Sohail Mahmood front runner to be Pakistan Foreign Secretary

Islamabad: Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Sohail Mahmood is the “clear front runner” to become the country’s top diplomat when Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua retires in April.

According to Dawn, Janjua, who was the first woman to become Foreign Secretary, will retire on April 17 after serving for two years.

Mahmood has diverse experience of bilateral as well as multilateral diplomacy under his belt, having represented the country in Turkey, the US, the UN in New York, Thailand and India. He has also headed the Afghanistan and West Asia Division as additional secretary and was director general in the foreign secretary’s office.

Mahmood’s colleagues describe him as affable and a workaholic. He is said to be very strong in drafting. He has a ‘high blood count’ on the official performance grading, the daily said quoting colleagues.

However, his detractors say he is a very soft voice and lacks dominating physical presence in meetings. But one of them told Dawn “as a matter of fact foreign ministers do not really want a domineering, combative figure as the head of Foreign Office bureaucracy. They are rather interested in someone who would not rock the boat”.

Another source said Mahmood had a lucky career in Foreign Service and “has been at the right place at the right time”.

This time, the race for the Foreign Secretary’s job has been lacklustre, particularly when compared to the bruising competitions of the last two occasions — 2013 and 2017.

The last race was especially ugly because it saw the resignation of former High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit, who was once the FO’s rising star, and the spat between Basit and then outgoing Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry that became public.

The 2013 run was made interesting because of a snafu by the then PML-N government that recalled Basit from Germany, where he was posted as ambassador, and appointed him the Foreign Secretary, only to replace his nomination with Aizaz Chaudhry before he could take charge. That episode set the stage for the bitter fight between the two in 2017.

Besides Mahmood, Pakistan’s Ambassador to UAE Moazzam Ahmad is the other name being talked about as Foreign Secretary.

In the current race, Ambassador to the EU, Belgium and Luxembourg Naghmana Hashmi is the senior most, followed by Sohail Mahmood, second in seniority, and Ambassador to Italy Nadeem Riaz and Envoy to Germany Johar Saleem, in the third and fourth places, respectively, said Dawn.

Mahmood, Riaz and Saleem are from the same course — 13th Common, but Mahmood is senior. Ambassador to the UAE Moazzam Ahmad is far down in the seniority list, placed at the ninth rung.

Ambassador to EU Naghmana Hashmi, many believe, is not in contention because of her impending retirement in about a year and a half. The government is keen on somebody who has sufficient time on hand. Hashmi is instead tipped to be posted as ambassador to China.

The other planned rotations linked to the Foreign Secretary’s appointment are Ambassador Saleem moving to Brussels in place of Hashmi. Saleem’s place in Germany is, meanwhile, planned to be filled by Zaheer Janjua, who was recalled from Moscow in 2016.

Outgoing Foreign Secretary Janjua had come to office with a relatively low profile.

Commenting on her tenure, former Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir told Dawn that Janjua “performed very well in a quiet way”. She, he reminisced, had always been a troubleshooter and as a Foreign Secretary steered foreign policy operations in an effective way.