Our man in France: another perspective

Aminullah Chaudry The appointment of Jahanzeb Khan, a District Management Group (DMG) officer, presently posted as Secretary Livestock Punjab has kicked up a storm. The Association of former Ambassadors (AFA) is said to have written to the Prime Minister, calling for a reversal of this appointment. Serving officers in the Foreign Office were preparing for court action until they were dissuaded by the foreign secretary himself. Newspaper reports would have us believe that the foreign minister made a number of unsuccessful attempts to raise this issue with the president. If articles in the print media are anything to go by, Jahanzeb does not seem to have too many supporters. His appointment has been defended by Tasneem Noorani, a former member of Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP), not a DMG officer as Asif Ezdi mistakenly claims. Mr Noorani is of the view that the trade related performance of a functionary in an embassy should be the ultimate criteria of judging his worth. This line of reasoning would only be acceptable if the statistics support such a thesis. They do not. Throughout the regime of General Musharraf, we were fed stories about how our exports would expand by leaps and bounds. In this scheme of things, dynamic young trade counsellor, drawn mostly, it must be acknowledged, from the DMG, were to play a focal role. Mr. Noorani and other commerce secretaries before and after him would surely admit that such ambitious targets were never achieved. Our exports today are half that of Vietnam's. The notion that a partially successful commercial counsellor would make a good Ambassador is therefore not tenable. Equally, the position taken by some retired diplomats on Mr Jahanzeb's appointment rests on shaky ground. Shamshad Ahmad, Tayyab Siddiqui and Iftikhar Murshed, all retired ambassadors, go on ad nauseum about the training of Foreign Service Officers, their proficiency at diplomatic skills, building bridges, removing misunderstandings and behaving with dignity and composure. They confidently assert that the Foreign Service produces a superior category of human beings who, in Mr Shamshad's words, "conduct themselves with dignity and composure." Is he telling us that all other civil servants are a group of uncivilised brutes who are not even aware of the basics of table manners? Regrettably, these gentlemen have over reacted and in expressing their disapproval, have used condescending language. Shamshad Ahmad calls Jahanzeb as a "DMG type". When Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto abolished all services, he rechristened the erstwhile Foreign Service as the Foreign Affairs Group (FAG). How would Mr Shamshad react if he were called a "FAG type"? Another former diplomat, Tayyab Siddiqui adopts a different line of attack. He says that the appointment of Jahanzeb has dealt a body blow to merit. He then goes on to say that the "PPP in its previous incarnations had a record of its disregard of merit." Signalling out a particular political party in this manner is uncharitable. Was it on merit that Mr Siddiqui became the first beneficiary of a military dictator immediately after the coup of July 5, 1977, when he was pulled out of oblivion and given an ambassadorial appointment to Jordan? Mr Siddiqui severely criticises the summary removal of a certain batch mate, who in his words is "a diplomat of international stature." Would Mr Siddiqui care to elaborate as to whether this diplomat was on an extension after reaching the age of retirement; whether he had at any time in his career served anywhere other than Europe and North America; whether his conduct was not severely criticised when he manhandled a lady in New York; whether this diplomat had not got Swiss/US nationality, and finally, is it not true that he settled in the United States after retirement? Mr Siddiqui questions the qualifications of his illustrious batchmate's successor. Hussain Haroon is the grandson of Sir Abdullah Haroon, a person who played no small part in Sindh's active participation in the Pakistan Movement. He has been Speaker of the Sindh Assembly and expresses himself better in English than most career diplomats. Another batchmate of Mr Siddiqui, whose interest in the ivory trade was known to all, had his European wife approach a former prime minister, to secure a posting in the country from which she hailed. Iftikhar Murshed also appears to carry the disdainful tones of his colleagues when he calls the decision to nominate the secretary Livestock, Punjab an exercise aimed at acquiring "French expertise in manufacturing cheese". How does Mr Murshed know that the "French are understandably perplexed and embarrassed at this thoughtlessly whimsical decision"? Strong language indeed. The point that needs to be appreciated by both diplomats and the "inferior" non-diplomatic civil servants is that influence peddling has been an integral part of the working of the government in general, and the Foreign Office in particular. Pakistan's first Foreign Minister, Mr Zafarullah Khan deviated from the principle of merit on a number of occasions when making induction's from other services into the Pakistan Foreign Service. Mr Shamshad would be well advised to look back at history and see the gems that we continued to send abroad. There was this army general, who along with our Field Marshal President and Christine Keeler, participated enthusiastically in the frolicking in Lord Astor's swimming pool. There was another retired general who rose to the position of foreign secretary (administration) and whose only job was to travel to Europe to buy candle stands for a banquet in the Lahore Fort. Another general was nominated as Pakistan's candidate for the position of Director General UNESCO, presumably on the basis of his linguistic skills. Predictably, he lost. Mr Shamshad may do well to look at some of the appointments made when he was in the upper echelons of the Foreign Office. A Grade 18 Executive Engineer of the C&W Department, Punjab was made ambassador to the UAE. On return he rejoined the department as XEN. Did Mr Shamshad not foresee any offence being caused to our friendly ally, the UAE? Did the Foreign Office question the efficacy of sending a writer/poet as Ambassador to Norway? A businessman of Karachi was appointed High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, primarily to promote the business interests of General Musharraf in that country. Did the Foreign Office protest then? It is gratifying to see that the AFA has sprung into action now. This august body, which comprises the cream of our diplomatic service, may meanwhile like to clarify how many Foreign Secretaries raised an objection to the appointment of generals, air marshals, and admirals as ambassadors. Assuming that these were influential people who it was better not to annoy, the Foreign Office did not even have the gumption to raise a voice against the appointment of a retired Major, living more or less permanently in the UAE, who was sent as Ambassador to Brunei in the Musharraf era. The problem with Foreign Service officers living in splendid isolation both at home and abroad is that they have lost touch with reality. Considering discretion the better part of valour, they remain conspiratorially silent when military rulers use their discretionary powers in appointing ambassadors/high commissioners. When a political government takes far less contentious decisions, Foreign Service officers are up in arms. This is not fair. Our career diplomats must accept the fact, however unpalatable, that it is the prerogative of the political leadership to make higher level diplomatic assignments to important countries. The Foreign Office must not arrogate to itself the right to determine what is, or is not, the national interest. This should be left to the political leadership. The writer is a former secretary to prime minister

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