Comment: Killing the messenger —A G Noorani
The entire Foreign Service has been humiliated by Riaz Muhammad Khan's ouster for tendering the only advice which any diplomat of sense and self-respect would tender
“All students of diplomacy will agree that diplomatists have often progressed further than politicians in their conception of international conduct, and that the servant has more often than once exercised a determinant and beneficial influence upon his master,” Sir Harold Nicolson wrote in his classic work Diplomacy. He added that the diplomat’s duty is “to tender advice, and if need be to raise objections”. It is open to the minister to overrule him.
It is, however, a sheer abuse of power if the minister of the day punishes the professional for discharging his duties to the state.
The dismissal of the foreign secretary of Pakistan, Mr Riaz Muhammad Khan, one of the most accomplished and respected diplomats, is the third in an unfortunate series in South Asia. Rajiv Gandhi dismissed Foreign Secretary Mr AP Venkateswaran in January 1987; Benazir Bhutto dismissed Dr Humayun Khan as foreign secretary in 1990.
Riaz Muhammad was to step down in September but had asked to be relieved after the India-Pakistan Foreign Secretaries’ Talk from May 19-21. On April 25, in the middle of a visit by China’s foreign minister, he was replaced with “immediate effect” by Salman Bashir, ambassador to China.
Designed to humiliate, the action served only to invite censure of the rulers’ shabby behaviour, especially since Riaz Muhammad Khan is known for his erudition, farsightedness and exquisite manners. It is a rare combination. Its impact on the morale of the Pakistan Foreign Service will be considerable.
The Pakistan Foreign Service has produced diplomats of outstanding ability. This was fully revealed, at a moment of grave crisis, when its ambassadors met in Geneva on August 24-25, 1971. Foreign Secretary Sultan M Khan presided.
The minutes record that “Ambassador Jamshed Marker believes that the Russians have no intention of severing ties with Pakistan...he regarded the Treaty as more anti-Chinese than anti-Pakistan. Ambassador KM Kaiser was not sure about the nature of Chinese help in case of a war between India and Pakistan.”
Events proved them right. They reported honestly and advised fearlessly. A sensible politician in power respects the expertise which the professional has acquired over years. Autocrats prefer to act on whim and bring the country to grief. From his post in London, Herbert von Dirksen warned Berlin that Britain would go to war if Germany invaded Poland. He was disgraced because his prediction had come true.
Riaz Muhammad Khan earned the ire of Asif Ali Zardari because of his opposition to Zardari’s insistence on a UN investigation into the dastardly assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Distress over the crime is understandable. Diplomatic illiteracy is not; least of all arrogance of power and its boorish display.
The proposal is at once devoid of legality, impractical and futile; wholly unnecessary; fraught with unpredictable consequences, and demeaning.
Rafik Hariri’s case is not a precedent to emulate but a warning to heed. Lebanon lost control over the proceedings. The United States did the running in the name of the United Nations. It smuggled spies into Iraq as UN Inspectors.
It will send FBI and CIA men under the UN banner to Pakistan. The mandate will be extended, as in Lebanon, to cover the Taliban in the NWFP in aid of the ‘war on terror’.
In Lebanon, there was at least a torn fig leaf of legality because Syria’s complicity was suspected. The UN Security Council acted, absurdly enough, under Chapter VII on “threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace and Acts of Aggression”.
Under which provision of the UN Charter can Pakistan invite a UN probe into the Bhutto assassination? What will be its worth five months later? What police powers would Islamabad confer on such a probe? It would be a wholly unnecessary exercise.
Nothing prevents the present government from appointing a commission of inquiry headed by a judge who commands public confidence and providing him with all the assistance he needs. It would follow good precedents — the Munir Commission on Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination, the Kapur Commission on Gandhi’s assassination and others on Indira Gandhi’s and Rajiv Gandhi’s assassinations. It is demeaning to ask the UN to probe the matter.
The car-bombs which killed Lebanon’s former PM and others in Beirut on February 14, 2005, provided the US with an excuse to humiliate Syria. The very next day, the UN Security Council asked Lebanon “to bring to justice the perpetrators, organisers and sponsors” of the act.
There was no request from Lebanon for a UN probe. Yet the UNSC asked the Secretary General “to follow closely the situation in Lebanon and to report urgently on the circumstances, causes and consequences of this terrorist act”. Kofi Annan sent a fact-finding mission. Predictably it reported on March 24 that the Lebanese authorities lacked the commitment and were inept. It pointed a finger of suspicion at Syria.
The report improperly discussed the political situation within Lebanon. It called for an independent investigation commission backed by investigators and an overhaul of Lebanon’s security services.
Events took a predetermined course thereafter. On March 29, 2005, Lebanon informed the UN that it “approved” the decision of the Security Council “concerning the establishment of an international commission of inquiry”. The Council took that decision on April 7, 2005. It accepted the mission’s conclusions and set up and International Investigation Commission “with executive authority” and power to roam at will all over Lebanon.
While it did its work Lebanon’s PM Fouad Siniora wrote the desired letter on December 13, 2005, asking the Council to set up an International Tribunal, “to convene in or outside Lebanon, to try all those who are found responsible” for Hariri’s killing. The next day, the UNSC asked Kofi Annan to negotiate the terms with Lebanon.
The result was a UN agreement with Lebanon on the establishment of Special Tribunal for Lebanon and on its statute. Article 19(1) of the Agreement said it would come into force after Lebanon notified that “the legal requirements for enter into force have been complied with”. Parliament could not meet to ratify the Agreement. The Secretary General noted that “all domestic options for the ratification...now appear to be exhausted”.
Nonetheless on May 30, 2007, the UNSC decided that it “shall enter into force”. On June 10, the matter was out of Lebanon’s hands.
Riaz Muhammad Khan would not have tendered his advice except after consulting his colleagues. The entire Foreign Service has been humiliated by his ouster for tendering the only advice which any diplomat of sense and self-respect would tender. It remains to be seen if and how the idea is implemented.
A G Noorani is a prominent lawyer and a commentator on regional affairs