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Headless chicken

December 25, 2016

A FEDERAL republic remains democratically strong if it achieves the professionalisation of its civilian government and maintains balanced civil-military ties. The recent peaceful military transition of power, apart from signalling military professionalism, evinced a move towards achieving the desired equilibrium between military and civilian control. However, while civil-military ties are extensively discussed here, little attention is paid to realising the professionalisation of the civilian government, where there is much room for improvement.

For starters, the government has lately been implicated in scores of diplomatic mistakes. These include the mishandling of Kashmir at the UN in the aftermath of Burhan Wani’s killing and the Uri Camp attack; the inability to highlight the increased levels of LoC transgressions by India in violation of international law; and the recent disclosure of the Sharif-Trump telephone call in breach of diplomatic protocol.

These examples arise in part because Pakistan does not have a foreign minister, a role that has been assumed by the prime minister, who works through a couple of advisers who are not legislators. The prime minister already has his plate full. It is doubtful if he can spare the sort of time required to serve as foreign minister too. Additionally, the conflation of the two posts creates a conflict of interest, because the prime minister loses his objectivity in balancing local and international interests when he is directly involved in both. His office ends up interfering in the working of the foreign affairs ministry, undermining its independence and precipitating diplomatic blunders.


The absence of a foreign minister suggests ad hocism.


The failure to strengthen the foreign affairs ministry in general, and to appoint a foreign minister in particular, suggests ad hocism in the civilian government. The foreign minister is meant to represent the country at the highest level of international diplomacy and is central to driving state foreign policy. It is a full-time position requiring expertise, intense deliberation, and independence from government branches, because a state’s international interests don’t always align with its domestic imperatives.

The presence of a strong, charismatic foreign minister is essential for Pakistan if it intends to successfully project its diplomatic positions globally. A professional foreign minister has historically been critical to building and maintaining strategic ties, countering the narratives of hostile states, and representing the Global South.

Aside from specialisation, this office also promotes accountability. As a parliamentarian, and mindful of his/ her political career, a foreign minister is acutely aware of the political costs of diplomatic mistakes. Currently, the absence of one is leading to a diffusion of responsibility for diplomatic faux pas.

With India’s diplomatic offence and posturing against Pakistan in full force, the absence of a dedicated foreign minister is felt acutely. In response, the prime minister has appointed a team of parliamentarians to counter the Indian narrative on Kashmir. This is self-defeating. International law and diplomacy are structured in ways that recognise a focal person — one international face — to lead foreign relations. A coterie of domestic politicians is hamstrung by its inability to negotiate, compromise or commit in the way a single focal person can.

Finally, the failure to appoint a foreign minister prevents the government from availing itself of crucial privileges and protections provided by international law. The minister of foreign affairs is a recognised position within international law; whoever holds it enjoys special immunities, pri­­vi­­leges and powers that enhance his or her ability to conduct foreign relations. For ex­ample, the International Court of Justice in the ‘Arrest Warrant’ case confirmed that, throughout the duration of his or her office, a foreign minister enjoys full immunity from international criminal jurisdiction. Similarly, under Article 7 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, the head of state and foreign minister both are presumed to possess ‘full powers’ to enter into treaties and, under Article 67, to invalidate, withdraw from, suspend or terminate treaties. Other state representatives do not enjoy this de facto presumption of authority, and can be called upon to produce evidence of their full powers.

In this vein, India’s recent mistreatment of Pakistan’s adviser to the prime minister on foreign affairs at the Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar can be partly explained by the fact that the adviser is not the foreign minister. Arguably, he does not enjoy the corresponding privileges and immunities that could have dissuaded India from disregarding diplomatic protocol. Pakistan risks further embarrassment and increasing isolation if it continues to ignore the legal and diplomatic advantages offered through the foreign minister’s office under international law and the norms of foreign relations.

The writers are Faculty of Law at the Shaikh Ahmad Hassan School of Law, Lums.

Published in Dawn December 25th, 2016