Our erstwhile Metternich - Zafar Hilaly - Thursday, April 07, 2011

Just as it is always said of slander, that something always sticks when people boldly slander, so it might be said of self-praise, that if we praise ourselves fearlessly, something will always stick. But praise will only stick, said Francis Bacon, if it is not entirely ridiculous.

Alas, that’s what the self-cloned Bhutto, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, is increasingly beginning to sound. Just the other day he claimed credit for the supposed improvement in US-Pakistan relations. Now he has proclaimed himself to be the architect of our India policy. India’s belated decision to re-engage with Pakistan had been mapped out by him while he was in office. It was he who cleared the path to a full-scale resumption of the India-Pakistan dialogue. It’s just as well Qureshi was no longer on the scene when we were in the World Cup semifinals, or he would have also claimed credit for Manmohan Singh’s invitation to Gilani. Earlier, Qureshi had insinuated how much he was loved by the Foreign Office and his farewell, a routine matter accorded to all foreign ministers, had about it the aura of a wake, if one is to believe the version of tutored hacks.

In the Foreign Office there is a tendency to feign belief, and much else that’s part of their trade. During their careers officers have had to pretend or fake belief in the policies of assorted governments and put up with the caprices and eccentricities of foreign ministers, so much so that after a while it becomes second nature. But only politicians who have fallen in love with themselves get fooled by the pretence. The reality check only occurs once the minister has left office. The fate of two appointees of Qureshi is illustrative.

The first relates to the optician and inseparable companion, nay, bum chum, Nisar Ali Khan. Qureshi persuaded Zardari/Gilani to appoint him as ambassador at large. While Qureshi was in office, Nisar roamed the world unquestioned. However, once Qureshi departed the scene Nisar, the optician, showed he possessed 20/20 vision, because he stopped turning up to work. The Foreign Office wallahs, who till recently were so beloved of Qureshi and his chum are now so happy he has gone and so desperate Nisar not return they are offering his well-furnished office on the third floor to any passer-by, including a former ambassador who was asked to “please go and sit there and work out of it.” As for the indispensable advice Nisar rendered and the economic expertise he claimed to possess, only Qureshi fully appreciated it. No professional considered it anything but dispensable. One of them actually said: “I haven’t a clue why he was appointed and what he was supposed to do.”

If Ambassador at Large Nisar does not turn up to work except to pick up the mail, and is truly “at large,” then, hopefully, like the patriot he claims to be, he has stopped accepting the hefty Rs100,000 allowance, as well as the other hefty perks which come with the job, including the tab of expensive five-star hotels.

In contrast, another such ambassador at large, the journalist and restaurateur working in Dubai, had the decency to resign once he discovered his (non-existent) diplomatic talents were neither appreciated nor utilised. In stark contrast to this is the demeanour of yet another ambassador at large, Zia Ispahani, who maintains a Spartan outfit at his own cost in Karachi and regularly entertains foreign diplomats. Zia Ispahani guards the contents of his conversations with these foreigners with a jealously which suggests that, if leaked, their assessments of the government’s performance would either bring about a rupture in relations or cost him and his interlocutors their jobs.

Another example of the indifference of the Foreign Office to the outgoing foreign ministers was for it to immediately reassign Qureshi’s chosen nominee for the ambassadorial slot in Saudi Arabia. The poor fellow was about to board the plane for Riyadh, so to speak, when he was told of his reassignment. He has been replaced by a quintessential babu, with a top story to let, only because he apparently grovels before the foreign secretary rather than the former foreign minister.

Notwithstanding such antics, the importance attached to an ambassadorial assignment in Saudi Arabia today is of course immeasurably greater than it was a few decades ago, when the Saudis were treated as mortals. Actually, then it was virtually nonexistent. So much so that one Secretary, Administration never bothered to meet the ambassador. This became evident when our then ambassador to Saudi Arabia, seeing the secretary greet him with an extended hand as he disembarked from his flight at Islamabad airport, gushed, “Sir, you should have not taken the trouble to come yourself.”

When they were in the car, the secretary asked the ambassador how the wheat harvest had gone. The ambassador replied that it had gone well. “What about the water supply?” the secretary asked. “Well, as you know, sir, that’s always a problem in Saudi Arabia,” the ambassador replied. “Saudi Arabia? Who’s talking about Saudi Arabia, you fool,” snapped the secretary and, before the astonished ambassador could reply, asked him, “Who are you?” When the ambassador told him, he shouted, “Oh! I thought you were the new manager of my lands. Get off! Get off! I have to pick him up.” As the driver turned the car to dash back to the airport, the ambassador was seen by the road, bag in hand, hailing a cab.

Come to think of it, that seemed the right amount of emphasis to be attached to the Saudis. Nor, frankly, would it have mattered who we sent, the secretary’s land manager would have been as good. (As it happened, the ambassador was a second-rung politician whom Bhutto wanted to be rid of at home.) Actually, even today our ambassador in Riyadh doesn’t get within hailing distance of the king, although the Saudi envoy here is wined (juiced) and dined by the president.

By keeping the slot of foreign minister vacant following Qurashi’s sacking, the government is for once being both realistic and candid about the state of affairs. Pakistan does not have a foreign policy, so why have a foreign minister, especially one so puffed up with self-importance as Qureshi. Ours is a one-dimensional approach to foreign affairs. Only Pakistan-US relations count, and these are effectively handled, on the one hand, by Haqqani and Zardari and, on the other hand, by the army. When the two sides agree all is well, and when they do not, the army’s call prevails. In the case of Afghanistan and India, of course, the locus of power resides entirely with GHQ.

In the circumstances I am not sure what role our erstwhile Metternich thought he played, which in his view was so crucial to this country’s foreign policy that without him it would somehow become inoperable and rudderless. Close to the shrine in Multan to which he tends as the hereditary protector, there must be graves of seemingly “indispensable” men. In fact, it must be full of such graves, considering the importance they congenitally attach to themselves.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email: charles123it@hotmail.com

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=40320&Cat=9

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