ISLAMABAD: The government has nominated retired Lt Gen Bilal Akbar as the new ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
Gen Akbar would replace Ambassador Raja Ali Ejaz, who is retiring from service in May. Mr Ejaz, a career diplomat, has been the ambassador in Riyadh since January 2019.
The ambassador’s position in Riyadh has often been held by retired military officers, reflecting the fact that defence ties form the bedrock of the strong bilateral ties, although the posting has at times remained with diplomats from the foreign service as well.
Retired generals are appointed against the 20 per cent quota for political appointees. Besides the mission in Riyadh going back to a general, ambassadors in Brunei, Jordan, Syria, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, the Maldives, Nigeria and Libya are retired armed forces officers.
Appointment indicates military’s desire to take control of bilateral ties that have lately been hit by turbulence
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government has rarely made political appointments against ambassadorial positions. Therefore, currently most of the quota for non-careerists is being utilised by the retired military officials.
Gen Akbar had retired from the army in December last year. His last appointment was chairman of Pakistan Ordnance Factory (POF), Wah.
He had a bright career in military where as a three-star general he also served as chief of general staff and commander of Rawalpindi-based 10 Corps. Many were taken by surprise when in September 2019, months before Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa started his extended tenure, he was posted as POF chairman.
Gen Akbar’s appointment on the recommendation of the General Headquarters indicates military’s desire to take control of the bilateral ties that have lately been hit by turbulence to prevent them from further deterioration. Saudi Arabia had atypically asked Pakistan to repay the loan by not agreeing to its rollover, as per the initial understanding. Pakistani workers in the kingdom too were laid off during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Riyadh, meanwhile, got closer to New Delhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi was invited to the key financial conference and the two countries launched a Strategic Partnership Council to guide their relations.
The new assignment would, therefore, be a challenging one for Gen Akbar.
Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2021