HE was the first foreign minister to make his own prime minister blush. And that too in front of an Indian prime minister. Nawaz Sharif never forgave Gohar Ayub Khan for embarrassing him at the Edinburgh Commonwealth meet. Sharif, on a request from the then Indian prime minister, I.K. Gujral, said Pakistan would consider selling electric power to India. Setting aside all protocol, Gohar intervened to say that this was simply not possible.
Soon after, caught completely off guard, the strongest prime minister in Pakistan's history was told that his foreign minister had just announced that the government had recognised the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Sharif, like the proverbial wife, was the last to know.
However, the last straw on the camel's back was when Gohar made one of the strongest attacks on the US government in the National Assembly, which caught even his own cabinet members sitting there by surprise. Sharif had just convinced the country that the Americans had made it very clear that they understood Pakistan's nuclear concerns, especially the successful test fire of the Ghauri missile. The impression was that the Americans were ready for the first time to apply an even-handed approach in dealing with the issue of nuclear and missile proliferation in South Asia.
Days before the US state department clamped sanctions under the Missile Technology Control Regime on Khan Research Laboratories, the then foreign minister said that such a step would be meaningless as Pakistan was not receiving any military or economic aid from Washington. It was not only the wording but the manner in which Gohar delivered his statement that caused embarrassing ripples for the Sharif government. The ante was raised just a few months ahead of one of the most eagerly awaited visits, that of US president Bill Clinton himself.
Where was Gohar getting his controversial policy briefs from? "The government should have dismissed Gohar Ayub instead of accepting his resignation as his foreign policy had been a disaster for the country. Foreign policy shouldn't be partisan to the national party politics, it is relevant to bring this to the notice of people that Gohar should never have been assigned the portfolio of foreign affairs as his policies have proved to be disastrous," shouted Pakistan People's Party (Shaheed Bhutto) president Mubashir Hassan.
Speculation was rife in Islamabad that Gohar's policy statements gelled with the sentiments being expressed by the military establishment. Son of field marshal Ayub Khan, Gohar has strong links with the military, where his brother-in-law, General Ali Kuli Khan, is next in hierarchy only to chief of army staff General Jehangir Kara-mat. The Pakhtoon lobby is hoping that Ali Kuli will replace Karamat after he retires.
There are enough reasons for speculation linking Gohar Ayub with the military but at this stage it would be too far-fetched to succumb to conspiracy theories, including one which has it that the prime minister's secretariat and the general headquarters in Rawalpindi are at different wavelengths on foreign policy. But that there are differences in nuances is quite clear, especially in three vital areas of the foreign policy—India, Afghanistan and the US—on which mixed signals have been beamed from the foreign office under Gohar Ayub Khan.
"The impression has gained ground that our foreign policy has been in disarray and is being pushed in opposite directions by the different forces at work in Islamabad. The two key issues before the country at the moment are Afghanistan and India," cautioned the English daily Dawn in an editorial. "On both of them,
Pakistan is at the crossroads. Whoever is in charge of the foreign ministry must undertake an immediate exercise, involving all the other concerned ministries, government agencies as well as opposition parties to adopt a clear-cut and coherent line of action on the crucial issues."
But it is widely believed that as far as Indo-Pak relations are concerned, Gohar—like former high commissioner to New Delhi Riaz Khokar—was unduly hawkish."The time for hawks to be fluttering about has gone. Sharif has brought in a breath of fresh air to bilateral ties between the two neighbours and we need more people like Mushahid Hussain who understand the economic and security needs in the region but who makes it very clear that this does not mean diluting Pakistan's stand on Kashmir," a senior official at the foreign office told Outlook.
THIS is all the more true because just a day before Gohar resigned, Sharif made it clear that his government is still interested in selling power to India and in this regard a final report was awaited.
However, the timing of Gohar's resignation left much to be desired, coming as it did right after the breakdown in talks between Afghan rivals in Islamabad. What was it that made Sharif take such a drastic step, to compel his foreign minister to resign when the eyes of the world were focused on Islamabad? Gohar himself offered a rather tame alibi, saying his portfolio had kept him away from his constituency and thus there was disgruntlement amongst his voters.
But as the English daily The News commented: "The timing of this change of guard at the ministry of foreign affairs appears somewhat odd, given the fact that peace talks between the warring Afghan factions were under way in Islamabad, in which the foreign minister and his ministry have been playing a key role. But to look for rationality in such moves is perhaps quite naive since the logic of politics is often known only to its practitioners."
The prime minister had certainly not helped matters when last July he had appointed a state minister for foreign affairs, Siddique Kanju, who had also held this portfolio in the first Sharif government. Relations between the two ministers were far from cordial and Sharif was aware that Gohar was anything but pleased about sharing power. There appeared to be no sympathy for the former foreign minister, with most commentators agreeing his performance was indeed lac klustre and Gohar lacked the diplomatic skills needed.
An example of this was the statement he released through the media when he resigned. Never before has a departing minister announced that he had asked for re-assignment of portfolio and that the prime minister had agreed. The minister certainly had a knack for surprising his prime minister. "Gohar's announcement that he had asked for re-assignment of portfolio is being taken as an act of indiscipline in the official quarters. This is a blatant attempt to escape embarrassment. The prime minister has shown his displeasure and Gohar is likely to be accommodated in the cabinet with a less important portfolio," confided a cabinet member. Gohar himself is eyeing the defence ministry, a post that the prime minister has kept.
This is the second time since the return of democracy that a foreign minister has had to resign. The first was Sahibzada Yakub Khan who was told to go by the then prime minister, Muhammad Khan Junejo. Gohar has been presently asked to officiate. But his possible successors are: finance minister Sartaj Aziz, commerce minister Ishaq Dar and petroleum minister Nisar Ali Khan. Which means information minister and Nawaz crony Mushahid Hussain's dream of being named to the post might not come true again.