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Shame on the PPP government and its ambassador-at-large

Editors’ note: The following is a disturbing news report. We would like to know the purpose of such trips by its ambassador-at-large and the benefits that Pakistan has received in return. If Mr Klasra’s story is verified and if it is proven that it is a case of nepotism, then Shah Mahmood Qureshi must be asked to return this money to the exchequer from his personal pocket which was so ruthlessly spent on his personal friend’s foreign trips. (AN)

‘Squandering’ taxpayers’ money: Ambassador-at-large undertakes 30 foreign trips in two years – by Rauf Klasra

ISLAMABAD: An ambassador-at-large Nasir Ali Khan has set a new record of foreign trips as he has undertaken as many as 30 tours of 25 countries in a matter of 24 months.

The Islamabad-based gentleman, who is an optician by profession, is known to be a close friend of Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

Khan spent a total of 156 days out of the country, almost every third night since becoming an ambassador-at-large in 2008.

Out of these trips, His Excellency, the ambassador, spent 45 days in the US alone. On one trip to the US, he stayed there for 18 days, a record of long stay by any government official – president, prime minister or even the foreign minister.

Another ambassador-at-large, Khalid Ahmed almost matched the performance of Khan as he spent 135 days out of Pakistan during the last two years. Both the gentlemen spent a total of Rs15 million on their foreign trips in these two years.

Khan’s only qualification for the job was that he used to be a class fellow of Foreign Minister Qureshi at an elitist college in Lahore. Their friendship seems to have cost the poor taxpayers heavily.

The countries Khan visited during the last two years included Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Afghanistan, France, Uganda, Sri Lanka, India, Afghanistan, the UK, Italy, Germany, Iran, Czech Republic, Russia, Holland, Turkey, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Trinidad and Tobago, Manama, the UAE, Belgium and Denmark.

The official documents available with The Express Tribune reveal that the second ambassador-at-large, Khalid Ahmed, visited 12 countries and the third, Zia Isphani, visited only one country – Bangladesh.

The details of foreign trips by ambassadors-at-large were placed in the National Assembly during the question hour on Monday. The question was asked by MNA Nighat Parveen. However, the official documents did not give any reason for these foreign trips or the objectives achieved.

Foreign Minister Qureshi, in his written reply to the house, said that during the last two years, three ambassadors-at-large had made 43 trips to different countries. These ambassadors-at-large were Nasir Ali Khan, Zia Isphani and Khalid Ahmad. Khan visited 30 countries followed by Ahmed, with 13 trips and Zia, with only one.

Source: The Express Tribune, December 21st, 2010.

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  • According to Linked In:

    Nasir Ali Khan

    Ambassador at Large at The Government of Pakistan
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  • Our budding ‘Kissinger’

    Thursday, December 23, 2010

    Zafar Hilaly
    To support the travel expenses of a Mr Nasir Ali Khan, an optician turned foreign affairs expert, now Ambassador at Large, probably takes a hundred fold as much money as it does to support the life of a common man. And the funny thing is that it takes that much even if the common man works all year around while the Ambassador at Large does no work at all.

    Statistics to this effect were revealed in the National Assembly yesterday, in response to a question by a member of the opposition. Apparently in the space of 24 months Mr Nasir Ali Khan had visited 25 countries, some more than once, spending a total of 156 days outside the country at a cost of 15 million rupees to the national exchequer. On one trip to the US he stayed abroad on ‘assignment’ for as long as 18 days. That, apparently, is a record which is unequalled by any president, prime minister or foreign minister and one that will in all probability remain unchallenged.

    It would have been interesting if MNA Nighat Saleem, who asked the question in parliament, would have followed up the government’s response by asking precisely what was the purpose of the Ambassador at Large’s mission to Trinidad and Tobago. I must confess that after a sleepless night I am still unable to think of one unless he was representing the Islamic Republic at a Reggae fest.

    On reading the government’s response I rang up some serving and retired contacts to ask them who exactly this budding Kissinger was and why was he being shielded from public eye almost as much as our nuclear assets. Guffaws of laughter greeted my questions. “Don’t you know? He’s a bum-chum of Shah Mehmood Qureshi since their school days,” said one and all. Not believing that our foreign minister had assigned this particular gentleman a spanking new office at the prestigious third floor of the Foreign Office, and insisted on being accompanied by him on his visits abroad only because they had played marbles at school, I decided to snoop around. But snoop as much as I did, I discovered nothing to suggest otherwise.

    It then occurred to me that I must be looking in the wrong place and asked one of the most prominent and widely respected Pakistani journalists in Islamabad, who is also a columnist for several major international newspapers, whether he had met our ‘Kissinger’ or heard him dilate on foreign affairs and what he thought of him. Except relating he confirmed that he had met Mr Nasir Ali Khan the rest of what he said is unprintable.

    Never having met the Ambassador at Large personally, or heard him speak, on or off the record, or having read a word that he had written, I can’t swear that it he is as clueless about his new job as is being alleged but, alas, one feels that he may be. In this regime, as we have discovered to our cost time and time again, there is simply no criterion to fill a post. Anyone can be slotted for any job. Appointments are made on the basis of blood relations, friendship, larceny and what have you. The disdain for qualifications, experience, aptitude, performance, merit, abounds with the candidate’s lust for office, backed by lucre, often proving decisive.

    Of the ambassadors at large appointed by this regime, one used to be a computer operator at the World Bank; another was a restaurant owner in Dubai; a third had no fixed vocation and alarmingly no fixed address. Apparently there are more of whom one does not hear perhaps because they violated their bail bonds. Of course, the professions identified are perfectly respectable ones except that they are as far removed from the craft of diplomacy as this government’s concern is for merit.

    About the only ambassador at large today, who has any experience of diplomacy, is Ambassador Zia Ispahani but unfortunately his experience was only judged sufficient for a solitary mission in the past two years, in stark contrast to the 30 assigned to Mr Nasir Ali Khan, the optician. Considering that on most of his ‘missions’ the foreign minister was also with him, one wonders what Mr Nasir’s actual tasks were apart from being a factotum. And again, on this score too there is much lurid speculation in Islamabad.

    For a government to be perceived as having the right man for the job adds to its stature and, of course, its performance; and the opposite is true when fools seem to be in an overwhelming majority. In her second term, some of BB’s advisers realising the politician’s proclivity to get carried away by considerations other than qualifications, experience, aptitude, performance and merit, suggested that she confine her selection to top posts in the bureaucracy from a shortlist of three provided by a select group of advisers headed by a very experienced former civil servant. BB would have none of it.

    Politicians as a rule don’t like their freedom to appoint, and sometimes anoint who they wish circumscribed by rules or even common sense. They love to flaunt their power. After suffering as much as they do, in the form of beatings, jail and torture when out of office, they hate being told that some or other rule prevents them from savoring their victory and appointing whoever they wish to a job.

    Just because the public has, for the moment, preferred their wisdom to that of their opponents they think they know best, and even though one of them paid for it with his life and BB’s choices on occasions turned out to be wrong it’s a habit that dies hard, as the Zardari-Gilani duo have amply demonstrated in their choice of candidates to fill important posts. Of course the performance of their opponents has been no better.

    Pakistan is one of those rare semi-functional democracies where legally the president/prime minister can go off walking on the hills around his mansion in Islamabad and return with an ambassador designate in tow. All he has to do before taking his shower is to sign a note purporting to ‘be pleased to appoint’ him as one.

    And that, by the looks of it, is how the current duo functions, except on the occasion when they spotted our peripatetic Ambassador at Large they were accompanied on their walk by the foreign minister who seems to have prevailed upon them to let his school chum join his diplomatic forays.

    The writer is a former ambassador. Email:

  • According to Wikipedia, Ambassador at-Large is a Diplomat of the Highest rank and/ or a Minister who is accredited to represent his country.

    Unlike the Ambassador in Residence (who is usually limited to a country)and/or embassy, the Ambassador-at-large is entrusted to operate in several usually neighbouring countries, a Region or sometimes a seat of international organizations like the United Nations/ European Union. In some cases an Ambassador at Large may even be specifically assigned a role to Advise and Assist the State or Government in particular issues. Historically, Presidents or Prime Ministers have designated special diplomatic envoys for specific assignments, primarily overseas but sometimes also within the country as Ambassadors-at-Large.

    So, it seems that Ambassador at-large is pretty dignified position, honored upon statesmen of high caliber for specific assignments. However, the government of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani took this honorable position as a grade-18 government job.

    Till recently, there was only one ambassador at-large, Sharifuddin Pirzada, who was appointed more than a decade ago and still continuing, but now the list exploded to 10, including Khalil Ahmad (also chairman of the Task Force on Recruitment), Kareem Khan Agha, Salman Farooqi (also deputy chairman Planning Commission), Hussain Haqqani (also serving as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US), Nasir Ali Khan, Hamid A Kidwai, Zia Isphahani, Dr Akbar Khwaja, and Anchor Javed Malik of the ARY Television.

    “At international moots, they check and rewrite all speeches prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” said a report, recently contributed by Shireen M Mazari for The News, adding, “they allegedly informed the foreign secretary that the foreign ministry should stop focusing on China as Pakistan’s major ally because now there was going to be a major reorientation towards the US and India.”

    According to Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, ambassadors a-large receive diplomatic passports but there are no other perks and privileges associated with the position. However, Ansar Abbasi quotes a Foreign Office source:

    .. some of these ambassadors had started sitting in the Foreign Office while the ministry was expected to provide offices and staff to some others too. The source said some directors in the ministry have been asked to vacate their rooms for these ambassadors.

    They have also been offered salaries along with other perks and privileges, including staff car, etc.