Diplomatic assets by M.Saeed Khalid

Diplomacy is generally seen as an exalted profession because envoys enjoy the high life as well as the proximity of sovereigns, while also contributing to decision making at the highest levels.
While most ambassadorial posts are filled by career diplomats who have at least 20 years of professional experience, some countries also send political appointees as representatives abroad. Pakistan has a tradition of filling about one-fifth of its ambassadorial posts by non-career envoys – Jamsheed Marker has been the longest serving among Pakistan’s most distinguished non-career diplomats and holds the Guinness record for having been ambassador to the maximum number of countries.
Every government enjoys the liberty of tapping non-career resources for ambassadorial posts. Most countries exercise this option sparingly because of the demoralising effect it has on the country’s professional foreign service. Invariably, there is greater burden on the senior-most foreign service officer of the mission to assist his non-career head of mission. The US resorts to appointing non-career people on a large scale. Their selection is not necessarily based on experience in negotiations but on the size of financial contribution made to the incumbent American president’s election campaign.

Elsewhere in the world, non-career appointees are given the honour of representing their country for having distinguished themselves in their profession. In general, they would be retired civil or military personnel who are assigned to posts of secondary importance to the country’s foreign policy. The most important capitals are normally reserved for the country’s highest rated and senior most career diplomats.

It is hard to comprehend why successive Pakistani governments have found it desirable to appoint their own chosen men and women to key posts when comparable countries like Egypt, Turkey, Indonesia, Argentina and Brazil, not to speak of France, Britain, China, Japan, India and Russia, send their best professionals to these same posts.

Pakistan has gone further by selecting non-career envoys to countries like the US and UK where the appointees have taken up permanent residence. Article 38 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961) states that the diplomatic immunity of a diplomat who is permanently resident in the host country will be limited to his/her official acts.

What the convention omits to say, but is generally understood, is that a permanent resident of a country will be in an awkward situation by accepting to represent another country even if it is the country of his origin. In other words, if an ambassador of country A to country B has acquired residence of the latter, he may at times face a conflict of interest. And if he has effectively given up residence in his country of origin, he could feel stressed about serving two masters.

Pakistan’s rulers have also pandered to their fears by posting prominent individuals whom they considered potential threats as envoys. The 1970s were particularly rich in the nomination of these exiles as ambassadors. Sahabzada Yaqub Khan, who had resigned from the army on account of differences with Yahya Khan’s policies in East Pakistan, was nominated as ambassador to France because Zulfikar Ali Bhutto reportedly felt uncomfortable with the retired general’s presence in Pakistan at a time when Bhutto was anxious to establish control over the armed forces.

Bhutto also exiled Gen Gul Hassan and Air Marshal Rahim Khan as ambassadors to Austria and Spain respectively. He later repeated the exercise by sending senior most bureaucrats like Qamarul Islam as ambassadors, to assuage them after abolishing the CSP in 1973.

General Ziaul Haq kept up with the tradition of appointing retired top brass as envoys abroad. Among them was Lt-Gen Ejaz Azim who replaced Sahabzada Yakub Khan as ambassador to the United States. According to one account, Azim who was serving as corps commander at Mangla was told by Gen Zia that he had chosen Azim to represent Pakistan in Washington at a critical juncture in Pakistan’s relations with the US, as the country faced a growing Soviet threat from Afghanistan.

Benazir Bhutto too made appointments of non-career diplomats. Some of these were seen as simply cases of sending into exile certain personalities, notably General Assad Durrani, the former head of the ISI. While some saw Gen Durrani’s appointment as ambassador to Germany as a token of confidence, the version about sending him into exile seems to hold greater credence.

The Musharraf regime wanted to send a number of senior military men as envoys to some western countries. However, there was an unforeseen negative reaction from these countries, forcing the regime to change its decision and diverting the officers to posts in developing countries.

As the elected government moves closer to completing its full tenure for the first time in our history, it may be time to take stock of the practice of appointing non-career ambassadors in general, particularly to sensitive posts. The dubious practice of sending people into golden exile because of the rulers’ unease with certain individuals should be discontinued.

The recent press reports about divisions in the Foreign Office on postings to senior positions, and the role attributed to the presidency, are not in our national interest or even in good taste. The press should exercise caution and inform the public without dragging in individuals who, as public servants, are supposed to be faceless and not use the press for defending their position.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email: saeed.saeedk@gmail.com


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