Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Pakistan Foreign Minister - Mr. Shah Mehmood Qureshi

Pakistan High Commission on Monday, 29 June

I attended a talk by the Pakistan Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, at the Pakistan High Commission in Knightsbridge on Monday, 29 June. The purpose of the talk was to address Pakistani professionals in the UK, update the community about the security situation in Pakistan and, how the Pakistani community could help out in terms of improving the image of Pakistan. As my brother is a working professional living and working in the UK (who was also recently made a British citizen) he went and thankfully, asked me to come along as well. It was nice to be in the High Commission, it made me a bit nostalgic for the good old times when our father was still serving in the Foreign Service and we used to regularly go visit him at his office in all the embassies we were with. 

It was a lively gathering at the High Commission. The talk started a bit later than scheduled. I was familiar with a few faces I had seen at all the talks and events I have been to at SOAS or LSE (including a British-Pakistani fellow I heard talk at the " " "Pakistan Cultural Show" " " about adopting a kid from Pakistan through the Edhi Trust).  I could see that whatever I have heard of in terms of the Bhutto cult being cultivated by the current government is true. Apart from the Quaid's portrait there were two of Benazir and two of her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. 

The Foreign Minister finally arrived along with the High Commissioner. He was very charming and greeted everyone in the room, taking time to chat with all of us. 

The Minister spoke of an initiative he has taken with the Pakistani-American community and the support he received from Hillary Clinton. He said that he would like to start something similar here in the UK. About the security situation, he said that the previous government had failed because they were only employing military solutions while, the current government was trying political as well as military solutions. It was imperative that a peace agreement with the Taliban be tried first although it eventually failed because they did not hold up their end of the deal. The Army has secured most of the troubled region and the irreconcilable 'miscreants' are being dealt with i.e. destroyed. Moreover, the Army intends maintain a permanent presence in the area. The resulting humanitarian situation is also being dealt with accordingly. A Prime Minister's Fund has been set up and, the government has also asked for international assistance. 

I found that the Minister was an okay speaker. He was not mind-blowingly eloquent nor cringingly incoherent either - somewhere in the middle I guess, if that's what he's going for. He came off as your average guy which is endearing I guess. He was not trying to give off any statesman like vibes at all but then again, it does not hurt to have statesman-like qualities either.  

All the analysis that I have seen thusfar - whether it was Ahmed Rashid's or Asma Jehangir's lectures at SOAS or various articles - is that the Pakistan government was disinterested in really dealing with the so-called Taliban problem within its territory for various reasons including i) keeping the Taliban for a rainy day ii) a splintered ISI and Army iii) too busy with the Indian border. At the same time, a lot of my friends have been serving in Swat and it's not joke. I had framed a question but never got the chance to ask it as I kept getting skipped over. 

Improving the image of Pakistan - I love this. For the longest time, I remember we have always been trying to 'improve' our image. This has been the project of military and democratic regimes. And what does it boil down to? Staging a fashion show. Oh well, whatever it takes to convince the rest of the world we're not a bunch of fundos or weirdo's or whatever we think the world thinks of us. I wonder if 20 years from now we'll still be trying to 'improve our image.'

One of the questions was from an academic from King's actually (whom we met later in the reception) related to the continuing colonial attitudes towards our 'frontier' people whom neither the Raj nor we managed to fold into our state project as they were irrevocably a bit rough around the edges, forever at the edge of civilisation. It reminded me of the 'borders and borderlands' topic as well as the 'Waiting for the Barbarians' theme in our last lecture. 

There was a question about what we were doing with the Indians. This part was my favourite! The Minister said that talks were to be re-started. He said that he was Bombay when the attacks happened and he used the opportunity to reach out, console and talk at whatever opportunity he had. In fact, he had been asked to leave as they got fed up of him. He said that 'rhoothay huyay saeenya ko mana rahain hain.' I absolutely adored him for saying this. It was so funny, sweet, honest and totally without pretension. THIS is what makes Pakistanis SO COOL. 

The reason I find the Pakistanis COOL for having this attitude is that I have been sorely disappointed by the average Indian attitude towards us Pakistanis. I mean, I always knew that we were brainwashed by our anti-Indian propaganda vis a vis Kashmir. "The Indians were massacring and raping our poor Kashmiri's in Occupied Kashmir." "The Indians were seven times bigger than us but bullying us, cutting off our water supply, trying to strangle us at the time of our birth, in collusion with the Brits, etc, etc."  But I have felt that the propaganda and the old conflict has given way to more awareness and even a questioning of the history and identity within Pakistan. We still want to have our homeland and our Pakistani identity but I do feel that people have started to re-think the whole two-nation-theory or the idea of partition. Moreover, because we have been under military rule for so long, we have questioned our Army's adventures and hijacking of our state.  I am not sure of what the Indians think and whether or not they realise that the decades of hostility between our countries was an utter and tragic waste of time and resources but I imagine they are on the same page. However, as far as brainwashing and suspicion is concerned I was very annoyed and surprised at the time of the Mumbai attacks. Not only did Indian friends ask me 'why are you doing this to us?' but I was very disgusted by the call-for-blood voices coming from the Indian side whether it was the state or commentators. Sometimes it feels that the Indian democracy is going the of the US in terms of homogenisation, total media brainwashing, war-mongering, demonisation and genocide of minorities, etc. I listened to a BBC podcast where Lahoris and Bombayites were invited to talk via phone link after the Bombay attacks. The Lahoris more or less seemed to be reaching out and talking in a constructive manner (let's get together, please come over, we are sorry about what happened) while the Bombayites were accusatory, suspicious, clue-less, angry and generally ill-mannered in what was should have been a constructive and bridge-building talk. 

So I totally respect the Minister sahib for saying 'ke 'rhoothay huyay saeenya ko mana rahain hain.' It was very cool and statesmanlike and desi! 

On that note, let's listen to some Nayyara Noor and have a cup of tea!

PS. To say something in favour of the Indians - they go around saying that Pakistanis are better looking than Indians! Anu told me that Qureshi is 'gorgeous.' Maybe conflict resolution would finally work if we just complimented each other more, played more cricket and did a lot more of 'phehlay aap, phehlay aap.' 

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