POSTCARD USA: Roving Ambassadors Inc. —Khalid Hasan

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The State Department when asked about it, said that each country can have only one ambassador in Washington and since in Pakistan’s case, there already existed one in the person of Husain Haqqani, a second ambassador, roving, at-large or whatever was ruled out

When I learnt that yet another roving ambassador was being appointed, I sent an email to Admiral Ardeshir Cowasjee, the bane of Karachi’s land grabbers: “At this rate, your number should be coming up before long.”

I have not heard from him, which can only mean two things. One, the hard drive on his computer has been sabotaged by the land mafia. Two, he has decided that enough is enough and it is time to board up the social repair workshop he has been running out of his Mary Road residence (beware his dozen dogs, plus the pet iguana, a special import from Guantanamo, courtesy US Consulate, Karachi).

I have lost count but the number of roving ambassadors is now close to a baker’s dozen. One of the first ones to be so appointed was that man for seasons all, Salman Faruqi, who carries the entire weight of the Planning Commission on his shoulders as he roves around the world in the service of his country. Half the things that the Planning Commission now does were not conceived in Islamabad but while friend Faruqi was sipping pineapple juice through a straw with his feet resting in a kidney-shaped swimming pool, somewhere west of Suez.

Then there is the television interviewer from Dubai who always tends to talk more than the one he is interviewing. He also continues to remain in Dubai but where he roves I know not. And what he roves for is another unexplained mystery.

There is also my good friend Akbar Khawaja, once of the World Bank and later the Senate, but now another one of our rovers. He lives in Washington but since he got stung by the bug of politics, which no anti-venom serum has ever been known to cure, he has been seen in these parts less and less. But every time one of the Big Boys hits this side of the water, old Khawaja materialises out of thin air and is inseparable from the ones who believe that the sun rises and sets from a certain point on their persons that I am reluctant to name in a newspaper known for its good taste.

There are also others, some of whom I know or know of, while others I don’t, which is neither here nor there. What do these chosen ones of the toiling masses’ party do? Who decides where they should go and why?

Back here in Washington, the Embassy of Pakistan issued the following press release on Nov 12:

“Prominent Pakistani-American businessman Mr Rafat Mahmood has been appointed as Ambassador-at-Large with the status of Minister. Mr Mahmood has been a resident of the Washington, DC area since 1970. He has contributed immensely to charitable causes in Pakistan and the United States and has played an active role in promoting a positive image of Pakistan. Over the years, Mr Mahmood has cultivated friends in the US Administration, on Capitol Hill and prominent think tanks. Mr Mahmood is well-respected and well-known among influential circles in Washington. He and his wife Shaista Mahmood are recognised as gracious hosts and fund-raisers and their Mount Vernon home has often been the venue of major events to promote Pakistan, inter-faith harmony and civil rights of Muslim communities in the United State. Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani has congratulated Mr Mahmood and said that his appointment shows that the elected leadership of Pakistan appreciates the contribution of renowned overseas Pakistanis.”

Every government has its house style. The present one believes in making decisions first and dealing with their consequences later. A little bird has twittered to me that when it was decided back in Islamabad or maybe it was in our second capital, Dubai, that Washington needed another ambassador, it was also decided to leak the news. Since those who carefully monitor who is in and who is out, who is up and who is down, they were also the first to learn who the man chosen for the glam-post was going to be. As was to be expected, Rafat Mahmood’s phone did not stop ringing for days on end thereafter. But there was no official announcement because of the unexpected roadblock into which this thing had run.

The State Department, when asked about it, said that each country can have only one ambassador in Washington and since in Pakistan’s case, there already existed one in the person of Husain Haqqani, a second ambassador, roving, at-large or whatever was ruled out.

The US government recognises only one ambassador from one country at one time, and it does not allow anyone other than the accredited ambassador to conduct official business here on his country’s behalf. The US government does not recognise ambassadors-at-large where a resident, duly accredited ambassador is already in place. Again, no US citizen, which Rafat Mahmood happens to be, can be appointed full or roving ambassador to the country of which he is a citizen. Should he wish to accept the appointment, he would have to surrender his US citizenship.

But we Pakistanis are an enterprising people. When we come upon a ditch, we go around it, which is what happened in this case also. It was decided that Rafat Mahmood will be Ambassador-at-Large and since he wishes to reside in the US, he will have to be “at large” somewhere else. Uncle Sam should have no problem with that. It is an entirely different matter that if there is any good Rafat Mahmood can do, he can only do it in the country where he has lived for thirty years and where he will be forbidden to operate.

So what are we going to do with him? Send him to Greenland or Outer Mangolia, I suppose.

Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent. His e-mail is

Reproduced by permission of DT\11\16\story_16-11-2008_pg3_3

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