ISLAMABAD, June 13: Days after assuming the office Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is grappling with his greatest foreign policy challenge coming from within the Foreign Office where a turf war has erupted between two of his foreign policy aides.
While constituting his cabinet last week, Mr Sharif appointed Sartaj Aziz as adviser on foreign affairs and national security and Tariq Fatemi, a retired diplomat, as special assistant on foreign affairs.
The two could hardly get along for a day, an insider claimed.
The differences reached a point when Mr Aziz, who had also served as the foreign minister during Mr Sharif’s last tenure, reportedly conveyed to the prime minister that the state of affairs could not be allowed to continue any further.
Foreign Office spokesman Aizaz Chaudhry, when asked, tried to play down reports of a rift.
“They are both working as a team in their respective positions,” Mr Chaudhry said.
The row was, nevertheless, apparent from the subtext of two press releases issued by the Foreign Office over the past few days. In a statement on summoning the US Charge d’Affaires over drone attacks on June 8, Mr Fatemi’s designation was mentioned as Special Assistant to Prime Minister and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. The title ‘Minister of State’ was however later omitted from the statement currently on the ministry’s website.
Mr Fatemi’s profile later circulated among the media by the spokesman’s office said he enjoyed the rank of “Federal Minister of State” — a designation hitherto unknown in the government hierarchy.
The notifications of appointment of Mr Aziz and Mr Fatemi issued by the cabinet division, however, clarify that the former has the status of a federal minister and the latter would serve as the minister of state.
The rift is not just about who holds what rank it’s also about wielding control over the Foreign Office.
Mr Aziz was uneasy with the manner in which Mr Fatemi handled the protest over drones by summoning the US Charge d’Affaires. Such matters are routinely handled at the Foreign Secretary’s level but it was one rare occasion that the US diplomat was summoned by the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister.
Mr Aziz was also of the opinion that the hard line being pursued by Mr Fatemi would not suit efforts by the PML-N government to develop relations with the Obama administration.
This showed a disconnect between the two over policy issues.
“They hardly coordinate with each other,” a source in the PML-N said, adding that Mr Fatemi’s appointment was also resented within the party.
Similarly, there was a dispute over who would lead the delegation to a meeting with visiting German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle at the Foreign Office.
Mr Fatemi had reportedly made the Foreign Office to convey to Berlin that he would be Mr Westerwelle’s counterpart.