Axing Amb Munir Akram — Ejaz Haider

For states and societies to sustain themselves and even progress, some key areas and positions need merit. Merit and sycophancy do not go together because merit, by its very logic, contains in it the sting of honest assessment and dissent
Cowper famously wrote that God moves in a mysterious way; He indeed does or Mr Asif Ali Zardari’s jaw would have given in to his perpetual smile. And for those who need more evidence of God’s mysterious ways, Mr Zardari may even succeed despite rational scepticism.

The latest victim of Mr Zardari’s idea of political and institutional probity is Ambassador Munir Akram, Pakistan’s now-outgoing permanent representative to the United Nations. Amb Akram, a seasoned Foreign Service Officer, who was supposed to serve the country until 2009, has been replaced with former speaker of the Sindh Assembly, Mr Hussain Haroon.

And since practical wisdom and the idiom both recommend killing two birds with one stone, Amb Akram’s younger brother, Amb Zamir Akram, another solid FSO, who had been nominated as Pakistan’s ambassador to Beijing, has also been dropped.

Reason: if the report in this newspaper by Khalid Hasan is anything to go by, Amb Akram has been axed because — know as he does intimately the United Nations and its functioning — he had taken the correct but, now we realise, undiplomatic course of disagreeing with this government’s passion for taking Ms Benazir Bhutto’s murder case to the world body.

He first did so in a report which is routine procedure since as Pakistan’s PR to the UN it was his remit to inform his government of the pros and cons of any decision which is likely to have far-reaching consequences. He persisted with his opposition even after the government made clear that it wanted the decision bulldozed, thank you.

In March this year when Mr Zardari met Amb Akram, the latter tried to dissuade him from pursuing this course. Seeing that Amb Akram would not fall in line, the government (read: Mr Zardari) got rid of him. And pray, what did the younger brother, Amb Zamir Akram, do to lose the coveted and in his case well-deserved appointment as Pakistan’s ambassador to Beijing? Much, it would seem. He is (a) Amb Munir Akram’s brother and (b) made the mistake of being in government service under a dispensation which works in and through tribal passions and loyalties.

I am no idealist; if anything, I am a hardnosed realist. Political decision-making, especially in this country, happens close to the skin and often in disregard to larger-anything, call it national interest or what you will. Political governments bring with them political spoils; underhand appointments and deals abound, as do sinecures. Those who take seriously Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s homily about avoiding “nepotism and jobbery” live in the textbooks.

Much of this is accepted, and if one is a realist, acceptable, given a number of factors. Yet, for states and societies to sustain themselves and even progress, some key areas and positions need merit. Merit and sycophancy do not go together because merit, by its very logic, contains in it the sting of honest assessment and dissent.

But it works because smart exploiters do not maraud and burn down the area they need to pillage. It does nothing to kill the hen when it is better to keep her alive and well so it lays the golden egg every day. That is how globalisation and neo-colonialism are different from 19th century mercantilism and occupational colonialism.

In other words, if one is a clever marauder, he would keep the people and the cattle fat and healthy and the fields full of corn. He would also give out sinecures but retain for the best positions where merit and dissent are required for the marauder’s own good. This is why English colonialism, for all its exploitation, advanced merit where it was required.

I do not know either the two ambassador brothers personally or Mr Haroon. I attended a couple of IISS conferences with the elder Mr Akram many years ago and while I disagreed with some of his positions which I thought were strident, I found him to be a thorough professional and an intelligent man. His younger brother I came across a few times when he was Dr Maleeha Lodhi’s DCM in Washington — he impressed me less compared to his elder brother but I revised my assessment when I interacted with him at the Administrative Staff College where he was attending the course, and later during the 13th SAARC Summit in Dhaka.

Mr Haroon I have watched occasionally on TV. Like his brother Mr Hameed Haroon, he is extremely articulate and I am told a very suave and cultured person. He may well do a very good job as Pakistan’s PR to the UN. But that is not the issue here. The point is about the circumstances and manner of Amb Akram’s removal and also the victimisation of his younger brother — that goes against the grain of institutionalisation and transparent decision-making. Indeed, it unnecessarily casts a shadow on Mr Haroon who, as I said, may otherwise be suited for the job.

There are therefore two issues here: one relates to the decision to take Ms Bhutto’s case to the UN. That decision was and is wrong. I have written explaining why that is so and the government has done nothing so far to make me change my views on the issue. This position is also widely held by the FO and other legal experts. In fact, we lost another very seasoned FSO, our former foreign secretary, Riaz Mohammad Khan, who chose to step down before his contract was over, than to be part of a decision he opposed in the interest of Pakistan.

The second issue is about making such appointments. Could we have a transparent process for such deviations where a nominee can be verifiably judged for his or her worth to such a position? The United States, where the president is allowed his own team, has such a process of vetting appointments and while Congress normally does not interfere with the president’s choice, it can and sometimes does.

We have had some great non-FS ambassadors, the names of Jamshed Marker and Dr Maleeha Lodhi immediately come to mind; so, it is not that a non-FS appointee can never be more effective. But the point about vetting appointments remains valid; as does the earlier concern about the circumstances of and reasons for the removal of someone who was doing the job well.

After all, we need to do better than work on the basis of a primitive tribal sense of loyalty and hostility.

Ejaz Haider is Consulting Editor of The Friday Times and Op-Ed Editor of Daily Times. He can be reached at sapper@dailytimes.com.pk

Source: Daily Times, 27/7/2008

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