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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Envoy to France: DMG gatecrashing case likely to go to court

Monday, June 29, 2009

By Qudssia Akhlaque, The News Daily

ISLAMABAD: A large number of officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have petitioned that the prime minister revisits government decision allowing a serving District Management Group (DMG) officer to gatecrash into the elite Foreign Service and grab the prized ambassadorial post in Paris.

Serving career Foreign Service officers have taken a tough stand against the unprecedented move by the PPP-led government to appoint a Grade-20 DMG officer, Mohammad Jehanzeb Khan, currently serving as Secretary Livestock & Dairy Development, Punjab, as ambassador to France. Several senior officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs signed a petition seeking review of the decision by the prime minister and handed it to the offices of the Foreign Minister and the Foreign Secretary for submission to the Prime Minister's Secretariat.

Indications are that if the prime minister does not intervene to stop the controversial posting of the Livestock and Dairy Development Secretary, it is likely to be challenged by a group of affected officials in a court of law.

According to informed sources, officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are seriously weighing out the available options of moving Islamabad High Court or the Federal Services Tribunal in the event the decision is not reversed. However, there are more chances of the aggrieved officers moving the High Court as the dominant view is that going to the Services Tribunal would not afford an efficacious remedy given its jurisdictional and procedural limitations.

"I am quite certain that if a writ petition is filed in the High Court it will be admitted right away as the affected officers have a very strong case," former foreign secretary Riaz Khokhar said when his attention was drawn to this issue. According to legal experts the High Court has the power to provide immediate relief by way of a 'stay order' resulting in withholding the posting orders in question.

Khokhar, who like many other former Pakistani diplomats is baffled by the government's ill-conceived move, sees it as "another horrible example" of incompetence and poor governance. "It devalues Pak-French relations and more importantly it is an insult to a great country," the former foreign secretary noted as he criticised the government's decision to appoint a DMG officer of Jehanzeb Khan's calibre as ambassador to France. "They have no respect for government institutions. This government seems to specialise in cronyism, nepotism and wheeling-dealing," he added.

The papers of Jehanzeb Khan have already been dispatched by the government to Paris for the Agreema but according to some diplomatic sources, the French may not give the green light any time soon and are likely to sleep over it.

"They will consider it an insult that such a junior officer is being sent as ambassador to their country," remarked one diplomat. Another view is that given the controversy this appointment has created and with a strong possibility of litigation against it, the French government may just want to 'wait and watch' and put the matter on hold.

Understandably the move is being greatly resented by career diplomats who feel extremely demoralised by this decision as it undermines their career path. Apparently, the move was opposed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which obviously does not have the last word on such matters. This is evident from credible reports that nomination papers of senior diplomat Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani named by the Foreign Office for the ambassadorial assignment in France were withdrawn to accommodate Jehanzeb Khan.

Most Foreign Ministry officials are mindful of the fact that ambassadorial postings are the sole prerogative of the government of the day and say they have no objection to political appointees who are competent, exceptionally outstanding professionals and accomplished individuals like Jamshed Marker or Dr Maleeha Lodhi. However, they are strongly opposed to officers from outside the Foreign Service and other service groups like the DMG gatecrashing into the top diplomatic slots of the Foreign Service after having made a clear choice of their career paths at the outset of their service.

"It is highly unfair that after opting for a certain career path an individual suddenly crosses over to another service to have the best of both the worlds," protested a senior officer at the Foreign Ministry.

Notably this is the first instance that a government in Islamabad has set a precedent of appointing a serving DMG officer, who was promoted to Grade 20 less than a year back, as ambassador to France. Traditionally very senior grade 22 career diplomats have been appointed to this position including the outgoing ambassador Asma Anisa and other top diplomats like Jamshed Marker and Ahmed Kamal. At least five former foreign secretaries served as ambassadors in Paris prior to their promotion to the top bureaucratic slot in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Among these were Shaharyar Khan, Gen Raza, Saeedullah Khan Dehlvi.

In past there have been instances when some retired DMG officers were posted as ambassadors. One recent example was appointment of Qamar Beg as ambassador to Italy in 2003 through the courtesy of former President Pervez Musharraf.

The frustration of career diplomats whose morale seems to be at the lowest ebb can be gauged by the fact that under this government most of the key ambassadorial assignments have gone to non-career diplomats. Among the political appointees are envoys to the US, Britain, UN Headquarters in New York, Iran, UAE, Libya and now to France.

It is unfathomable why at a time when the President and the foreign minister have been talking about the supposed French offer of civilian nuclear technology to Pakistan should a secretary livestock be sent to Paris as ambassador. When the services of plenty of very competent career officers trained for the job and well versed in diplomacy are available, why political appointments are made.

According to sources currently there are about 53 career officers at the Foreign Ministry and 20 are awaiting ambassadorial appointments. With negotiations on an important Pakistan-France bilateral framework agreement to begin next month in the run up to the planned visit of the French President this fall, it is pertinent to post the best career officer as envoy to Paris, which is politically and strategically an important world capital for Pakistan.

Please read also: Pakistan's new ambassador to France

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