Recently, Lieutenant General (retd) Bilal Akbar has been appointed as the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia, after which Muhammad Hafeez, the spokesman of Pakistan’s Foreign Office, while talking to the reporters, called it an ‘administrative’ matter. Debate has also begun over how helpful the expected appointment of a retired general will be in the changing relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Before Lieutenant General (retd) Bilal Akbar, Raja Ali Ijaz held the same post as a career diplomat and has been serving as ambassador to several countries. And if you look at the history of Pakistan’s ambassadors to Saudi Arabia, three of them, former Admiral of the Navy and former ISI chief Asad Durrani, were sent to Saudi Arabia as ambassadors. Admiral Aziz Mirza and Hisham Siddique are also included in the list. The general impression is that Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia are based on security rather than diplomacy. However, if we talk about General (retd) Bilal Akbar, he has been holding senior positions in the Pakistan Army and retired in December 2020.
A former Pakistani Foreign Office official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “When we keep diplomats in different countries for years and they are trained, then they should be promoted to these important positions.” ۔ If you think diplomats are not good, then of course hire all generals or hire businessmen. The point is, with whom do you get the job done? And who is benefiting the country? What good would it do you to send me to Wagah Border? I never fought.
On the other hand, he said that Pakistan’s declared policy is to increase business. “We hear it every day, but the operational policy is that you want to prioritize defense. Now this in itself is a big difference. If you send a security expert to a diplomatic post, the impression will be that your priority is security matters and not the country’s diplomatic relations.
He also added that “The ambassador’s job is not to make a few phone calls or make a function,” he said. If you don’t send it to Saudi Arabia, send it elsewhere. But it also means that the reason behind being sent there (ie Saudi Arabia) is related to performance. Or there is pressure.
A Million Dollar Question?
The quota for this post has been clarified in the law of Pakistan. According to which 20% quota is reserved for non-professional ambassadors. Ten percent can be selected for the Pakistan Army, Navy and Air Force, while ten percent can be selected from private institutions. If we take the example of ambassadors from private institutions, Ata-ul-Haq Qasmi was nominated as an ambassador during the PML-N regime.
B. The question arises here that if most of the ambassadors from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia have been generals or admirals, has Pakistan received any special assistance at the diplomatic level during their deployment? And what is expected now?
Former ISI chief Asad Durrani, who served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2000 to 2002, said: “It is not a big deal to nominate a former general for the post. Those who have gone before have done what ambassadors do. Our job as ambassadors is the office work we do. We should not expect more than that.