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Beti Bachao! 'Diplo-basher' Munir Akram is Pakistan's New UN Envoy

PM Khan has abruptly replaced Maleeha Lodhi with a 78-year-old, who, besides having performed well in various capacities in different global forums, hit international headlines in 2003 for alleged assault of a 35-year-old woman in his New York residence.

Wajid Shamsul Hasan |

Updated:October 2, 2019, 2:21 PM IST
Beti Bachao! 'Diplo-basher' Munir Akram is Pakistan's New UN Envoy
Pakistani diplomat Munir Akram. (Image: Reuters)

Under the horoscope, Pakistan’s stars are such that it is always in the news – good, bad or ugly. The state-propelled euphoria had hardly hit crescendo following Prime Minister Imran Khan’s much-hyped triumphant visitation to the United Nations General Assembly and his great speech that eclipsed Edmund Burke’s parliamentary rhetoric. And then Pakistan found itself catapulted in the diplomatic world with the mercurial Khan giving the boot to the country’s illustrious ambassador to the United Nations, Dr Maleeha Lodhi—a woman of much substance, of many seasons and having worked to the pleasure and satisfaction of both military and civilian leaders.

As if that was not enough of an affront to the diplomatic community, Khan did not rest there. He added insult to injury by replacing good old Maleeha – favourite of generals and journalists – with internationally infamous misogynist Munir Akram, who, besides having performed well in various capacities in different international forums, rocketed to the sky by hitting international media headlines following his alleged assault of a 35-year-old woman in his house in New York. A battered and bruised Marijana Mihic, described as the ambassador’s “friend” in newspaper reports, had phoned the police that she had been beaten and battered by Akram.

Following the incident, the United States called upon Pakistan to waive the diplomatic immunity of its envoy to enable authorities to prosecute him on charges of domestic violence inflicted on a woman who could either be "his wife or a live-in girlfriend” (not permissible under Islam). Under the Geneva Convention, foreign diplomats cannot be detained, arrested or prosecuted unless there is a waiver of immunity.

The incident, predictably, became hot news in the media. The New York Times and The Washington Post reported (Jan 8, 2003) that the US request stemmed from a December 10 incident in which New York police were called to the home of Pakistan’s UN ambassador Munir Akram by a woman who alleged the envoy had beaten her—perhaps in a drunken state. The woman, who identified herself as either Akram's wife or live-in girlfriend, told police dispatchers that the envoy had smashed her head into a wall, that hurt her arm and that he had hit her before too, according to the media reported accounts.

Another report said the incident sprang from a call at 1.36 am on December 10 (2002) from a woman who said a man had smashed her head into a wall, and beseeched the police to come to a New York residence. She said the man accused of assault was a diplomat and had hit her before too. When officers arrived at this New York residence, Marijana Mihic accused before the police that Akram, whom she described as her “boyfriend”, had grabbed her after an argument and forcibly prevented her from leaving. Due to Akram's diplomatic immunity, the police did not arrest him but recorded that Mihic had a bruised head. The New York Times report suggested that the Manhattan district attorney’s office would have prosecuted the envoy on a misdemeanour charge of third-degree assault once his immunity was waived. As a matter of fact, New York officials had instructed the US mission to the United Nations to call upon Pakistan to waive Akram’s immunity on December 26.

However, Pakistan’s UN mission had claimed that Akram and the woman have reconciled since the incident. Both communicated their patch-up to the concerned authorities. But the ministry of foreign affairs promised to investigate the matter and, if charges were proved, to take appropriate action. Later, the ministry, for reasons best known to it, closed the file. After all, as a foreign office source said, “Akram was very close to the top brass, and as such no appropriate action was taken.”

The request for waiver from the US state department left Pakistan with three options – lifting Akram’s immunity and allowing him to be prosecuted, sending him home and naming a replacement, or refusing the state department’s request. But, the Pakistani UN mission spokesperson was of the view that Islamabad had no intention of sending Akram home. However, Akram was ultimately sent home to smother the scandal. It had already caused multifaceted and embarrassing diplomatic ramifications at a time when Pakistan had just assumed a seat on the UN Security Council.

Notwithstanding his seamy personal side that had got exposed – Akram once had a professional standing. However, his record as Pakistan’s top diplomat assigned to aggressively present Kashmir’s case proved too dismal. It is really surprising now to see him resume his role as Pakistan foreign office’s Sancho Panza striving for Kashmir when India is on the go, paying scant respect to Imran Khan’s desperate cry in the wilderness.

Whatever pulls that got Munir Akram his job back at the overripe age of 78, the matter that needs to be investigated is what led Imran Khan to make a blitzkrieg move to sack Dr Lodhi soon after his nationally orchestrated and lauded UNGA speech allegedly drafted by his ambassador. Instead of being lauded for the good work done by her for him – a commodity yet to make his mark in the world of diplomacy – she got a push into the dustbin. Indeed, Lodhi’s untimely sack brings out the element of female jealousy that has ruined many a promising career. It is being rightly pointed out that behind the success of every man, good or bad, is a powerful woman.

Khan knows best, and his foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi – I am told – did not like to play second fiddle before the American audience, being dominated by Lodhi who has always been in the run for something higher. And why not. With her powerful connections with the generals and journalists, one would not be surprised if she yet steals the show, despite Imran Khan, to become something more important than she was as ambassador to the UNGA.

However, New York’s diplomatic community feels the sack of Lodhi one year before the culmination of her five-year tenure would, indeed, prove to be counterproductive and supportive of India. It will be well-nigh impossible for veteran Munir Akram to cast off the albatross of the sex scandal permanently hanging around his neck, prompting ladies at the UN to take all precautions when he is around. Besides, Munir Akram would also be under strict scrutiny of the law enforcing agencies not just for his uncanny diplomatic skills but also his prying hands and penetrating eyes. Not only that: his sexual misdemeanour, under New York laws, will remain an object of strict scrutiny and a target for abuse by anti-Pakistan lobbies to give the country a bad name and to minimise his efficacy as a seasoned diplomat when Pakistan is in the throes of waking up world conscience “to the reign of terror holding 80 million Kashmiris under siege”.

(The writer is former High Commissioner of Pakistan in the UK and a veteran journalist.)

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