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   This is not the first time that President Zardari’s choice for an ambassadorial appointment has come in for criticism. — Photo by Reuters/File

ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office’s top brass is bristling at President Asif Ali Zardari’s pick for ambassador in Beijing — one of the most important diplomatic assignments.

The presidency is said to be backing the Chief of Protocol at the Foreign Office, Ghalib Iqbal, for the Beijing job, which is expected to be filled soon.

But the FO, which normally initiates proposals for ambassadorial appointments, had sent three names — Ambassador Masood Khalid, high commissioner to Malaysia, Ambassador Alamgir Babar, special secretary at the Foreign Office, and Ambassador Abdul Basit, ambassador to Germany — for posting in Beijing, a slot that had fallen vacant after Ambassador Masood Khan was moved to the UN headquarters in New York as the country’s permanent representative.

But, the FO sources say, the presidency has indicated its preference for Mr Iqbal in the race for ambassadorship in Beijing. The president enjoys the final say in the appointment of envoys.

This is not the first time that President Zardari’s choice for an ambassadorial appointment has come in for criticism. While there have been a number of such cases in the past, the most well-known instance is that of nomination of DMG Officer Dr Jehanzeb Khan as ambassador to France in which Mr Zardari finally had to succumb to FO pressure and withdraw the nomination.

Critics of Mr Zardari’s choice for Beijing say it is an extremely important capital for Pakistan and someone posted there must have a solid understanding of the foreign policy nuances and strategic issues.

“Ambassadorship in Beijing is not only about protocol and administering the mission but managing our most strategic relations on an upward trajectory. For that we need a person with a strategic experience and not an expertise in managing motorcades,” one of Mr Iqbal’s detractors quipped.

A senior official at the foreign service’s headquarters, sharing the resentment among his colleagues, said there was clearly ambivalence and angst over the reports that some of the more senior in the lot are being ignored for Beijing.

Mr Iqbal, a former navy officer, has previously served diplomatic postings in Italy and Canada and is currently the chief of protocol.

Foreign Office Spokesman Moazzam Khan wasn’t available for comments.

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