US envoy stirs controversy with tweet criticising Imran Khan, draws ire from Pakistan

Updated 29 Mar 2019

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US Ambassador to Afghanistan John R. Bass.— Photo courtesy Twitter
US Ambassador to Afghanistan John R. Bass.— Photo courtesy Twitter

US Ambassador to Afghanistan John R. Bass has stirred controversy after taking to Twitter late Wednesday to 'school' Prime Minister Imran Khan on diplomacy while accusing him of 'ball-tampering' in the Afghan peace process.

"Some aspects of cricket apply well in diplomacy, some do not. Imran Khan, important to resist temptation to ball-tamper with the Afghanistan peace process and its internal affairs," he tweeted.

The remarks drew a sharp response from Pakistan, with many wondering how a diplomatic representative could insult the prime minister of a neighbouring country by accusing him of being a cheat.

Mosharraf Zaidi, columnist and activist, termed the Tweet an embarrassment for the US. He said the Foreign Office should respond — in a strong, swift and unflinching manner — to the diatribe. He added that mid-level bureaucrats publicly speaking like this about the prime minister (of Pakistan) is a red line.

Defence and security analyst Ejaz Haider recommended a "refresher course in diplomatic nuance".

Khurram Husain, senior journalist, also criticised the envoy, reminding him that he had flaunted diplomatic norms by insulting a prime minister.

"Are you sure you even know the ABC of diplomacy? You don't get to talk this way about the prime minister of the country that neighbours the one you are an ambassador in!"

Imaan Zainab, lawyer, blogger and rights activist, also advised the US envoy to introspect.

"The US talking about the 'internal affairs' of another country is laughable. Does the ambassador need to be reminded of US meddling in Chile, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Iran, Iraq... The list is long and Twitter characters are limited. Perhaps Bass ought to pick up a history book."

Government representatives too added their voices to the growing condemnation.

Finance Minister Asad Umar criticised the US envoy and raised questions over the envoy's diplomatic skills.

"Your tweet shows you understand neither cricket nor diplomacy," he said. "With the Afghan peace process at such a critical juncture, [I] hope the US will be able to find better diplomatic skills to deal with the delicate issues at hand."

Minister of Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi also added his two cents, saying Bass would never make the list of "good ambassadors of the US [...] with that attitude."

Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari was more combative in her response. Terming the US ambassador a "little pygmy", she reprimanded the envoy saying that his "knowledge of ball-tampering is as void as [his] understanding of Afghanistan and the region!"

"Clearly in your case ignorance is certainly not bliss! Another sign of Trumpian mischief a la Khalilzad style!" she added.

The tweet raised several eyebrows, with some criticising the human rights minister's use of 'undiplomatic language'.

However, she found support, with Zaidi in another tweet saying, "If Shireen Mazari’s tweet is a bigger problem for you than John Bass’s attack on the prime minister, you need to check yourself."

Journalist Zarrar Khuhro also came forward to support Mazari. He tweeted, "Quite funny that Shireen Mazari's tweet is a blatant violation of diplomatic mores etc but the US ambassador's tweet (an ACTUAL diplomat) is totally okay."

The latest diplomatic falling out over the Afghan peace process stemmed from a news report stating that Prime Minister Imran Khan had "suggested" the setting up of an interim setup in Afghanistan.

The premier had allegedly told journalists on Monday that forming an interim Afghan government would smooth peace talks between the United States and Taliban officials since the militant group refuses to speak to the current government, but the Foreign Office later said the remarks had been misreported.

Afghanistan had recalled its own ambassador in Islamabad, and summoned Pakistan's deputy ambassador in Kabul to discuss what it described as "irresponsible" remarks by Prime Minister Khan.

The Afghan government deemed Khan's statements as "an obvious example of Pakistan's interventional policy and disrespect to the national sovereignty and determination of the people of Afghanistan," an Afghan foreign affairs ministry spokesperson had said.

In a tweet, US Special Envoy for Afghan Peace and Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad — who has been leading peace talks with the Taliban — had also appeared to criticise the prime minister's reported comments.

He said, "While Pakistan has made constructive contributions on the Afghan Peace Process, PM Khan's comments did not."

Dismissing the outrage over the news report, the FO stated that the prime minister had only been referring to "Pakistan’s model, where elections are held under an interim government. The comments should not be misinterpreted to imply interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs."

"Pakistan has no other interest in Afghanistan but to promote peace through an ‘Afghan owned’ and ‘Afghan led’ political process. [The prime minister] of Pakistan has taken personal interest in facilitating the ongoing political reconciliation process and the same must not be misconstrued to undermine the sincere efforts of Pakistan or to create misunderstandings at this crucial stage of the process," the FO had stated.