Tomorrow’s policy today

Published: January 15, 2020

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi ended his whirlwind tour of Saudi Arabia and Iran with calls for both to show “maximum restraint” and to take immediate steps for de-escalating multiple crises in the Middle East. Qureshi went on the trip after increased tensions in the aftermath of the US airstrike that killed Gen Soleimani of Iran.

Qureshi conveyed to the Iranian leadership that “Pakistan appreciated Iran’s preference for de-escalation of tensions”, according to the Foreign Office. He also gave an assurance that Pakistan would not allow its territory to be used against Iran. In Riyadh, Qureshi had an “in-depth exchange of views on recent developments” with his Saudi counterpart.

Unfortunately, apart from broad details of the discussions as provided by the FO, no media reports could clarify how Qureshi had suggested achieving deescalation and build trust. Many column inches were, however, dedicated to who greeted and saw off Qureshi in both countries.

Indeed, the most substantial recent titbit regarding Pakistan’s recent foreign policy moves did not come from abroad, or even Islamabad. It came from Lahore, where PM’s Special Assistant on National Security Division and Strategic Policy Planning Moeed Yusuf was speaking at Think Fest 2020.

He surprisingly admitted to the bad optics of Pakistan’s eleventh-hour withdrawal from the Kuala Lumpur Summit. He also accepted that “Saudi Arabia was apprehensive about a parallel organisation being formed to replace the OIC.” Despite the bad optics, he claimed it wasn’t a foreign policy failure. Similarly, he claimed that the absence of all-out open resistance to India’s actions in Kashmir is not a failure.

He closed by noting that the government wanted to reverse the trend of Pakistan functioning under short-term strategies, saying his job is not to tell what will happen tomorrow, but what will happen the day after tomorrow. Unfortunately, no one has addressed what will happen if we waste today worrying about tomorrow, or the day after.

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