Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Senior Vice President Chaudhry Fawad Hussain was among several party leaders who criticized Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s visit to India for a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting in Goa. In a posting on Twitter, he declared the visit “would be disrespectful to the sacrifices made by the Kashmiris,” adding that prioritizing cooperation with India while setting aside the Kashmir issue was part of an international agenda. “This Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government was imposed on Pakistan to serve this agenda,” he alleged. Another PTI leader, Shireen Mazari, was more concerned with how the Indian external affairs minister greeted Bhutto-Zardari: “The real story is in this picture where Indian counterpart and host doesn’t put his hand out to shake Bilawal’s hand but does Namaste, as does Bilawal.”
Responding to the PTI’s criticism, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif described as “deeply troubling” the opposition party’s attempt to make the SCO meeting controversial. In a posting on Twitter, he said the PTI’s stance was not “surprising,” as its party chief Imran Khan had “no qualms about imperiling the country’s vital foreign policy interests in the past too.” In seeking to politicize a vital proponent of Pakistan’s foreign policy—the SCO—the PTI has bolstered this view, betraying willful ignorance about the multilateral, and not bilateral, nature of Bhutto-Zardari’s visit.
Speaking with journalists, Khan took a step back but did not shy from trying to score points with hyper-nationalists. The “foreign minister’s trip suggested that the incumbent government recognized the events of Aug. 5, 2019, wherein India had revoked Kashmir’s special status,” he said, adding this was why his government had broken off ties with Delhi. The fact remains that the foreign minister’s visit served Pakistan’s interests as a longstanding member of the SCO and skipping it would have accomplished little apart from isolating the country internationally. Bhutto-Zardari’s interactions with Indian media also bolstered his credentials as a diplomat and ensured space for Pakistan’s narrative in the global press.
Politicians in Pakistan must accept that it does not serve the national interest to politicize foreign policy engagements—especially as the country struggles to secure bilateral support for the revival of a long-pending IMF bailout. SCO meetings are held on a rotational basis and eventually it will be Pakistan’s turn to host it once more, with India undoubtedly participating without fear of any opposition backlash. It is time for the PTI to mature into its status as a major political party of Pakistan and avoid trying to score “points” against its opponents solely for personal interests. The country comes first; all else is secondary.