The Foreign Office must brace for an unprecedented storm. This time, not to argue Pakistan’s case at multilateral forums or bilaterally, but to survive as an organization. Previously known as the first line of defence, diplomacy has seemingly lost its erstwhile mojo in the eyes of Islamabad. Otherwise, why would allowances be subjected to a thirty-five percent tax? All Allowances of Pakistani diplomats posted abroad have been non-taxable for decades.

The originators of the idea perhaps are not aware that such perks are not admissible to diplomats while posted in Pakistan. Perhaps, they do not know that such allowances are given to diplomats to primarily manage household affairs abroad. They are not aware that such allowances do not make diplomats millionaires but provide for bare necessities. Perhaps, they do not know that allowances are calculated according to the standard practice of the UN which is followed by all countries of the world. Certainly, they do not know that Pakistani diplomats are already underpaid compared to their counterparts from Asia, let alone Europe and North America. Certainly, they are not aware of the cuts already imposed on daily allowances and transportation of household effects. Certainly, they have no idea about numerous senior diplomats who are calculating the price of a plot to build a house after retirement. That includes the incumbent Foreign Secretary as well!

If the savings from prevailing allowances could not get you a house after serving the country for more than three decades, imagine the situation after the imposition of substantial cuts? Instead of revising these allowances to bring some financial sanity in a diplomat’s life, the Government’s decision to further reduce these clearly indicate a lack of understanding about a diplomat’s role and their corresponding needs while serving abroad.

A First Secretary’s Foreign allowance ranges between $1400 to $2000 per month depending on the country where he is posted. After buying groceries, paying utility bills, incurring a certain percentage on two children’s education, and a monthly visit to a barber shop, he is hardly left with any money to spare. Kindly note that one needs to pay $50 to $100 on a simple haircut. If he has three kids, the third-one never sees the face of a school until he returns to Pakistan. Those who want a thirty-five percent cut on allowances might have visualized $2000 in rupee terms. Wow, $2000 x 224 = Rs. 448,000? How can it be that an Islamabad-based Grade-18 Officer is getting less than half of what his Foreign Service colleague is getting abroad?

Diplomacy is all about making new friends. To make and groom friends in host countries, a diplomat is allowed to host lunches and dinners at home. After entertaining the host Government’s officials, he is allowed to draw a specified Entertainment Allowance that ranges between $150 to $500 per month. The ‘Competent Authority’ perhaps does not know that if a diplomat does not entertain, he is not allowed to draw the Entertainment Allowance.

Contrarily, just consider the power of a Pakistani diplomat whose allowances are now in question. Imagine, the only superpower of the world allegedly needed a Pakistani diplomat’s assistance in effecting a regime-change in Pakistan! Imagine if Asad Majeed did not write that cypher message, how would the Pakistani nation know the ‘conspiratorial’ nature of US policies? Imagine, if Pakistani Ambassadors, owing to reduced allowances, could not make both ends meet, would it be possible for them to think that intelligently and report so immaculately?

Come to think of it, would a few thousand dollars saved in this exercise be able to put the country’s economy back on track? Would rising poverty or unemployment be arrested? Would external and domestic indebtedness be controlled? Would the fiscal deficit disappear? Would Pakistan start receiving unprecedented FDIs? Would the IMF and other donors approve interest-free loans? Or, would such savings educate us on the effects of Climate Change or how to deal with monsoon rains? To begin with, how would you expect a demoralized and underpaid diplomat to convince the world on extremely delicate and complicated subjects like Kashmir, Afghanistan, FATF, NSG, FDIs and nuclear issues. The profundity of the detrimental effects of this new policy is immeasurable.

Sadly, Inam ul Haque is retired. So are Riaz Mohammad Khan and Riaz Khokhar. Secondly, lodging protests by the Foreign Office is not going to help the suave Service. Looking at the overall governance scenario, even a pen-down strike would be of no avail. The only hope for the Foreign Office to fight the case for its Officers seems to be in Ambassador Tariq Fatemi, a revered member of the Foreign Service Fraternity. Although his SAPM ship is not directly concerned with the affairs of the Foreign Office, yet being a member of the incumbent Cabinet, he might be able to assist his younger colleagues in staving off this bolt from the blue.

The Foreign Office is already in a mess with regard to Officers’ morale, stagnated posting plans and delayed promotions. As if the posting of retired officials to key stations was not hurtful enough for the senior serving Officers awaiting postings abroad. As if the online bashing of Ambassadors was not embarrassing enough to demoralize the Foreign Service Fraternity. As if Cablegate did not severely restrict the work of diplomats serving Pakistan abroad. As if the unbelievable allegation on the Foreign Office to keep a cypher message from the sitting PM or FM was not belittling enough, now their usual remunerations are unfairly questioned! If with the prevailing allowances, the once prestigious Foreign Service comes at number four for any CSS exam candidate, after such disastrous cuts, it might very well find itself below the Postal Service soon. If you wish for your diplomats to keep functioning properly, you are implored to kindly reverse the decision. Otherwise, let’s bid adieu to the Foreign Service of Pakistan!