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.