Meridian Reads: Islamabad, tech ambassadors and diplomatic politeness

Ambassador Casper Klynge.


Happy Sunday, Meridian Readers! September is in full swing and we know it’s a busy time for everyone, so let’s take a second to sit back, relax and catch up. 

Afghan talks could mean diplomatic opportunities for Islamabad

Publication: The Washington Diplomat | By Jason Overdorf a4.cover.pakistan.pastuns.fata.story

  • Feeling exhausted after a busy few months? Asad Majeed Khan, Pakistan’s top diplomat in Washington, feels your pain. Here’s why:
    • At the beginning of July, the International Monetary Fund approved a $6 billion bailout package for his country that could be political kryptonite for his populist boss, Prime Minister Imran Khan.
    • A week later, authorities at home arrested the alleged mastermind of the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed, on charges of financing terrorism.
    • Simultaneously, Pakistan joined the U.S., Russia and China’s trilateral consultations on the Afghanistan peace process for the first time. Ever.
    • A week after that, Pakistan’s prime minister met President Trump on July 22 in the first such official visit since the U.S. president suspended security aid to the erstwhile American ally and accused Islamabad of “nothing but lies & deceit” over the past 15 years.
    • Tired yet?
  • Here’s where things get really interesting:
    • India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, sent thousands of troops into the disputed territory of Kashmir and revoked the special status the Indian-administered portion has enjoyed since the 1940s.
    • This surprise announcement prompted Islamabad to expel India’s ambassador and suspend trade between the two nuclear-armed rivals. Yikes.
  • Amb. Khan insists that the abrogation of rights in Kashmir and two disproven stories of Indian triumphs in retaliation for the Pulwama attack — a so-called “surgical strike” in which New Delhi claimed to have destroyed a terrorist camp and killed 300 jihadists on Pakistani territory and a dubious boast that one of its outdated MiGs shot down a Pakistani F-16 — have badly dented Modi’s credibility.
  • Khan also believes that makes the world more open to believing Pakistan’s contention that many of the attacks in Indian-administered Kashmir are organized locally and that Pakistan does not aid groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad in crossing the border. We’ll have to wait and see on this one.

The world’s first ambassador to the tech industry

Publication: The New York Times | By Adam Satariano

  • Ambassador Casper Klynge has an interesting new post: Silicon Valley.
  • Klygne is a career diplomat from Denmark, which in 2017 became the first nation to formally create a diplomatic post to represent its interests before big tech companies, such as Facebook and Google.
    • “What has the biggest impact on daily society? A country in southern Europe, or in Southeast Asia, or Latin America, or would it be the big technology platforms? Our values, our institutions, democracy, human rights, in my view, are being challenged right now because of the emergence of new technologies.” Mr. Klynge said in an interview last month.
  • However, after two years on the job, Mr. Klynge is under no illusions of where Denmark’s concerns figure in the minds of Silicon Valley executives.
    • Silicon Valley companies and their leaders have given Mr. Klynge a mixed reception. He has never met with Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook or Sundar Pichai of Google or Timothy D. Cook of Apple. Danish officials said it was like dealing with an opaque new world superpower.
  • What’s Amb. Klynge’s main goal?
    • It’s pretty simple. Jeppe Kofod, Denmark’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, said the nation wants to make sure democratic governments set the boundaries for the tech industry, not the other way around.
  • “Diplomacy is by nature a long-term business where you don’t necessarily see goals being fulfilled from one day to the next,” Klygne said of the slow-moving progress in California. Looks like he’s in it for the long haul.

Why the baroque politeness of diplomatic notes is what the world needs now

Publication: The Washington Post | By Menachem Wecker

  • You’ve probably heard of diplomatic notes. If not, here’s the skinny:
    • Diplomatic notes are essentially letters officials in one country send to officials in another. They usually start with flowery language; a nation “presents its compliments” to another, has the “honor to state” something, and finally “avails itself of this opportunity to renew … the assurances of its highest consideration.” But embedded within this formula, blunt threats can emerge. And apparently, the shorter the note, the deeper the threat- according to Allan Gotlieb, former Canadian ambassador to the United States.
    • Take a 1962 diplomatic note from China to India. Between the compliments and assurances of highest consideration, China’s foreign affairs minister noted to his Indian counterparts that their troops had attacked Chinese soldiers in Xinjiang. Then he cautioned New Delhi: “If the Indian Government should ignore the warning of the Chinese Government and continue to persist in its own way India must bear full responsibility for all the consequences that may arise therefrom.” Some three months later, the Sino-Indian War began. See? These notes are important.
  • In July, the United States sent a note to Iranian diplomats.
    • “The United States Mission to the United Nations presents its compliments to the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations,” the note began — before informing members of the mission and their families that their movements inside the United States would henceforth be severely limited.
    • Foreign Policy magazine called the move a “throwback” to the 25-mile limit the United States placed on Soviet diplomatic travel during the Cold War. Ouch.
  • The issue with these friendly-yet-passive-aggressive-war-starting letters? They’re getting hit with competition from social media.
    • Diplomats are increasingly calling people out by name in public ways on Twitter and Facebook. And it’s no secret that President Trump loves a good tweet.
    • In 2013, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo temporarily deleted its Twitter account, which had controversially retweeted an attack on then-Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi and had butted heads with the official Muslim Brotherhood account.
    • Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted last year that “Israel is a malignant cancerous tumor in the West Asian region that has to be removed and eradicated,” and the Israeli Embassy in Washington responded with a GIF saying “Why are you so obsessed with me?”
  • In this atmosphere, some wonder if overly polite, traditional communication protocols should be dispensed of altogether. The answer? Probably not.
    • Martin Weiss, Austria’s ambassador to Israel, say diplomatic notes are important because there’s no way to go back on whatever was in the letter.
    • Ministers and presidents grant interviews, tweet and call each other on the phone, Weiss added, “but how exactly does, let’s say, Austria officially communicate with the U.S.? Who speaks to whom? The presidents? The foreign ministers? That’s exactly where the diplomatic note comes in. There is no, ‘Gee, we really didn’t mean that’ possible. It’s in writing, from one country to another — and that’s that.”
  • So, there you have it. Diplomatic notes are here to stay. For now, at least.