Veteran diplomat Ambassador Munir Akram has been appointed Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in place of Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi. The move follows Prime Minister Imran Khan’s successful address at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly.
The timing of Ambassador Akram’s appointment has surprised many in Pakistan itself, let alone the world at large. From the optics, the Pakistani delegation seemed pretty satisfied in New York, with the glitz and glamour on the one hand and adverse reactions on the other. The BJP leadership was visibly perturbed by PM Khan’s statements. The desired effect had been produced.
The rumour and gossip mills online have already started sharing fables around the decision, with some accusing Ambassador Lodhi of ‘ineptitude’ and ‘adopting a lackdaisal attitude’ and others claiming her exit was planned soon after certain stories about her son’s marriage achieved viral status across Pakistan. Whatever the reasons may be, now that the decision has been taken, it is imperative to examine the career profile of Ambassador Akram.
Interestingly, Ambassador Akram’s career began from the United Nations itself, when he was posted as Second Secretary soon after his induction to the Foreign Service of Pakistan (FSP) cadre in 1969. A highlight of his subsequent career postings is as follows:-
- Director in the United Nations Directorate, MoFA (1975-79).
- Counsellor at Pak’s Permanent Mission to the UN (Geneva) (1979-82).
- Minister at the Embassy of Pakistan in Japan (1982-85).
- Director General (United Nations Directorate) in MoFA (1985-88).
- Ambassador to the European Community, Belgium & Luxembourg (Brussels) (1988-92).
- Additional Foreign Secretary/ Head of United Nations Directorate and Economic Coordination Division at MoFA (1992-95).
- Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations (Geneva) (1995-2002).
- President of the United Nations Security Council (2002 and 2004)
Ambassador Akram was then appointed Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations (New York) in 2002 and was supposed to be in service till 2009. He was prematurely removed through a political decision of then President Asif Ali Zardari in 2008 reportedly because of his refusal to present the assassination case of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto before the world.
In the aftermath of terrorist attacks on the Indian Parliament after 9/11, Ambassador Akram minced no words when he informed the Indians about Pakistan’s non-adherence to the No-First Use (NFU) nuclear policy. He is renowned as a “hawk” by those who know him directly and otherwise.
Some important insights into his mindset as gleaned from noteworthy op-eds for Dawn written between 2011 and 2019 are as follows:-
- Suggested creating a Pak-Iran framework for resolving the Afghanistan problem and outline a common charter for withdrawal of foreign troops with China as the overall broker. In this column, Ambassador Akram termed the United Nations “an appendage of the West” which “cannot play its role” in the process (column dated November 30, 2011). Remark: Lack of trust on the United Nation’s efficacy to resolve the Afghan crisis.
- Assessed that funding for prolonged US military presence in Afghanistan is running out and it will be unviable to sustain a Kabul regime without adequate financing, hence the efforts to drawdown (column dated March 3, 2012). Remark: US will have to leave Afghanistan at the earliest possible.
- Proposed that the only feasible outcome for Afghanistan is negotiated political settlement taking into account all regional and ethnic groups through equitable balance of power (column dated April 28, 2012). Remark: Pakistan has already been involved with a US-led process viz Zalmay Khalilzad.
- Pakistan has the largest stake in Afghanistan after a US drawdown which would intensify ‘Great Game’ efforts (column dated November 10, 2012). Summary: Pakistan should proactively assert its central role in Afghan peace efforts while carefully employing its influence as and when required.
Even before the forced takeover of IOJ&K on 5th August (this year), Ambassador Akram acknowledged that Pakistan’s efforts to support Kashmir were “inefficient”. He said that Pakistan should accept the blame for “losing several strategic opportunities for securing Kashmiri rights and freedoms”. Interestingly, Ambassador Akram also came down heavily on Pakistan’s old policy of using ‘jihadi’ groups in Kashmir rather than supporting the indigenous liberation movemen (column dated March 31, 2012). Summary: Pakistan should adopt an innovative, non-religious and pragmatic approach to wrest the right of self-determination for Kashmiris.
- Warned Obama administration from adopting a hardliner (military) approach to Iran and discussed the futility of imposing economic sanctions (dated April 14, 2012). Summary: Soft corner for Iran.
- Claimed that American support for Syrian opposition and Bashar al-Assad’s exit were part of Washington’s strategic objective to neutralise Iranian power in the Middle East (column dated August 19, 2012). Summary: Criticism of measures to contain Iran in the neighbourhood.
- Warned that purported lack of adequate efforts against ‘Islamic militants’ by Pakistan may compel China to erode its strategic resistance to India’s hegemonic ambitions in South Asia. Ambassador Akram penned this in a piece written after a week-long stay interacting with officials and diplomats in China (column dated March 7, 2012). Note: Echoed concerns of CPC leadership.
- Acknowledged China and Russia’s potential to assert themselves military on account of dynamic economic growth (column dated July 22, 2012). Note: Asian revisionist powers can challenge the US ‘value system’ in the future.
- Advised Pakistani leadership to avail strategic benefits of beneficial outreach to Russia in view of shifting power dynamics but also acknowledged that Pakistan lacks the capacity to fully exploit the set of options on its table (column dated August 17, 2014). Note: Throwing spotlight on Russia as a regional option before abandoment by the West.
- Pakistan is the most proximate impediment to Narendra Modi’s quest to acquire ‘Great Power’ status for India. The prospect can be compromised if war breaks out with Pakistan (column dated September 28, 2014). Note: Indians do not realise their strategic stupidity to stoke war with Pakistan is self-defeating.
- A strategic restraint regime to limit chances of a nuclear war between Pakistan and India is inevitable to avoid a South Asian Armageddon (column dated October 26, 2014). Note: Pakistan cannot be ignored by world powers under New Delhi’s pressure; almost the same was echoed recently at UNGA by PM Khan.
- The US will have a key role in the emerging Asian Great Game, using India as a tool to sabotage CPEC (column dated June 12, 2016).
- There is an emerging tri-polar world order comprising America, China and Russia. The Islamic world can become a “fourth pole” provided internal divisions and fissures are overcome through determined resolve by Muslim leaders (dated December 22, 2013). Note: Belief in the potential of an Islamic bloc against heterogeneous ‘Great Game’ actors.
- Advised the UN leadership to represent interests of all member states instead of acting like puppets in the hands of great powers, especially the P5. In essence, he emphasised the need for greater democracy in the UN (column dated February 15, 2015). Note: Call for the UN to put its house in order.
- Believed that South Asia is a “neglected powder keg” among great game actors (column dated June 21, 2015). Note: India cannot exfiltrate itself from the South Asian sub-regional power bloc by blindly focusing on China.
- Urged the Muslim world to develop its own version of “Westphalian peace” accommodating interests of major Islamic states. He further assessed that reliance on external powers would never produce sustainable peace in the Islamic world (column dated February 7, 2016). Note: Impact of these issues were highlighted by PM Khan at UNGA when he lamented the Muslim world leadership’s lack of seriousness and took the West to account for its failures.
- Termed Pakistan’s security policies on TTP, Afghanistan and India as “reactive incoherence” (column dated March 30, 2014). Note: Criticism of passive responses to pressing national security issues.
- Proposed that Pakistani leadership (then PML-N under former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif) should not react to Narendra Modi/ BJP rhetoric before election and should proactively mobilise political and economic support for IOJ&K residents through Islamic organisations such as OIC and Islamic Development Bank (column dated February 16, 2014). Note: IOJ&K could have remained a disputed territory had Pakistan not reacted to BJP’s rhetoric and if former Prime Minister Sharif had appointed a proper Foreign Minister to work on Kashmir.
- Criticised Pakistan’s defensive posturing in response to discriminatory nuclear regimes and advised MoFA to revive active nuclear diplomacy in the disarmament departmen (column dated June 26, 2016).
- Proposed the establishment of a ‘united national front’ to counter India’s reckless ambitions beyond the LoC; also highlighted that India co-opts certain politicians, business and intellectuals to discredit Pakistan on the world stage (column dated November 27, 2016). Note: Ambassador Akram is clearly influenced by the CPC mode of thinking.
- Proposed that Pakistan should revive its traditional leadership role in the Muslim world including through humanitarian assistance and relief for Muslims in occupied territories/ war zones (column dated December 23, 2018). Note: Another indication of desire for a Pakistan-led Islamic revival).
- Pakistan will have to cite international legal obligations and distance itself from proscribed terrorist organisations to ensure its legitimacy in seeking rights for Kashmiris (column dated September 1, 2019). Note: Affirmation of previous, consistent suggestion to discard a Cold War-era mindset.
The last column which Ambassador Munir Akram penned for Dawn before his official re-appointment titled ‘PM on the world stage‘ showered heaps of appreciation for the incumbent PM while also praising his “star appeal“; however, he did advise the federal government to provide “unstinted moral and material support” to MoFA and security agencies to counter external challenges. Clearly, Ambassador Akram has indicated that presently, there is no adequate provision of resources.
In summation, a brief assessment of Ambassador Akram’s profile reveals the following:-
- He is well-aware about the factors behind great power dynamics in Asia.
- He has a deep-rooted understanding of the rot within the existing functional apparatus of the UN which prohibits its proclaimed neutrality and effectiveness.
- He believes in a regionalist (read: region-first) approach.
- He prefers ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking on national security policymaking.
- He is somewhat of an idealist who believes in geo-Islamic revivalism as a global security stabiliser.
- He has personal fondness and confidence on the abilities of PM Khan.
Interestingly, Ambassador Akram’s dejection of the Cold War-era mindset resembles the fresh approach promulgated by Dr Moeed Yusuf, who has himself been appointed Chairperson of Strategic Policy Planning Cell (SPPC) under National Security Division.
Pakistan’s leadership is most evidently looking toward the future and has decided to ‘shed the old skin’ once and for all. Ambassador Akram’s appointment could not have come at a more opportune moment.
One hopes that Ambassador Akram retains the boldness of his intellectual thought upon assuming charge in New York.