The Iranian vice president’s abrupt cancellation of a visit to Pakistan was caused by a bureaucratic fiasco involving the Foreign Office (FO) and Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, according to sources, although initial report suggested he backed out because of a hand injury.
Vice President Ali Saeedlou was initially due in Islamabad on November 6 for a two-day visit to finalise agreements which were to be signed during Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Pakistan. The cancellation means the agreements cannot be finalised, nor signed. Ahmadinejad is to arrive in Islamabad on Wednesday to attend the D-8 Summit.
The cancellation, according to sources, was the result of mismanagement by the FO and the finance minister’s reluctance to co-chair the session with Saeedlou.
The other possible option to co-chair the meeting was Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, but Khar was on a two-day official visit to Qatar at the time. Meanwhile, the FO did not check the availability of Shaikh in advance, and informed him that he was to represent Pakistan in the meet with the vice-president, only a few days before the consultation on bilateral economic cooperation.
When contacted, Foreign Office Spokesman Moazzam Ali Khan denied it altogether, saying “there was no such thing”. He did not answer questions on when the FO shared the schedule of the visit with the finance minister and whether his availability was checked before finalising schedule with Iranian counterparts.
According to official documents, the agenda for the proposed consultations included talks on the multi-billion dollar Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, electricity projects, bilateral trade, wheat barter, civil aviation links, project proposals for Iranian development assistance, cooperation in the fields of transport, communications, information technology, optic fibre connectivity and reviewing the status of various proposed agreements pending approval.
‘Only in private’
Shaikh may have made matters worse when he conveyed that he was willing to host an informal luncheon meeting, but would neither co-chair the session nor allow the media to cover any meeting. The Iranians had argued that the media should cover the inaugural session of the bilateral talks.
The finance minister’s willingness to host the lunch behind closed doors suggests it was not a matter of availability, but rather, a move to avoid public meetings at a time when Tehran is experiencing international isolation due to its pursuance of nuclear technology.
For Iranians, one of the aims was to show to the world that despite US and UN sanctions, Pakistan was engaged on the economic front, according to an official familiar with the matter.
Sources added that Tehran was even willing to reduce its visit to one day because of the non availability of co-chairs.
The finance minister suggested that Deputy Prime Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi should co-host the event. But the FO suggested holding secretary-level talks instead – a proposal that annoyed the Iranians, who then cancelled the meeting.
The finance minister was not available for comments.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 20th, 2012.
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