Banker’s appointment as ambassador raises eyebrows

Banker’s appointment as ambassador

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s current envoy to Qatar has extensive experience in the international banking and investment sector, something which the Foreign Ministry says makes him a perfect choice for the ambassadorial assignment, according to information recently placed before the National Assembly.

Since his selection in early 2014, several questions have been raised about Shahzad Ahmad’s qualifications for the position. PTI’s Murad Saeed had a similar query in mind, which was addressed by the government on the floor of National Assembly in March.

The MNA from Swat asked about Mr Ahmad’s job experience during Question Hour. The written response attributed to the foreign minister said, “Yes, Mr Shahzad Ahmad, Ambassador of Pakistan to Qatar is a senior banker with 22 years of experience. Shahzad Ahmad held important positions in various renowned companies and firms of the world.”

It is worth noting that in the absence of a full-fledged foreign minister, it is Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who runs the ministry through Adviser Sartaj Aziz and Special Assistant Tariq Fatemi.

According to the written response placed before the lower house, Mr Ahmad holds an MPhil in Economics from the University of Cambridge, and a BA from the University of Sussex. He has previously worked with the Royal Bank of Scotland, PLC, (2008-2012), ABN Amro Bank N.V. (1998-2007), Citibank N.A. (1993-1998) and I.D.E.A. Ltd. (1991-1992).

“His experience is useful for promoting economic relations and attracting investment,” the written reply concluded.

Queue barger?

Many were surprised when Mr Ahmad’s predecessor in Doha, Syed Hassan Raza, was prematurely transferred to Malaysia within the first year of his posting, ostensibly to make space for Mr Ahmad. Normally, high commissioners and ambassadors are appointed for a three-year stint.

The appointment attracted additional scrutiny given the interest surrounding the government’s LNG import deal with Qatar.

This also troubled the Foreign Office old guard, who were not only perturbed by the political appointment of someone who wasn’t a career diplomat, but also surprised over how Mr Ahmad’s appointment was processed.

According to documents seen by Dawn, Mr Fatemi, who technically has very little to do with the day-to-day affairs of the Foreign Office, wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office for the appointment of Shahzad Ahmad as ambassador to Doha, as well as Mr Raza’s transfer to Malaysia.

“Mr Ahmad, a well-known banker with 22 years of experience and a strong background in economics, commerce and structured finance, be posted as our ambassador in Doha,” Mr Fatemi wrote in the letter.

“But it’s the foreign secretary, who, as the ministry’s principal accounting officer, moves formal summaries to the prime minister for the appointment of ambassadors and high commissioners. The final decision rests with the prime minister,” a senior Foreign Office official told Dawn.

In the case of Shahzad Ahmad, the officer said that PM’s Secretary Javaid Aslam obtained the PM’s approval on the letter moved by Mr Fatemi.

“As the chief executive, the PM can even make political appointments. But there are official ways and means to go about this,” the Foreign Office official said.

Another official of the ministry pointed out that even political appointees were usually individuals who had served the country well in their respective fields. In Mr Ahmad’s case, however, all his job experience is in international banks.

When asked, the PM’s press secretary told Dawn that Mr Fatemi’s role was restricted to the prime minister and he had nothing to do with the working of the Foreign Ministry. FO Spokesperson Nafees Zakaria was not available for comment.

However, one of the PM’s aides contended that since the prime minister had given his approval for Mr Ahmad’s appointment, “it didn’t matter whether the summary was moved by the special assistant or the foreign secretary”.


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