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Khawaja Muhammad Asif – Pakistan's new and hawkish Foreign Minister
Following the removal of Nawaz Sharif from prime ministership (July 28, 2017) by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, for his involvement in Panamagate scandal as after being labelled as "dishonest" and "unfit" for office, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, a wealthy businessman and close aide of Nawaz Shaif was chosen (August 2, 2018) as Pakistan's new Prime Minister.

Thereupon, Prime Minister Abbasi after marathon consultations with Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of Punjab (Pakistan), formed a 47-member new federal cabinet, which took oath on August 3, 2017. Pakistan's new federal cabinet consists of 28 federal ministers and 18 state ministers.

The new Pakistani cabinet has two major significant changes. Chaudhry Nisar Khan, a senior leader of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and former Interior Minister, who since 1988  always remained a member of the PML(N)-led cabinets,  refused to join the new  federal cabinet led by Abbasi. The other significant development is the appointment of Khawaja Muhammad Asif as Pakistan's new Foreign Minister. In the previous cabinet of Nawaz Sharif, Khawaja Asif was the Minister of Defence, Water and Power.

With the appointment of Khawaja Asif, Pakistan now has a full-time foreign minister after a gap of over four years as last time the post of foreign minister was held by Hina Rabbani Khar (February11, 2011-16 March, 2013) during Pakistan People's Party's government. Nawaz Sharif during his last tenure as Prime Minister (June 7, 2013-July 28, 2017) had also held the additional charge of foreign ministry and was assisted by Sartaj Aziz, as Advisor on Foreign Affairs.

Born in August, 1949 in Sialkot (Punjab, Pakistan), Khwaja Asif belongs to a political family. His father Khawaja Muhammad Safdar was a prominent leader of the Pakistan Muslim League and two-time member of Punjab provincial assembly as well as chairman of Majlish-i-Shorah, Pakistan.  

After completing his education in Lahore and obtaining a degree in law, Khawaja Asif migrated to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and worked there in some banks. On returning to Pakistan in l991, he joined active politics and was elected as member of the Senate of Pakistan on PML-N's seat. And in 1993 and 1997, he was elected in the National Assembly. After a military coup staged by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999, he was arrested on corruption charges, but latter released due to lack of evidence against him.

In 2002 and 2008, Khawaja was again elected to the National Assembly. During March-May 2008, he remained the Minister of Petroleum and Natural Resources. In 2013, he won National Assembly elections for the fifth time from his home constituency Sialkot and was appointed Minister for Water and Power in June, 2013 as well as Minister of Defence in November 2013 in Nawaz Sharif's cabinet until July 28, 2017, when Nawaz Sharif government was toppled by the Supreme Court of Pakistan's verdict on Panamagate scandal.    

Khawaja Muhammad Asif is a staunch Nawaaz Sharif loyalist, who stood by him during the difficult political period of Sharif brother's exile to Saudi Arabia (2000-2007) and then during the Panamagate hearings and investigations in mid-2017.   

During Nawaz Sharif's third stint as Prime Minister, Khawaja Asif was member of "kitchen cabinet" and emerged as Sharif's "aide-in-chief". However, Khawaja Asif was also blamed by his critics for encouraging  groupism in Nawaz Sharif's cabinet, as he was a strong critic of the then Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali for his  pro-military views and leanings and both were not even on talking terms during Nawaz Sharif's third term (2013-17) as Prime Minister. On the other hand, Ch Nisar Ali was critical of Khawaja Asif's style of functioning in the party and blamed him for misleading Nawaz Sharif and bringing the government to the brink. 

Despite the fact that Khawaja Asif's father was a close confident of military ruler late General Zia-ul-Haq, he regretted his late father's association with military rulers. During his political association with Nawaz Sharif, Khawaja Asif always remained critical of Pakistan army's interference in civil affairs. On several occasions his hard hitting anti-army statements were not taken well by the army brass and he was labelled as an outspoken critic of the military in Nawaz Sharif's cabinet. It was Khwaja Asif who had vehemently opposed former Pakistan army Chief Raheel Sharif's extension for three years after the end of his tenure in November, 2016 as well as elevating his rank to Field Marshal.

Khawaja Asif is a hawk and threatened India several times during his stint as Defence Minister (July, 2013-July, 2017) in Nawaz Sharif's cabinet. His anti-Indian stance became more vocal and harder after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's taking over in May, 2014. Since Pakistan army's unabated hostilities along the Line of Control (LOC) started from October, 2014, Khawaja Muhammad Asif has warned India of inflicting heavy losses in case of a war on several occasions. He had alleged that India, in a bid to divert attention of its people from internal problems and failures had been interfering in the internal matters of Pakistan.

He had also threatened of using nuclear weapons against India if Pakistan's survival was at stake, also adding that Pakistan did not make atomic device to "display in a showcase". He had denied (September, 2016) Pakistan's hand in Uri attack and alleged that India had orchestrated the attack to divert attention of the world from the Kashmir issue. Khawaja Asif had also denied (May, 2017) mutilation of Indian soldiers along the LOC in Jammu and Kashmir by Pakistan army and alleged that such allegations were made to demonise the Pakistani army as well as to deflect attention from the situation prevailing in Kashmir.

In September 2016, when 30 Indian army commandos conducted a "surgical strike" in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), it was Khawaja Asif, who had described it as "baseless and false claim" by India. He had also been critical of Afghanistan and India for allegedly joining hands to create unrest in Pakistan.

Khawaja Asif has followed a hawkish approach on Kashmir issue. He has been harsh on Prime Minister Modi whom he blames for the prevailing unrest in the Kashmir Valley. He had alleged that so-called massacre and genocide in Kashmir was an extension and re-enactment of so-called ethnic cleansing, started by Prime Minister Modi in Gujarat. He also alleged that India had made "failed attempts" to link the so-called Kashmiri struggle with cross-border infiltration and terrorism.   

While claiming China's support to Pakistan on the Kashmir issue, he criticised India in failing to garner support from "any one" on Kashmir despite "launching a diatribe" against Pakistan. Khawaja Asif also declared Pakistan's continued support to Kashmiri people and added that Kashmir would get separated from India and it would win its so-called "war for freedom". He however, described Hafiz Saeed, Chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) as a "threat" to the Pakistani society.

One of the major reasons for Pakistan's failure in its foreign policy and getting internationally isolated during Nawaz Sharif's regime is attributed to the country's not having a full time foreign minister, which has been rectified now.

However, Khawaja Asif's being vociferous and critical of Pakistani military's role in the country's political and civil affairs may add to the woes of Prime Minister Abbasi. Meanwhile, Khawaja Asif would not have much of independence and free hand while dealing with India as this subject is purely dealt by the Pakistan army.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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