A Foreign Minister With A Mind of His Own?

Source: Asia Society

I am not saying it has happened for the first time in Pakistani history, but it surely seems something out of the ordinary in the current political atmosphere in Pakistan. After the Pakistani military and bureaucratic establishment realized what a colossal error its favorite dictator General Pervez Musharraf had committed by permitting private TV channels, a regime of media control was brought about.

It was at least too late for Musharraf himself who erroneously started considering himself to be a democratic leader with a liberal economic vision who enjoys complete support by the people of Pakistan. He probably banked too much on his ridiculous referendum numbers and ended up resigning due to the resistance put up by civilians for a sacked judge.

The same political party which had been overthrown by the military bureaucracy returned 14 years later with another overwhelming mandate, only earlier paralleled in its volume by the Awami League in the 1970 election. The Awami League was,, of course, declared as an outlawed and traitorous party in a rebel country.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had his third term cut short by some dimension of the state bureaucracy earlier in July this year. Today, at this situation, it is refreshing to see that the Foreign Minister of the same political party who had delivered a fiery speech against the military establishment in the parliament embarrass it on an international forum. Especially when the current Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi looks like a zombie bullied by the drill sergeant at the Kakul Academy about “What to say at UN manual.”

Here is Khawaja Asif speaking at the Asia Society in New York.

Not only that, Khawaja Asif completely owned the label of a “more liberal foreign policy,” criticizing the opposition party to pandering to the “religious fringes.” Like most liberals of Pakistans, he also reminisced about the “old liberal, pluralistic, tolerant, and progressive Pakistan of the 50s and 60s,” which was taken away due to the Islamization in the wake of the Afghan Jihad. He also thought that Pakistan so openly joining the American camp during the Cold War years was a mistake. At least, it is refreshing to see such an approach taken by a Pakistan government official so openly in an international diplomatic forum.

Khawaja Asif also remarkably admitted that Hafiz Saeed, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and other terrorists like the Haqqani Group were liabilities for Pakistan and that Pakistan needed time to deal with them. He also stated that the dismissed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had put his career on stake in order to improve relations with India, which he considered necessary while also describing the struggle of the Kashmiri youth at the hands of the brutality of Indian military and government.

Khawaja Asif certainly has many flaws. He is an inarticulate loudmouth with a knack of saying inappropriate things every now and then, blame it on his Punjabi male chauvinistic upbringing.  Even was my Idiot of the year 2016. But once in a while, he also ends up doing something right. And to his credit, more often than the broken clock telling the time right. However, he is still the same man who threatened Israel over a piece of fake news when he was the Defense Minister. Read about the underlying antisemitism of his comment here.

Of course, his statements have given indigestion to a lot of nationalist conservatives and military establishment loyalists including the PTI who are accusing him of treason as usual. However, all supporters of democracy and civilian supremacy should celebrate this rare moment in Pakistan foreign policy. State protected terrorist Hafiz Saeed s even suing Khawaja Asif for Rs. 100 million for defamation. Just to give you an idea how bad things are in Pakistan when it comes to the moral authority of the state. It would also not be beyond our deep state if we shortly see the resignation of the minister following the controversy he has stirred. In that case, the Pakistani people should stand by a diplomat that has, for once, truly represented them.

There has been Shah Mehmood Qureshi in the PPP government who chose to dissent but never like this. So a Foreign Minister finally having a mind of his own, or at least saying the right thing, has been rare in Pakistan.

Let’s celebrate that.

Farewell Tribute To Cameron Munter

Source: US State Department

While it sounds rather ridiculous for commoners to be interested in the office of diplomats, I mean what and who comes and goes, there are certain individuals that come across in this profession every now and then which are hard to ignore. One such person has been Ambassador Cameron Munter who has served in Islamabad from October 6, 2010 until he announced his early resignation on May 7, 2012 and left for the United States on July 24, 2012. Charge d’ affaires Richard Hoagland is performing stand-in duties for him.

Now I write this as a Pakistani national and someone who at least aspires to be if not is a citizen of the world. But even regardless of these viewpoints, I see the term of Ambassador Munter, a Californian who loves desi food, in Pakistan rather charming. I know it has been a while since he gave up his position, which happened in July 2012 actually, and this post has been overdue as I have been looking to write about it ever since.

I have observed Ambassador Munter to be by far the most interactive, publicly outreaching and friendly American ambassador in my living memory. The rest of them were either too dull or too cruel or too quiet in public. Of course, they all must have been heard loud and clear in the offices of Pakistani decision makers. Even if there were other ambassadors who had been as much active, certainly no one would have been so much outspoken and accessible to the media.

This is important because his term in Islamabad was marked by one of the most turbulent events in the history of Pakistan-US relations, especially due to the US Navy SEALs raid on Abottabad to assassinate Osama Bin Laden, the secret memo affair, the Raymond Davis killings and the continued drone strikes in the tribal areas, which have become a trademark of the Obama administration warfare.

Not to mention the NATO attack on Pakistan Army Salala checkpost on the Afghan border on November 26, 2011. I recall Munter appearing frequently in popular Pakistani talk shows and expressing his regret over the unfortunate incident while still not using the word “apologize”, which was clearly deliberate, with great emphasis. Tough job. We witnessed that thin line between being sorry and apologizing. Such is the nature of US-Pakistan diplomatic relations.

As a matter of fact, he handled affairs in one of the toughest conditions that a diplomat could ask for, when anti-American sentiment in Pakistan was on the rise. Similar difficulties were faced by his Pakistani counterpart Hussain Haqqani. Here is Munter’s last appearance on Pakistani TV.

Pakistani media had actually been hailing Munter for leaving his office for being disturbed at the continued drone strikes and avoiding an apology for Salala despite the public outrage in Pakistan, which is denied by the US Embassy in Islamabad as he is said to have stepped down for personal reasons, but there has been consistent rumor about that in the media throughout the latter part of his term. Even foreign media reported it, which really makes you wonder about its validity because usually you can safely consider what the State Department is telling you to be lies unless it is about attacking some country.

I am not sure how much a diplomat should be involved with his assignment emotionally, especially when it comes to the military objectives of a campaign, and we are not even sure if Munter was, but I can acknowledge that Munter was apparently more human and more humane of any of the US ambassadors that I have noticed. His public relations were at least, and that is what matters at the end of the day. The general public is least bothered about what goes on behind closed doors.

However, I am not sure if it is necessarily a good thing for a diplomat. I guess in the ruthless and Machiavellian world of diplomacy, you need to focus on your interests and objectives and get the cold hearted kill and go on your own way. I do not doubt Munter’s abilities as a diplomat a bit, but then again there is no reason to believe that he succumbed to his emotions at any time.

But he was certainly sincere in making an attempt to reach out to the people of Pakistan, and to improve bilateral relations.

That is important.

I don’t care if he was fine with the drone strikes or not. I also don’t care if he agrees with Obama’s warfare or not.

But what I care about is his gestures of friendship and I think that must be reciprocated.

Ambassador Cameron Munter, you will be remembered.

I am sure you won’t forget Pakistan.

Remembering Richard Holbrooke: The Diplomat Who Ended a War


Richard Holbrooke (1941-2010) - Source: WikiCommons/USFG

One of the most prolific, multi-dimensional and influential diplomats in the recent US history, Richard Holbrooke, passed away on December 13, 2010. He was the US Ambassador for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Richard Holbrooke died after he had suffered a torn aorta. He was 69 at the time of his death, and his memorial service was held on January 14, 2011.

There can be two kinds of people who could have problems with people admiring Richard Holbrooke. The people who have problems with anyone making efforts to stop wars, and those who are blindly Anti-American.

But not everyone criticizing the US policies is Anti-American. I am a critic of US policies as well, but that does not make me Anti-American, because if that is not the case, then I am Anti-Pakistan too, because I criticize the Pakistani government and some of their policies as well.

But I admire Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

He helped the United States intervene in the volatile and rather inhumane situation in the Balkans, when the local pressure prevented President Bill Clinton to intervene, especially militarily. It was one of the very few times in history when the United States made a correct decision of intervention, the one which could be considered responsible, if not anything else. Here, the critics could make the point that why the instrument of intervening in foreign affairs is being approved here while criticized at other instances.

It depends on the case and the motives.

Bosnians would have survived without a NATO intervention, maybe not with a separate country, although ethnically cleansed in much larger numbers than what resulted after it. But it is not about having a war, or breaking or making a country. It is about stopping an ongoing conflict, and diplomacy played a much larger role in it than any NATO air strikes. Remember, the UN peace keeping forces were deployed in the region at the time? But some could say that the US used the conflict as an excuse of increasing its influence in the region.

It was an unfortunate conflict which thankfully came to an end, preventing more lives from going to waste.

Of course, war is not something you could be proud of or approve. Richard Holbrooke was apparently not pro-war, he just wanted things to calm down there, and the events led to the conclusion of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which came as a sigh of relief for the war-torn and shattered people of Yugoslavia, particularly that of Bosnia & Herzegovina, who were the primary victims of the Bosnian War, while also not forgetting the people of the Albanian province Kosovo.

While the Serbs would not see the role played by Holbrooke as the one which favored them, but keeping nationalism aside, they should know that it would certainly be incorrect if anyone implies that the Serb people were to be blamed for the actions of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, who had been coexisting with other Yugoslavian ethnic groups. That idea would be as horrifying as the conflict itself.

One of the signs that Richard Holbrooke was not fond of wars were his last recorded words, which have been frequently broadcasted, published and discussed ever since:

You have got to stop this war in Afghanistan.

A War which has caused thousands of civilian casualties since October 7, 2001, not even accounted for accurately, and has led to the loss of lives of no less than 1,472 American military personnel and 843 soldiers from other coalition countries, according to icasualties.org. To many, it is a war in which the allies are making little progress on the military front, with the war only consuming billions of dollars from the pocket of the American tax-payer.

Maybe it is just to prevent the Taliban from capturing power again, the very same force, which was on the forefront in fighting the USSR in Afghanistan in the conflict that lasted from 1979 to 1989. They were armed by the United States through their allies, especially their regional periphery, Pakistan. But undoubtedly, it is being carried on to protect the US interests in the region.

Many take it as a comic interchange between Holbrooke and his Pakistani surgeon who was sedating him, but I take it as a serious warning from a dying man. You never lie in your deathbed, and especially if you know as much about what is going on as Richard Holbrooke, whose health was eaten up by the pressures and tensions of the assignment of the Special Ambassador to Afghanistan and Pakistan. By the way, he disapproved the public use of the term “AfPak“.

Of course, with such a job as being a diplomat, and participating in and influencing the major decision-making in different points of time in history with leading Democratic figures in office, a person’s record for peace is always considered doubtful by skeptics and critics. But to many, that is not even a question to worry about, just something that I am imagining that some of you could ask.

But Diplomacy is not all about wars, attacking other nations and killing people, it is also about saving lives.  We have little idea how many lives diplomacy saves around the world every passing year, and as you are reading these lines. This is exactly why in this peace, I am not really focusing on the rest of the career of Richard Holbrooke, but the part which he loved to talk about the most. The Dayton Peace Agreement. His memoirs for that campaign are titled “To End a War“. Speaks volumes about how he took it.

Therefore, I find it my duty to talk about his contribution in the Dayton Peace Agreement.

It is written in the Talmud and the Koran.

Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.

Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, a great man and a great diplomat, will always be remembered for saving a human life, in fact many human lives, and therefore, the world entire.

This, I believe, is how he would have wanted to be remembered.