Lahore: Pakistan does not have a dedicated foreign minister (FM). The Prime Minister (PM) of Pakistan, Mian Nawaz Sharif has kept the portfolio with him which, according to political analysts, is the government’s failure.

The argument goes that Nawaz Sharif is afraid of giving away this valuable portfolio to anybody and wants foreign policy makers to work right under his nose.

“Given the significant position of Pakistan in the region vis-à-vis Afghanistan and the encirclement of China in the emerging US-India relations, Pakistan’s international engagement becomes even more important requiring deft diplomatic handling,” says Khurshid Kasuri, former Foreign Minister of Pakistan.

Doctor Qandeel Abbass, Professor of International Relations at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, says that though the PM can keep the portfolio of the FM with him but it is a bad decision as the minister of foreign affairs is one of the most important men in the federal cabinet.

“We see failure on almost all the important international assignments. When Pakistan mediated between Iran and Saudi Arabia, it was decided that a focal person from Pakistan would be designated by all the three countries. Nothing on this has happened so far.”

He said, “Though the PM has traveled extensively and has also signed some Memorandum of Understanding with different countries on various projects, we hardly see those deals getting anywhere. I would say there are policy and implementation failures because of the absence of a dedicated FM.”

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has appointed a foreign advisor and a special advisor to the PM on foreign affairs. Both the men handling these positions, Sartaj Azia and Tariq Fatemi, respectively play a very minimum role in policy making in international relations.

Brigadier (retired) Hameed Farooq, while talking to News Lens Pakistan, says their role is of minimal nature restricted to executing policies. “It is for this very reason that we find the army getting involved in most of the international issues.”

He said, “I have no qualms in saying that the Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif is the de facto foreign minister of the country.”

On every strategic visit to important countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, General Raheel had accompanied the PM.

“The army thinks that Nawaz Sharif with his two foreign policy experts is not delivering the way they should deliver and are not meeting the requirement of international diplomacy,” said Farooq.

He said if Pakistan had a dedicated and active FM, the crisis emanating from the decision of the US Congress to block the sale of F-16 to Pakistan on the concessionary rate and the killing of Mullah Mansoor inside Pakistan by a US drone would have been handled at a different level. “We found the Chief of Army Staff registering a protest on drone attack with the US in person.”

Farooq said, “The Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US Jalil Abbas Jilani also admitted this saying we could not counter Indian lobby in the US on the F-16 deal because of lack of resources. By lack of resources, he meant that like India, which has engaged 16 lobbying firms, Pakistan has none.” During Pakistan People’s Party rule, at least two lobbying firms had been hired by Pakistan, he added.

“In this context, I would say that if there is any diplomacy functioning in the country, it is the military diplomacy led by the chief of army staff.”

The Chairman National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Sardar Awais Ahmed Khan Leghari, dispelled the impression of any rift on foreign policy with the army while talking to News Lens on the telephone. He says the appointment of the advisors on foreign affairs has been made constitutionally.

“It is the prerogative of the PM whether he wants an FM or not. If the PM thinks there is no one except him in the party who could handle foreign relations professionally then he could appoint himself as the FM,” says Leghari.

Elaborating further on the reasons and implications of not having a foreign minister, Khurshid Kasuri, the former foreign minister of Pakistan, says that the PM believes in running his cabinet like his personal fiefdom, and therefore he has appointed people close to him as advisors on foreign relations.

“The PM does not have time and even the ability required to analyses and respond to the fast changing developing situation at the international level. The kind of negativity being spread against Pakistan today is not being replied in the same tone and tenor. Therefore, the negativity is piling up,” says Kasuri.

He said Sharif is also against National Security Council. It is the legal requirement that the minutes of the meeting on foreign affairs is recorded. The PM is against this practice as well. He is handling the ministry as if it is his personal property.

“It is because of this temperament that there is a tension between the army and the government on India. When Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi came to Pakistan last year, according to my information neither the National Security Advisor, Lieutenant General (retd) Naseer Khan Janjua nor the Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz knew about Modi’s visit,” concluded Kasuri.


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