We Must Get Our House In Order

Former Ambassador Tayyab Siddiqui offers an excellent column in today’s The News that follows well on the theme of Kamran Shafi’s column in Dawn yesterday – it is up to us to take the reins and make our nation as great as its potential. With the whole world watching, we must get our house in order.

A favourite pastime of our politicians is to call foreign policy a failure and accuse the diplomats abroad of not projecting the image of Pakistan and its interests. Quite often, parallels are drawn with India’s conduct of diplomacy and our diplomats are pilloried for their inefficiency and incompetence. There is little realisation that a country’s foreign policy and image is the mirror of its domestic policy and circumstances. No envoy is a magician, nor can he afford to be a con man, particularly in the present age of information explosion.

It is now a fashion in Pakistan to call upon the ambassadors to present a soft image of the country without thinking what exactly a soft image is and what should be the mechanism to project it. Gone are the days when the word of an envoy was taken as gospel truth and with lack of other avenues to ascertain the truth of the statements of an envoy, the interlocutor had to accord credibility to the information disseminated. Not anymore.

The envoy is a representative of a country to relay and project the policies and perspectives of his country and seek the understanding and support of the country of his accreditation. His stock in trade is credibility and trust, and he is taken seriously and given high pedestal in society for these qualities. Once it is compromised, the mission that he carries lapses into nothingness. In a nutshell, the ambassador can embellish the good news or minimise the impact of a negative development, but what he cannot do is deny or hide the facts.

The mandate of an ambassador has expanded beyond recognition. Now, it is not only the projection of foreign policy issues that he is charged with. He has to deal with a wide range of policies as well ranging from democracy, human rights, good governance, treatment of minorities, gender discrimination etc. A country’s soft image is conveyed only if all these aspects of a society meet the standard, raising minimum concerns from the international community. The emergence of NGOs devoted to social issues and working as a watchdog, particularly in the Third World, is a development of enormous significance. Organisations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group among others have their presence in most capitals and collect and collate the information in most methodical and scientific manner.

The prime concerns of the international community today are terrorism and nuclear proliferation in the global context. Our record, both in respect of terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation, is known to all. Pakistan’s role in the war against terror as a front-line state has been gravely sullied with reports of Amnesty International saying that terrorist suspects were held in Pakistani investigation centres and handed over to US agents without any legal process for a bounty of $5,000 each. Musharraf in his autobiography has confirmed that millions of dollars were paid by the US for 369 alleged terrorists handed over to the US authorities.

This should give us a reason for reflection. If we are sincere in projecting the soft image of our country, our representatives abroad must have the wherewithal in terms of domestic politics and policies. Pakistan’s diplomacy can achieve the desired results only if we put our house in order. The soft image is conveyed through human dignity and freedom and democratic norms. The first requirement is embracing democracy as a way of life. Democracy in today’s definition encompasses concepts of social justice, good governance, non-discrimination, zero-tolerance for corruption and, above all, freedom to preach and practise one’s views and beliefs. Any society devoid of these attributes should not aspire for a wholesome image abroad.

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