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Friday, April 12, 2024

Prime Minister Abbasi nominates a young corporate figure Ali Jahangir Siddiqui as envoy to the US

News Analysis |

Using his prerogative, Prime Minister of Pakistan Shahid Khaqan Abbasi nominated Ali Jahangir Siddiqui as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States of America. Ali Jahangir Siddiqui, who is the son of renowned businessman and owner of JS Bank Jahangir Siddiqui, is currently serving as a special advisor to PM on the affairs of finance and economy.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from a prestigious Ivy League institute Cornell University and was honored by World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader in 2014. Upon his formal approval by the United States, which is a diplomatic norm, Siddiqui will be replacing Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry, a career diplomat who is about to retire in coming weeks.

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Aizaz Chaudhry has served for a long span of 36 years in Foreign Service of Pakistan, holding key positions such as Pakistan Ambassador to Netherland and foreign secretary from December 2013 to March 2017.

The decision of a new appointment rather giving an extension to the incumbent Chaudhary was a surprising development as the current government has just a couple of months at its disposal before it is dissolved. But government sources say that after the lobbying effort by US to put Pakistan in Financial Action Task Force (FATF) black list failed, a fresh approach was desperately needed to counter the western narrative.

The earlier evasion at FATF is regarded as a result of successful stratagem by Prime Minister’s special advisors Miftah Ismail and Ali Jahangir Siddiqui, which paved way for latter’s selection for this key position. Same reason was reiterated by Prime Minister Abbasi himself who, in his recent interview, also discarded the reports that the appointment is a clear conflict of interest as Mr. Siddiqui is a partner in Airblue limited, a low-cost airline owned by PM himself. He stated that all the decision and appointments he had made so far during the short run of his premiership are purely based on merit with not a slightest hint of nepotism.

Ali Jahangir Siddiqui who is an investment banker by profession, his record is exceptional as a businessman but has no experience of diplomacy whatsoever.

The matter has also raised questions about the Prime Minister’s entitlement in appointments at such crucial positions. Last year, during the hearing of Panama Gate, it came to light that chairman National Bank was very under qualified for the post he was serving.

Especially in case of appointing ambassadors, it is being said that a process similar to what is followed in the United States should be adopted where the candidate is validated by a congressional committee.  While the appointment of ambassadors is a matter of discretion for the sitting Prime Minister, there also is a precedence where non-diplomats have been chosen; Wajid Shamsul Hassan, Sherry Rehman, Hussien Haqqani and Syeda Abida Hussien to name a few.

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But even in these examples, there seems to be a pattern where reputable politicians for this post, because of their improvised skills to negotiate, were still understandable. However, in case of Ali Jahangir Siddiqui who is an investment banker by profession, his record is exceptional as a businessman but has no experience of diplomacy whatsoever.

Since it has been a hot topic of debate in talk shows, experts seem to converge on the point that it should have been a seasoned diplomat keeping in view the nature and sensitivity of relations Pakistan has with the United States. But talking to Talat Hussien in his program on Geo News, senator-elect Dr. Musaddiq Malik of PML (N) stated that Mr. Siddiqui’s colleagues at Cornell could be holding key positions in United States government and administration which can be a plus as well. It is almost the same reason why Syeda Abida Hussien was appointed, because of her better skill set to deal with westerners as she had lived among them when she was a student, as envoy to United Stated by Benazir Bhutto in 1991.

In retrospect, the relations between two countries were turbulent as they are right now, but then the reason was Pakistan’s atomic program and now it is the “Haqqanis”. But Prime Minister Abbasi seems confident enough to state that we will be witnessing the positive outcomes of this appointment very soon.

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Because of the strategic nature of relations Pakistan has with United States, Afghanistan and India, it has been a tradition to consult the top military brass before appointing a high commissioner in these countries. In the past, there have been reports in the media that security elite had expressed dissatisfaction over the way affairs were conducted by then Ambassador Hussien Haqqani during his tenure. It is imperative to see how events unfold in the context of civil-military relations after this unforeseen out-of-the-box nomination.

Recently Pakistan has outrageously rejected the FATF petition for putting the country on black list, a move led by United States and backed by France, Britain and Germany. The fact that the historic ally of Pakistan went to such length against it speaks volume about the cold state of affairs between the two at this point of time.

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In the pretext of security situation in Afghanistan, the ties cannot be allowed to deteriorate further and serious diplomatic efforts need to be put from both sides. Owing to the gravity of circumstances, the apparent impromptu appointment has not been met with a warm welcome at home but the hope is that it turns out the way Prime Minster has stated in his interview recently, positive for the country.