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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tongues wagging over envoy choice for France

Monday, June 29, 2009

By Mariana Baabar


 

ISLAMABAD: Institutional rumblings against the appointment of a junior Grade 20 DMG officer Jehanzeb Khan as Pakistan's ambassador to France threatens to snowball into a full blown controversy and blow up in the government's face, unless remedial measures are taken by the prime minister's office, sources in the Foreign Office (FO) claimed.

The appointment of a junior official in one of the most important capitals was deemed bad enough by FO top honchos but the issue assumed altogether new and unacceptable proportions, as per FO sources, with Jehanzeb's appointment being made in place of the distinguished career officer Jalil Jillani, who is now reportedly being accommodated as Ambassador to Brussels.

Tongues are already wagging about the 'real undeclared reasons' for this appointment and why the government, despite the open opposition by FO top hierarchy, is insistent upon the imposition of a Grade 20 officer presently working as secretary livestock in the Punjab Government as Pakistan's next ambassador to France.

According to a highly reliable source, deputy head of mission in Paris, Rafiuzzaman Siddiqui approached Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir on Friday and requested his repatriation to Headquarters in Islamabad as he let it be known that he would not serve under a junior DMG officer.

On Saturday, Ambassador Sher Afgan Khan, President of Association of Former Ambassadors (AFA) wrote to Prime Minister Gilani, drawing his attention to the fact that the AFA had been heartened by his statement that all appointments would be made on the basis of merit and competence alone. The AFA in this regard asked the prime minister to reconsider Jehanzeb Khan's appointment to Paris.

In this regard the AFA reminded the prime minister that France is one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Paris one of the most important world capitals. Pakistan's interests there are multi-dimensional and cover diverse areas, such as political matters, security, defence, UN Security Council affairs and Pakistan-European ties, in addition to purely economic and commercial interests. The AFA asked how France would react to a junior non-career official, which many in the diplomatic world interpret as a "down gradation" of ties.

In fact the AFA goes further to ask the prime minister to start phasing out the 'out dated' quota reserved for non-career ambassadors, a move which would put Pakistan closer to world practices where only a handful of such nominees are made and those too in very exceptional cases.

Interestingly in a rare instance, a member of the AFA and former Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad writing an op-ed piece in a national daily says, "Never have we sent an officer of Grade 20 rank to a capital of this high importance and profile. It is beyond reason and imagination that our government which claims to be setting the standards of 'good governance' and which is also beating Marco Polo records with its leaders travelling overseas endlessly in search of "friends of Pakistan" should be naive enough to insult an important country which genuinely is a friend of Pakistan." He says that the planned appointment is a demeaning gesture to France, one of the P-5s and Pakistan's leading EU partner.

Some in the FO are even talking about reported government plans to sell the historic chateau, Pakistan House in Paris. To date, the government has not rebutted the published report in this regard.

Then there is a generous move by the French government to enter into a dialogue with Pakistan on civil nuclear energy for which the first round of talks starts in July. Added to this are reports from Paris where members of the French opposition are asking the government there to look into allegations that the killing of 11 French engineers in Karachi was a result of foul play regarding the non-payment of commissions and was not a terrorist attack as portrayed earlier.

That the FO is vehemently opposed to this appointment is open knowledge, and while officially the appointment has been made by the government of Pakistan through its chief executive, questions are being asked about the 'real decision maker' in this case. According to knowledgeable insiders of FO, fingers are being pointed in the direction of the Presidency as well. While the jury is still out on who is behind the man, what is clear is that FO is not, and that is hardly a promising start for our diplomatic initiative in France.


 


 

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