Pakistan — in need of a foreign minister

Published: May 17, 2011
The writer is the Frederick S Pardee Professor of Global Public Policy at Boston University

The writer is the Frederick S Pardee Professor of Global Public Policy at Boston University

It is rather amazing, actually disturbing, that in a period of time when foreign affairs is the single most important aspect of all politics in Pakistan, including in our domestic polity, Pakistan remains without a foreign minister.

It was not a surprise — given the nature of US-Pakistan relations and the role of the military in running Pakistan’s foreign policy — that US Senator John Kerry’s first meeting in Pakistan (late in the night, immediately on his arrival in Pakistan) was with the army chief.

The reasons for, or nature of, that meeting might not have changed even if we did have a full-time and full minister for foreign affairs in place, but at least protocol may have demanded a different decorum and therefore, sent out a different diplomatic signal; maybe even set a different diplomatic tone to begin the visit with.

With Raymond Davis, the Abbottabad operation, a Saudi diplomat being killed and everything else happening in the diplomatic world — from trade to the environment; it is not as if there would be a dearth of things for a foreign minister to do. Nor is there any dearth of aspirants — either within the PPP or its many coalition partners. There are plenty who would be willing to, and some who would be able to, do a good job on this tough assignment, even if they were to be appointed amidst a fast-moving round of musical chairs.

Although it clearly matters who the foreign minister is, right now, it matters less than actually having one, as long as it is someone who is given the ability to speak for, and to, the rest of the civilian government with confidence and with authority. If ever there was a need for a single point and voice within the civilian government apparatus, who can talk authoritatively about Pakistan’s foreign policy, this is that time. In the absence of one, our rudderless foreign policy seems all the more rudderless — a reinforcement of the reality, as well as the heightened perception — no one in Pakistan (at this point, not even the military), has a clue about what is happening, or should be happening, to our already tattered foreign relations.

That familiar sinking feeling of directionless drift that one has recently been having about Pakistan’s economic policy now seems to be also felt about our foreign policy. Just having a foreign minister may not be, in itself, sufficient to check this drift, but it is certainly a necessary first step.

Indeed, there is a junior minister of state in place — Hina Rabbani Khar. But I know little about her or her performance as a foreign minister. And, that, in fact, is the problem. If the government intends for her to, really, be the foreign minister, then we should be seeing, hearing and sensing much more of her, and, from her, on the substance of Pakistan’s foreign policy. Maybe, the right approach is for the government to give her that role and space.

But if she, or the government, are unwilling for her to play that role, then we need a full-time and full minister of foreign affairs. And, as soon as possible.

The timing is crucial, not only because of all the foreign policy challenges that the country is swimming in, but even more because of the unique opportunity that has been provided by recent events to wrest back at least some of the critical foreign policy issues from the military to the civilian leadership. This opportunity must not be missed.

Importantly, it needs to be availed in a way that changes the dynamics of where key foreign policy decisions are made, bringing critical functions back into the control of the civilian leadership, but without dangerously destabilising the state and the tenuous balances within its institutions. And that, to me, is the most important element in the case for why Pakistan desperately needs a foreign minister, needs one who is good and can bring the sagacity and balance needed for the job, and why we need one immediately.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 18th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • faraz
    May 17, 2011 - 11:40PM

    There are rumours that Sherry Rehman might get appointed as Foreign minister; she would be very appropriate for that job. But what about the mullahs who are threatening her over her stance on Blashphemy law?Recommend

  • Hissam Amir Khan
    May 18, 2011 - 12:05AM

    I am free and ready to take the position of a foreign minister of Pakistan…
    Even if we have ministers for the other ministries, we all know how efficient they are…

  • Fatima
    May 18, 2011 - 1:27AM

    Excellent point. If civilian control has to be on international affairs then at least we need a good FM.
    I think there are many good candidates: Maleeha Lodhi, Mushahid Hussain, Riaz Khokhar, Raza Rabanni, Sherry Rahman, even Dr. Najam himself. Recommend

  • Ajay
    May 18, 2011 - 3:24AM

    What about journalist Najam Sethi.
    he speaks with such confidence that he can stop everybody in their tracks even Kerry !
    He talks sense and generates confidence. I am a big fan of his although I don’t understand why refers to India as arrogant and overarching.Recommend

  • sundar
    May 18, 2011 - 4:15AM

    With boys in uniform looking after foreign affairs as always, will it make a difference if there is a designated FM? Recommend

  • Mirza
    May 18, 2011 - 8:43AM

    The writer is right on the money. We must appoint a foreign minister ASAP. However, he/she should be in the mold of BB, Hussain Haqqani, Sherry, and last but not the least our own Boston friend Adil Najam.

    Mirza, USARecommend

  • Ali
    May 18, 2011 - 8:49AM

    Sherry Rehman!Recommend

  • Nadeem
    May 18, 2011 - 11:56AM

    @sundar: Agree 100%. He will be a figurehead and who ever gets the job will be there only for the trips and perks. The COAS will continue as the de facto foreign minister (and de facto president, PM, finance minister)Recommend

  • Aryabhat
    May 18, 2011 - 2:39PM

    Pakistan does not need Foreign or Defence Ministers.

    Defence and Foreign policy are anyway managed from GHQ so why bother?Recommend

  • May 18, 2011 - 5:52PM

    My choice for FM in the present situation is Imran Khan. A suitable interlocutor with the militants, he would be the most dashing foreign minister since ZAB. But knowing him, he is likely to say: no thanks. Other than Imran, look for a politician with lesser ambition than Shah Mehmud Qureshi. But the foreign minister’s job carries a big profile so jealousy sets in quickly. Why not a woman, to talk to Hillary…Recommend

  • May 18, 2011 - 5:56PM

    Do you think it made any difference while Shah Mehmood Qureshi was there? He was doing the bidding of the GHQ. What we need is an independent foreign policy – not just of the US but of GHQ as well. Recommend

  • Mohammed Moinuddin
    May 18, 2011 - 6:00PM

    I fully agree with Fatima but I would like to add one more name of Aitizaz Ahsan the top Lawyer.I think Pakistan need a good Lawyer as a Foreign Minster to sort out the difficult problems which the country is facing today.Recommend

  • Baloch Sarmachar
    May 18, 2011 - 9:44PM

    I suggest – the learned historian and philosopher of Pakistan – Zaid Hamid. Recommend

  • May 18, 2011 - 10:33PM

    I am surprised to see this page wasted on a subject which is hardly of any real consequence at a time when Pakistan faces a grave crisis with no apparent strategy to deal with it and a situation which has exposed how weak the state is and not just some institutions. Is it symptomatic of our intellectual decline that even some of our “intellengtsia” cannot offer any critical analysis of the situation, let alone prescriptions for meeting the challenges? Recommend

  • Hadi Qamar
    May 25, 2011 - 1:44AM

    Excellent analysis. And for people like last commenters, it is exactly BECAUE we have a grave crisis that we need someone at Foreign Ministry to do something about it!Recommend

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