Contentious postings

September 27, 2020

Several Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials have alleged breach of policy in the latest round of postings

Ehsan Kareem, the youngest diplomat from Multan, has been given a coveted position in Pakistan’s mission in France to the surprise of many of his batch-mates (45th Common Training Programme). Two of Kareem’s batch-mates had been posted to Paris, but only for a mandatory language course. They were surprised when Kareem, who has yet to undergo the mandatory foreign language training, was appointed as third secretary against a newly created post.

“It has been decided to post Mr Ehsan Kareem, Assistant Director (C&S), as Third Secretary to the Mission against an additional post. The officer has been advised to reach Paris at the earliest,” reads a copy of the notification available with The News on Sunday (TNS).

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided recently to post more than five dozen diplomats (BS-17 to BS-19) on non-ambassadorial positions in more than 30 missions abroad.

Kareem is not the only officers to raise eyebrows by getting a plum job.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to discuss the matter with the media, some diplomats told TNS that foreign postings made as favours to certain officers may compromise career prospects of other officers who have the necessary (language) skills and experience to work in key missions.

Around a dozen officials this correspondent spoke to suggested that in its latest round of postings the Ministry has apparently disregarded the mechanism contained in the Policy-2015. Though 2015 policy had aimed to introduce a fair and transparent mechanism for postings abroad.

“Three staff officers in the Foreign Secretary’s office, namely Zaman Mehdi, Hafiz Afaq Ahmad and Sumair Gul, got their desired postings at Pakistan’s UN Mission in Geneva”, a senior diplomat told this correspondent.

“The favouritism has created a sense of despondency and frustration among other officers who were denied the opportunity despite working dedicatedly in other sections of the Ministry,” the diplomat said.

“There are some ‘lucky officers’ like Umar Siddique who has been posted to the next station after spending (the maximum) period of four years allowed at one station if one forgoes the next foreign posting) in a stark violation of the policy. Then there are others like Zain-ul Abidin who has been posted abroad without completing (the minimum) 18-months stay at the headquarters by the cut-off date of December 2019”, the official said.

Another senior diplomat claims that posting preferences of the officers at top of the posting roaster who have spent more than 5 or 6 years at the headquarters were not considered.

Around half a dozen officers of the ministry have filed petitions in Islamabad High Court seeking the court’s intervention to ensure implementation of the “policy on foreign postings of officers”.

“Some favourites have been unduly rewarded with lucrative postings even though they were well below in the posting roaster; and in some cases, did not even merit inclusion in this year’s posting plan”, adds the diplomat.

For this round, the Ministry did not form an interview panel to ascertain the credentials of the officers and their previous postings as mentioned in the Policy-2015. As no interviews were conducted, deserving officers were deprived of the opportunity to present their case.

“The Foreign Minister’s Office is probably unaware of the gravity of the situation”, a senior diplomat said.

Around half a dozen officers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have now filed petitions in Islamabad High Court seeking the court’s intervention to ensure the implementation of the “policy on foreign postings of officers”.

The policy, approved and circuited in 2015, reads one petition, aims to introduce a fair and transparent mechanism of postings abroad. It alleges mala fide in favouring a few and accommodation of extraneous influence at the cost of due process, rule of law and natural justice.

A violation pertains to failure of the Ministry in following basic procedure of seeking choices/ preferences from officers in the posting zone, the petition says. It says such discrimination cannot be justified and is a clear violation of the Policy-2015. Also, it says, the ministry did not form an interview panel. The petitions are likely to be taken up on October 5.

Foreign Officer Spokesperson Zahid Hafeez did not comment on the matter, saying, “the matter of [abuse of] policy on foreign postings is sub-judice”. Saadia Altaf Qazi, the human resource and career planning director general, said that the Foreign Office spokesperson was the right person to respond to the questions. The offices of foreign secretary and the minister did not respond despite several reminders.

Aqil Nadeem, a former ambassador, says that the new posting plan has been criticised for favouring officers working in the foreign secretary and the foreign minister’s offices and administration.

“Violation of the 2015 policy would discourage new officers,” he adds.

Ali Sarwar Naqvi, another former ambassador, however, says allegations of favouritism should be taken with a pinch of salt. He says there are frequently extraneous circumstances that come into play with regard to Foreign Office postings. Mostly, he says, these postings are made on objective criteria of work experience, suitability and language skills/aptitude/turn for posting.

“I don’t think the process has been hijacked… Some officers will always paint a biased picture due to their own unhappiness,” says Naqvi.

The writer is a Special Investigative Correspondent currently associated with Geo Television Network in Islamabad

Contentious postings