Dr Arshad Majeed Khan has presented his credentials as Pakistani Ambassador to US President Donald Trump in Capitol Hill, Washington. He was earlier appointed as ambassador to Japan and has experience of working at different diplomatic positions in the US. He is a career diplomat, which is both his strength and weakness given the nature of challenges and opportunities that are laid in front of him.
Consider. Mediatization of international relations has reduced role of envoys in the fast changing world. The incumbent government heads of both the countries – US President Donald Trump and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan – have a knack for thinking aloud on Twitter. When leaders are prompt in publicizing their actions and reactions, diplomats are reduced to just draw in the lines that have already been set off. Their moves are well predicted and countered. Hence, why would they be taken seriously in foreign capitals where decision-makers know that they are just modern postmen!
In this scenario, need for powerful personalities to shape bilateral ties arises more than ever, which is why Pakistan has had non-career diplomats in Washington. Such personalities are self-driven and find out-of-the-box solutions instead of digging themselves deep in routine file work. But they are bent over under the political baggage they have to carry and the processes they set in motion hit controversies when they step down. True, many of these controversies are born out of the officialdom e.g. leakage of documents and creation of bureaucratic bottlenecks.
However, from the perspective of Pakistan, boosting bilateral business will be a challenge for Ambassador Khan. The Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has stated in public that economy is among its top priorities. On December 27 and 28, 2018, the PM himself chaired a conference of ambassadors of Pakistan in Islamabad in which they were told to boost international trade.
Importance of this conference can be also be assessed from the fact that top diplomats like Pakistan’s permanent representative (PR) for the United Nations Dr Maleeha Lodhi, envoys to China, Russia, UK, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and UAE were all in attendance. But just a couple of days before this moot, Ali Jehangir Siddiqui, whom the outgoing Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government had appointed as the US ambassador in its last leg, was let go. Siddiqui was given the task to explore business avenues in the US and being a successful banker he had the right ingredients for this task. This one single episode is enough to judge seriousness of the government to do the job.
From the US perspective, the key challenge for Ambassador Khan is to achieve a peaceful settlement of conflict in Afghanistan. The US president is not hesitant in hammering Pakistan for doing more in Afghanistan. His statements on the need for stability in Afghanistan run contrary to his action of pulling out the US troops from that country. Pakistan has brought Taliban on table with the US and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is convincing them to also engage with the Afghan government.
There is a clear consensus in Islamabad that stability in Afghanistan is needed for peace in the region. This conviction at home will be an opportunity for Ambassador Khan to avail while securing good business deals and financial packages from Washington. We also hope that the new Ambassador will mend ties with a historic long term ally that have gone sour in recent years. *
Published in Daily Times, January 15th 2019.