‘Cablegate’ puts Foreign Service in a sticky spot – Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Outgoing Prime Minister Imran Khan’s decision to use diplomatic cable to protect against opposition no-confidence motion did not work, but left deleterious consequences for foreign service that will be felt for a long time .

At a public rally on March 27, Mr Khan claimed the decision to overthrow his government was the result of a foreign plot. He later named this country the United States and it turned out that his allegation was based on a cable received from Ambassador Asad Majeed in which he reported on a meeting with the Deputy Secretary of State to South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu.

Asad Majeed reportedly said Donald Lu warned that keeping Imran Khan, who was facing a vote of no confidence, in office would have repercussions on bilateral relations. The United States was reportedly annoyed by Mr Khan for his “independent foreign policy” and his visit to Moscow.

This was interpreted by the government as a threat.

The government’s decision to make it public has placed the Foreign Office at the center of the controversy. But the diplomats serving there are not happy about it.

FO hallways currently appear to be muted, but a few officials have spoken to Dawn on condition of anonymity.

An ambassador posted abroad said that “cablegate had a serious impact on operations, but it was difficult to quantify”. He further said that Mr. Khan might have tried to take political advantage of this, but he distorted the principle of secure and confidential communications, which is at the heart of diplomacy.

How will this affect their operation?

Cables sent by missions abroad contain crucial information on developments relevant to the country and information on the thinking of host country leaders. Diplomatic reporting includes analyzes of complex foreign policy issues. Cables can also suggest options for advancing the national interest, sometimes in difficult situations.

Another ambassador said: “Some of us work in hostile environments, we will no longer name our sources in our reporting lest it become public.”

The major concern is therefore that raters are becoming very cautious and generally more reluctant.

The cables have a very restricted circulation and very few have access to them. This gives ambassadors a sense of security that they are safe in sharing the unvarnished truth with their government about what is happening in the host country. They, it’s worried, will at least think twice before reporting anything controversial.

This would affect decision-making at the FO, which requires direct and candid reporting.

Another consequence of this episode could be that foreign governments may be wary of trusting Pakistani diplomats. This will reduce the effectiveness of outreach to diplomats and make it difficult to acquire information.

“The consequences of this ‘cablegate’ will go far beyond what is being discussed now as it could damage sensitive relations and make open exchanges more difficult,” said a diplomat posted abroad.

His view was that foreign officials meeting with Pakistani diplomats not only provide a window into the affairs of that particular country, but their insights are often an indicator of sentiment in international politics. “I fear that these officials are no longer willing to share candid opinions with us. If this happens, we will miss these sources very much, especially in times of crisis,” he added.

A retired foreign service official said it was Pakistan’s distinguishing feature that “we haven’t dragged foreign policy controversies into domestic politics”. But, he regretted, this was no longer the case after this episode.

Posted in Dawn, April 8, 2022