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Pakistan’s foreign office has been subjected to criticism for weeks over the issue of an alleged conspiracy to remove former Premier Imran Khan from office. The National Security Committee (NSC) has on Friday categorically stated that there was no foreign conspiracy.

However, the event involving former US ambassador Asad Majeed Khan’s conversation with a senior US government official, which he duly reported to Islamabad, has become the center of this controversy.

Over the course of time, many stated Khan’s claim should be investigated. Last week, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General (DG) Major General Babar Iftikhar also said that the alleged “threat letter” amounted to interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs which was duly mentioned in the statement issued after a meeting of the National Security Committee last month.

However, he rejected the impression that the word conspiracy can be mentioned to describe the event.

"The words used are in front of you ... as I said ... the words used are clear. Is there any word such as conspiracy used in it? I think not," Major General Iftikhar had said.

The entire episode has brought to attention not only the workings of the foreign office but also its core force that is operating across the world to protect the country’s interests.

On March 27, when former premier Imran Khan claimed that he had something in writing proving that his regime was being threatened from outside, no one would have imagined that Pakistan’s foreign office will become the target of the country’s government and political parties.

What started as a mere accusation led to the government calling a NSC meeting to discuss the issue and proposals to form a high powered commission to investigate the matter.

After Khan’s removal from power, newly-elected prime minister Shehbaz Sharif had announced to call a video meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security with the participation of military leadership, DG ISI, Ambassador Asad Majeed, and Secretary of Foreign Affairs to discuss the “cypher note” sent by the Pakistan Embassy in Washington.

The controversy didn’t end there.

The leadership of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) even questioned the authenticity of the cypher note that was filed by Ambassador Majeed. PDM even claimed that Ambassador Majeed was forced to file the cable and that his transfer to Belgium after was also part of the plan to shield him from criticism.

It is unfortunate that political parties have gone to extreme lengths to undermine their diplomats to settle with each other.

Foreign missions of countries across the world are tasked to do what Ambassador Majeed did: report the sentiment and perceptions of capitals they are posted at back home. This entire exercise is focused on offering data and information to policy makers to plan their future actions and gauge the mood of governments abroad.

The PTI government should not have revealed the work of its diplomat posted in a country whose role in Pakistan is widely seen as interventionist.

While Imran Khan may have been able to rally crowds over the issue of alleged conspiracy, Pakistan foreign office’s work in Washington now faces an uphill task.

The new government is now expected to reset ties with the US which were reportedly damaged by the infamous diplomatic cable.

Pakistan’s embassy in Washington will struggle to conduct diplomacy let alone do the much needed lobbying work to further Islamabad’s interests. Pakistan’s foreign office faces stiff competition from countries like India when it comes to protecting its interests abroad, particularly in the US.

The last thing Pakistan needed was to undermine its own diplomat’s work by involving it in domestic politics. The event has allowed India another opportunity to accelerate its lobbying work against Pakistan in Washington by using ambassador Majeed’s affair to further sow distrust between the two countries.

Moreover, the event also makes the country’s diplomats vulnerable. When a diplomat knows that his or her work could end up on prime time shows back home and may be a topic of discussion at rallies, conducting a routine diplomatic exercise may become an issue.

It is even possible that some diplomats, fearing repercussions like ambassador Majeed is now facing, could avoid filing cables that should otherwise reach Islamabad. Consequently, Pakistan’s policymakers could end up losing valuable information needed to make future policies.

As things stand, the foreign office’s politicisation does not appear to be ending anytime soon. Currently, two major coalition parties are vying for control of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. While PPP has appointed Hina Rabbani Khar as the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif appointed his own special assistant for the same portfolio, only to take it back the next day.

Amidst all of this, we are not sure what will become of the post of Foreign Minister.

Reports indicated PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was a candidate for the Foreign Ministerial post.

Either way, the work of the foreign office has become all the more complicated as the Prime Minister Office, under the PML-N, would want to push forward its agenda while the PPP could have a different one.

Pakistan faces acute economic and diplomatic challenges, meaning the foreign office and its work should always be kept above petty political interests. It’s about time that political parties take a step back and allow the foreign office to conduct its work.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

Umair Jamal

The writer is Head of the Political Desk at Business Recorder (Digital)


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