Articles - June 2017


By James A. Winship, Ph.D.

Pakistan’s Dr. Maleeha Lodhi is more than simply her country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York. She is a “presence” in the midst of that international institution. Ambassador Lodhi is an accomplished academic, journalist, editor, diplomat and, it is tempting to say, juggler - though the term of art these days is “multi-tasker.” She has tackled her multiple careers with aplomb, eliciting adjectives that describe her as witty, strong-willed, articulate, smart and forceful. She has been variously characterized as possessed of a “thousand watt smile,” a “defuser of cultural land mines,” a “defiant challenger of stereotypes,” and a “moderate voice of Islam.” And, she is all of these things.

Perhaps the most striking characterization of Dr. Lodhi’s abilities comes from a newspaper editorial written when she was appointed Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States for the second time. That editorial described her as “smart, resourceful, beguiling, sharp-tongued and quick-witted.” And then the writer paid her the ultimate compliment. Ambassador Lodhi is all of these, the editorial continued, “And, INDIA needs an ambassador just like her!” This editorial appeared in an Indian, not a Pakistani, newspaper. It constitutes an extraordinary endorsement when a neighboring country, sometime foe and long-time diplomatic sparring partner provides such encomiums.

Education was at the center of Ambassador Lodhi’s upbringing in Pakistan and in London. “There was no distinction between me and my two brothers,” she recalls. “Education was vital. In the developing world it is the way to the top.” Her father was the first Pakistani head of a British-based oil company, and her mother earned a journalism degree before marrying and having a family. Ambassador Lodhi received her early education in Lahore and Rawalpindi before moving to the United Kingdom. She attended the London School of Economics, where she received her undergraduate degree in economics and political science. She continued at LSE to receive her Ph.D. in political science and initially taught at a university in Islamabad before returning to LSE’s Department of Government as a lecturer in political sociology.

During her time in London in the 1980s, Dr. Lodhi met and befriended Benazir Bhutto, then living in exile, whose father, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had been ordered hanged by Pakistan’s then military regime. It was also during those years that Dr. Lodhi began her career as a journalist and commentator on national security affairs with an editorial denouncing that same military government. When martial law was lifted in 1986, she returned to Pakistan and became editor of English-language newspaper “The Muslim” before moving to become founding editor of “The News International.”

Ambassador Lodhi has twice served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States (1994-1997 and 1999-2002) and served as her country’s High Commissioner (Ambassador) to the United Kingdom (2003-2008). She was named as Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in 2015. She also served as President of UNICEF’s Executive Board (2015-2016) where she led the way toward reaffirming the agency’s commitment to the world’s children and its refusal to accept “a world in which humanitarian aid workers can be killed with impunity.”

Never straying far from her academic training and her journalistic credentials as well as her rich diplomatic experience, Ambassador Lodhi has been a Fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Institute for International Scholars in Washington, D.C. She also serves on the Advisory Board of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics and is a member of the Global Agenda Council of the World Economic Forum. She has received the President’s Award of Hilal-e-Imtiaz for Public Service in Pakistan, an Honorary Fellowship from the London School of Economics, and an Honorary Doctor of Letters Degree from London’s Metropolitan University.

She is the author of three books “Pakistan’s Encounter with Democracy,” “The External Challenge” and, most recently “Pakistan: Beyond the Crisis State.” Those titles reflect her continuing commitment to “the vision of Pakistan set out by our founding fathers of a moderate, tolerant and progressive Muslim country.”

At a recent United Nations event naming Malala Yousafzai, who nearly lost her life championing the cause of education for girls in Pakistan, a UN Messenger for Peace, Ambassador Lodhi noted that the Pakistani people are characterized by their courage and resilience: “These are the defining traits of the Pakistani people, who by their courage and commitment are determined to defeat the dark forces of intolerance.” The same should be said of the Ambassador herself.

Ambassador Lodhi was kind enough to make time to speak with Diplomatic Connections in her office at the Pakistani Mission in New York.

Diplomatic Connections: Ambassador Lodhi, thank you for granting us this interview today. Your background is fascinating. You were trained as a political scientist and economist, but you became a journalist before you became a diplomat. How did you become a diplomat? Was it a difficult decision for you to make?

Ambassador Lodhi: To start with, “It wasn’t my decision!” It was the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto who, in her second term in office, offered me the job of being Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States. I remember saying to her, “It’s never occurred to me that I should be a diplomat.” And she said, “Well, you’ve been writing about foreign policy for years. Now go and do it. You keep giving us counsel and advice. How about going and implementing some of the stuff that you’ve been writing about?”

Of course, it was a huge honor for me to have been offered the ambassador’s position. I said to her, “But, you realize, I have no previous diplomatic experience.” She replied, “When I started off as Prime Minister, I did not have any previous experience either!” And I really didn’t have an answer to that.

Diplomatic Connections: You left the worlds of academe and journalism to become ambassador. Did you have to give anything up to be a diplomat?

Ambassador Lodhi: The one thing given up when you are no longer a private citizen is your freedom to say pretty much what you want. Once a diplomat, you are representing your country and speaking for Pakistan while being bound by governments’s stated policy. You are trying to win hearts and minds during which simultaneously trying to convince other people. You are explaining what your country is about. All of that has been so exciting and very rewarding as well.

Diplomatic Connections: What did you bring from your journalistic experience to your diplomatic career? Going the other way, how did your diplomatic experience impact your editorial career?

Ambassador Lodhi: The skills that you need to be a good diplomat are very similar to the skills that you need to be a good writer or journalist. Those are the same proficiencies to be able to analyze dispassionately and to communicate articulately. Journalism prepared me well for the world of diplomacy.

There was something that I was not very good at in the beginning, but I have improved greatly. That is listening to others and giving credence to their point of view, even when I might disagree. If you have to convince somebody, then you have to learn what their interests may be and to hear their concerns. Developing those listening skills took some doing.

Diplomatic Connections: Do women bring different gifts to diplomacy than men do?

Ambassador Lodhi: To be a good diplomat you need pretty much the same skills whether you are a man or a woman. But, what women bring to the job is an ability to multitask, which comes perhaps more naturally to us – men have to learn it, women seem to have an innate skill at it. I mean we don’t have a choice because we are women.

Diplomatic Connections: Have you experienced situations where your gender has been useful in your diplomatic dealings?

Ambassador Lodhi: Where it has been useful, particularly when I was serving in Washington and in London, was that it helped to break a stereotype. There was a certain view of my country and women’s place in that country. The fact that I happened to be a woman occupying a very significant diplomatic position on the basis of my own credentials, not because I had a famous surname or that I was related to anyone but because I was a professional, made it difficult to sustain distorted views that insisted that Islam relegates women to inferior status and a limited role in society.

Diplomatic Connections: You were Ambassador to the United States under Benazir Bhutto, and then you were called again to be Ambassador a second time under what was the military regime of Pervez Musharraf. Was that a difficult situation for you? Those were two such different governments.

Ambassador Lodhi: You are right that Bhutto and Musharraf were very different types of governments: one was elected, and the other one was not. That is why, in the second case, it was an agonizing decision. All of my life and in my writing I had opposed military rule. I still think that military rule is not something that should be my country’s destiny. It is democracy that is my country’s destiny.

It wasn’t an easy personal choice to make. But, having made it, I felt I lived up to the responsibility that was placed upon me, which was to ensure that my country’s policies, my country’s interests – beyond individuals – were reflected in the work that I did.

Diplomatic Connections: You have characterized Pakistan as “the most allied ally of the United States and its most sanctioned friend.” Why do you think that relationship has been such an up and down roller-coaster ride? What would it take to stabilize U.S.-Pakistan relations?

Ambassador Lodhi: What we would like to see is a stable relationship that is predicated on the intrinsic importance of Pakistan, rather than being a function of the Cold War in the past or the on-going war in Afghanistan today. We
do not want our bilateral relations to be a function of external factors.

After all, my country is the sixth most populous nation in the world with the second largest Muslim population. Pakistan is a democratic nation. The importance of Pakistan and the fact that it is geographically situated at the center of South Asia and on the shores of the Indian Ocean gives our country inherent geostrategic importance. I hope that the Trump administration will see Pakistan’s importance in this bigger picture, rather than through tactical eyes.

Diplomatic Connections: The on-going relationship and the tensions between Pakistan and India trace back to the moment of birth and independence for both countries in 1947. Can you help us understand the dynamics of the relationship with India from partition to the continuing conflict over Kashmir?

Ambassador Lodhi: Pakistan and India need obviously to live as good neighbors. As they say, “You can change history, but you can’t change geography.” We are where we are. Pakistan remains committed to having a normal relationship with India. But, obviously, the bitterness, the history of partition lingers.

There is a series of unresolved disputes between our two countries and continuing tensions on the border especially over Kashmir, what we call in Pakistan “the unfinished business of partition.” All these factors mean that the relationship with India really has been a very difficult one. That’s not because we would want it to be difficult. Pakistan would very much like to see a peaceful resolution of all our outstanding disputes. We need serious and sustained negotiations to help put to rest some of these issues. Poverty is still wide spread in India and Pakistan. We can benefit from economic cooperation and from having a normal relationship with each other.

Diplomatic Connections: What would it take to move beyond the fragile, high-tension ceasefire between Pakistan and India that has been in place for so many years toward a stable lasting peace?

Ambassador Lodhi: It would require resolving peacefully the core issue of Kashmir. Kashmir is not a piece of real estate. Kashmir is about people, and it is about a fundamental principle of self-determination. The only way they can exercise their democratic right is to have a plebiscite, which United Nations Security Council resolutions have long called for.

Furthermore, to allow the people of Kashmir to determine their own destiny in a democratic manner. That is what we ask for. If we were able to resolve that, you would see the relationship between Pakistan and India move into a more peaceful zone of coexistence where both countries would benefit from cooperation with the other.

Diplomatic Connections: One of the on-going issues within the United Nations institutional framework is the question of structural reform of the Security Council. The core questions are whether the Security Council should be enlarged to better reflect the world of the 21st century, whether there should be more permanent members or non-permanent, and whether the veto power should be extended.

What would be Pakistan’s vision for a new more workable Security Council?

Ambassador Lodhi: Pakistan’s position is that the Security Council must be enlarged, and enlarged in a way that respects the changing dynamics of the world. The Security Council reflects the victorious powers of the Second World War, meaning the five permanent members, the P-5 – the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China. But, the world has changed over seven decades, and the make-up of the Security Council should reflect that.

Reform must be based on democratic principles. Adding permanent members to the Security Council would simply be perpetuating or expanding centers of power and privilege. It would be doing more of the same rather than truly reforming the Security Council structure and bringing in more elected members based on the principle of democracy. We feel that more elected members would make the Security Council more democratic, more representative and more accountable.

Diplomatic Connections: The United Nations last year selected a new Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, who took office in January of this year. The process of selecting Mr. Guterres was perhaps the most open of any Secretary General selection process to date, but there was still a great deal of hope that a woman might be named Secretary General. There were several women seriously considered. Are you disappointed that a man was selected? What will it take to break that particular barrier, for the United Nations to name a woman as Secretary General for the first time?

Ambassador Lodhi: The fact that somebody like Mr. Guterres became Secretary General was really a reflection of the fact that he was the most able, the most suited and the most experienced for the Secretary General’s position. So, no, I wasn’t disappointed at all because what mattered was that the best prepared and qualified person got the job. The qualifications that Mr. Guterres brought to the Secretary-General position were quite unique in terms of his experience and his abilities.

But, that doesn’t rule out that there will be women capable enough to contest the office in the future and well qualified to make it to the top. We want to see a woman in that role, but we will only advocate for the stance that the most able and the most capable should get the job. Gender is important, but it should not be the basis on which the person is selected.

Diplomatic Connections: We are seeing a growing role for China as it has moved through its own development and brought such a large population up in terms of quality of life and income. China has always been involved in South Asia, not least in border conflicts, but it has become a major investor, a major builder – Pakistan is developing port facilities with Chinese assistance, and a major trading partner. How do you see China’s role in South Asia and its evolving role in the United Nations?

Ambassador Lodhi: China has emerged not just as a global power and an economic powerhouse, but China is playing a critical role in establishing worldwide stability. They have been contributing not just to the economic development of Pakistan but to the overall economic connectivity of our region. China is building bridges for political cooperation among countries and that encourages greater amity between nations in Asia and beyond.

Diplomatic Connections: What have been some of the most fulfilling accomplishments of your career? Are there any disappointments?

Ambassador Lodhi: Obviously, everyone’s career sees highs and lows. One of my highs was certainly the fact that I made it as the first female editor of a national daily in all of Asia. I did not realize that by becoming editor I had somehow, in a way, set a kind of a record. It was very humbling.

But, another one of my highs was when I had my son. Just because we are pursuing careers doesn’t mean that one of the highest points of life isn’t having a child. It is remarkable to nurture him as he grows up to be a young man. So when you ask about fulfillment, I must point to fulfillment both as a professional and as a “Mom.”

The lows? Well, you go through disappointments. You experience goals that you have set that you are not able to achieve. But, I would not really call those experiences “lows” although I used the word myself. I would say that these are setbacks that only intensified my motivation to do better. Some of us don’t like defeat!

Diplomatic Connections: We should note that was said with a great “twinkle” in the eye.

Ambassador Lodhi: People must never say that since I haven’t met the goal this time, I’m going to give it up. No, just try that much harder the next time; never allow a temporary setback to keep you down. Disappointments should be a spark to further action, not a reason for you to feel downcast and give up! So, never give up!

Diplomatic Connections: That may be the most appropriate end to an interview that can possibly be imagined – never give up. Thank you for your time, your wit and your wisdom Ambassador Lodhi. It has been a joy and a pleasure.

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