ISLAMABAD - The PML-N government has decided to go for a political appointee for the key diplomatic slot in London and picked Kamran Shafi, a columnist and a long time friend of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, to be Pakistan’s next High Commissioner to the UK.
He will replace Mr Wajid Shamsul Hasan, the political appointee of the previous PPP government.
Mr Kamran Shafi’s agreement (request for consent of the host government) was dispatched to London Thursday, according to diplomatic sources.
Kamran Shafi goes back to where former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had appointed him as the Press Counsellor in the Nineties. Mr Shafi is a columnist known for the most vocal criticism of the Taliban and of the ‘deep state’.
Observers are quick to note that this appointment is a purely political one and they see utility for the ruling party in appointing a vocal media person with less known diplomatic skills as Pakistan’s top diplomat in London.
London is a key capital for any ruling party in Pakistan not just for diplomatic, defence and commercial reasons but also because leaders of two key opposition parties have a strong support base there.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan enjoys celebrity status both in the Pakistani community and media in the UK. MQM’s key man Altaf Hussain also resides there, so the new High Commissioner will have to be the political shield for the PML-N government.
It is essentially the Sharif family’s comfort level with Mr Kamran Shafi which has got him this posting. The same was the case with his predecessor Wajid Shamsul Hasan whose close links with the Bhutto family won him the important diplomatic assignment.
London has been an important political hub and a favourite refuge for Pakistani leaders forced into self-exile including Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, Pervez Musharraf and Altaf Hussain.
UN PR SLOT: Meanwhile, the government’s decision on another high profile diplomatic post of Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN mission in New York is still awaited. The position is currently held by Ambassador Masood Khan and the government has decided against an extension.
It is not clear yet whether the government will opt for a career diplomat or a political appointee. A strong candidate put forward by the Foreign Office is Pakistan’s current Ambassador to Italy, Ms Tehmina Janjua, who also served as the Foreign Office Spokesperson prior to her appointment as the ambassador. She was specially flown in on Wednesday from Rome and introduced to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Ms Janjua has extensive experience in the multilateral diplomacy and held key positions at the UN missions in New York and Geneva.
However, Pakistan’s two-time Ambassador to the US, Dr Maleeha Lodhi, who has also served as High Commissioner to the UK, appears to be another strong contender for the prized post.
When asked if Dr Maleeha Lodhi was being considered for the top UN post in New York, a source close to the Prime Minister said: “Possible. Any talented person could be considered.”
Both Ms Janjua and Dr Lodhi are strong candidates in their own right and are known for their competence and professionalism.