At last a foreign minister

Now, it is Khawaja Asif that is to take up the reins and his appointment raises a number of interesting questions

Editorial August 06, 2017
A file photo of Khawaja Asif. PHOTO: REUTERS

There has been considerable criticism of the government of Nawaz Sharif because it failed since being elected to appoint a foreign minister. Now, it is Khawaja Asif that is to take up the reins and his appointment raises a number of interesting questions. Firstly, this is not flagged as a temporary appointment which it presumably would have been was it only to be of a duration equal to that of an ‘interim’ prime minister. This suggests — indeed implies — that Shehbaz Sharif may not be shuffled into the PM post as quickly as might have been assumed, and anyway not before the 2018 election. Secondly there is the matter of just what are likely to be the tenor of relations between Khawaja Asif and the military, particularly as he has been critical of its role regarding political interventions in the past.

The new foreign minister had previously held a largely ceremonial role, but a ministership is altogether different. It will require consultation with a range of stakeholders and some delicate footwork. The minister will also be interacting with foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua, who is noted for her grasp and depth of understanding of all matters foreign and international. He will also have to forge a working relationship in short order with the security establishment beyond the military and this also impinges directly on foreign policy, its formulation and implementation.

There has been speculation on the social media as to whether Mr Asif is equal to his new appointment and only time will tell, but it does signal a real shift within what is still largely regarded as a Nawaz Sharif government operating by proxy. There are new faces among the old, all of them untried at this level of governance, and the dynamic of the new 43-member cabinet will have been altered by the absence of Chaudhry Nisar who is now sidelined though probably still with a finger on the pulse of governance. With Indian and Afghan relations at a steady rolling boil, the foreign minister has to hit the ground running, and we wish him well at a time when nuanced decision-making is going to be vital.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2017.

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