Why Is Ministry Of Foreign Affairs An Ideal Scapegoat?

Why Is Ministry Of Foreign Affairs An Ideal Scapegoat?
It is a well-established fact that Pakistan suffers from drastic economic challenges. Problems such as high budget deficits, negative balance of trade, perennial current account deficits, energy shortage, closure of industries, and an unstable exchange rate coupled with depleting foreign exchange reserves are the tip of the iceberg. Consequently, in order to address these challenges, Pakistan had to knock at the doors of the IMF time and again.

The remedies for these maladies are also well known. Over the decades, our political leadership with their economic czars has attempted to fix the economy with their various policies.

Two solutions in particular have widespread following: First to simply raise taxes. The regular budgets and the recent mini budget are such momentous occasions when the masses get rewarded for the misdeeds of the elites. Second to curtail expenses.

Interestingly, whenever the debate revolves around depleting foreign exchange reserves and curtailing expenses, the axe drops on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Pakistan. A policy step was taken in this regard towards the end of 2022, when executive allowances of certain ministries were hiked but the foreign office was not included in this. In fact, the income received by the foreign office employees abroad was brought under the tax net. This measure, however, after much uproar was reversed.

The pay structure of foreign missions abroad has not been revised since 2011. If one is to factor in global inflation and currency devaluation at home since 2011, the foreign missions are already at a receiving end of the stick.

Thus, MOFA, allegedly having a bloated budget, involved in corrupt practices and blamed for Pakistan’s weak diplomatic projection abroad, is an ideal scapegoat. The ensuing narrative dictates that the budget of foreign office should be regulated. This includes reducing the number of foreign missions abroad along with officers posted abroad. This was evident in the recent directives by the PM on austerity measures advising MOFA to curtail its expenses by reducing its number of missions as well as the officers posted abroad.

A comparison of MOFA Pakistan with the Ministry of External Affairs (MeA) India would put things in perspective. Though, India is a behemoth and any comparison regarding parity is inconsequential. To counter this stance, this piece argues that such an understanding should be accepted in toto and not for specific cases. If the principle of parity with India is applied to a specific case, such as the armed forces and not to others, then it does not make sense. It should either encompass the whole or ignore it. If the respectable armed forces man Pakistan’s military frontiers, the MOFA mans Pakistan’s diplomatic frontiers. The significance of the diplomatic frontiers cannot and should not be downplayed.        

It is logical to begin a discussion about curtailing expenses with the actual expense incurred. Therefore, it is imperative that the budget of MOFA be analysed.
compared to MeA India, MOFA Pakistan is underfunded and understaffed which may impact the projection of Pakistan’s narrative abroad. Having said this, it does not rule out that there is plenty of room for improvement but slashing the budget of the foreign office will not resolve the problem.

As per the Ministry of Finance, MOFA was allocated a budget of approximately 18.6 billion rupees for the year 2018-2019; and for the year 2022-2023, 27.33 billion rupees has been demanded. This translates into an increase of approximately eight billion rupees from 2018 to 2023. If one is to adjust inflation and currency devaluation since 2018, this increase in budgetary allocation is just enough to meet the running expenses. On the other hand, the MeA budget, as per its annual report for the year 2020-2021, was INR 173 billion, out which INR 74 billion was earmarked for technical and economic cooperation for India’s neighbourhood. Similarly for 2021-2022, the budget was approximately INR 180.1 billion. Out of this 180.1 billion, INR 76 billion was allocated for foreign aid and loans to India’s immediate neighbours.

The MeA budgetary allocations overshadow those of MOFA. Hence, on the diplomatic front Pakistan is severely handicapped and underequipped.

The resources commanded by any foreign office have a direct impact on its human resources. As per the data available on Pakistan Foreign Office’s website, the ministry employs a total of 2,993 employees. Out of these 2,993; 521 are officer cadre, from which 321 officers are posted at foreign missions abroad while the remaining 240 officers are based at the headquarters in Islamabad. The remaining is the support staff of 2,432 employees which include accountants, drivers, security guards, cypher assistants and clerks. 1,408 of this support staff is stationed at foreign missions while the remaining 1,024 work at the ministry in Islamabad.

Compare this to the human resource strength of MeA, India, which has 850 officer cadres alone; not to mention the support staff that is an integral part of the machinery.

The human and financial resources of the foreign office further directly impact Pakistan’s projection abroad. As per the data on MOFA’s website, there are 122 foreign missions. Thus, with the low budget highlighted above and 2993 employees, the foreign office has to man a total of 122 missions abroad and the head office in Islamabad.

India’s foreign office with a budget of INR 180 billion and 850 officer cadre has established around 200 foreign missions. The annual report of 2021-2022 issued by the MeA India, highlights its diplomatic presence abroad.

Thus, compared to MeA India, MOFA Pakistan is underfunded and understaffed which may impact the projection of Pakistan’s narrative abroad. Having said this, it does not rule out that there is plenty of room for improvement but slashing the budget of the foreign office will not resolve the problem. If Pakistan’s military frontiers are perennial and sacrosanct than so are its diplomatic frontiers. Despite the huge differences in budget, human resources and foreign presence, the performance of MOFA Pakistan is beyond par.

It should not be forgotten that diplomacy still is the first line of defense and MOFA represents that line.