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Pak Ambassadors, an elite breed of the colonial past!

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In a recent televised video conference addressing the Ambassadors of the 19 most important countries for Pakistan where most of the diaspora of about 9-10 million resides, PM Imran Khan expressed his deep dissatisfaction with their services and anguish with some of the diplomatic staff. He highlighted his own observations and experience while living in the UK with the then Pakistan Embassy staff; how they treated the poor Pakistanis when they came to visit their Embassy or Consulate office for some help. The PM recalling vividly described staffs’ attitude and dealing with the poor countrymen as of the colonial period masters’ behaviors. The author living abroad (much longer than the PM) had similar experiences with Pakistan’s diplomatic staffs in many countries and cities on several occasions! First, while living in London for education and traveling to many EU countries during the spring and summer breaks, followed by living in the USA as an expatriate and interacting with the Consulate offices in New York, Houston, Los Angeles, etc. Like the PM said, in many instances (with or without the appointments) people travel from far away cities and towns to reach the Embassies or Consulates for their assistance. Often times, the person in charge is either not in the office or busy with someone else (socializing with friends). In general, this is a very prevalent and typical behavior of the diplomatic staff that many Pakistani experience often.
Some media outlets have disagreed with the PM’s handling of the situation and may be right in making their own judgement call. But to weed out the bad actors, one should follow the medical approach for taking the bad organ out from the body, first to lay down the patient on the operating table and then administering the entire body with the anesthesia (shock) in order to avoid pain to the patient and not to affect the other vital organs. This is exactly what the PM did. He gathered the diplomats in front of him, expressed his concerns and then highlighted the dissatisfaction with some and thus removing them. Some former diplomats have also expressed their concerns on this subject, but they are also looking it through the same protocol they have gone through that was designed to prepare them to play the role of the “Masters” and not to serve their countrymen & women with respect, dignity, compassion, and sympathy. Nor they were trained for attracting the foreign investments (FDI), manufacturing, joint ventures, and cutting-edge technologies for their country as one of the major responsibilities for their postings abroad. According to the SBP, during the first 3 quarters of the current fiscal year, the FDI has declined by more than 35% compared to the last year’s same period, a direct reflection on the foreign missions’ performances. As a matter of fact, when in 1816 under the Congress of Vienna, foreign services titles were established and subsequently their roles and duties were defined, an ambassador’s functions was described as to advance the interests of its country, like promoting trade, investments, security, cultural ties, and serving the fellow countrymen & women and their families.
The recent incidents in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait are not by any means NEW in nature, but they have been reported many times in the past by the media as well as directly to the concerned officials of the ministry, but as usual, without any outcomes. In reality, these incidents are the reflection of the deeply rooted training and education of the foreign services staff that they go through after passing their CSS exams. The mindset of no respect and dignity (towards blue-collar) and lack of compassion by the career bureaucrats has been going on since Pakistan got the independence from the British rule. Thus, there is an utmost need for making fundamental changes in the curriculum and the training of the aspiring diplomats and the brightest civil servants to prepare them with the mindset for promoting the core values and interests of the country and serving the expatriates. The curriculum and the training should be focused in building their passion for serving the country and their fellow countrymen & women with respect, dignity, compassion, and sympathy. As a matter of fact, their countrymen & women working abroad are the major single source of the foreign exchange that kept Pakistan out from defaulting on the payments to the multinational lenders in the recent past. On the average, the expatriates contribute about 5% of the GDP which is as much if not more than the total national export value. Based on the latest data from the SBP, the remittances from the expatriates have reached to all time high of $21.5 billion during July-March period of the current fiscal year, which is 26.2% higher than the same period of the previous year! During the same period, the total exports were of just about $18.7 billion. Thus, the diplomatic staff, from Ambassador to the operational level staff, each of them should be paying special attention to solving the challenges that Pakistanis are experiencing in their countries of postings. Without their hard-earned foreign exchange contributions, Pakistan cannot survive! In general, making Pakistan a thriving economy, and an attractive destination for the FDI, the bureaucrats should be judged by their contributions to the uplifting of the economy, aggressively promoting and securing the FDI, simplifying the complex approval processes, eliminating the wasteful activities, streamlining the self-sufficiency initiatives, devising & monitoring departments’ performances, reducing costs of starting business, and above all, promoting the compassion for serving the fellow citizens. As the PM said, the performance of the ambassadors and their staff should be judged against their office’s (Embassy/Consulate) contributions to the FDI, promoting Pakistan’s values, interests, and educating the foreign governments, their media, and the policy makers. To achieve this, the diplomatic staff must be using all the available resources and tools of the current digital age for promoting Pakistan’s natural and human resources (young-educated workforce) for attracting industries, cutting-edge technologies, fintech and R&D centers, by highlighting its competitive costs, strategic location, and supply chain advantages. This is exactly how the new breed of the developing countries (like Vietnam, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, India, etc.) are using their diplomatic staffs for attracting the FDI and relocation of the industries away from the higher costs countries. To align with the PM’s aspirations for improving the economy, the diplomatic corps proactively should be dropping off their legacy thinking & training, and the hierarchy of the colonial period of the superiority complex! Under the current mindset, the ambassador is the chief master of the mission and has no interest in improving his/her own performance, enticing foreign corporations for investments or to finding ways in assisting the expatriates, particularly the blue-collar and lower income country fellows; except to spending most of the time in socializing and attending the lavish parties. As a matter of fact, it reminds me of my own experience when I attended a local thinktank’s event a couple of years ago where Pakistani Ambassador was the chief guest and speaker. After his speech, I approached him and asked how he is planning to help reduce the balance of payments and to attract the FDI for improving the anemic national economy and perennial dependency on IMF & WB bailouts? He replied that I should talk to the commercial attaché! On another occasion, a senior diplomat of the mission, after the speech, was spending her time in promoting her book! Similarly, at Pakistan’s Day occasion during a discussion at another thinktank’s event, the ambassador was asked by the host what Pakistan needs most from the USA to help support Pakistan’s economy. The answer was very vague and convoluted. Just a few days later, the same thinktank had invited Indian Ambassador on their Independence Day occasion, and the Indian Ambassador aggressively promulgated US industries to establish their manufacturing bases in India to benefit from their low-cost skilled labor, technology, infrastructure, and local and central government supports for getting the necessary permits in the shortest possible time and tax incentives. Singapore, a nation of just over 5.7 million people with so many diverse cultures, religions, ethnicity and with no natural resources, 12 years younger (got independence in 1959 from the same master, the British Empire) than Pakistan, but is considered as the most preferred place for the FDI, manufacturing outsourcing & logistics hub by the advanced countries (USA, EU, Japan, UK, etc.). Currently, there are more than 7000 multinationals! It did not happen by some miracle but was created by the hard work of their ambassadors and overseas posted bureaucrats. In the beginning, all the ambassadors, the consular generals, and their staffs at all levels were mandated to promoting the country for attracting the manufacturing and the FDI by holding investment events, participating in trade expos, discussing with the local media the advantages Singapore offers in infrastructure, educated & skilled workers, government’s tax assistance, zero tolerance for corruption, modest tax rates, etc. Now Singapore stands shoulder to shoulder with the advanced countries with the second highest GDP ($65,000/p), the only AAA credit rating country in Asia and the most business friendly country among the nations. Similar strategy was followed by Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and many others for attracting FDI and export manufacturing hubs for making their economies vibrant, resilient, robust and stronger. The Foreign Minister, Mr. Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who is the Chief Diplomat of Pakistan does not leave any occasion without promoting Pakistan’s interests out loud clear, including the FDI. The ambassadors should learn from him in promoting the Pakistani trade & commerce interests actively by engaging local media, politicians, policymakers, and investors by holding investment events and participating in the trade expos. Virtual events costing almost nothing should be widely used for promoting and reaching out to much wider circles for highlighting the revamped security, business friendly environment, skilled & non-skilled labor pools at extremely attractive costs, ease of getting approvals at an expedited basis, and generous local and federal governments tax incentives. Additionally, in today’s digital world, the diplomatic missions should be proactively maintaining contacts and communicating more effectively, and regularly with ALL their fellow Pakistanis living in their posted countries using the cutting-edge technology tools of artificial intelligence (Ai) and the machine learning (ML). If these highlights will become reality, it will be another unprecedent milestone in the history of Pakistan under the leadership of PM Imran Khan. Under these performance-based reforms, the diplomats will be accountable for their postings and judged for their performances for their subsequent promotions and reprimands. Thus, the postings will no longer be considered just as a privilege to enjoy luxurious lives abroad, hosting and attending lavish parties at the cost of the Pakistani taxpayers & expatriates’ remittances!