Home Lightbox The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Patriarchs

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Patriarchs

by Ejaz Haider
Former Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Tasnim Aslam. Aamir Qureshi—AFP

Former Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Tasnim Aslam. Aamir Qureshi—AFP

Pakistan needs more women at leadership positions at all levels of government.

We are fighting the Taliban because we don’t like their exegesis and we certainly don’t like our society to be structured according to their medieval societal norms. There’s much in the Taliban ideology that is abhorrent, but none more so, speaking personally, than the place they want to assign to women. In a manner of speaking, they want me to love my son more than my daughter. I refuse to do that and I am sure I am not alone in that.

Yet, if truth be spoken, we remain stuck in our patriarchal attitudes. I need a nota bene here because I am no feminist in the way the creed and its many variations are expressed. But, equally, I believe firmly and unequivocally that no society can progress without respecting its women and giving them equal opportunities.

The question is: Does Pakistan?


Recently, friend Adil Najam has been arguing the case for women judges on the Supreme Court bench. I totally support that. Some would invoke merit to challenge this.

There are two things wrong with this invocation. One, it is simply a cover to perpetuate the patriarchy; two, it seems to imply, without any empirical evidence, that somehow men can do the job better than women. That is nonsense. We have had men at the helm for 68 years and I don’t have to mount an argument to defend the statement that they have made a royal mess of everything. It will take women to act like men to do that and going by my experience, no woman worth her salt ever likes to act like a man.

But judiciary is not the only place where we see so few women. It’s everywhere. Recently, I looked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was appalled. Not one woman has ever become the Foreign Secretary. Do we really believe that we have never had women diplomats that were or are as good, or better, than men? Not one woman Foreign Service Officer has ever held an ambassadorial appointment at our missions in Washington, London, Moscow, New Delhi, Kabul, Beijing, Tehran, the U.N. and Riyadh. Anyone who knows something about foreign policy would know what these stations mean and, by extension, what it means to have never had a woman FSO given these missions.

Washington and London have seen women ambassadors but they weren’t from the service. Those were political appointments. Dr. Maleeha Lodhi is currently our permanent representative to the U.N., but again, that’s a political appointment, though it’s great to have a woman represent the country. Is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs telling us that its women FSOs in all these decades have been incapable of heading these missions? Or no woman FSO has been capable enough to become the foreign secretary? Let me add to that and say there’s deep irony in the fact that the ministry only recently was headed by a woman minister. As performance goes, Hina Rabbani Khar’s was way better than what I have witnessed since the PMLN cabal of men has taken power.

But let me return to the topic of women FSOs and give the readers the names of a few of them.

Ambassador Ayesha Riaz, a Grade-22 FSO, is currently heading our mission in Vienna. A 10th Common officer, she has been ambassador to Bern, was DG-Europe and then AS-Europe. She is regarded highly as a capable diplomat.

Ambassador Naila Chohan, a Grade-22 FSO, is currently our High Commissioner to Australia. A 10th Common officer, she has also been AS-Middle East/Africa.

Ambassador Zehra Akbari, a Grade-21 officer, is currently our High Commissioner to New Zealand. An 11th Common officer, she is highly regarded for her performance. She has served as Director India and Kashmir Affairs and also as DG-South Asia.

Ambassador Naghmana Hashmi, a Grade-21 officer, is currently our ambassador to Belgium/E.U. She took over from the late ambassador Munawwar Bhatti, a very fine diplomat who passed away recently. An 11th Common officer, Ambassador Hashmi has headed the mission in Ireland and also served as AS-Americas.

Ambassador Tehmina Janjua, a Grade-21 officer, is currently our permanent representative at Geneva. A 12th Common officer, she has also headed the mission in Rome in which capacity she was also our ambassador to Albania and Slovenia.

Ambassador Tasnim Aslam, a Grade-21 officer, is currently AS-U.N. A 12th Common officer, she also held the position of Ministry spokesperson. She has headed missions in Morocco and Rome. In the latter capacity, she was also responsible for Albania and Slovenia. She has also served as AS-Europe.

Ambassador Riffat Masud, a Grade-20 officer, is currently ambassador to Norway. She has also been DG-South Asia. Interestingly, Ambassador Masud speaks fluent Persian. Our mission in Iran awaits an ambassador but for reasons best known to MoFA’s bureaucracy and perhaps also the Prime Minister’s Office, she was sent, recently, to Norway instead of giving her the mission in Tehran which would have made eminent sense.

This is not an exhaustive list. I have named only some senior diplomats. There are many other women diplomats at junior levels who, as they rise up in the service, should be given sensitive missions to head. Will they also hit the ceiling meant for women in the service? Would, for instance, Saima Saleem, a second secretary who is visually impaired but is considered a very fine officer be handicapped thus after having, so bravely, overcome her physical handicap?

So, to Adil Najam’s voice I add mine. We would like to see more women on the Supreme Court bench and we would like to see more women head sensitive diplomatic missions and also the service.

It doesn’t make much sense to fight this war of values and then wallow in the cesspool of our patriarchy.

Haider is editor of national-security affairs at Capital TV. He was a Ford Scholar at the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. He tweets @ejazhaider

The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect, in part or whole, those held by Newsweek Pakistan.

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MK December 4, 2015 - 11:58 pm

Brilliant post. I agree completely.

Zahid December 5, 2015 - 10:50 am

I entirely agree with the content and the argument that female officers in foreign services should be appointed on sensitive ambassadorial assignments. Its a pitty that female officers on higher meirts are ignored for such appointments and those way lower on meirt list get vital posting due to patriarchy at foreign office or connections in PM house. Riffat Masud is a star officer in foreign office. She is fluent in English, Arabic, Persian, and was among the top lot of CSS scoreres. She serviced as protocol officers to Benazir Bhutto, and Nawaz Sharif and her work was greatly appreciated by both. She served pakistan with distinction in London, Paris, New Delhi, Ankara, and Los Angeles. Despite such brilliant trajectory of achievements she has been sent to Oslo, a relatively dormant assignment. No doubt there is at present male monopoly in Foreign Service and top postings are denied to female officerd courtesy the PM house which is predisposed to such discrimination. In practice our mindset is the same as that of Taliban

Imran Ahmed December 6, 2015 - 11:35 am

Pakistan’s gender equality ranking says a lot about our primitive mindset and explains why we are falling behind neighbouring countries.


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