Qureshi invites parliamentary leaders to offer input on foreign policy

Updated March 06, 2019

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Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi addresses the parliament. — DawnNewsTV
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi addresses the parliament. — DawnNewsTV

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Wednesday invited PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif and other parliamentary leaders to offer their input on Pakistan's foreign policy.

Qureshi, speaking after Bilawal's address to the house, responded to the PPP leader's offer for help, saying: "I would like to thank PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif for showing solidarity with the people Pakistan in this state of alertness.

"Bilawal offered that in these testing times, he is willing to take a bipartisan approach on foreign policy. I take this offer and I invite Bilawal and Shahbaz Sharif and the leader of the MMA to the foreign office. We are willing to seek their input on foreign policy, because this is a time when the nation stands together; to send a message to the East that Pakistan is united to defend itself."

Qureshi also officially identified Wing Commander Nauman Ali Khan as the Pakistan Air Force pilot who shot down the second Indian airplane in the dogfight last week.

The foreign minister made the revelation after Bilawal, during his speech, had paid tribute to Squadron Leader Hassan Siddiqui for downing Indian Air Force (IAF) Wg Cdr Abhinandan's MiG-21 aircraft on Feb 27.

"One clarification: Bilawal paid tribute to Hassan Siddiqui as he's absolutely a national hero," Qureshi said. "But I would like to clarify that two Indian planes were shot down. The other one was shot down by Wg Cdr Nauman Ali Khan," he added, asking that the second pilot also be given due credit.

Qureshi, responding to Bilawal's claim that Prime Minister Imran Khan had taken a risk by prematurely releasing the Indian pilot, said: "This was discussed and we did it in Pakistan's interest. We thought by doing that we would be [sending] a message of de-escalation and that message went loud and clear, and was appreciated all over the world."

Bilawal, in his address, had seconded his father and fellow PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari's stance that the foreign minister should not have boycotted the Council of Foreign Ministers at the OIC summit.

Qureshi, as he had done last week, defended his decision.

"This was an important decision and we weighed the pros and cons of not doing so. There was a divided opinion in the house. Many experts, as Mr Zardari aptly put, thought that Pakistan should engage. Another view was also from a major opposition party. Khawaja Asif very articulately said that Pakistan should protest and boycott the session."

Qureshi told the house that PML-N's Khurram Dastagir Khan, who was negotiating with the government on behalf of the government, had in fact wanted the parliament's joint resolution to mention that Pakistan was "completely boycotting" the OIC summit instead of just skipping the inaugural session.

Dastagir, who was in the parliament at the time, nodded in agreement with Qureshi's assertion.

"The resolution was then signed and passed unanimously [by the parliament]," said Qureshi.

"Then, when a joint session had spoken and commanded the foreign minister of Pakistan to boycott the CFM, what was I supposed to do?" he asked.

"We respected the sanctity of parliament and 'bowed our head in deference to its wishes,' as Mr Zardari put it," he concluded.

'Nation united against foreign aggression'

Bilawal earlier thanked the Speaker for allowing opposition parties to speak on the budget.

"It would have been an unprecedented move were there not to be a debate on the budget. And while we thank you for that I must reiterate, on the floor of the House, that it would be most appropriate if there was a complete and proper debate on the finance bill."

He then paid tribute to the "brave soldiers who sacrifice so much to keep us safe".

He made special mention of the Pakistan Air Force, "which has one again proven that it is indeed the best air force in the world".

"I would like to make special mention of PAF pilot Hasan Siddiqui, who shot down the Indian aircraft that had violated our sovereign territory. And the two courageous soldiers Shaheed Abdul Rab and Shaheed Khurram, who sacrificed their lives on the Line of Control (LoC)."

PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto addressing parliamentarians. —DawnNewsTV
PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto addressing parliamentarians. —DawnNewsTV

The PPP chairman also sought to remind the people that it would be remiss for him not to mention Zulfikar Ali Bhutto "whose foresight in developing Pakistan's nuclear capability is today our best line of defense" and Benazir Bhutto "who provided missile technology to Pakistan and further strengthened our defense".

He said the onus for the "naked aggression" shown by India and the escalation "falls solely and squarely on the shoulders of Mr [Narendra] Modi's Hindutva extremist government".

"To exploit a terrorist attack for petty political gain is awful in and of itself, but to politicise war between two nuclear armed nations just so he can perform in his electoral arena is really to descend to new depths of depravity," Bilawal regretted.

He went on to say that Modi's tyrannical government has "broken all records of inhumanity".

"We have watched in horror as the world stood idly by while young Kashmiris were blinded by pellet guns, while they were used as human shields, while rape was deployed as the weapon of suppression, oppression and terror," he said while highlighting the plight of Kashmiris to chants of "shame" resounding throughout the House.

"The United Nations resolution calling for a plebiscite in Kashmir gathers dust while the world is apathetic to the plight of Kashmiri muslims."

He called for the plebiscite to take place and for Kashmiris to "deploy the democratic right and choose their destiny".

"And we can guarantee Mr Speaker, there will be no such terrorist attack in Kashmir ever again [once that happens]," he said.

Bilawal said that while it was natural to expect from those condemning violence to do so on all sides, there was a distinction between the Pulwama attack and that of Mumbai, for example.

"This was not an attack by non-state actors coming from another country. This was an organic, domestic attack by a Kashmiri citizen of occupied Kashmir attacking within occupied Kashmir, using explosives found within occupied Kashmir, reacting violently to generations of state terrorism in occupied Kashmir."

He said that India, instead of addressing its own issues, was trying in vain to pin the blame on Pakistan.

"After the humiliating electoral defeat in the last regional elections, the extremist Indian government can think they can hate-monger their way through the general elections."

Bilawal said that Pakistan had made the most utmost and sincerest efforts for de-escalation. He appreciated the cooperation shown by opposition members.

"We showed a united front to the world. There was no petty politicking at the time of the attack."

He said it was commendable that none of the opposition joined the Difa-i-Pakistan council and took out rallies against the government. "And none of them dared to declare Imran Khan a security risk for trying to make peace overtures to India," he added.

He also extended appreciation to the chief of army staff on behalf of all the parliamentary members who "promptly at a time of crisis[...]briefed parliamentary leaders".

"This is how democracy functions," he declared but in the same breath criticised the prime minister's absence from the briefing, saying it was the "wrong message to send the world".

"It was another case of putting egos before the nation and the prime minister should not have failed that test," he added as the treasury benches thumped the tables in agreement.

He proceeded to say that in his opinion "the prime minister had taken a risk to release the pilot so soon".

"We all believe in humanity and de-escalation but there has to be a strategy. Without any form of reciprocation from India, without any international guarantees for de-escalation, one must question the [wisdom] and the timing of this decision," the young parliamentarian said, seeking to reason with other members of the parliament.

He expressed hope, however, that the risk pays off.

Bilawal also raised questions over the decision not to attend the OIC gathering of foreign ministers.

"It was a missed opportunity to present our case more vigorously in front of the world on a world platform, directly to the leaders of the muslim world," he stressed.

He said a protest could have been registered all the same by attending and protesting in front of the Indian foreign minister. "Boycotting such an important forum is akin to cutting one's nose to spite one's face," he remarked.

He then moved on to discuss the calls made earlier this week to nominate the prime minister for the Nobel peace prize, inviting chuckles and desk thumping once more from parliamentarians.

"I don't know Mr Speaker. Perhaps we just want to be embarassed."

He said the resolution had presented the government with quite the conundrum where it was difficult to not have voted in the resolution and at the same time if it had passed, Pakistan would have been "no less than an international joke".

The PPP leader expressed relief that the government "had taken another U-turn on this position as well".

Bilawal quickly took a more serious position, thereafter, whereby he pledged the opposition's service "when it comes to actively resolving the conflict, taking concrete steps towards de-escalation and showing unity on the world stage".