sSome theists believe that the existence of Pakistan is the benevolence of a more working deity. Others that nations take time to mature into states. It’s just that Pakistan is taking longer to signal than others.
This question has come up again with two connected incidents. On 21 July, Mr. Tariq Fatemi (Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs) met with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, to reaffirm “the shared goals of expanding relations through enhancing economic and commercial ties”. . The meeting was arranged by our experienced Ambassador Masood Khan.
On 22 July, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad publicly rejected the meeting. It clarified that “Mr. Fatemi is on a personal visit to Washington and” [the] The Foreign Office played no role in his meeting with US officials.
This is not the first time Mr. Fatemi has found himself as the lightning rod of the Sharif brothers. In April 2017, he was fired from the post of Special Assistant by Sharif the Elder for his alleged role in ‘Don Leaks’. Reappointed to the same position exactly five years later by Sharif the Younger, he has now been disgracefully rejected by his ministry.
How did this diplomatic pretense happen? It is true that Mr. Fatemi was on a private visit to the US. While there, a senior might have suggested that, as he was in the neighborhood, he might have preferred to call ‘Auntie’ Wendy, which he did. Someone else in Islamabad or Rawalpindi resisted such an innocuous request. Mr. Fatemi has again paid the price of being an unelected dispensable.
A few days later, sources who ‘requested anonymity’ revealed that COAS Qamar Bajwa had called Ms Wendy Sherman to request the White House and the Treasury Department “to solicit the lender.” [IMF] To expedite the bailout process and to immediately release the approximately $1.2 billion that Pakistan is expected to receive. In time, the Foreign Office confirmed the telecall.
There are several important aspects to this interaction between the COAS and the US Deputy Secretary.
Apparently, the COAS consulted with the Prime Minister and obtained his approval before calling it ‘Aunt’ Wendy. Even ‘A’ level students know that the IMF does not take orders from the State Department. It can respond to approval from the White House but it is careful to protect the prerogative of its executive board, which consists of 24 directors elected by member states.
As an IMF official explained, “There’s a big difference between employee-level approval and board approval. Our stakeholders, the countries that vote whether they support it or not, make the final decision.” That’s the difference. So the legally binding move is a board approval, not an employee-level agreement. So we have a foot in the door with a staff-level agreement, but we’re not in yet.
Perhaps the IMF Executive Board is waiting to see if there will be any change in Islamabad now that Punjab is out of its control.
Perhaps the IMF is waiting for the nomination of the new COAS. The current term of General Bajwa ends on November 22. His first extension in 2019 by PM Imran Khan cited ‘regional security’; Perhaps an insecure PM can cite his second ‘economic insecurity’ by Shehbaz Sharif.
Perhaps the COAS had to appeal to Uncle Sam through ‘Auntie’ Wendy as US subventions given in the past through Coalition aid funds and other Pentagon euphemisms have shrunk to drought levels. Is half of Pakistan’s budget facing the same bankruptcy as its civilian half? Some believe that this is when the establishment should clean up and share its non-security spending limits on social amenities with the public over the years.
So then, who runs Pakistan? A partisan President Dr Alvi who suggested earlier this year that he didn’t mind the “early appointment of Army Chief”, only to have his unnecessary opinion slapped by his own office? Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who leads a 13-party coalition of practicing Judas and is struggling to remain in power until October 2023? His older brother in London? He wants early elections.
A lowly foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari who has access to foreign assets left behind by his mother, but not the capital of his international reputation? Or an army chief, who a month earlier had avoided interfering in politics, but apparently sidelined instead going into national economics?
Will the one who runs Pakistan stand up and be recognized? There are over 125m voters who deserve to know whether they will vote for Pinocchio, or his hanging puppet, in 2023 (or earlier).
FS Ejazuddin is a writer. Thoughts are personal.
Article First published in Dawn.