Sharif deliberates on new Pak foreign secretary amid lobbying

Islamabad: Amid intense lobbying, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has begun deliberations to appoint a new foreign secretary as the incumbent Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry leaves for the US to become the country’s ambassador there.

“Intense jockeying for the foreign secretary’s position has begun as the time for a final decision is drawing closer,” Dawn reported today.

Chaudhry will take over as ambassador to the US, replacing outgoing ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani.

Sharif has four possible choices before him to pick the foreign secretary: Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit, former ambassador to France Ghalib Iqbal, High Commissioner to the UK Syed Ibn-i-Abbas and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva Tehmina Janjua.

He has so far not dropped any hint who his preferred choice would be. However, multiple sources told the daily Janjua was the leading choice.

Sharif has not appointed a full-time foreign minister even though over two-thirds of his tenure has passed and runs the Foreign Office through an adviser and a special assistant.

In normal practice, seniority-cum-merit would have formed the criteria for appointment of a foreign secretary. But Sharif may factor in his personal comfort with whosoever he picks and recommendations he receives about the candidates.

One consideration in the past, which has not been lately observed, has been the incoming foreign secretary should have served as an ambassador in Beijing, Washington or New Delhi.

Basit is the most-senior in the panel of four and has varied experience of bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. He was Sharif’s first choice when the prime minister last picked a foreign secretary in 2013 and asked Basit in writing to return to headquarters from Berlin for the new assignment.

But Sharif changed his mind and appointed Chaudhry in December 2013. Basit was sent to India as high commissioner.

Basit this time round is out of favour. Differences emerged when Basit hosted Kashmiri leaders ahead of planned Pakistan-India foreign secretaries’ meeting in August 2014 leading to the cancellation of bilateral talks.

Former ambassador to France Ghalib Iqbal is another contender. A former naval officer and an engineering graduate, Iqbal entered the Foreign Service in 1983.

Iqbal’s major handicap is his little experience on the territorial desks. He is currently posted as special secretary at the Foreign Office.

High Commissioner to the UK Syed Ibn-e-Abbas also joined the Foreign Service in 1983. Prior to his appointment in London, Abbas was additional secretary (administration) at the headquarters. He has remained high commissioner to New Zealand and deputy high commissioner to India.

Janjua, Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, is considered hot favourite. She joined the Foreign Service in 1984 and her experience has chiefly been of multilateral diplomacy. Her only remarkable bilateral posting has been as ambassador to Rome.