To Appoint an Ambassador or Not!

The newly-appointed ambassador to the US, Ali Jahangir Siddiqui, may not be able to make it to Washington after all. It is not just because the National Accountability Bureau summoned him for investigation, but because the country’s centres of gravity in terms of power and foreign policy do not seem to like him. The Foreign Office, which was considered by many as mute and benign, appears to have found its tongue and is wagging it eagerly to indicate that it does not approve of this particular political appointment.

The Foreign secretary, visiting the US capital recently, dropped enough hints to indicate that Siddiqui’s dreams of coming to Washington would remain just that. There are others from the old Hotel Sheharzad who were vocal about the choice. They believe it to be utterly dishonest for a government that is on its way out to appoint a new ambassador; since the caretaker set-up might well fill the position with someone of its own choosing. Some senior journalists even expressed concern about the selection process without thinking about their own silence when similar political appointments were made to fill the top diplomatic post in Washington by the former PPP governments, the current PML-N or the Musharraf regime.

Notwithstanding Siddiqui’s qualifications for the job or poor timing of the decision, it is interesting to watch the Foreign Office becoming all quarrelsome over an appointment in a way it has never done before. The state bureaucracies seem to have ganged up with a view to have the position awarded to either the most powerful contender with critical support or someone from the diplomatic corps.

The post seems to be eyed by the top dog from the Foreign Office as a pre-retirement jaunt with little consideration for the fact that the country needs someone there who can be imaginative and even dramatic to get relations ticking along once more. While the forthright tone of the Bajwa doctrine that emphasised the need for the US to do more may have been directly communicated to a seemingly belligerent but befuddled White House, there is a need to have someone in place who could build links in Washington. Even if Islamabad is all out to lay its head on Beijing’s shoulders, it ought not to abandon its relationship with Washington. Nor is it wise to think that there is no conversation to be had with the Americans because they are building an alignment with India.

The reaction of the Foreign Office indicates a larger problem with its bureaucrats not understanding that announcing doctrines alone does not do the job. If India is to be fought then it is critical to understand its diplomatic strides and translate the problem to the policymakers in a language they understand; followed by adopting measures to enhance Pakistan’s possibilities. Quite clearly, the Foreign Office has failed to comprehend and explain that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is not something just linked to American pressure and anti-terrorism. There are other countries in the West, like France and Britain, who are keen to see Pakistan or any other state beef up anti-money laundering laws and procedures. Moreover, FATF is not going to go away by some superficial crackdown on Jamaat-ud-Dawaa keeping it under the proverbial table.

An efficient diplomatic machinery would apprise policymakers about geo-political advances made by India as more than just an international conspiracy against a nuclear Pakistan. While Islamabad sits coy, eyeing up China as a last resort – New Delhi has built ties with France, which according to its foreign policy expert C Raja Mohan is now to it what Russia had been several decades ago. This does not mean that Moscow has been abandoned; only that there is now greater diversity in its foreign relations. Similarly, New Delhi is aggressively gaining a stronghold in its conversations with the Commonwealth. While Pakistan has stuck itself on a dirt road in the Arab Middle East, India is right there building links with both the Arabs and Iran. The latter needs money to flow in for which Chahbahar and Indian investment becomes important. Similarly, India is in conversation both with the Taliban and the government in Kabul.

Obviously, Pakistan lacks on both counts – a stable head of government to run the show and an efficient diplomatic machinery. While the ambassadors and junior diplomats think that engaging with a few think-tanks or distributing policy papers is sufficient, they lack the advantage of a capable group of intellectuals who can independently engage the international community in a conversation on Pakistan or else an alternative narrative in foreign policymaking to throw light on different options. Pakistan seems to have lost its ‘other’ voices, especially over the last five to six years; meaning that those that were there even during the Musharraf period are no more. Such centralisation of thought may look neat but this will only lead the country towards a black hole.

Note: This article originally published here.