An unedifying exchange

There is something distinctly distasteful about the public spat between two of the most senior diplomats in the cohort

Editorial August 31, 2017

There is something distinctly distasteful about the now-public spat between two of the most senior diplomats in the cohort, men of considerable experience and one would expect — gravitas. It appears that the letter sent from Abdul Basit, the former high commissioner to India, (now retired) to the current ambassador in Washington, Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry, is genuine. It is a scathing attack by the former on the latter, alleging among other things that Mr Chaudhry was going to be no better as an ambassador than he was a foreign secretary.

Nobody at an individual level is served well by this leak, and there is potential and actual damage being done to the diplomatic service of Pakistan. As ever the ‘leaker’ is unknown and may never be revealed, but whoever they are needs to closely examine their own conscience. The Washington incumbent has tried to rise above the matter saying he would not respond to the ‘disgusting’ letter, but this is going to be remembered long into the future. The spat emanates from the fact that Mr Basit was passed over twice for the post of foreign secretary — and if this was the case then judging by this letter he was perhaps not the best man for the job after all. The naming of Tehmina Janjua as foreign secretary created an anomaly whereby she was elevated over an officer of superior rank, culminating in Mr Basit refusing to serve under her and his premature retirement from the service.

Diplomacy is a discrete calling. It is almost as much about what is not said than what is publicly spoken, and although Mr Basit may have written his letter in confidence he cannot have really expected it to stay under the carpet indefinitely. It is difficult to imagine that the diatribe was born of anything other than professional jealousy and an irredeemable petulance. He is unlikely ever to find himself in a position of trust ever again. There are few ambassadorial posts more sensitive than the seat in Washington, particularly in these fractious days. This we truly did not need and we trust a line is now drawn and a dignified silence will prevail.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 31st, 2017.

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