EVERY now and then, the urgent requirement to somehow ‘re-organise’ our diplomatic representation abroad receives mention in our all-powerful Press. Allied to it is the caveat that the foreign policy machinery in our Foreign Office needs to be geared up to meet the ‘new challenges’. Such an exercise that should have been the first priority of any government, somehow never seems to progress beyond cursory mention in Opinion columns! What is often lost sight of is the dictum that proof of the pudding is in the eating!
Some summers back, our intellectuals were feeling strongly about the state of health of the bilateral relations between this country and its ‘strategic ally’. One could almost hear a collective sigh of relief each time a brand new ambassador was dispatched to Washington. Each ambassador commenced his/her tenure with an unsavory exercise to spruce up his or her personal image in the home media. Where each may not have been entirely on the mark was in blowing out of all proportion the role of the ambassador in making – or marring – the relationship between the home and host governments . Let us face it; an ambassador’s role can be only as good – or as bad – as the input of his or her principals back home.
Having put in well over three decades in the diplomatic service of the country, one would be justified in claiming to have learnt a thing or two about the art of diplomacy. One may be excused, therefore, for wincing on observing some of our senior diplomats – to use cricket parlance – flashing at rising balls outside the off-stump that they would have been advised to leave well alone.
The antics of former ambassador Hussain Haqqani – now of the memogate fame – is a case in point. Maybe, in his particular case, he was ‘more’ than a mere ambassador of his country. But, then, it is a common failing for an ‘Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary’, having personal links to the powers that be, to start thinking above his (or her) station. It would be erroneous though to assume that all his acts of commission and omission were off his own bat. An ambassador can depart from his official brief at his or her own peril.
The effectiveness or otherwise of an ambassador lies in how well – and how accurately – he or she conveys the instructions of his or her principals to the host government; as also in what manner he or she analyses – and reports to the former – the views of, and the prevailing mood in, the host country. This is where the art of diplomacy comes into the act. Unless the ambassador concerned is conversant with diplomatic norms and practices, not only will all his or her ministrations be in vain, but also his sojourn will become a liability for his own country. This regrettably has been the case with several of our ambassadors whose only qualification had been personal closeness with the powers that be at home.
The first lesson that a diplomat learns the hard way is that it is not at all necessary nor, indeed, advisable for an envoy to overly love or admire the country he or she is accredited to. Quite the contrary, if an ambassador opts to lay his or her cards on the table in so far as relations with the host country are concerned, the battle is already half lost. The mark of a good ambassador is to keep the host country guessing. It is not for an ambassador, then, to bend over backwards to further the interests of the host country; rather to protect the interest of his or her own country above all else. If, at the same time, the ambassador manages to, in some way, ‘oblige’ the hosts that should be seen as a bonus, never the primary objective.
A casual look over the shoulder shows that some ambassadors have outdone their principals in proving their credentials vis-à-vis the countries of their accreditation. With due apologies to Hussain Haqqani, he did stick his neck out in extolling the virtues of friendship with our strategic partner. His Excellency was once quoted as stating that Pakistan should be duly thankful for the “benefits and advantages” it had obtained from America and it was time that ‘criticism and condemnation of the great American nation came to an end’. He was not the first, nor will he be the last, to fall into this trap. Several of our ambassadors succumb to this temptation on appointment, with the result that their reporting is biased and in lavish praise of the country they have been appointed to.
The abiding lesson for an ambassador to learn is never to be too indulgent towards the host State. If anything, it pays an ambassador to be a bit wary about the intentions of the country he or she is accredited to; and would be well advised to develop a virtual love-hate relationship with the host State. Simulation and dissimulation are qualities that can serve an ambassador well. Though one would be the last to advise an ambassador to tell a deliberate lie, there would appear to be little harm if he or she were to withhold the truth every now and then in the interest of his own country. Lest one forgets, diplomacy is a mysterious art, not always easy to define nor, in deed, fathom.
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.