. . . . . .  


It was a brave attempt. Our embassy in Washington, after having failed to stem the tsunami of the US Congressional vote on Resolution HR 901 (368 for, seven against) threw a mango party to influence Biden’s faltering administration.

The last time this friendly fruit had been used in our diplomacy was in the 1950s, when some mangoes grown in the Chinese Embassy (then in Karachi) were sent to Chairman Mao Zedong.

Later, President Ziaul Haq tried to sweeten Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s sourness with bottles of lychee juice. She remained unmoved. To her, it tasted of military blanco.

At the recent mango party in DC, the guest of honour – Elizabeth Horst,  Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the State Department – spoke feelingly about Pak-US’s ‘longstanding relationship’ as being in ‘the best place it’s been in years’. She neglected to say that she was there out of official necessity, nor that she was on her way to Sri Lanka as the next U.S. ambassador there.  

Nor did she dilute the message by the bipartisan US House of Representatives, urging US President Joe Biden ‘to collaborate with Pakistan in upholding democracy, human rights, and the rule of law’. The House assumes that 81 year old Biden is still compos mentis and can remember where Pakistan is.

Biden has probably forgotten that he came to Lahore on 18 February to monitor the 2008 general elections. He asked a minister in the Interim Punjab cabinet what would be the outcome. He was told: ‘The parties have to accept its conduct, its consequences, and the novelty of a coalition government’. The results came in. PPP and PML-N had to form a coalition government. They fell out. The PPP then allied itself with the MQM, the ANP and the JUI (F).

Sixteen years have passed since the time when the US administration felt Pakistan important enough to send three senators to report on its general elections. Now, if we appear on the State Department’s screen, it is for the wrong reason.

Resolution HR 901 should not have come as a surprise to anyone, either here or in the US. It had been gestating since November 2023, a bipartisan indictment, parented by a Republican from Georgia and a Democrat from Michigan. It emphasised ‘the importance of free and fair elections, calling for a thorough and independent investigation into any claims of interference or irregularities in Pakistan’s 2024 elections’.

It also ‘urged Pakistan to uphold democratic and electoral institutions, human rights, and the rule of law, and respect the fundamental guarantees of due process, freedom of press, of assembly, and of speech of the people of Pakistan’. Contestants in Miss Universe pageants have made more convincing appeals for world peace and harmony. 

Going further, ‘the resolution condemned efforts to suppress democratic participation in Pakistan. It specifically denounced harassment, intimidation, violence, arbitrary detention, and restrictions on internet access, as well as any violations of human, civil, or political rights’. Everything, except the stinking kitchen sink.

Our missions in Washington and the U.N. had enough notice of HR 901 to sandbag against its impact. Our government, awakened from a cypher-induced stupor, reacted by shooting its messengers. It removed our representatives in Washington and New York.

Their replacements have a difficult task ahead of them. They have to develop a strategy that must anticipate Biden’s funeral without sporting black armbands. They must prepare themselves for the probable (inevitable?) coronation of Donald Trump.

A hurricane of change is blowing through the world’s democracies. Great Britain is likely to have a Labour government after 14 years of continuous Conservatism. In France, Macron watches helplessly as its electorate oscillates between the Far Right and the Far Left. Iran’s voters are being asked to choose between hardliner Saeed Jalili and the relatively less conservative Masoud Pezeshkian. The low turnout of Iranian voters reflected their diminished interest.  

In such a volatile environment, the natural question is whether our Foreign Office is equipped to do its job. The days are gone when India’s MEA envied Pakistan’s nimble diplomacy. They begrudged that we got more of a bang for our buck.

Today, our Foreign Ministry is in the hands of a former chartered accountant. He divides his time between part-time responsibilities as Deputy Prime Minister and his enduring love, the Finance Ministry.

Some in the Foreign Ministry think we should not take Resolution HR 901 seriously. Others apprehend that the massive endorsement of it (368 for, seven against) is a warning to our government that we are losing friends faster than a politician sheds principles.  

The Chinese, the Saudis, the UAE, and now the US are palpably inching away from us. Isolation, to paraphrase Paul Cezanne, may temper the strong; it is the stumbling-block of the uncertain.



[DAWN, 4 July 2024]

04 July 2024
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