A big one to lose

Why did Pakistan lose the UN Human Rights Council elections?

A big one to lose
Pakistan’s shocking defeat in the elections for a United Nations Human Rights Council seat continued to reverberate in the Foreign Office this week.

Contesting for one of the five vacant seats of Asia-Pacific Group in the Council, Pakistan managed 105 votes and fell short of 9 votes to get re-elected for a fourth term last week.

The loss is being given a lot of importance, because it is the first concrete sign of not only a faltering foreign policy, but also of increasingly dysfunctional Foreign Office machinery. Undoubtedly it also denotes Pakistan’s waning influence in the global body.

Human Rights Council defeat was, moreover, the first time that Pakistan lost an election for a major UN body, such as the Security Council, the Human Rights Council or the Economic and Social Council.

So it was a big one to lose!

Stunned by the defeat, the government reacted by doing what it is very good at doing –launching an inquiry to know what led to the debacle.

Pakistan’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations Dr Maleeha Lodhi was asked to explain the poor showing.

But what is the government exactly looking for?

Advisor on Foreign Affairs Mr Sartaj Aziz, who just last month lost his job as National Security Adviser for not being able to devote enough time to the two ministries under his control, says: “Pakistan had received 120 commitments from various countries for this election, but we got 105 votes. So we are trying to identify the countries that did not vote despite their commitment.”
There are stories about a communication breakdown between Pakistani missions and the Foreign Office

At the UN, countries make commitments on reciprocal basis. They commit to vote and in return get a similar commitment for themselves.

The Foreign Office should, therefore, know which countries did not fulfill their pledges so that they could be reciprocated accordingly when the payback time comes.

But Mr Aziz must know that countries normally discount 20 percent of the pledges made for these elections because, much like any other polls, false promises are made. So this difference between the pledges and final the score is well within the normal range.

Similarly, much cannot be done about the foreign policy. Good or bad, we have to live with it. Whether it is the South China Sea, the Middle East or other issues of concern to Pakistan, such as Islamophobia, drones, or controversial caricatures, these policies cannot be changed for votes in the UN, and we cannot appease everyone.

And as Mr Aziz puts it, there is always a cost for the tough decisions that have to be taken.

One must not lose sight of the fact that Pakistan got 181 votes out of a total of 192 during the elections for the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) only a year ago.

Something more important on which this defeat has shed light on is the malaise afflicting the Foreign Office.

Those who had closely seen this campaign are well aware that there was no seriousness in it. Starting from the Foreign Office to the missions in New York and Geneva, everyone took the campaign casually.

According to a grapevine, the Foreign Office did not even release the funds that had been requested by Pakistan’s mission at the UN for the campaign.

Finger pointing has already started. The Foreign Office bureaucracy thinks Ms Lodhi is to be blamed. While those around Ms Lodhi say that FO is more at fault and she is being made a scapegoat by Foreign Service career officers for being a political appointee.

Lodhi’s camp may well have a point. Lately, top FO mandarins have been running the ministry on personal likes and dislikes. It is not just about the transfers, postings and promotions, which is an old story, there are now stories about breakdown of communication between Pakistani missions abroad and the Foreign Office, just because someone here did not like the envoys heading those missions.

Premature changes in some of the missions that the government is being forced to make – Moscow just to name one – is an ample proof that the choices made on personal preferences were already firing back.

Politics asides, one other reason that is believed to have affected the Pakistani campaign was the dismal human rights record. Although several other countries cited for human rights abuses – Venezuela, UAE, Burundi, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan, and Togo – easily got elected and Saudi Arabia was chosen to head an influential panel at the Council, many Western countries refused to vote for Pakistan for not having a good record.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has asked the government to learn a lesson from the loss and improve the rights record.

“Obviously, the vote reflects the Pakistani representative’s inability to convince the UN members of the country’s performance in the field of human rights. It should also be taken as a warning for the Pakistani authorities to redouble their efforts to make amends and ensure that human rights are not only observed in Pakistan but also seen to be observed,” HRCP Chairperson Zohra Yusuf said.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad

Email: mamoonarubab@gmail.com

Twitter: @bokhari_mr