| (Top) Riaz Mohammad Khan, Maleeha Lodhi
Washington, May 18: The nomination of Riaz Mohammad Khan as Pakistanís new high commissioner to India has all the hallmarks of an ongoing battle within the Islamabad-Rawalpindi establishment on how to proceed with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayeeís peace offer to General Pervez Musharraf.
Six hours after Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali announced Khanís name in an interview to Doordarshan, Pakistanís foreign ministry took the unusual step of contradicting its head of government.
At the unearthly hour of 2 am (Pakistan time) on Sunday, the ministry issued a clarification that no final decision had been taken on Khanís appointment.
Sources privy to the undercurrents in the Pakistan foreign ministry in Islamabad said Khanís name was not in a panel sent up the administration ladder by foreign secretary Riaz Khokar for the New Delhi job.
Khokar, who has been sparring with foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri ever since the latterís appointment, had favoured either Maleeha Lodhi, former ambassador to the US, or former minister of state for foreign affairs Inam-ul-Haq for New Delhi.
Khokar, whose bete noir is India, has powerful backers in the traditional Pakistani establishment made up of the army, the intelligence apparatus and the bureaucracy. He is not easily outmanoeuvred.
Jamali tried to do just that when he broke conventions and diplomatic protocol by making Khanís choice a fait accompli in a television announcement even before Islamabad had sought New Delhi's concurrence for the appointment.
What upset his calculations, however, was that the announcement had been made to a foreign TV channel, that too an Indian channel, before Pakistanis were told about it.
Sources in Islamabad said Jamaliís interview was, therefore, censored on Pakistan television and was not shown at least until the time of writing. Its channels merely reported Jamaliís factual announcement of Khanís nomination.
An announcement on Doordarshan was just the ammunition that those in Islamabad and the army general headquarters in Rawalpindi who want to undercut Jamali and Kasuri were waiting for.
They had earlier been incensed that a similarly important announcement about Jamaliís letter to Vajpayee was revealed first in a telephone conversation with US secretary of state Colin Powell. When Jamali spoke to Vajpayee on telephone, Khokar made sure that he was around to interject their dialogue and control the prime minister as best as he could.
There is speculation that this may have led Jamali, a proud Baluch and politician in his own right, to cut Khokar out of the action subsequently.
As luck would have it for the dissenters, their hands were immensely strengthened last week when Jamali superceded 30 senior bureaucrats in making appointments to top positions in Pakistanís bureaucracy, equivalent to secretary-level jobs in the Indian government. The ranks of the disaffected, like Khokar, therefore, swelled in Islamabad. An interesting aside to Khan's choice is that he is married to a career diplomat in the US state department.
It is well known that after the elections in Pakistan last year, Jamali was the choice of the US embassy in Islamabad, which actively lobbied for his appointment.