Expose: Pakistan’s lame, apathetic foreign service“The arrow shot by the archer may or may not kill a single person. But stratagems devised by a wise man can kill even babes in the womb.” ― Chanakya Kautilya
Long before Narendra Modi took over, India chalked out a comprehensive plan to marginalise and defame Pakistan globally. Islamabad’s incompetent political leaders, rash generals and lousy bureaucrats unknowingly contributed their fair share. Yes, it sounds disturbing and even melodramatic. But it’s very true.
After the Indian military took one month to mobilise along the border with Pakistan following an attack on the Parliament, the then Vajpayee-led Indian government sought a standardised plan against Pakistan. The doctrine that resulted was called the Cold Start.
Besides, various localised thrust of military hardware aimed at inflicting damage to the adversary and eventually disabling the use of a nuclear option, it assigned equal significance to the government’s diplomatic arm – the external affairs ministry – to portray Pakistan as the “epicenter of terrorism”. The Indian media which rarely challenges the South Block built the narrative which Indian diplomats efficiently propagated through official and unofficial channels.
Meanwhile, Islamabad basked in the narcissism of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf with his political opposition treating its wounds in Jeddah and London.
So now, India has taken off both its gloves and mask. The war drums are beating with chorus of Hindutva militia at full pitch.
India’s policy used in the past will be maintained by war or war mongering. The Pakistani military might be ready and armed-to-teeth but there is one huge gap in its defenses: the country’s lousy foreign ministry and its venal diplomats.
After over two-dozen background interviews, this correspondent has been able to synthesise some of the core flaws confronting the efficiency of Pakistan’s foreign ministry.
Being the second largest Muslim country and the sixth most populous nation, Pakistan has a significant diplomatic footprint in the world. The number of Pakistani embassies has grown and so has the staff deputed there. Over the past three decades, however, the country’s civil services have steadily declined in terms of quality of manpower, training and motivation. This may have a lot to do with politicisation of bureaucracy as well as the military’s soaring interference.
Currently, the ambassadors appointed can be divided in three categories; career diplomats, retired military officers (ranging from colonels to generals) and political appointees, including mid-level bankers such as those in Qatar to top-notch journalists like Dr Maleeha Lodhi. The mix baggage brings out mixed results. Not all career diplomats know what they are supposed to do while not every political appointee or ex-military man is there to enjoy the perks.There is little or no communication between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other institutions of national security and internal security of Pakistan.
One example is that of Pakistan’s policy on drone strikes. While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs printed reams of paper on Pakistan’s anger and protests on drone strikes, the United States’ CIA and Pakistan’s military were both cooperating on drone strikes and targeting of alleged militants.
Brainstorming at any level is non-existent in the ministry of foreign affairs.
The additional secretaries’ meeting is the only forum in the ministry where some sort of minimal discussion or brainstorming takes place. However, this is only at the highest level and does not engage even the director or director general level officers. From the additional secretary level to the assistant director, 99 per cent of the effort consists of writing inane and clichéd talking points and worthless noting on irrelevant files. They are precisely glorified clerks mostly playing the role of postmen.The result is that the foreign policy is made mostly on whim and dictation from either the General Headquarters or the prime minister’s office leading to U-turns and last-minute fire-fighting.
A case in point can be the Torkham border-crossing row with Afghanistan, when the Foreign Office was unaware of the discussions between the army and the Afghan ambassador.
Despite major back-to-back challenges such as Indian nuclear tests in 1998, followed by September 11 attacks, the Pakistani foreign ministry could not establish a round-the-clock crisis center. Pakistani embassies in Mexico or Argentina have to comply with Islamabad’s office timing in case a diplomat bothers to reach out to the headquarters on some important matter. How many countries in a similar situation can rely on a 9:00am to 3:00pm standard office routine?
With career planning virtually non-existent, there is no co-relation between language training and foreign posting. In many cases, officers are never sent to the country whose language they have learnt, thus they lose the ability to either speak or write in it.
While there is no foreign policy evolution process at work, there is no regional, bilateral or multi-lateral specialisation. An officer serving in New Delhi might be posted to Pretoria in South Africa. Eventually most Pakistani diplomats remain amateurs with very basic skills of knowing know how to wear a tie and a suit and lock themselves up in embassies or consulates.
Further, Pakistan which is involved in major legal disputes has the weakest international law expertise in international law. The international law offices are a sick pretention of the capacity in the ministry, thus leading to an outsourcing of cases to legal fraternity in the private sector. Obviously, no lessons were learnt from the downing of Pakistan Navy’s spy plane by India or failure to win litigation on the water conflict. There are bound to be more legal issues with India.On the contrary, Indian embassies maintain a better quality of service with particular emphasis on public policy and community engagement.
The media narrative which is already damaging to Pakistan is further supplemented by Indian journalists working in foreign countries such as the Gulf region and North America. While the state largely controls the media in the GCC region, the English language newspapers are flooded with anti-Pakistan headlines while nothing critical can be published against the ruler of another friendly country, Egypt’s Sisi regime. There is a total inability of writing anything beyond ill-composed letters to the editor. Op-ed articles by Pakistani diplomats are un-imaginable and media monitoring at embassy-level is negligible as most diplomats take press coverage as fait accompli.
While one of the primary tasks of embassies is consular service, there is absolutely no training of Foreign Service officers in such matters. In fact the quintessential training of a Pakistani diplomat is antithetical to compassion, kindness and empathy needed for the consular work. Such traits are never sought after in an officer when posting to consular missions catering to large Pakistan expatriates.
There are able exceptions of some extremely capable consular officers, but very rare!
Though they join the service after passing Central Superior Services’ examination, 60 to 70 per cent of Pakistani diplomats cannot speak simple English while addressing audiences in universities and think tanks. Blame the quota system if you will or the foreign ministry itself, which lacks anything but discipline and focus. Even in cases where they do speak, the diplomats are totally bereft of intellectual depth or the ability to speak beyond clichéd, hackneyed briefs which are of zero interest to well informed audiences in Europe and North America.
One case in point was the total lack of response to the poisonous anti Pakistan narrative spun out of Toronto by Tariq Fateh and his gang of half a dozen followers. Their connections for funding and narrative are abundantly well known. Over the last decade, nobody amongst the Pakistani diplomats in prized stations such as Washington DC, New York, Los Angeles and Toronto invested enough effort and intellectual depth to counter on shallow and venomous narratives of Fateh’s ilk. Then, it was only the individual effort or un-official audacity of a diplomat and some expatriate Pakistanis in Canada who demolished the inaccurate. Majority of Pakistani diplomats are devoid of such caliber, motivation and absolute knowledge of history and affairs.In the age of alternate media, tragically, Pakistani diplomats are utterly untrained in using social media for foreign policy objectives.
So far, ministry of foreign affairs has not held a single workshop on use of social media whereas such trainings are held routinely in small private sector organizations. Therefore, lack of resources cannot be an excuse for lack of vision and total ignorance from advanced in communication.
The embassy websites are another fiasco. Lacking a standardized format, the information provided is rarely updated, and most insufficient to answer the basic questions. Top foreign ministry officials along with the ones posted in embassies rely on Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo for official communication. Mostly the Facebook pages and Twitter handles of ambassadors and embassies are non-existent, and those having account are not all active. WhatsApp and Viber provide the best hotlines.
The foreign ministry direly necessitates massive restructuring and reforms. The government needs to debate as whether it must take officers from the CSP pool or those who appear and pass through rigorous evaluation process specifically evolved for the country’s future diplomats. Should the diplomats be attending the courses for promotion with other bureaucrats (baboos) of grade 19 and beyond? The question of promotion criteria is equally crucial. Should not their specialization, dedication, analytical skills, foreign language proficiency to be forming the criteria, to name a few? Ominous is acute dearth of analytical skills in the diplomatic corps employed by Islamabad given fast-paced developments, realignments in the region and world as well as conflict deepening or emerging.
To a significant extent, apathy toward Foreign Service academy is to be blamed as well. From communication skills to the art of negotiation, the training leaves a lot to be desired.
The stiff-necked young officers it churns out are too lightweight to keep up the traditions of Sir Zafarullah Khan, Pitras Bokhari, and Sahibzada Yaqub Khan et al. The academy should not only be the focal point not for training but also career planning, and specialized and advanced courses too.Non-diplomatic staff is another thorn in the neck. They are no different in aspiration and selfish pursuits than the ambassador and the other diplomatic staff. Lacking proper training, devoid of local language and charmed by facilities abroad, often such clerks and secretaries act like ambassadors within community and mint money in return for their assigned jobs.
To forward Pakistan’s national interest and to counter India’s Cold Start doctrine, the foreign ministry can’t be left in the cold. If ambassador Tariq Fatemi is not abreast of the flaws and ready to reform, who else would!