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Once upon a time, Qureshi on Kashmir

B. Muralidhar Reddy
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SINGING A DIFFERENT TUNE:As Pakistan's Foreign Minister from April 2008 to February 2011, Shah Mahmood Qureshi — seen in this file picture with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna (left) — was at first conciliatory on Kashmir but later adopted a more rigid stand on the issue. —PHOTO: PTI
SINGING A DIFFERENT TUNE:As Pakistan's Foreign Minister from April 2008 to February 2011, Shah Mahmood Qureshi — seen in this file picture with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna (left) — was at first conciliatory on Kashmir but later adopted a more rigid stand on the issue. —PHOTO: PTI

Days after he was designated the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi told U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard A. Boucher that India-Pakistan relations could not be held hostage to the issue of Kashmir alone.

It is rare for a Pakistani leader to advocate, even in a closed-door meeting, that India-Pakistan ties should not viewed through the prism of Kashmir alone.

The Pakistan military and successive political establishments have consistently argued that Kashmir is the core issue between India and Pakistan, and that without a resolution of the dispute there can be no meaningful progress in ties.

Yet, after a few months in office, Mr. Qureshi too was calling Kashmir a ‘core issue.'

But in an April 2008 interaction with the U.S. diplomat, Mr. Qureshi maintained that while Pakistan should respect the concerns of the Kashmiris, its relations with India could not be held ‘hostage' to one issue.

A U.S. cable dated April 8, 2008 (148953: confidential), accessed byThe Hindu through WikiLeaks, said Mr. Qureshi was responding to Mr. Boucher's query on his views about Indo-Pakistan bilateral relations. The Minister-designate noted that he was in India when Pakistan People's Party co-chair Asif Ali Zardari had issued a statement urging increased transit trade with India irrespective of whether there was any progress on Kashmir.

Mr. Qureshi said there was a large constituency on both sides of the border that believed in moving forward, but they were not particularly vocal.

In his assessment, the answer to improved relations lay in more confidence-building measures, people-to-people contacts and increased trade.

He further told Mr. Boucher that the considered view of his party was that foreign policy should be based on strategic interests, not populism. The Minister-designate termed the approach of Nawaz Sharif, former Prime Minister and chief of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, as aggressive and said: “Our direction may be the same, but our tone may be different. We will have to be sensitive to public opinion.”

During his meeting with Mr. Boucher, Mr. Qureshi noted that the Pakistani people had rejected the extremists. He said Pakistan understood the need for stability, continuity, peace and partnership with the West.

The cable said: “But within the coalition, there are two important players on the extremism issue. One is Awami National Party leader Asfundyar Wali Khan, who is liberal and ‘thinks like us' but is a Pashtun who looks at things differently.

“The other is Nawaz Sharif, who sounds more aggressive and belligerent than the People's Party, especially on the issue of Musharraf's (who was President at that time) future. Sharif, said Qureshi, feels he is more in line with the popular mood.”

That Mr. Qureshi was not above some populism was apparent after Pakistan Prime Minister Ali Shah Gilani dropped him as Foreign Minister in a February 2011 Cabinet reshuffle and offered him the portfolio of Water and Power.

Tapping into the strong anti-American mood on the Pakistani street, he refused the offer and declared that he had been moved out as Foreign Minister because he had spoken out against the U.S.

On Mr. Qureshi's assessment about ties with India, Mr. Boucher said it was a positive sign, and that both sides needed a nudge to make progress. “But there was concern in India that the political situation was not yet clear enough to move on a framework for Kashmir. Qureshi predicted that nothing would be possible for the next three months until the political environment matured,” the cable noted.


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