THERE appear to be strong reasons behind the abrupt recall of the ambassador to Saudi Arabia along with some other staff members. The increasing number of complaints against them from Pakistani expatriates will now be investigated, and the chairman of the Prime Minister’s Inspection Commission has constituted a team for this purpose. While the prime minister has done well to take swift action, one hopes that the details of this case will be revealed to the public and that those recalled will have an opportunity to defend themselves. An overwhelming number of complaints usually pertain to consular services and this problem has persisted over the years regardless of who is running the government in Islamabad. Since Prime Minister Imran Khan has always given special attention to overseas Pakistanis, the stern action will be seen as a warning to other errant missions. Pakistani expatriates in several countries have long complained of inefficient services provided by our embassies and missions but no major improvements have taken place despite the gravity and frequency of the problem. The nature of the Pakistani state has never been service-oriented and the missions are no exception. They are staffed by bureaucrats and other government officials who are steeped in a culture that lays little emphasis on service delivery and efficient public dealing. The systems they run are archaic and burdened with lack of incentives for performance. The result is an apathy that percolates from the top all the way down to those members of the missions that have direct contact with the citizens.

This must change. The PTI government is best suited to spur the effort by paying special attention to the performance of embassies and consulates across the world. Mr Khan should instruct the Foreign Office to revise all systems, audit the performance of its staff in these missions, and establish a system of feedback that keeps the ministry linked to the problems of the expatriates. The old ways of running these missions must give way to a service-oriented approach that prioritises the welfare of the people. This will not be easy to achieve. However if the prime minister can present this as a challenge to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, he can ensure that the Foreign Office begins work to reorient all missions and gets them to start performing with the efficiency that is to be expected in this day and age. The prime minister should demand no less.

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2021

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