Tell us about your entry into politics. How did it all begin for you? Did you always know this was the field for you?
I always had a keen interest in politics – it’s ingrained in me via a long history of political involvement. My grandfather Makhdoom Mureed Hussain was a member of the central legislative assembly of India before Partition and my father, who also served as Punjab governor in the 1980s played an active role in the freedom movement alongside the Quaid. I would say politics chose me.
How, in your view, has Pakistan’s politics evolved from the time you began your career in 1983 to now? In what ways has the country strengthened from that time until now and how has it weakened?
I started my political career from the district council and have worked my way through the various rungs of government bodies so I’ve experienced governance at all levels and I think there’s been a huge evolution. Politics has moved far beyond alliances based on kinship and biradari. While they still have a role, I think it’s been minimised over time and continues to shrink. The growth of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) as a third force in what was traditionally a two party system has really shaken things up. Today, we see a culture of greater accountability. I think the voter is becoming more and more questioning. This is a very positive step for democracy.
You have twice been the foreign minister of Pakistan. What are some of the rules you live by being country’s FM?
Being foreign minister means you are not just a politician but your country’s top diplomat. One should always keep that in mind because in diplomacy, you have to weigh your words very carefully. The only rule I live by is my conscience.
What were the first three things that you did for the country when you were sworn in as FM when Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf came into power?
A year ago, when I assumed the office of foreign minister, I received from Prime Minister Imran Khan, the party and the people of Pakistan a mandate for change and gave a commitment to deliver. On the foreign policy front, our objective articulated clearly in the PTI manifesto, was to a) enhance Pakistan’s global and regional relevance, b) prioritise politico-economic diplomacy, c) pay closer attention to affairs of Overseas Pakistanis and d) strengthen the institution of the Foreign Office. This translated into three clear policy directions, which we pursued assiduously on assuming office. One: Externally, we undertook a proactive diplomatic outreach that pivoted on principles and Pakistan’s core interests. Two: Domestically, we took steps to address institutional disconnects that had plagued previous governments and enhanced the centrality of the Foreign Office in foreign policy formulation and execution. Finally, we expanded the scope of consultations and communication with relevant stakeholders, both within and outside government, including inter-alia with the civil society, the private sector, academia and Overseas Pakistanis. Since there was always great clarity in terms of objectives and direction, we hit the ground running from day one.
How content are you with the country’s foreign relations currently?
I’m quite content. I believe that we have achieved measurable success. From the United Nations, to the British Parliament, the European Union and at the OIC, we have raised our voice, with a confidence and conviction perhaps never before seen or heard. We strengthened partnerships premised on equality and mutual benefit and imbued them with a fresh vigour and purpose. We leveraged our friendships to overcome economic headwinds and foster connectivity. We’ve advanced the cause of regional peace and security; protected our core interests, red lines and sovereignty where needed and taken bold new initiatives to build confidence and promote trust. There are challenges of course, which we have to contend with. India’s belligerence, its Hindutva ideology, annexation of Indian-Held Kashmir (IHK) and grave human rights violations in IHK pose a serious risk for regional peace and security. Then, there is the rising tide of Islamophobia the world over. We have confronted these issues head on and raised our voice at the international arena, based on our principled positions and we shall continue to do so, going forward.
Pakistan’s aggressive diplomacy under your current tenure has proved to be very successful for the country. Tell us about your strategic approach and vision for diplomacy.
The first ingredient to any successful diplomacy is commitment. You have to believe passionately, in your country and your cause and go above and beyond the call of duty. You have to foster team work and inspire by example. Also, you have to be inclusive in your approach and remain receptive to divergent ideas and inputs. Foreign policy formulation after all, is not the sole prerogative of the foreign minister or the Foreign Office but is a truly national undertaking, wherein no single individual or institution can claim a monopoly over the nation’s intellectual capital. For this reason, I have set up an Advisory Council of eminent experts, many from outside the government sector, who convene regularly. I must add that Pakistan is blessed with a highly professional and dedicated cadre of Foreign Service officers, who have distinguished themselves by dint of hard work. I am proud of their contribution.
What are your current diplomatic goals as FM?
At a conceptual level, I envision a foreign policy that is articulate and principled, and is geared towards addressing our economic issues in the immediate run and ensuring a peaceful and prosperous neighbourhood for development, over the longer haul. We have also begun looking at ways of further strengthening the Foreign Office as an institution that is geared towards the needs of 21st Century diplomacy. It is my aim to leave behind a Foreign Office that is more empowered, more specialised, more communicative, more compassionate and more efficient.
Which are some of the main countries that Pakistan shares the best ties with?
Over the past year, Pakistan’s relations with traditional friends and partners have received fresh impetus with a renewed emphasis on the economic dimension. We have deepened our All Weather Strategic Cooperative Partnership with China, entering into the next phase of China Pakistan Economic Corridor and concluding FTA-II. We have revitalised our friendships with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, which has translated into financial support and investment commitments worth billions of dollars. We have also commenced a new chapter in our relations with the United States, concluded a Strategic Engagement Plan with the European Union and developed greater convergence with Russia and the Central Asian Republics. We are also crafting an Engage Africa Policy and revitalising our outreach to Eastern and South East Asian, as well as Latin American nations.
You have been elected five times as a Member of the National Assembly (MNA). How active have you been in attending assembly sessions and what camaraderie do you share with MNAs of opposition parties?
My current job requires me to be away from Pakistan more often than not. When in Pakistan, I attend every session I can. Earlier this month, I was away for Hajj when the Kashmir crisis erupted and I was required in parliament, I returned to Pakistan post haste. It was very difficult to walk away from Hajj but I put my responsibility to my country and its people first.
You are the ruling party’s vice chairman. Do you aspire to be the prime minister or president of the country?
I aspire to do whatever responsibility is given to me with utmost sincerity and dedication. We are all here for Pakistan and will do whatever is required of us for Pakistan.
What advice would you give to an 18-year-old Shah Mahmood Qureshi?
Don’t ever get disheartened. Life is full of surprises, more so in politics and it’s never over.
What according to you has been your biggest achievement so far?
I think Pakistan has made great strides on the diplomatic front in the last one year. When I took charge, things weren’t ideal for Pakistan but I have been aggressively campaigning for the country, reinforcing old relationships and making new alliances. We have been reaching out to new partners and it will pay dividends in the years to come.
What is your vision for Pakistan and what does it mean to be Pakistani for you?
Pakistan is my identity. It was borne after great sacrifice and we must always remember that. I share PM Imran Khan’s vision for a Naya Pakistan. I want to inject hope in our youth in order to check the brain drain that has taken place in the last four decades and to build a Naya Pakistan.
Your lineage draws from the deep mysticism of the East and is steeped in the Sufi tradition. Tell us more about this.
Sufism is the heart of Islam. If you can understand that you can make sense of everything
We, at Daily Times, consider you one of our national heroes. Who are some of yours?
I think the real heroes are the Pakistanis who live in the shadows and continue to contribute to Pakistan without notice; be it in philanthropy, education, health, business or even government service.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has been a veteran in politics. He previously held the position of federal minister for foreign affairs from 2008 to 2011. He has been a Member of the National Assembly five times and the vice chairman of the ruling party Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf since 2011. He has served in the provincial cabinet of Punjab, in various positions between 1988 and 1993. He served as the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs in the federal cabinet from 1993 to 1996 and later as the Mayor of Multan from 2000 to 2002. During his mayor period, he well administrated the Multan district and oversaw a number of development projects. He is one of three prominent politicians from Multan District.
Shah Mahmood Qureshi is fluent in four languages, namely Urdu, English, Saraiki and Punjabi. He received his early education from the prestigious Aitchison College, a bachelor’s from Forman Christian College and later received MA (Law) and MA (History) degree from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He also holds a BA degree from University of the Punjab.
A DEDICATED AGRICULTURIST
Qureshi is an agriculturalist and has been the president of the Farmers Association of Pakistan.
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