Chief Editor: Ansar Mahmood Bhatti

Sorry state of affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

By Ansar Mahmood Bhatti

 Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) is a strong reflection of a country, therefore, a lot of emphasis is always laid on making this Ministry highly efficient, proactive and responsive. In Pakistan’s case unfortunately the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in recent years seems to have failed miserably to come up to the expectations of both the locals and foreigners.

The sorry state of affairs at the Ministry can definitely be attributed to the previous government’s failure to appoint a full-time foreign minister during its tenure that caused enough confusion and disarray in our foreign policy. This reluctance was most intriguing since Pakistan had serious foreign policy challenges which in the absence of an effective minister compounded our problems.

Like everything else, foreign policy was also run as a family enterprise with Shahbaz Sharif playing an active role including attending meetings, talks with foreign leaders and visits abroad despite all the criticism. Rumours about the cabinet expansion and reshuffle kept coming in, perhaps the prime minister kept looking for a pliant person to be a fully fledged minister for the MOFA, but no one appears to have measured up on his scale throughout the tenure.

Surely we had an adviser to the prime minister and a special assistant at the helm for foreign affairs. But neither was really in charge, factually there were too many cooks, but no clear policy. After one of them was forced to leave the office following the Dawn leaks controversy, it further aggravated all spheres of the foreign policy including facilitation of foreign missions.

Foreign policy mandarins believe that both the advisors were equally to be blamed for the mess the foreign office is in today because of their power struggle. Tariq Fatemi being a close confidante of the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif was perhaps the real power wielder who was trusted much more than the veteran Sartaj Aziz with regard to foreign policy. Although, Tariq Fatemi was a workaholic and a seasoned diplomat, he was often accused of promoting and pampering those officers who were either most junior or those who were very condescending.  He had to face stiff resistance and criticism from the senior officials when he picked up Tehmina Janjua to be the foreign secretary. Consequently, Pakistan had to prematurely lose very senior, seasoned and professional diplomats like the high commissioner in India, Abdul Basit called it a day after being superseded and Ghalib Iqbal also chose to proceed on leave. It was surely not possible for them to work under a junior colleague.

The power struggle between the two advisers virtually landed the officers of the MOFA in a strange quandary and indecisive state that added to the already dismal performance of the ministry. They did not know exactly who the in charge was and who to obey? In this tussle, the foreign missions too suffered because important matters pertaining to them were either not addressed promptly or no decision was given at all. This has indeed been very frustrating for the concerned mission and a source of great embarrassment for the country. Even the security concerns of diplomats were not accorded the priority despite a highly tense security situation in the country. An wrote several letters to the foreign office and the concerned security agencies for security arrangements at his residence and the embassy but despite frantic efforts he could not even get a guard, till writing of this piece.

The affected foreign missions maybe bound by some code of ethics, to not speak openly about the nonchalant attitude of the foreign office of the host country, however, in private meetings they do vent their displeasure and most simply cannot fathom that a foreign office can be run in such an inefficient manner? In their countries this is simply unimaginable!

There are endless stories that speak volumes of the apathy and inefficiency of the MOFA. With the caretaker government now in place it is incumbent upon it to make sincere efforts to put the house in some order in the interim period. Some merit based reshuffling of officers must take place to take stock of the matters efficiently and drastically improve the existing image of the ministry.