Bilawal details achievements of foreign ministry in his tenure
Says world response to 2022 devastating floods, exiting from FATF grey list and IMF program topped achievements.
ISLAMABAD: Outgoing Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on his last day in office on Wednesday evening spoke in details about the achievement of the ministry during the one and a half years of his stint.
Speaking at a press conference here, he said: “When I assumed the position of the Foreign Minister, a bit more than a year ago, Pakistan’s foreign policy was under serious stress; compounded significantly by domestic political turmoil and a dire economic outlook.”
He said Pakistan’s commitment to CPEC was being questioned; our relations with the US at an all-time low; our traditional partnerships with the Gulf countries at a sub-optimal level;
uncertainty loomed over GSP+ and future trajectory of relations with Europe. We were in the FATF grey-list; and the trust deficit with IMF was at an all-time high.
“All this was in addition to persistent foreign policy challenges on our eastern and western borders, and a renewed threat of terrorism.”
Bilawal said before we could settle, Pakistan was rocked by climate-induced catastrophic floods, requiring a robust international response to meet urgent domestic needs.
“I do not claim that we have encountered every challenge successfully. But I must share with you that today I feel we have achieved more than what I thought we would at the start of my tenure as the Foreign Minister.
“We have just celebrated the 10th anniversary of the CPEC in Islamabad with Chinese Vice Premier in attendance. The help and assistance our government has received from China, politically and economically, gives me confidence about the health of Pakistan’s relationship with its Iron-brother.”
Three senior official-level delegations from the US visited Pakistan in the second half of July 2023 from the Treasury Department, NSC and one from private sector. The last one year saw consistently high level of engagement with the US government. I am glad that we now have a path with the US to rebuild and strengthen bilateral ties.
He said what gave him satisfaction, however, was that the positive trajectory in our relations with both US and China have been pursued with clarity, underpinned by our consistent position that we do not want to be dragged into a global competition.
“Also, I draw particular satisfaction on how Pakistan maintained its principled position on the Ukraine conflict. Despite all the doubts and apprehensions in media, our voting pattern on related resolutions in multilateral fora remained unchanged.”
He also said we invested significant effort in engaging both sides of the divide, and “today, I believe there is a greater understanding of Pakistan’s position.”
This is clearly evidenced by our closer engagement with the US and the EU, burgeoning energy cooperation with Russia, and visits to Pakistan by the Foreign Ministers of Belarus and Ukraine.
This broad, deep and meaningful engagement with all countries also helped building trust with the countries that sit on the IMF board. Its coming to fruition last month was a gratifying moment.
“It was owed in equal amount to the assistance given to Pakistan by China, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – a sign that our traditional partners are standing firmly with us. I am happy that we were able to contribute to this national effort led by the Prime Minister.”
He said exiting the FATF grey-list was an important development for Pakistan. The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar led this effort as Chairperson of the National FATF Coordination Committee.
“In this regard, years of technical work and progress by all national stakeholders needed to be recognized internationally. We were able to project our progress successfully, and have it duly recognized by the FATF, thwarting diplomatically the designs of a major detractor.”
He said instead of celebrating this success, we remained focused on the job. We also led a legislative process to ensure that our gains in FATF are consolidated.
Engaging Europe and UK constructively was a priority for us. Countless meetings, in bilateral visits to and from Europe, as well as on the sidelines of multilateral meetings have reinvigorated our ties.
“We seek from these countries better access for our goods, visa facilitation especially for students, work opportunities for our skilled people and cooperation in education, science and technology.”
Continuation of GSP+ facility is another positive development.
There is immense potential in our constructive partnership with this region. We believe we have set the tone and corrected the course. Successive governments need to continue working in the same direction.
On Afghanistan, our approach has been quite clear and forthwith.
We will do everything we can for our brethren – the Afghan people.
We have maintained a robust practical engagement with the Afghan Interim government – working on areas such as security, border control and markets, commerce, health, education, transit trade and almost every facet of bilateral cooperation.
“Throughout this feverish and extensive diplomatic push, we never compromised on the core tenet of our foreign policy – Kashmir; Even as I participated in the SCO Foreign Ministers’ meet in Goa this year, becoming the voice of the oppressed Kashmiris of the Indian Occupied Kashmir was my foremost priority.”
Our statements at the General Assembly last year and other multilateral forums; the resolutions of the OIC Summit;
The visit of the Secretary General of the OIC to Azad Kashmir; and
the dissemination of dossiers to the international community on continued Indian brutality on Muslims of the IIOJK.
As a Foreign Minister of an Islamic Republic, and also as the last chairman of the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers, I take pride in taking the lead on countering Islamophobia, and denouncing acts of blasphemy against the Holy Prophet (PBUH) or nefarious acts of desecration of our Holy Book.
“As the Chair of the OIC Group at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, we tabled and got successfully adopted the resolution on “Countering Religious Hatred Constituting Incitement to Discrimination, Hostility or Violence.”
Since I assumed Office I worked to ensure that we were constantly evolving and improving to stay ahead in these times of multi-dimensional transition. I realized that reforms within the Ministry were long overdue and inevitable.
Therefore, under the overall vision of the Change Management Initiative, we succeeded in implementing reform across diverse work streams and thematic frameworks of the Ministry. The end state vision was to bring a paradigm shift in the way we conduct our business, and to transform this Ministry into a modern institution that worked like a well-oiled machine, where antiquated procedures and internal inefficiencies were relics of the past.
In total, we implemented 51 reform initiatives including through automation and digitalization of functions pertaining to human resources, administration and finance. As well as in areas of communication and security, logistics, career development and mobility framework, knowledge management, public diplomacy, consular and protocol services, and last but not the least, training facilities at the Foreign Service Academy.
At my first interaction with my officers when I took over this office in April last year and spoke to them at a town hall meeting, I committed to support them in meeting their longstanding demands relating to harmonization of their pay and allowances and cadre strength. I am happy to report that we delivered on all those commitments successfully.
Also, given the centrality of MOFA’s role in managing intergovernmental relations, we made sure that that Ministry had a seat on the table on the deliberative forums discussing issues of economy, trade and foreign investment including more recently at the SIFC and reconstituted board of the BOI.
To ensure effective follow-up and coordination for implementation of the action points that emerged from my interactions during my official travels abroad, we developed an ‘Action Matrix’, which contains the inventory of Pakistan’s commitments to our bilateral and multilateral partners, organized thematically according to the tasks falling under the responsibility of respective Ministries, Provincial Governments, and Federal Agencies.
Bilawal said the three of major successes of the efforts of the foreign ministry were: effusive international response to the 2022 floods, which, we also galvanized as chair of the G-77 towards creation of a loss & damage fund by COP-29; FATF de-listing; and, renewal of the IMF plan.