When diplomats anywhere fight, it does not ooze blood, but the damage is done, not just to the fighters and their targets, but to the country concerned. This has just happened to Pakistan.
Abdul Basit, who was the high commissioner to India till only a few weeks and had made both friends and foes in New Delhi’s diplomatic and social circles with his tough but suave talk, has written nasty letter to his former boss, then Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry, who is now the ambassador to the United States.
“Discrediting [Paki¬stan’s] Ambassador [to the United States] Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry at a time when he is dealing with a very difficult situation is no service to Pakistan,” said a senior diplomatic observer in Washington. “It will definitely not help promote Pakistan’s cause,” Dawn newspaper was told.
“The embassy was already finding it difficult to do so in today’s hostile environment and the letter has further complicated the situation,” the observer added. In the letter, Mr Basit lambasted Mr Chaudhry’s tenure as foreign secretary over a number of policy gaffes made during his time in the office.
“The more I think the more I am convinced that you have been the worst foreign secretary ever,” Mr Basit wrote in the letter, a copy of which has been circulating on social media.
It would have been a storm in the diplomatic cup but for the fact that the letter, certified as genuine by unnamed, but official sources in Islamabad, has been leaked when Pakistan is fighting a loud and direct lack of no confidence expressed by none less than President Donald Trump in the form of the Afghanistan and South Asia policy.
An angry Pakistan is livid and the Foreign Minister in Abbasi Government, Khawaja Asif has told the country’s lawmakers, who may even more angry than the minister, that Pakistan has ‘suspended’ all talks, all visits to and from Washington in ‘protest’ against Trump’s speech.
The word suspension of diplomatic ties is mildly and unofficially put, as Pakistan dare not formally break ties with its principal benefactor. The US enjoys overwhelming clout in Islamabad, whatever the latter may want to crow about its “all weather” friendship with China/
The stink over the Basit letter, said to be written in July, is spreading in the diplomatic circles of Islamabad and Washington. The damage is yet being assessed by a beleaguered government of a prime minister, Khaqan Abbasi, whose enjoys little clout and his own tenure is uncertain.
The Basit-Chaudhry differences were known even when he was in New Delhi fighting the tough mood that the Narendra Modi has created against Pakistan in the wake of several terror attacks on the border. Basit found lack of cooperation and appreciation from Chaudhry and the bigger boss, Sartaj Aziz, then Foreign Policy Advisor and the virtual foreign minister under Nawaz Sharif.
The Delhi posting for a Pakistani diplomat is always dicey. Some like Riaz Khokar went on to become Foreign Secretary. But Ashraf Jahangir Qazi, who was the high commissioner during the Kargil conflict, did not make it. Perhaps, he had retained the goodwill of the Delhi’s high society amidst hostilities better than Basit did. But in both cases, powers that be in Islamabad did not appreciate their performance in tough times.
It was well known in Islamabad, New Delhi and elsewhere that Basit expected to elevated as the Foreign Secretary. There media were reports to that effect. The next possibility was to Washington as ambassador, another tough but highly prestigious assignment in recognition of the work done in New Delhi.
Sadly for Basit, both did not happen. He lost out to Tehmina Janjua as Foreign Secretary. She was handpicked by Nawaz and it is not clear who played the spoiler. Significantly, Basit does not seem to be angry with Janjua. But he is definitely angry with Chaudhry who he thinks played some role in scuttling his appointment to the top job but also wangled the job in Washington. An angry Basit sought premature end to his tenure in New Delhi and returned home to lick the proverbial wounds.
The letter, said to have been written in July, has curiously got leaked after Trump’s scathing criticism of Pakistan’s handling of the Afghanistan relations. It comes when Chaudhry is fighting with his back to the wall in Washington when his country has been castigated at the highest level.
As it is, Chaudhry has had a bad time making himself heard. The Trump administration was hostile to Pakistan even before it took office in February this year. Washington was livid when a telephone conversation between Trump and Nawaz Sharif was publicized by Islamabad in a manner that is considered bad in diplomacy.
Washington did not relish the way publicity was given to what Nawaz told Trump, but also what Trump was supposed to have told Nawaz during a confidential and one-to-one talk. It was promptly refuted and Pakistan was reminded that it should stick to diplomatic norms.
Things were bad even when Chaudhry took over. At a meeting of think tanks discussing the Afghanistan situation, Chaudhry was openly laughed at by other participants when he claimed that there were no Afghan Taliban in his country and that Pakistan was not supporting them against the Ashraf Ghani Government in Kabul.
Chaudhry went to the extent of denying that his government was supporting the Haqqani network of fighters who are specifically targeting the American interests in Afghanistan.
The Afghan ambassador, the Americans and Indians participating in the discussion roundly rejected what Chaudhry was claiming. Reports said Chaudhry was jeered. Both Washington and Islamabad took dim view of what happened.
As it is Chaudhry and the Pakistani establishment are constantly fighting Ambassador Husain Haqqani, who was Pakistan’s envoy to Washington and lambasted at home, especially by the powerful army, stayed on in Washington to head the prestigious Hudson Institute’s South Asia unit.
The Basit letter hurts Chaudhry but hurts Pakistan more at a time of turmoil and political uncertainties. Nawaz is out of power, removed by the Supreme Court and he and his family members are facing investigation on graft charges.
But Nawaz is very much in charge and new foreign minister Khawaja Asif took orders from him before embarking on his first foreign visit.
Yet, the criticism is being laid at Nawaz’s doorstep. The failure is being attributed to Nawaz never appointing what the critics and the media called “a full time foreign minister.” Sartaj Aziz, the octogenarian was always f0und to be an easy target.
It is also being alluded that Basit was a victim of nepotism, and is being hailed, ‘sadly’ and ‘unfortunately’ for speaking the ‘truth’.
By all available indications, Pakistan shall remain in America’s dog house, even after the ill effects of the diplomats’ dogfight are gone. (Ends)