The term ‘plausible deniability’ generally implies the ability of senior officials in a hierarchical organisation to deny knowledge of or responsibility for any damnable actions committed by the junior officials primarily to escape accountability. This ‘art’ sometimes helps senior officials mitigate their culpability vis-à-vis any wrongful act. This phenomenon has frequently been observed in politics and espionage. However, now this practice is also gaining currency in international diplomacy. For many years, the AfPak region has become an active theatre of proxy wars among various regional and international players. But each player is just plausibly denying its role in the current regional destabilisation.

Somehow reversing the very diplomatic tactic of plausible deniability, Pakistan’s newly-appointed Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif has readily chosen to evolve the ‘plausible acceptability’- a novel diplomatic practice of categorically confirming the material allegations levelled by hostile countries. He, while speaking at Q&A Session at the Asia Society in New York last week, admitted that the banned outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba and its chief Hafiz Saeed were Pakistan’s liability. He asked the world community to give Pakistan time to get rid of them. Thus he just gave an impression that some proscribed organizations like LeT were still operational and functional in the country. At the same time, he also significantly endorsed international community’s typical ‘do more’ mantra. Now these uncalled-for remarks made by our Foreign Minister are being widely discussed and criticized in the country.

For a long time, Pakistan has been blamed by some countries, especially India, for using the non-state actors to advance its national agenda in the region. President Donald Trump recently levelled similar allegations against Pakistan while announcing his so-called new South Asian strategy. On the other hand, Pakistan has constantly been rejecting these allegations against it. Pakistan has officially made it clear that it had already banned all the suspected outfits, including LeJ. LeJ Chief Hafiz Saeed has been put under house arrest for many years. Therefore, now Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif is undermining Pakistan’s official narrative and position vis-a-vis the proscribed organizations inside the country by frequently talking about putting house in order.

As a matter of fact, the question of putting house in order essentially relates to Pakistan’s internal security policy rather than its foreign policy. Khawaja Asif must realize that he is not interior minister but the foreign minister of Pakistan. Therefore, he should act and behave as such. Being a foreign minister, he is supposed to actively propagate and communicate Pakistan’s national narrative and official position in the world instead of pointing out weak points in country’s internal security policy. So the very professional capacity of our worthy foreign minister to protect and advance Pakistan’s national interests at this critical juncture is observably impaired. He apparently doesn’t know even the ABC of international diplomacy and propaganda. Similarly, by equating LeT with other Afghan-based militant outfits, he just showed that he didn’t know much about the nature and chronology of militancy and extremism in the region.

There has been a strong demand for appointing a full-time foreign minister in Pakistan. However, I am convinced that merely the very act of appointing a foreign minister would hardly help improve the state and quality of country’s foreign policy. Obviously we will have also to evolve a proactive foreign policy to effectively propagate our policies and viewpoint in the world regarding the crucial national and regional issues. At the moment, our foreign ministry looks just clueless about achieving our crucial foreign policy goals. It doesn’t have any plan or policy to engage the US. We hardly know what policy decisions have been made during the recently-concluded envoys’ conference in Islamabad. China has been proactively protecting us against malicious terror-related Indian propaganda at various multilateral forums for a long time. Regrettably, now this friendly country has also endorsed India’s stance against us by asking us to do more, thanks to the professional excellence of our Foreign Office as well as new Foreign Minister.

Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj severely criticized Pakistan during her speech at UN General Assembly last week. Resorting to her signature anti-Pakistan diatribe, she called Pakistan “world’s greatest exporter of havoc, death and inhumanity”. She maintained that India had produced scholars, doctors and engineers while Pakistan was only producing terrorists. This is not the first time India is blaming Pakistan for ‘exporting terrorism’ to other countries. For many years, India has proactively launched a concerted diplomatic onslaught against Pakistan to isolate the latter internationally. For this purpose, India is actively endeavoring to tarnish the positive image of Pakistan in the world. It is now readily exploiting all the potential multilateral forums, ranging from the UN to BRICS, SAARC, HoA-IP etc.

It is quite worrisome that important countries like the US and China have just fallen prey to malicious Indian terror-related propaganda against Pakistan. Both countries have asked Pakistan to act against the terrorist outfits on its soil. At present, many European countries are being attacked by the Middle East-based terrorist outfits. Theses terror attacks have fueled strong anti-terrorism and anti-Islam sentiments in the Europe. Therefore, at this critical juncture, the terror-related Indian propaganda against Pakistan would severely tarnish the very image of Pakistan in the West. Besides adversely affecting Pakistan’s trade ties with the EU countries, it would also cause extreme hardship to millions of overseas Pakistanis there. Therefore, Pakistan now needs to evolve a proactive diplomatic strategy to project its positive image in the world. It also needs to project its distinguished counter-terror credentials.

Amid Pakistan’s repeated diplomatic follies and failures, the performance of Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at the recent session of UNGA has been a bit satisfactory and rather reasonable. She strongly reacted to the earlier anti-Pakistan diatribe by Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj at the same forum. Calling India “the mother of terrorism in South Asia”, she accused India of using terrorism as a state policy in the region. “India has been levelling allegations against Pakistan to divert international attention from the brutalities of Indian forces in held Kashmir”, she maintained. During her fiery speech, she also showed a picture of an injured girl, purportedly a victim of pallet gun attacks in the disputed valley. In my opinion, she should also have shown a photograph of Kulbhushan Yadav, an Indian high-profile spy captured by Pakistan, besides highlighting the terrorist attacks admittedly planned and carried out by him inside Pakistan, to expose Indian dirty face to the world community.

As part of its internal security policy, Pakistan should thoughtfully review the counter-terror measures recently taken by it against the proscribed organizations, including LeJ. However, whatever measures it chooses to take, the world community must reasonably be shown that Pakistan doesn’t support terrorism or any rogue non-state actors on its soil. Similarly, our Foreign Office and diplomats must also be capable of plausibly addressing the underlying concerns of the world community regarding these organizations.

Pakistan certainly needs to evolve a comprehensive, multi-pronged and multi-tiered diplomacy to offer a qualitative response to India’s extensive diplomatic maneuvering against it. In order to achieve its broader foreign policy goals, Pakistan should employ some effective tools of conventional as well as non-conventional diplomacy to effectively propagate its narrative in the world. It should also focus on improving the professional capacity of its diplomats currently serving across the world. It should also devise a diplomatic strategy to engage the US. At this stage, PML-N government should also reconsider the appointment of Khawaja Asif as the Foreign Minister of Pakistan. Indeed he is a seasoned politician and an impressive public speaker. But noticeably, he, too, is “not made for the delicate profession of diplomacy”.

The writer is a lawyer and columnist based in Lahore.