PM Imran's public criticism stirs uproar in Foreign Office

FM Qureshi attempts to placate FO officials who protest not to be blamed for others' mistake

Kamran Yousaf May 06, 2021
Prime Minister Imran Khan. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB


A day after Prime Minister Imran Khan publically castigated Pakistani missions abroad, there is an uproar in the Foreign Office with many diplomats lodged a strong protest with the foreign minister and foreign secretary for "scapegoating" them.

Sources confirmed that Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Thursday held more than two hours long meeting with senior officials at the Foreign Office after they expressed reservations over the premier’s public criticism.

In an unusual move, PM Imran on Wednesday expressed his displeasure over an "indifferent attitude and unnecessary delays in routine services" by Pakistani embassies, particularly in the Middle East.

His criticism stemmed from the recent incidents took place at Pakistani embassy in Saudi Arabia that prompted the prime minister not only to suspend the ambassador but also ordered an inquiry.

"Feedback that I have received from Saudi Arabia shows as if the staff is not working. The staff in Kuwait's Nadra [National Database Regulatory Authority] office takes bribes instead of guiding people and an official is involved in making wrong documents... I was shocked to learn all this," a disgruntled PM Imran said while virtually addressing Pakistani envoys deployed worldwide, adding that the ambassador concerned did not even make an effort to identify the official involved.

The premier said that the government received these complaints via the Pakistan Citizen Portal and a full-scale inquiry is underway over the issue.

He said that Pakistanis living in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia give highest remittances and both embassies showed indifferent attitudes towards them. "I called you today to tell you that you need to change your attitude... Shah Ji (Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi] you must oversee it or have someone to look into it... we have received floods of complaints that your response is dissatisfactory," he warned the envoys.

The premier urged the diplomats to give preferential treatment to those who haven't seen their families for six to eight months and are working abroad.

"They spend hefty amount but there is a lack of compassion from your end... serve them properly... they're the force this country is running on," he added.

Soon after the PM's public criticism many in the Foreign Office began to approach the foreign minister and foreign secretary to convey their strong reservations.

"I can tell you the PM's remarks have demoralised the entire foreign service," a Foreign Office official said while requesting anonymity.

"It appears the prime minister was not properly briefed about the working of the foreign service," the official said, adding that PM Imran should have taken proper briefing before giving the “sweeping statement”.

Meanwhile, FM Qureshi attempted to placate the Foreign Office officials who protested that they couldn't not be blamed for others' mistake.

One diplomatic source also said the prime minister was over simplifying the role of foreign missions.

Premier Imran, he said, foreign missions must work to bringing investment in the country. "But foreign missions alone cannot do anything. I wrote many letters to different ministries for arranging meetings with private companies but I never get a response from those ministries," another diplomat posted in an EU country said.

The Express Tribune has learnt that many serving diplomats approached the retired foreign secretaries and ambassadors to convey their resentment since they could not go to public.

It was because of this reason that many retired diplomats took to the twitter and rebuked the prime minister’s remarks.

"Deeply dismayed at the unwarranted criticism of the foreign ministry. There seems to be woefully inadequate understanding of embassies’consular work, the acute resource constraints, and the role of multiple departments which not under the control of ambassadors," former foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua said.

"Officers displaying colonial mindset? Far from it. Only during Covid, officers volunteered to be with community in Wuhan, embassies looked after stranded Pakistanis, distributed food. Systemic issues need to be addressed for quality consular services. Cannot be done through tweets," she added.

Jalil Abbas Jilani, another ex-foreign secretary, said foreign service suffered from decades of neglect, political paralysis and resource constraints.

"What is needed now is a renewal of diplomatic capacity, resources, appreciation and an effort that balances ambition with limits of the possible at a moment of growing difficulties at home and abroad," Jilani added.

Opposition parties also took a broadside at PM Imran for publically venting his anger at the envoys.

"Foreign Service is in no position to generate trade on it’s own. Yes it can provide better consular services at some missions, but publicly telling-off all ambassadors is never done. In key embassies they work round the clock with meagre resources; demotivating them is not a thing," commented PPP senior leader Sherry Rehman, who also served as Pakistan ambassador to the US.



Sher Jang | 1 year ago | Reply

The reservations of the diplomats are uncalled for as there must be some one to tell the their duty and remind them their responsibilities. As a hardcore Pakistani I know the states of the affairs of the government servants very closely. A part from a few one most behave in a way not feasible to a poor country. We must all mend our ways before it become too late and this should not be matter of being demoralized.

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