Shah Mehmood Qureishi is emerging as the likeliest candidate for foreign minister in the new government in Pakistan, although a reluctant one. There is still a week to go before Imran Khan is sworn in as Prime Minister on August 18, and the leadership of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is still in the process of choosing among claimants for various top jobs.
The 62-year-old Qureishi, who was foreign minister in the Pakistan People’s Party government before he quit the party over differences with PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari, was very keen to become Punjab chief minister, a powerful position.
But he is out of the Punjab race, having lost the provincial assembly seat he contested. Though he could still make it to the assembly in a by-election, Qureishi has powerful lobbies ranged against him within the party who do not want him to ascend to the chief ministership of Pakistan’s biggest and most important province.
His name was next tipped for Speaker, but long-time PTI member Asad Qaiser was on Friday named for the post.
Qureishi’s name is “almost final” for foreign ministership, a prominent member of the PTI, who did not wish to be quoted, told The Sunday Express. Qureishi was among those present at the meeting between Imran Khan and Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria.
In India, Qureishi is remembered for the furore he created in 2010 at a joint press conference with then Indian Minister for External Affairs S M Krishna in Islamabad, during which he said publicly that Krishna was taking real-time instructions from Delhi during talks with him, and that this had effectively scuttled chances of reviving the dialogue that had stalled after the Mumbai attacks.
Qureishi was on a visit to India during the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and after braving the media for a day, cut short the trip and returned to Pakistan as tensions between the two countries rose. Later, he articulated the position that India had not cooperated with Pakistan in the investigation of the attack.
The Cambridge-educated Qureishi is now seen as the only candidate for the Foreign Office as other likely choices have been fitted elsewhere.
Chaudhary Sarwar, who won a place to the Senate on a PTI nomination earlier this year, and was being seen as possible foreign minister, has been made Punjab Governor. Shireen Mazari, a strategic affairs specialist who has advised Imran Khan on foreign affairs since at least 2012, was never a serious contender for the portfolio.
For Qureishi, PTI vice-president and an influential member since 2011, the Foreign Office is a suitably important position, although he is most reluctant to accept it, said a source close to the PTI leadership.
Imran Khan is keen to fill the slot with a top party member as he had been critical of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for not appointing a foreign minister, settling instead for an “advisor on foreign policy”.
Fawad Chaudhary, PTI spokesman, told The Sunday Express that he could not comment on who would become foreign minister yet, as Cabinet portfolios were still being finalised.
Chaudhary said that “the only dignitaries from outside Pakistan” invited to Imran Khan’s swearing-in are his friends from the world of Indian cricket — Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Navjot Singh Sidhu.
“We wanted to invite the leaders of SAARC countries, but our Foreign Office advised against it as there is not enough time now to allow foreign leaders to adjust their schedules to accept the invitation,” Chaudhary said.