On 5th May, Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed Pakistan’s envoys in 19 countries through video conferencing which was telecast live on TV.
The Prime Minister’s address has stirred a hornet’s nest in Pakistan. Newspapers such as DAWN have penned a blistering polemic of the Prime Minister’s address and called it an exercise in ‘grandstanding’ that has ‘demoralized’ the foreign office officials.
Several former envoys and senior diplomats have also jumped in and criticized the Prime Minister for publicly chastising Pakistan’s diplomatic corps. The critics argue that the Prime Minister painted the entire canvas with one brush and ended up causing more harm than good.
Was the Prime Minister’s blitzkrieg against the envoys justified? First, let us look at what prompted the Prime Minister to publicly address the envoys.
Reasons for the public address
The Prime Minister’s office has been receiving several complaints from the Pakistani diaspora abroad about the poor treatment meted out to them by Pakistani embassies. These include complaints about unnecessary delays and complications in availing routine services, non-adherence to time commitments, and the indifferent attitude of staff in embassies.
In his address, the Prime Minister asked the diplomats to shed their bad attitude and the colonial mindset reminiscent of the British era. He specifically mentioned that the Pakistani labor class in Saudi Arabia and U.A.E. has lodged several complaints about facing problems dealing with embassy staff.
Citing this example, the Prime Minister pointedly asked all envoys to serve the interests of the Pakistani laborers and working-class – the majority group of Pakistanis abroad who face most hardships while financially supporting their families back home.
Another possible reason behind the public address was to put the country’s bureaucracy as well as his own constituency on notice that ‘the Prime Minister cares and is watching’.
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With elections a little more than two years away, the Prime Minister is perhaps for the first time thinking like a politician and astutely tapping into his crucial vote bank: the Pakistani diaspora abroad that has been sending record remittances that have helped shore up Pakistan’s financial coffers.
Should envoys be held responsible?
Now onto whether the Prime Minister was right or wrong in publicly addressing the envoys. Let me say this much: in a country like Pakistan where a rugged bureaucratic dispensation is used to old ways of working and adept at deflecting blame, the Prime Minister’s address was a timely intervention and an attempt at ‘creative destruction’ of the vanities that have animated most of our envoys abroad.
It is a known fact that most of our envoys are indifferent to the common man’s woes. Although Pakistan has produced some fine diplomats over the years who have diligently served the country, it is a fact known to those living abroad that Pakistan’s embassies are not particularly renowned for going out of their way to help address the issues faced by the common man.
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Most of our embassies are run by envoys who act like overlords and treat working-class Pakistanis as if they are there to serve them instead of the other way around.
In defense of Pakistan’s serving envoys, former envoys have pointed out that the Prime Minister was improperly briefed before his address and that certain services required by Pakistani diaspora are not provided by the embassies but by other ministries and governmental departments in Pakistan and that, therefore, blaming the envoys or embassies is misplaced.
There is indeed truth in this statement because a number of services provided by the embassies depend on other government ministries and departments in Pakistan. However, during his address, the Prime Minister expressly acknowledged that embassies could be understaffed and facing issues.
The Prime Minister, therefore, asked the envoys to come forward and let the government know if they require governmental assistance to be able to better service the Pakistani diaspora.
Pakistan’s mob mentality
Perhaps the most noteworthy – and rather unfortunate – outcome of the Prime Minister’s address is the across-the-board bitter reaction generated among the foreign service cadre.
Several prominent former envoys jumped in to deodorize the reputation of Pakistan’s serving envoys and the embassies. This should come as no surprise.
Over the years, Pakistan has become the hotbed of a ‘mob mentality’ where groups such as bureaucrats, lawyers, students (you name it), instead of taking criticism positively, react whenever they are called out for poor performance and who habitually vilify wise counsel offered to them.
It is, therefore, expected that disgruntled elements in Pakistan’s foreign office who feel threatened will use their muscle through other social media to nitpick on the Prime Minister’s endeavor and make it appear as an exercise in bad faith.
It is all the more important that the Prime Minister’s address is followed by some further tangible steps on the ground. The Foreign Office must be asked to map out and identify all services provided to the Pakistani diaspora that depend on back-office support from other Pakistani ministries and departments.
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Based on this mapping, the governmental ministries and departments that provide support must be unequivocally told to ensure that they provide their services to the embassies in a timely manner so that they, in turn, can effectively service the Pakistani diaspora.
Envoys should do their duty
In his address, Imran Khan asked envoys to facilitate foreign investment from the host country to Pakistan. As an example, he mentioned that Indian envoys have been instrumental in bringing foreign investment from the Middle Eastern countries to India.
In response to this statement by PM Imran Khan, a number of our ex-envoys and ambassadors pointed out that bringing foreign investment to Pakistan does not fall within the scope of the duties of Pakistani envoys. This response by our ex-envoys is misplaced and unfortunate.
As a Pakistani settled in the Middle East for the past 13 years, I am a testament to the role that ambassadors from other countries (including India) have played in projecting a positive image of their country and in generating goodwill that has translated into substantial foreign investment.
Asking envoys to sell ‘brand Pakistan’ and generate this goodwill is not asking for much. Rather, it is a duty of the envoys, that they should have fulfilled yesterday.
In summary, this is the 21st Century and not 1857. Our ambassadors and envoys are not British overlords with trappings of grandeur, inaccessible to the masses, and there to ‘rule’ their subjects. Instead, our envoys, like all other bureaucrats of Pakistan, are, first and foremost, public servants who are there to serve the public.
The sum and substance of the Prime Minister’s address were to wake up the bureaucracy from its slumber and to remind that a public servant’s utmost loyalty should be towards the people of Pakistan. It is in this context that the Prime Minister’s address must be viewed and appreciated instead of being criticized.
The author is an international lawyer based in the Middle East. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School U.S.A. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.