Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has retracted a statement he made during an interview where he unexpectedly said that the revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, a change that stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its special status, was ‘India’s internal matter and it meant nothing for Pakistan. This was a surprising and frankly shocking departure from the PTI government’s narrative on the matter; rather it is the Indian line. As expected, Mr Qureshi’s words drew considerable condemnation and criticism from opposition parties who are naturally linking this supposed ‘softening in tone’ to reported backchannel talks taking place between Pakistan and India, brokered by the UAE. To simply accept that Mr Qureshi had yet another foot-in-mouth moment that he is trying to correct would be a bit naïve given how Indo-Pak tensions have significantly eased over the past two months, proving that mediated talks between the two not only took place but are most likely ongoing.
This is not the first time the Foreign Minister has had to eat his words. Last, ironically enough, he censured Saudi Arabia for dragging its feet on escalating the Kashmir issue at the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation), threatening to go ahead without it if t did not support Pakistan. Saudi backlash came in the form of a $1 billion soft loan being recalled, given in good faith as support to Pakistan’s external account. The money would eventually have to be borrowed from China and paid back to Saudi Arabia. Relations have remained fraught since then and it was only this past week that COAS Gen Qanar Javed Bajwa and Prime Minister Imran Khan visited the Kingdom and things were smoothed over.
It does not bode well for Pakistan’s diplomatic standing and credibility across the world if the Foreign Minister continues to make off-the-cuff remarks on sensitive matters that form the country’s foreign policy, presumably without giving much thought to what he is saying and who he is saying it to. This is exactly the sort of lacklustre performance for which a federal minister, the Foreign Minister no less, must be reprimanded. However, with the sort of numbers he is dealing with in Parliament and the political atmosphere around him, the Prime Minister has to be very careful not to offend the more ambitious ones in his Cabinet.