|Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi
July 16: Clean-shaven and urbane, he looks a far cry from the tough-as-nails former military ruler. Still, Shah Mehmood Qureshi has become the new Pervez Musharraf for many Indians, thanks to the chutzpah he has shown since yesterdays foreign ministers talks.
First, the Pakistan foreign minister got the Indian political establishments goat by apparently equating home secretary G.K. Pillai with Lashkar-e-Toiba founder Hafiz Saeed at last evenings joint news conference with counterpart S.M. Krishna.
Today, he appeared to question Krishnas authority by claiming he constantly received instructions from New Delhi over the phone during their talks, drawing howls of protest from both the ruling Congress and the Opposition BJP.
The Indian delegation did not come mentally prepared… Qureshi said. (The) Indian foreign minister received foreign policy directions from New Delhi repeatedly during our meeting. I led Pakistans team and I didnt need to make even a single phone call.
Krishna, after his return here today, reacted to Qureshis extraordinary statement by asserting he did not take any calls during the talks and that he would not have been wrong had he done so.
However, if anyone was willing to see in the Pakistani ministers remarks a welcome dose of naughtiness to spice up the often ponderous tone of international diplomacy, they were not to be found among the spokespersons for Indias two biggest parties.
BJP leader Sushma Swaraj asked Delhi to call off talks with Pakistan because the nation could not possibly bear insults again and again.
Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan bristled: I would not look for a certificate by the Pakistan foreign minister. Our external affairs minister fulfilled the mandate and conducted himself with the utmost dignity.
Qureshis statements may remind many of the adeptness Musharraf had shown in turning the tables on the Indians, such as when he used a televised meeting with Indian editors during the 2002 Agra summit to make a series of belligerent remarks.
Pakistan Peoples Party leader Qureshis background is quite different from the Mohajir generals, though.
He was born in 1956 to an influential political clan in Multan, the City of Sufi Saints, where his family has long been a guardian of Islamic shrines. He studied at top-of-the-line institutions in Pakistan and abroad and did his masters from Cambridge.
Qureshi, whose father Makhdoom Sajjad Hussain Qureshi was governor of Punjab in the 1980s, was elected to the Punjab provincial assembly in 1985. He was Punjabs finance minister in 1990-1993 and Pakistans junior minister for parliamentary affairs from 1994 to 1996 during Benazir Bhuttos second term as Prime Minister.
The suave politician, who has a son and two daughters, has represented Pakistan at almost all important international forums in addition to being a key negotiator in talks with India, the US and Britain.
However, the extent to which he has needled the Indians was obvious from former foreign minister Yashwant Sinhas barb today that Qureshi did not deserve to be foreign minister, not even a second secretary in the diplomatic mission.
I think the foreign minister of Pakistan does not know the ABC of diplomacy. He has to learn the basic elements of diplomacy i.e. courtesy and respect, Sushma said.
The Congress slammed Qureshis comments on Pillai. Qureshi, asked at yesterdays news conference why Saeed was not being prevented from making anti-India speeches, had shot back: I want to know to what extent did the Indian home secretarys statement on the eve of this dialogue help?
Pillai had accused Pakistani spy agency ISI of controlling and co-ordinating the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
For the moment Qureshi, who is close to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, has a clean financial and political record and enjoys a following among the youth for his perceived dynamism, can congratulate himself on his handling of the Indians. He, however, would also be aware how Musharraf, for all his cockiness and bluster, had failed to stave off his downfall on Pakistans treacherous political terrain.