Diplomatic departure

June 12, 2022

Bernhard Schlagheck, the German ambassador, is nearing the end of his tenure in Pakistan

Diplomatic departure


erman Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was scheduled to meet staff at the German Embassy and German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) during her two-day visit to Pakistan last Tuesday. Unfortunately she had to cut her visit short as she tested positive for Covid-19 after she felt that she had lost her sense of taste at lunch.

Among other things, her visit was important because Ambassador Bernhard Schlagheck has almost completed his term in office. In his Pakistan Day message on March 23, Mr Schlaghleck announced that Pakistan is “a resilient nation &, as I near the end of my stay here, I feel grateful for the opportunity to spend time among such admirable & very hospitable people. May …#PakGermanDosti continue to thrive.”

The foreign minister was not supposed to discuss who might replace Ambassador Schlagheck, but she might have wanted to give some policy instructions to German diplomats in Islamabad.

Mr Schlagheck is a career diplomat and like his predecessor Martin Kobler, Pakistan is likely to be his last assignment as he has reached the age of retirement. He was born in 1956 and the retirement age for diplomats in Germany is about 66 years. Pakistan is the largest country he has served in as a German diplomat during his career.

Replacing Mr Kobler was a tough job and 2019 was not the ideal time to do so. Mr Kobler was at the height of his popularity, unmatched by any ambassador who has ever served Pakistan. His skillful use of social media and his style of moving amongst the masses had made him a brand in diplomacy. His popularity can be measured by the fact that the German Embassy twitter account has 322,100 followers, which is the highest number after the US Embassy, which has 459,500 followers.

Being popular, however, has a negative connotation in Europe. Mr Schlaghleck did his job well. In 2019 when he took over, German exports to Pakistan were worth around 1.8 billion euros and imports from Pakistan 1.1 billion euros, according to the German Foreign Office. Last year, German investment in Pakistan was over 2.3 billion euros. Now Germany is Pakistan’s fourth largest trade partner.

After the coronavirus outbreak, the rescue of German citizens and employees from Afghanistan was a real challenge that Mr Schlaghleck met with satisfaction. The ambassador of the European Union in Afghanistan, Andreas von Brandt, was also a German citizen. After the US, Germany was the choice destination for Afghan refugees.

Mr Schlaghleck took considerable interest in celebrating 70 years of relations between Germany and Pakistan last year. University students, faculty members and businesspeople with links to Germany were invited to share their experiences.

He was very generous, wholeheartedly thanking Pakistan for its support in the rescue operation but some cabinet members at that time would mock him and other European diplomats publicly and on social media for banning PIA in Europe.

Although Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the foreign minister at the time, was mostly polite with diplomats, things got ugly when 22 diplomats from Europe, including Germany, signed an appeal for Pakistan to condemn the Russian attack on Ukraine. Hate was generated against Europe in public gatherings and it poured into diplomatic circles through social media. Irresponsible rhetoric and fake news reigned. Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka also adopted a similar stance in the UN General Assembly session but their expression of resentment against the West was nowhere close to what we had in Pakistan.

Issuing joint statements on common fronts is nothing new in diplomacy. On Europe Day last month, 17 ambassadors wrote a joint letter in a Pakistani newspaper promoting their values and interests. No conspiracy theories were churned out this time.

Mr Schlaghleck took considerable interest in celebrating 70 years of relations between Germany and Pakistan last year. University students, faculty members and businesspeople with links to Germany were invited to share their experiences. In all these activities, the ambassador skillfully tugged the anchoring of Frigate Bayern at Karachi port and kept on announcing that the ship was there to celebrate the friendship. Its crew also went to the Mazar-i-Quaid and received a warm welcome by the Pakistan Navy.

The ship was originally sent to the Indian Ocean on a mission to monitor any activities that go against the UN mandate. Usually such activities are aimed at keeping a check on China.

The ambassador was a frequent visitor to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where some German organisations have been working on human development and environmental protection. Most European diplomats like visiting Sindh and Balochistan but avoid the KP.

It was after a long time that a German foreign minister visited Pakistan last week on an invitation extended by her Pakistani counterpart, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. The challenge for the new envoy will be reaching out to the people of Pakistan.

The writer teaches development support communication at International Islamic University Islamabad.      Twitter: @HassanShehzadZ     Email: Hassan.shehzad@iiui.edu.pk

Diplomatic departure