Birth of a committee!

Published: July 29, 2019
The writer is a former Ambassador of Pakistan and ex-Assistant Secretary-General of the OIC

The writer is a former Ambassador of Pakistan and ex-Assistant Secretary-General of the OIC

The one thing that stands out like a sore thumb in this blessed land is the unabashed proliferation of entities known as “committees” or “commissions”. So far as one can decipher that their only visible contribution has been to make the prevailing confusion more confounded.

Looking over the shoulder, it would appear that a “committee” has never been a terribly popular entity, except perhaps with those who take delight in setting one up or those that are privileged to serve on one. To put it in a trite way, a committee or commission appears to be simply a slick way of wriggling out of an unsustainable commitment!

History is witness that the practice of setting up committees has been the favourite tool of most, if not all, governments and legislatures. Whenever in a predicament, the easiest way out is to set up a “working committee” to look into the situation and make “recommendations” in due course.

In these days of multilateral diplomacy, the committee represents the last resort in the hands of slick multilateral diplomats. Let’s face it — setting up a committee represents not only a way out of a predicament that otherwise refuses to go away, it also doubles as an instrument to help perpetuate the shelf life of the very conference; that perhaps need not have been convened in the first place.

Understandably, clever multilateral diplomats have taken to committee formation like ducks to water. Committee after committee crops up following every session of a conference. The more the merrier! The multilateral diplomats are not only overly fond of listening to their own voice, but they also consider themselves as God’s gift to humanity. As a direct consequence, committees aforesaid continue to perpetuate their wretched existence, giving birth to offspring such as sub-committees and working-groups to make the lives of the observers even more complicated. The last thing a “committee” ever does, though, is ‘commit’ itself.

The United Nations Committees that have latched on to world diplomacy like leaches are a case in point. What is intriguing is that the monster that eventually emerges bears no resemblance at all to the entity that was set up in the first instance! The exercise proceeds somewhat like this: Having come up against a stalemate, the conference votes to set up a committee comprising the six most vocal delegates. This rings the alarm bells among those delegates that may find themselves redundant as a consequence, so they start a whispering campaign. To contain the expected opposition, the chairman lamely clarifies that the committee would instead be “open-ended”, leading to the opening of a Pandora’s box.

When the committee convenes in due course, the attendance mounts to thirty-six; the additional delegates having in the meantime woken up to the monetary and sundry benefits of extending their stay. It is of little consequence that the overwhelming majority of the participants have little or no understanding of the issue under discussion. So much for multilateral conferences and committees!

At this point it may be of some relevance to quote what some well-known personalities had to say on the subject. Carl Byers was perhaps being a tad uncharitable when he defined a committee as “a group of the unfit, appointed by the unwilling to do the unnecessary”. His definition is not far from the truth, though. John le Carre likened the committee to “an animal with four hind legs”.

At the risk of sounding a bit harsh, one can hardly help adding that the world’s troubles would have been a tad less had there existed no such institution as a committee. One could perhaps go a step further and hope and pray for the day when the sages of the world resolve to set up a “committee to end all committees”. Meanwhile, the world has little option but to reconcile itself to the truism that committees, much like death and taxes, are pre-destined.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2019.

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