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Why wait and see?

April 19, 2016


The writer is a former civil servant.
The writer is a former civil servant.

USUALLY, when there is a matter that should be dealt with expediently, the Pakistani bureaucrat just sits back, takes a deep breath and then waits for someone else to take action. If no one takes action, then it is okay and if someone does, then it is even better.

This, of course, is not the methodology adopted by all bureaucrats and there are a few pragmatic individuals as well. But their pragmatism often lands them in trouble with those who want things to be done their way. Therefore, the successful lot among civil servants adheres to this philosophy.

The wait-and-see approach can cost a lot when it comes to image-building across the globe. That is precisely why we maintain an army of diplomats to react to actions of hostile as well as friendly nations and present a positive image of Pakistan. Symbolism is of utmost importance in diplomacy as little gestures like a handshake, a nod, even a smile, are read and interpreted in various ways.

One such case is that of a Pakistani diplomat who was recently expelled from Bangladesh on the charge of financially supporting an alleged terrorist.

Diplomacy is all about thinking on one’s feet.

The diplomat was asked to leave the country within 48 hours as it was a serious allegation that got a lot of media attention in Bangladesh as well as in Pakistan. Now, going by how Bangladesh has been behaving lately, it could have been a reaction to anything from loss in a cricket match to a lack of any other issue to keep the general public engaged.

The government of Pakistan denied the charges and in a tit-for-tat response expelled a Bangladesh diplomat by alleging anti-state activities. The details of the allegations were not made public, and it seemed like a reaction to the Bangladesh government’s action against the Pakistani diplomat a few weeks earlier.

In the world of diplomacy, where symbolism and little gestures mean a lot, this happens all the time.

But as a damage-control measure, what Bangladesh’s foreign ministry did was quite remarkable. It swiftly managed to appoint the said official to another country, thus giving the impression that the problem was not with the individual and Pakistan only reacted out of vengeance rather than any solid evidence. The said diplomat has started serving in the Philippines and the Bangladeshi media is portraying a picture where it stands vindicated.

On the contrary, our Foreign Office does not appear to have plans of posting the Pakistan officer to any foreign mission in the near future, which actually is tantamount to admitting wrongdoing. Or at least that is how the Bangladeshi media is projecting it.

Diplomacy is all about thinking on one’s feet, and one wishes our Foreign Office had handled it better. Maybe I am asking for too much from an establishment that is too occupied with looking busy and doing nothing.

Ironically, this lack of proactive thinking is limited to matters where there is state interest; matters of personal interest are expediently dealt with by none other than the prime minister himself. The case of the appointment of a former international banker who hardly has any services for Pakistan to his credit as ambassador to Qatar is a clear indicator of how things work here. The reason might have something to do with the fact that the government is working on many business deals with a Qatar-based company owned by an individual who was formerly chairman of the accountability commission and reportedly a close friend of the Sharif family.

There must be some real need to have the gentleman as ambassador as it was done at the cost of bringing his predecessor’s stay in Qatar to a premature end within the first year of posting. The diplomat was then transferred to Malaysia.

Career diplomats hardly matter — they are just the ‘most obedient servants’ ready to pack their bags at the drop of a hat. It is only the ‘royalty’ that matters. The Foreign Office is a happy hunting ground for all. I myself might manage to land an ambassadorial assignment in time, provided I align myself with the ruling elite through my writings.

The only downside is that my moral compass would not be pointing true north, but then in Pakistan it would not do much harm. As long as I don’t care about it, nobody would.

Apparently, the prime minister does not feel obligated to think through a situation. It seems all he is concerned about is doing things which benefit either him or his family and this democratic system has given him the licence to do so unabashedly.

Lately, he seems to be imposing this construed sense of leadership with impunity, which makes one wonder if the motive is to desensitise people to such anomalies and prepare the ground for a comfortable reign of the Sharif dynasty in future as well.

The writer is a former civil servant.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2016