Friday, 1 September 2017

Game of Thrones at the Pakistan Foreign Office

Game of Thrones at the Pakistan Foreign Office

Abdul Basit, former High Commissioner of Pakistan in India, who is considered as one of the best among the Foreign Service Officers of Pakistan in recent time, resigned from service for being superseded some weeks ago. This was not the first time that he was not considered for the top slot of Foreign Secretary. While he was Ambassador of Pakistan in Germany, he was called back by the PML-N Government to be appointed as the Foreign Secretary, but there was a change of heart and Mr. Aizaz Chaudhary was elevated to the top post. A vast majority of Foreign Service Officers did not like this decision, because unlike Basit, Aizaz Chaudhary was neither charismatic nor accomplished. According to sources, many senior Officers belonging to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) were disappointed with reversing the decision of making Basit, who hailed from KP, the Foreign Secretary. Moreover, Aizaz Chaudhary had serious health issues, due to which he was not fit for a rather stressful job. As a compensation, Basit was sent to India as High Commissioner, a job he performed quintessentially. With the elevation of Tehmina Janujua, a relatively junior and comparatively less illustrious Officer to the position of Foreign Secretary, Basit could not take it anymore and called it a day, thus ending his notable career bitterly.

Recently, a letter, written by Abdul Basit, the then High Commissioner, to Aizaz Chaudhary, the then Foreign Secretary, on July 5, 2017, has been leaked, which has gone viral. Abdul Basit has conveyed to Aizaz that he is convinced that the latter was the “worst Foreign Secretary ever” and has “weak and dubious credentials”. While there is a history of important communications being leaked from Foreign Office, especially in the last three years, this particular letter is very damaging for the Foreign Office and Pakistan. This letter has received a great deal of amusement and humour in India at the cost of credibility of our institutions. It is unfortunate that such bitterness existed between two senior-most Officers of the Foreign Office, holding responsible positions, which has been reflected by this letter. No wonder, there must have existed a disconnect between the Foreign Office and Pakistan’s High Commission in India during the tenure of Abdul Basit (as evident from the issue of invitation of Hurriat Leaders). The unfortunate situation calls for serious soul searching and rectification of the system.

Primarily the PML-N government was responsible for this fiasco and the undoing of Foreign Office. The controversial decision not to appoint a Foreign Minister and replace this strong position by two relatively weak Offices of Advisor to the PM on Foreign Affairs (Sartaj Aziz) and Special Assistant to the PM on Foreign Affairs (Tariq Fatemi) has taken its toll by affecting one of the best institutions of Pakistan. Once Foreign Office was known for its credibility, professionalism, transparency, aptitude and merit, but now its position has been reduced to a secretariat with unprofessional conduct, infighting, indiscipline and feeble policy output. Its prime role of foreign policy formulation and implementation has been taken over by more powerful institutions of the country. While the government is directly responsible for the downfall of the Foreign Service, its own Officers like Aizaz Chaudhary and Abdul Basit are also the reason for precipitating the total collapse of the institution’s integrity.

Aizaz Chaudhary’s tenure as the Foreign Secretary, in absence of a Foreign Minister, was the most damaging one in the history of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Before him, controversies and infighting of the Foreign Office rarely hit the headlines, however, during his tenure, ridiculing Foreign Office in print and electronic became a commonplace. The reason was his weak administration and docile attitude towards other institutions and politicians. Even if his problems with Abdul Basit are ignored, he has committed too many other faux pas and wrongdoings, which have resulted in the present plight of Foreign Office. His decisions have resulted in loss of confidence and trust of his colleagues. There is a long list of his victims in the Foreign Office but a few examples may suffice.

For instance, a bright young Officer of the Ministry posted at Camp Office Karachi, was put behind the bars for crimes he did not commit. While the Officer, who was Aizaz’s junior colleague, should have been protected, the Foreign Secretary instead made sure he is arrested and humiliated. This frustrated a lot of younger colleagues of Aizaz who suddenly started to feel vulnerable.

Aizaz Chaudhary was also responsible for the arrest of Shafqat Cheema, the infamous Robin Hood of Foreign Office. Although Cheema has dubious credentials, the manner in which he was humiliated was protested by his colleagues. He was called for a meeting and when he entered the Foreign Office, police and NAB Officials arrested him from the premises of the Foreign Office like a hardcore criminal. The whole drama was captured live on TV and brought a bad name to the institution. The matter could have been handled in a subtle manner, without creating a scene, which an institution like Foreign Office should avoid at all costs, as it is closely being watched by the foreign diplomatic missions.

Similarly, a case of another young Officer was mishandled by Aizaz and the matter was brought to court and again Foreign Office became a laughing stock. The Officer was then posted at the Camp Office in Quetta as a punishment. Similarly, senior and bright Officers (most notably Ghalib Iqbal) were sidelined and have since gone into self-exile from their own Ministry. The tenure of another illustrious Officer, then the Ambassador of Pakistan in UAE, was cut short due to political imperatives. The weak administration of Aizaz damaged his Officers to a great extent. He failed to protect his Officers in crisis and could not take a stand for them, as a result of which his Officers bore the brunt. Reportedly, Aizaz Chaudhary also tried to prematurely recall another upright Officer posted in Iran. The Officer wanted to put an end to corruption and close down an illegal school opened inside the mission by an Officer from another Ministry. However, instead of protecting his junior colleague, Aizaz entertained fabricated reports against him and tried to arm-twist him. The Foreign Secretary did not have the moral courage to close down the illegal school, however, the uncompromising young Officer went on to shut it down on his own. Moreover, the Foreign Secretary, due to weak administrative control, was not able to put an end to the squabbling at the Consulate General of Pakistan in Dubai, and as a result, first Consul’s tenure was cut-short and then Consul General (both from Foreign Service) was sent back to home. A senior female Officer, who is spouse of another senior Officer of the Ministry was sent to Portugal as Ambassador, even though it was in the knowledge of the Ministry, and was advised by some of her colleagues, that she was not fit to become Ambassador. She got into trouble soon, and was prematurely recalled after a short duration – a decision which embarrassed the country in Lisbon. Similarly, a problematic, but well-connected Officer was sent to Los Angeles as the Consul General, who was also recalled soon, after numerous complaints from the community.

An extremely resourceful and shining Officer of Foreign Service, Faisal Niaz Tirmizi, who is presently making Pakistan proud in Chicago as its Consul General, and was then the Director in Administration, reportedly prepared a list of “Psychoes” of Foreign Service – the Officers with whom no other colleague is ready to work along, and recommended that they should not be posted abroad. However, the senior Officers ridiculed and rejected his proposal. Many of the Officers on his list have either been recalled prematurely, gone to court against the Minstry or have made life hell for their colleagues in foreign Missions. An infamous example is that of Najm-us-Saqib, who was sent as an Ambassador to South Africa. No Officer is willing to work with him. Moreover, a DMG Officer, accused of murder in Model Town case, was sent by the PML-N government as an Ambassador to WTO in Geneva. Reportedly, security agencies were not comfortable with appointment of an Officer, who is very close to Chief Minister Punjab, with such credentials as Ambassador, but Aizaz Chaudhary did not object to his appointment at such an important mission – thanks to his submissive nature. Similarly, he also did not raise an eye brow when Maliha Lodhi was appointed as the Permanent Representative of Pakistan to UN, a coveted post, for which only a Foreign Service Officer with prior experience of multilateral diplomacy, is suitable.

As evident from these examples, Officers, who were not fit for the delicate job of diplomacy, have not only been posted abroad but have also been protected and pampered by Aizaz Chaudhary and his political bosses. There is not a single case where this Foreign Secretary has had the audacity of saying no to the political superiors, on an issue of principle. Rather he fits perfectly in a system where there is no accountability, and where only those prosper who further the plans of their political superiors, regardless of the consequences. Aizaz also actively took part in the Dawn Leaks issue, but he was spared by the establishment for his compliant track record as Foreign Secretary, since he had delegated his say on foreign policy matters to either his political superiors or the establishment, depending on the issue at hand.

During the stint of Aizaz Chaudhary as Foreign Secretary, another controversy that tarnished the reputation of Foreign Office was the dubious activities of PFOWA, which is run by the spouses of Officers of the Foreign Ministry. Journalists criticized the Foreign Secretary for not being able to answer the questions related to the use of government premises and resources by the charity organization and supposedly its objectionable funding sources and doubtful utilization of donations. Handing over of a government-owned land in the heart of Islamabad, which is worth millions of rupees, to Roots School, by the Foreign Office, on the advice of the spouse of Aizaz Chaudhary, was another controversial issue that gained considerable media attention.

During the last few years, foreign posting policy has become a matter of a great deal of debate in the Foreign Ministry. A foreign positing policy was devised by Aizaz Chaudhary, in which it was decided that an Officer serving in A station (mission in a developed country) would not be sent to any other A station consecutively. However, the Foreign Secretary violated this rule by posting the blue-eyed Director of his own Office to A-station, who had already served at another A-station. Similarly, an Officer, whose spouse is from the family of Moulana Fazl Rehman, has been posted from Malaysia to Geneva and now to London. Another Officer recalled prematurely from China was sent to a sensitive mission of Athens, despite his contentious credentials. As expected, he again ran into problems, and is now entangled in a legal battle with the Ministry. Moreover, female Officers of the Ministry, even the junior most ones, were given undue preferential treatment and with a few exceptions, most were sent to Europe and America. A number of similar violations happened right under his nose.
It was an achievement of the Foreign Office to get back the coveted post of Pakistan’s Ambassador in US from political appointees, with Jalil Abbas Jillani, former Foreign Secretary, becoming the Ambassador. However, insiders in Foreign Office say that due to Aizaz Chaudhary, the Foreign Office may lose this post again. Aizaz could have retired honourably and convinced the Government to post any other dynamic Officer of Foreign Service as Ambassador to US. However, he decided to take the coveted post for himself and went ahead to become the Ambassador in US, who is technically under the command of the Foreign Secretary and is answerable to him/her. Thus, for a sought-after posting, he preferred to relegate his position, which is unbecoming of a true leader. With less than a year left in his retirement, he went ahead to US, so that he is given extension by the government. Many see it unlikely, and predict that in next February, the Government may post another political appointee to this position. Foreign Office has already lost the post of Consul General in Dubai to a political appointee under Aizaz Chaudhary, who could not resist such an unprecedented and unjust move by the PML-N Government. It was the first time that an outsider was appointed at the level of Consul General in a mission, a trend which is considered extremely detrimental to the Foreign Service. A similar attempt by the PML-N Government to post a serving DMG Officer as Pakistan’s High Commissioner in Canada was thwarted by junior Officers of Foreign Service, spearheaded by a Director-level Officer, Ruman Wazir, who persuaded his colleagues to write a petition to the Foreign Secretary. Although, Aizaz was reportedly inclined to bend the knee to his political masters, Foreign Service was saved from this calamity by brave and honourable young Officers, who had neither the 30-year plus experience, nor high-level positions.

Thus, Aizaz Chaudhary has set a number of precedents, which have put the Foreign Office in low light. Ideally, he should have worked together with other senior Officers, and better administrators, like Abdul Basit and Ghalib Iqbal, among others, to settle his succession issues and postings to important missions in amicable manner. Instead, he recommended appointment of Tehmina Janjua, another compliant Officer, as his successor. She has no prior experience of administration, and with disgruntled and superseded senior Officers, she faces an uphill task to put her house in order. It is said that the administration of Foreign Office is at the lowest ebb presently.

Unfortunately, all the Foreign Service Officers want to be posted to highly developed countries, as the Ministry has failed to incentivize less lucrative postings or problematic foreign missions. The foreign allowance of our Officers has not increased since a long time and our diplomats are growing desperate, as most of their diplomatic counterparts from other countries get twice or more as much as they do. It was expected that Tariq Fatemi, who was also from Foreign Service, would convince the Prime Minister to increase foreign allowance of the Officers, but he remained engaged in court intrigues. There is a perpetual struggle in the Foreign Office for coveted postings and there exists a lot of interference of outsiders, especially politicians, in finalizing foreign postings. Even in deciding about postings of staff members, like clerks and security guards, the Ministry’s administration faces a lot of pressure. The Foreign Secretary Office, during tenure of Aizaz Chaudhary, changed posting rules of staff members a number of times in order to accommodate blue-eyed officials and those exerting political pressure.

It is true that the letter of Abdul Basit is impulsive and should not have been written, as it maligns the prestigious Foreign Service, and reflects negatively upon the unsung heroes of the Foreign Service, but insiders in Foreign Office say that Aizaz Chaudhary deserves worst. They say that Aizaz’s time had been disastrous not only for maladministration in Foreign Office but also at the policy level. Some have even pledged that if Aizaz is given extension, they would go to court against the decision.

It is high time that the new Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Foreign Secretary bring about fresh reforms, which aim at betterment of the prestigious institution. A starting point would be an increase in Foreign Allowance, incentivizing postings at C and D stations, ban on extension after retirement, ban on Foreign Secretary’s posting as Ambassador abroad, revising the posting plans of Officers and Officials and making them merit based, updating security policy to stop leakage of important official communication, security of tenure for Foreign Service Officers (like that of attached Departments), decreasing the quota of political appointees and devising an institutional mechanism to vent out frustration and redressal of grievances of the Foreign Service Officers.

By Ammar Ali Akif
With special thanks to the serving and retired Officers whose input was obtained for writing the article
Post a Comment