Save the foreign service of Pakistan
The decision to bring Pakistan back on track is as important as getting one’s priorities in order. Setting one’s priorities becomes even more important if the available time to complete one’s agenda is limited.
May it be offering an olive branch to India or sending fresh bouquets to China & KSA or dispatching greeting cards to the US and EU, the success of the new PM’s Foreign Policy would largely depend on the performance of the Foreign Service of Pakistan. Yes, one is referring to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, an integral part of the Government but in dire need of assurances that it actually existed in the eyes of policy-makers. Not that it was the best Service in the world but the recent treatment meted out to its Officials through severe reprimands and online bashing or the mismanagement at home or delay in implementing posting plans and promotions on merit and service record or its senior officers reduced to perform duties as probationers, have not only made a mockery of the once most sought-after Service Group but also rendered it almost ineffective even in its own eyes.
Imagine a Pakistani Ambassador anywhere in the world attending a routine national day reception where diplomats of the world and high local officials intermingle and exchange views on bilateral, regional and international issues. Imagine the kind of pressure on him to explain the details of a cable he never saw or read and was required to defend it. Imagine the embarrassment when everyone avoids him thinking about being erroneously quoted and subsequently defending a posture one might not have taken. Imagine his diplomatic colleagues making fun of him, posing all sorts of unsettling questions. ‘Look at the power of an unverified cable. It actually changed the entire complexion of a country’s national political scene, even the government. Would Pakistan allow its envoys to communicate through cables anymore or follow the SOPs and call them to headquarters to explain such ‘threats’ in-person? Worst still, imagine he is denied meetings at the host Foreign Office and instead, is asked to convey whatever is to be conveyed, in writing.
The low-morale of the Service could also be gauged by the fact that not a single voice was heard in favour of the poor soul whose name should be mentioned in the Guinness book of world record as the only envoy in diplomatic history whose routine message: became the ultimate argument to stay in power; created a mystery around a bloodless regime-change; witnessed the only NTM against his country’s PM succeeding; saw the emergence of an opposition-led Government in Pakistan for the first time in history; and, effectively divided and polarised an already politically vulnerable nation.
One wonders how this cablegate rigmarole would have been handled during the tenures of Foreign Secretaries who used to run the Ministry of Foreign Affairs themselves or defended their juniors in such extreme circumstances like a solid rock. One feels sorry for the current lot of officers who are required to defend themselves entirely on their own without having any cushion between them and the powers that be. It pains to see an erstwhile prestigious institution losing not only its decree but also the courage to at least speak up on matters directly related to the Service let alone playing its expected lead-role in formulating the Foreign Policy. Gone are the days of professionalism when leadership would rely on assessments made by the Foreign Office before addressing policy matters. Luckily, one has seen former Foreign Ministers paying casual visits to the Foreign Secretary’s Office for a quick piece of advice. One has also seen Foreign Secretaries saying ‘no’ to the higher-ups, particularly on matters of postings abroad. Or, a dignified Foreign Secretary who resigned instead of compromising on his integrity and professional ethics.
The apparently divided and politically polarised nation needs immediate pro-active measures not only on the economic front but also in the realm of Foreign Policy. The assurances from the Army Chief and his Commanders of providing internal and external ‘security’ to the country must encourage PM Sharif to take bold but wise steps to salvage the dismal national predicament. The nation does not need any promises anymore. It needs action. The announced relief package, the economic reforms and the decision to mend ways and fences with the world must be considered as the first step towards ridding the country of the ‘wonderland’ created by aimless grandiloquence.
Similarly, the disparagingly bruised and clueless Foreign Service of Pakistan needs immediate surgery and proper treatment, enabling it to get up on its feet again to play its due role in furthering Pakistan’s national interest.
PM Sharif may wish to address the Foreign Service Fraternity including all Ambassadors posted abroad; give them their due respect; allay their fears of becoming victims of ‘ghosts’, assure them of meritocracy and fair play in postings and promotions; require all Ambassadors to make the overseas Pakistanis their first and foremost priority, second being bringing investment to Pakistan; and, let them work as Ambassadors and not medieval-age slaves.
PM may wish to require the Foreign Office and all Ambassadors to explain afresh to the world what Pakistan actually stands for.
PM may also wish to convene urgent Board Meetings for promotions and require the Foreign Office to prepare posting plans on merit and ensure their timely implementation. Last but not least, the Foreign Minister may let the Foreign Office run independent of his or her ‘constituency politics and constraints’. The Foreign Secretary must perform his duties as the Principal Accounting Officer (PAO) and be allowed to exercise all powers vested in him as a Federal Secretary. Perhaps, these steps will enable the ailing Foreign Service of Pakistan in weaning off the ventilator.