WHO leadership defeat: Islamabad did all it could for Sania Nishtar

WHO leadership defeat

ISLAMABAD - Dr Sania Nishtar was portrayed here as one of the leading candidates for the Director General World Health Organization and her defeat has come as a shock to most Pakistanis, who were eagerly awaiting some good news about the country on the global platform. Officials say that despite running an excellent campaign Pakistan’s efforts were undone by global alliances and a strong push by African countries.

Officials at the foreign office said that Pakistan does not see any conspiracy behind the shocking defeat of its candidate who was seemingly a favorite for the job.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry told The Nation that Islamabad had left no stone unturned to ensure Nishtar’s victory but the ultimate defeat could not be termed as a big failure as she was among the top candidates.

“Why do we easily forget that she was among the top three and was one of the favorites. Of course one had to win. We cannot blame anybody for conspiracy. It was an election and one of the candidates won,” said a top-ranking official at the foreign ministry.

He said Pakistan would have loved to take her victory but seeing her among the favourites was in itself a diplomatic success.

The official said some people may smell a conspiracy or a diplomatic failure behind Nishtar’s defeat but these were all ‘speculations.’  

“We ran an excellent campaign, but the African countries made it an African campaign, and then lobbied for the EU as a bloc lobbying for a bloc and it became global alliances and politics,” a senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said

“And that's why we lost.”

Earlier, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was elected as the WHO Director General. He has served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ethiopia from 2012-2016 and as Minister of Health, Ethiopia from 2005-2012. He has also served as chair of the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria; as chair of the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership Board, and as co-chair of the Board of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.

Hours after Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s victory, Sania Nishtar tweeted: “Thank you to my supporters, I'll keep fighting for transparency, accountability & (and) integrity, I know you'll join me.”

She added: “Congratulations @DrTedros on becoming Director-General of @WHO and @davidnabarro (Britain’s David Nabarro) for a hard-fought election.”

When she was nominated for the top WHO job, the Pakistan health ministry had said Dr Sania Nishtar’s 10-point agenda gave her prominence among the candidates. She had herself stressed the transparency and accountability in all areas of work.

Pakistan government in its note for Dr Nishtar had called her a ‘uniquely suited person who can lead the technical agency with her strong professional background.’

“Dr Nishtar (a former minister) has a unique combination of experience as a minister, civil society trailblazer, a leader in multilateral institutions, physician scientist, thought leader, and founder of institutions,” stated the government’s note.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will take over on July 1 to replace Margaret Chan, a Hong Kong native whose tenure was marred by WHO’s largely criticised response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

Another official at the foreign ministry said Nishtar’s defeat was shocking but not unexpected. “We always knew there could be only one winner. The other two were also strong candidates. We did all we could for her victory but we do have positives from it. It cannot be called a failure. The African Union has more than 50 members who also played a role in Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ win,” he added.

The official said the hostile countries could never be expected to support Pakistan so they would have tried to influence the fence sitters. He said Nishtar’s nomination from a pool of candidates was a success for Pakistan and “we hope we will win such important seats in the future.”

Analysts Jehangir Ashraf Qazi said the terrorists had tarnished Pakistan’s image over the years and it could be one reason behind Nishtar’s defeat.

“She had this, we can say, the disadvantage of being a Pakistani. These days people (around the world) do have a skeptical view about us. Nishtar was a good candidate and could have possibly won,” Qazi said.

He said the AU was another factor. “Once they (the AU) announce that someone is their joint candidate, it means that candidate already has around 55 votes. This is a huge plus. Pakistan did not have that luxury,” he added.

He said every Pakistani wanted Nishtar to win but after all Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was also not a bad choice as he had been active in the field of health.


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