WASHINGTON: Ali Jahangir Siddiqui, Pakistan’s ambassador-designate to the United States, arrived here in the city Monday night ahead of his swearing-in, Geo News reported.
Siddiqui is set to assume office today (Tuesday) amid mounting tensions between the US and Pakistan. He was welcomed at the airport by Rizwan Saeed Sheikh, the deputy chief of Pakistan Mission to the US.
The Pakistani ambassador-designate had flown to the US on Saturday, using his new diplomatic passport to travel. He will replace outgoing Ambassador Aizaz Chaudhry, the former foreign secretary serving as Pakistan’s envoy to the US before his retirement last month.
Chaudhry, who had said earlier he would leave early instead of the mandatory six weeks to relinquish charge, stated: “I served my country with honour and dignity, and I am ready to leave now.”
Siddiqui’s assuming of the ambassador office comes just a few days ahead of the completion of the incumbent Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government’s term.
The US Department of State took almost two months — otherwise, a routine — to send out an agreement to pace the way for the new ambassador’s appointment.
The ambassador-designate has to present his credentials to US President Donald Trump in the coming weeks to be fully operational to perform his duties. He has daunting challenges to surmount ahead as well, especially given the souring US-Pakistan ties.
Siddiqui, an investment banking expert by profession, was appointed by the federal government as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US last month. He has previously served in the capacity of special assistant to Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, with the status of a state minister.
Prior to his appointment in the prime minister’s cabinet, he was serving as the chairman of JS Bank and JS Private Equity — both held by Jahangir Siddiqui & Co. Ltd., the parent company owned by his father, renowned businessman and banker Jahangir Siddiqui.
In 2014, Siddiqui — who holds a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Economics from Ithaca, New York-based Cornell University, an Ivy League research school — was honoured by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as a Young Global Leader.
US-Pakistan ties, matter of diplomats
On May 11, 2018, the Trump administration imposed travel restrictions on Pakistani diplomats stationed here at the Embassy in Washington, confining them to a 25-mile radius and making it obligatory for them to seek permission at least five days in advance if they wish to travel beyond the imposed limits.
Pakistan, in return, also imposed similar bans.
US State Secretary Mike Pompeo told local lawmakers last week that “our State Department officials are being treated badly as well”.
“[Our people] working in the embassies and in the consulates and in other places are not being treated well by the Pakistani government either.”
Though Pompeo called it “a real problem,” the Department of State said: “It is the responsibility of all host governments to create the conditions necessary to permit the personnel of foreign embassies to carry out their duties.
“At this time, the harassment faced by American and local US Embassy and Consulate personnel in Pakistan restricts their ability to carry out their mission,” a spokesperson for the State Department told Geo News.
Further, the department explained that it has documented numerous cases wherein ordinary Pakistanis participating in US-sponsored educational, cultural, and development programs faced harassment at the hands of officials of the government of Pakistan.
Acknowledging the movement restrictions it had placed on Pakistani diplomats, the department noted: “The controls are intended to encourage Pakistan to stop [the] harassment of US Mission personnel and interference with our public activities, which have risen dramatically in recent months.”
Trump had earlier announced that his administration intended to cut down financial assistance to Pakistan. This came after months of comments and statements against Islamabad by the US president, who, in his first televised speech late last year, said it needed to “do more”.
“With respect to Pakistan, we [have] released far fewer funds in 2018 than in the year prior. The remainder of the funds available are under review.
“My guess is that that number will be smaller still,” Pompeo commented earlier.
Prior to that, Trump had accused Pakistan of providing safe havens to terrorist outfits, primarily the Taliban, and demanded that action be taken against the Haqqani network.
Considering the aforementioned issues, Ambassador-Designate Siddiqui faces a tough task in the coming months to bring to normalcy to Islamabad-Washington relations and resume bilateral alliance in various fields.
—Editing and copy by Haseem uz Zaman