AS part of the government’s recently announced cost-cutting measures, the Foreign Office is set to pare down its international footprint with the closure of up to a fourth of the country’s present 70-odd missions across the world. Good idea or bad idea? The raw numbers can make a case either way. With fewer than 500 career officers and a staff complement that is roughly three times that size, the Foreign Office is not quite the overstaffed entity that other institutions have become. Then again, for a country with a small international economic footprint and a relatively narrow foreign policy, the case for consolidation can appear straightforward. For example, in Africa and Latin America the closure of a few outposts may be more than manageable if other missions regionally are made to pick up the slack.
Numbers alone, however, are a misleading yardstick. For one, it is not the size of the officer corps but its competence that matters more. The dozens of economic and commercial officers at Pakistani missions abroad, for example, may be a good idea in theory, but a performance evaluation may suggest that few economic benefits have accrued to Pakistan because of these posts. Merely stating that economic and trade dip-lomacy are priorities, as the newly installed government claims, without developing a coherent strategy and installing quality officers to implement it is largely meaningless. If across-the-board cuts have been mandated by the government, then the Foreign Office too must learn to tighten its belt. But within that paring back is an oppor-tunity to rethink how the Ministry of Foreign Affairs goes about its overall business. From recruiting a better quality of officer to ensuring adequate career opportunities and training to formulating policy that goes beyond the talking points dictated by GHQ, there is much room for improvement. Ultimately, though, it is the product itself, not just the image, that has to be fixed: if Pakistan is to be better regarded internationally, it will first have to put its own house in order.