meekal Ahmed
    Feb 20, 2011 - 12:54AM

    A little harsh, Sir, but then I did not have the pleasure of watching him in action.

    I wrote elsewhere that now having said his bit, he should take the high-road and maintain a dignified silence.

    Unless, as you suggest, he has his own plans. Recommend

  • Zinda hai Bhutto
    Feb 20, 2011 - 1:29AM

    Shame on you Mr Hilaly for for muddying Quaid-e-awam Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhuttos name. Im sure it is honour for honourable Mr Qureshi to be compared to a man as great as ZAB. He is only true leader this country has produced. What are you so bitter about mr hilaly? Aap nay aaj subha nashta tow KIA tha na? Recommend

  • Raja Abdullah Advocate
    Feb 20, 2011 - 1:30AM

    shah g done great service for PPP and pakistan but our so-called leaders never ever can accept that type of vigient and patriot Recommend

  • Feb 20, 2011 - 1:36AM

    his stances is beneficial for pakistan at all and anti pakistan powers arogance with himRecommend

  • shafat
    Feb 20, 2011 - 1:40AM

    a dejected man garnering popularityRecommend

  • Singh
    Feb 20, 2011 - 4:01AM

    Quereshi made a fool out of himself.He is extremely cunning but is really cheap.

    He indirectly ended his political careerRecommend

  • Emmon Khan
    Feb 20, 2011 - 5:37AM

    Brilliant piece! The author has expertly punctured the hypocritically foolish baloon of vainity and superficiality that Mr. Qureshi (our so-called hero if you listen to the likes of spinmasters like Javed Chaudri) had blown out of proportion with all the pumping of his loud mouth! We need men of substance and real character and not grown-up children like Qureshi dealing with our foreign affairs on issues of grave national interest.Recommend

  • Maulana Diesel
    Feb 20, 2011 - 6:16AM

    Yes Hilaly sahab — I completely agree. For a man who did not utter a word against the NRO suddenly finds his conscience after this incident. Not that I have an ounce of sympathy for Davis, whom we know to be a mercenary, but I can safely say that if it was an ordinary Pakistani killing two thieves he would have been a hero.Recommend

  • Arim
    Feb 20, 2011 - 8:27AM

    What is this column for???

    This nation adore such politicians, they like it when such type of people resign (or appear to resign) and take stand widely accepted by nation… Whatever one write but Shah Mehmood have won hearts of many, like ZA won it after leaving Ayyub.Recommend

  • Ali
    Feb 20, 2011 - 9:05AM

    Shah Mehmood Qureshi has become greater now than when he was the foriegn minister! The author of this article is full of horse-raddish! There are men of stature, and then there are court jestures who make snide comments. I was never a big fan of Shah Mehmood, but seeing his character through this whole episode has given me PRIDE to call him a Pakistani servant! May Allah swt give more of these men of characters the position of leadership in Pakistan. It will change Pakistan!Recommend

  • riaz
    Feb 20, 2011 - 10:31AM

    @ S should be ashamed to compare SMQ with Justice Iftikhar.
    Hillaly does have some valid points re. SMQ accomplishments but it also reminds one of sour grapes he wishes he should have been foreign Minister instead forgetting that SMQ is a formidable political person and he was awarded FM position based not only his qualifications but also political accomplishments which our distinguished baboos forget.Recommend

  • Sanjith Menon
    Feb 20, 2011 - 11:02AM

    “His vocation should have been the stage, rather than politics” For the first time i agree with u, ambassador. Thanks.Recommend

  • ani
    Feb 20, 2011 - 11:13AM

    Very well written article. To add to Mr. Hilaly’s analysis of the former minister. Foreign ministers exhibit a temprament of calm and sophistication. But Mr. Qureshi was often prickly, vain, blunt and given to showman ship. As an example: most recently he decided to call out the Indian FM personally at a joint press conference and ended up reinforcing the negative image of Pakistan. Irrespective of the merits of his argument, the point is that that type of conduct is pedestrian. Instead of finding a solution to the Davis affair and serving his government, he contributed to the problem by leaking his personal views to the press. If he disagreed with his party, he could have resigned. But he had to be sacked. Mr. Qureshi, with an eye on PMship served himself first. It was all about him not his country and party. He is an opportunist and a dangeorus one at that. Pakistan deserves better. Recommend

  • Abdullah
    Feb 20, 2011 - 11:58AM

    Expected a lot more from the Tribune.Recommend

  • Uza Syed
    Feb 20, 2011 - 1:59PM

    Ambassador, pretty straight talk, a bit too blunt for a diplomat —— one wonders, if your role models Ambassadors Shahi & Hilaly would appreciate or reprimand your this public display of un-diplomatic assessment of a politician even if a misfit for the ‘vocation’. Recommend

  • Charlws
    Feb 20, 2011 - 2:14PM

    You have striped the man of his false vanity. Well done.

  • jaago!
    Feb 20, 2011 - 4:25PM

    Excellent piece of journalism! The following statement sums it up: “…was to resign and not wait to be booted out.”

    His greatest achievement as the FM: securing a temporary job for his son at Mr Kerry’s office (

  • Rao Amjad Ali
    Feb 20, 2011 - 5:02PM

    No doubt, Mr. Qureshi laid out quite a menu of self praise, comprising a long list of acts of diplomatic craftsmanship, bravado, national pride and an uncompromising devotion to Pakistan’s sovereignty.

    Much to my amazement, the otherwise argus-eyed men and women of the press failed to ask the thespian-like former FM – no, he is no Ronald Reagan – as to how he was able to stomach the growing number of drone attacks in North Waziristan and what was the basis of his continuing to be the FM when people were being killed inside Pakistan’s sovereign borders almost on a daily basis from air sorties remotely directed by the United States Air Force under the rubric of “war on terror”? Does anyone know who the victims of these assaults were – ordinary men, women, children the aged? Do you, Mr. Qureshi?Recommend

  • Feb 20, 2011 - 6:08PM

    Mr. Zafar Hilaly! Dont you think it’s about time you let go. Meaning your GENERATION. Is it not due to the policies (based on fallacies) of your generation that has brought us to this cul de sac or impasse in our existence.

    Your generation has the audacity to argue endlessly and bring down the opponent. When will you people ever move aside and let the next generation take over. An entire generation has been lost in Pakistan due to people of your ilk. They have nothing to look forward to except guns and bullets. Or immigrating to greener pastures where they work as menials. Look at Afghanistan. An entire generation has grown up in refugee camps because of non-permanent, ethereal policies of politicians. Is this the legacy your generation has left behind? The generation after yours and mine are qualified and are frustrated, depressed or committing suicide. Tragic, pathetic and what they get is antipathy.

    Please say something nice to and about people. Guide them to better avenues rather than guffaw and point fingers. You have the knowledge and experience. USE IT NOW. Help humanity and the muslims of your country. Salams for 2011 and ever. Recommend

  • Shoaib Akbar
    Feb 20, 2011 - 6:09PM

    Very well said sir. Unfortunately as Pakistani’s, we have lowered the bar for what we consider patriotic/brave/heroic to have at least some thing to smile about or feel happy about. In other words, as you aptly put it, Mr.SMQ is no better than ” Gulliver serving amongst the Lilliputians”. Recommend

  • Feb 20, 2011 - 6:48PM

    No doubt,dramatic talents he does have. But let him take the front foot into something new, which is talking aloud and deciding on his future course of action.

    Mr. Hilaly! You have been around for many decades. Maybe talking and writing is your forte. What about patience? Rather than try to ride roughshod over him, why dont you say something nice to him. Guide him. Teach him if he is willing to learn. You were with the late, great Zulfikar Ali Bhutto? Were you not? Frankly, you being ahead in years, knowledge and experience, should help him out. Radiate for him new ideas.

    Salams for 2011 and ever.Recommend

  • Shahid
    Feb 20, 2011 - 11:26PM

    You got too personal and too uncharitable. Public figures are subjected to criticism but there should be some balance, which I think is missing in your article.
    You found a lot of faults with the man but no virtue.
    By implications your piece supports those who are basically responsible for the mess. Recommend

  • Ch Allah Daad
    Feb 21, 2011 - 12:00AM

    We should be proud of Shah Mehmood Qureshi, First top diplomat in entire world, who changed the course of diplomacy by speaking truth, nothing but truth. Before his blunt truth it was unwritten rule that diplomacy is a game of deception, deceit, intrigue and lies, where interests of a nation are far more important than an individual or his/her personal character..We are proud Shah Mehmood Qureshi did not follow that rule. We don’t care what happens to us in short or long term, we can sacrifice anything for truth. So what if devil comes after us and destroys us politically and financially, or millions of flood and earth quake victims die with disease and hunger. We don’t need anyones help, we will live in history as a nation who had Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who speaks truth, nothing but truth.Recommend

  • MC
    Feb 21, 2011 - 1:05AM

    On a point of information: Mr Hilaly speak not of what you know not. A lesser known fact but a fact nevertheless, Mr Qureshi did hand in his resignation on the 31st of Jan at a meeting where the President, PM were both present. The two refused to accept his resignation. Two weeks later they decided to change his portfolio to everyones shock. And on a second note, if they had no confidence in his ability or questioned his sincerity they wouldn’t have offered him the ministry for water and power. I suggest Mr Hilaly get his facts right and/or stop being selective with the truth. Recommend

  • Malika
    Feb 21, 2011 - 1:09AM

    What yiu refer to as drama is better known as good oratory skills. You might want to revisit ZAB and BBs speeches. Tone and intonation is what sets the pros apart from the novices but how or why would a babu know that.Recommend

  • danish
    Feb 21, 2011 - 1:10AM

    i would like to ask this writer why SMQ was booted out in the first place????did he do any wrong by not giving in to the pressure to declare DAVIS a diplomat???Does he have no right to criticize his own party???
    He has emerged as a champion politician who dared take a stance to the dismay of not only his own party but also the Americans..Recommend

  • ZQ
    Feb 21, 2011 - 5:47AM

    As the commentary above suggests…there is quite a significant divide on what SMQ should do/should have done…in response to the article, I’d like to say it is all relative…given the performance of other members of cabinet (ie Hajj scam, NICL, Rental Power, PIA, Railway, etc) and given the newly appointed cabinet (ie Firdous Ashiq Awan, Hina Rabbani Khar as FM, Babar Awan, Rehman Malik, etc), SMQ is a giant among dwarfs…and also, politics is not too far removed from stage-play sir…yes he acting, but unlike you, he is also an elected politician, which means he is representing…when he speaks, it is on behalf of those that have chosen him as their voice, as their leader…and as both are done on stage, people remember and praise a good act! You call Bhutto a “compulsive performer” yet there are millions today who remember him, praise him, and pledge loyalty to him even thirty years after his death…so I wonder, how many will remember/follow you, Mr Diplomat?Recommend

  • AHK
    Feb 21, 2011 - 10:03AM

    The writer says: “Was he trying to say that he knew that Davis is a homicidal maniac because who else will kill people merely because they were hanging around his car?”

    Seems like Zafar Hilaly is all too keen to criticize Shah Mahmmod Qureshi but has already made up his mind that the victims were not innocent since Davis is not a homicidal maniac.

  • Ahmed Baksh
    Feb 22, 2011 - 7:21AM

    Whose up for PPP(Real Deal) headed by Good old Shah Mehmood vs PPP(zardari). Recommend

  • Ali
    Feb 22, 2011 - 9:15AM

    Very logical and must be read without personal biases. Good job Mr, Hilaly, cuz we Pakistanis need to be a bit more rational and logical in our approach rather than only acting on sentiments and getting carried away in the process.Recommend

  • S
    Feb 22, 2011 - 10:33PM

    i checked out your blog. its great read !!some o fthe posts are very deep!!
    good luck!Recommend

  • sheikh farhan ahmed
    Feb 23, 2011 - 8:23AM

    it shows a real change in foreign policy of our country.No nation wants to damage its sovereignty.Shah Mehmood Quershi has made the traffic in one way.It is a good for PakistanRecommend

  • IZ
    Feb 24, 2011 - 9:17AM

    Well said.Recommend

  • Gulsher rahimoon
    Mar 5, 2011 - 4:33PM

    Oh the people of the world! we the Pakistani here clear to you that we love Pakistan more than our life. it is fact that we have no electricity, no drinking water, no communication, and not other facilities found in developed countries, but remind it that first of all we love with our soil, we can live without light, without food, without water but never without our motherland.
    so do not hurt the dignity of our soil, our mom.
    we can bear every trouble but we never bear it that any one look toward our soil with dirty eye.
    so i want to message to the world that we want equality not to be slave.

    if you are considering that Pakistan is a poor country, and you can knee this.
    you are thinking wrong.

    most poorest part of Pakistan, is Thar and the people of Thar here are telling you that we need help but not like this,


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