Foreign Affairs Ministry Still Decades Behind The Rest of The World

By Babar Haq

Recently, Ministry of foreign affairs Pakistan MOFA has been in news for all the wrong reasons. Mostly for having wrong foreign policy or more so, not having one at all. I will highlight another operational sluggishness of the ministry: failing to invest on technology to enhance its operational duties.

Now a days, website of a country’s foreign ministry  is an interface to interact with the entire world. Pakistan’s MOFA website is probably one of the first government websites I visited in early 2000s. I have been a regular visitor of this website since I moved abroad in 2005.

During these fifteen years, I have observed that changes were made in the website every time there was a change in government. Unfortunately the changes were only cosmetic. The main content for the site have always been press releases and foreign office statements.

The MOFA website has seen little meaningful content changes in 15 years

One of the primary reasons overseas Pakistanis visit MOFA is to find out the nearest consulate/embassy to their location. However, the redundancy and discrepancy in information about the embassies leaves the user confused and frustrated. For example search for “Dubai consulate” on the MOFA website takes you to mofa.gov.pk/dubai. Where as Google  takes you to another domain http://www.pakistanconsulate.ae/. Unfortunately, information on both URLs is outdated and useless.

MOFA has also come up with an purposeless twitter handle which is again used for broadcasting good-for-nothing statements. MOFA does not believe in email communication. The “contact us” page does not has a single email address.

The only information on that page is phone and fax numbers. None of the consulate/embassy has proper email addresses. Mostly they use gmail and yahoo addresses, which are either inactive or unresponsive. Even the phone numbers listed on their website are either always engaged or never get picked up. Imagine one phone number for a million residents in Saudi, good luck with that.

Most numbers and emails on the site are unresponsive or inactive

According to this report, Middle East accounts for more than 30% of remittances ( around 4 billion dollars) Pakistan receives.  In lieu of all the remittances, these overseas Pakistanis should at least have a method of registering their complaints. A simple on line complaint management system could serve the purpose. Though I believe that in Middle Eastern countries there should be a 24 hour helpline terminating at call centers for taking complaints.

Recently a list of focal contact persons for different countries was published on the ministry’s main web page and once again all the gmail/yahoo/xyz email addresses turned out to be just a bunch of black holes.

Points are normally awarded to organizations for at least having an on line presence. In this case, however, owing to the aesthetic nuisance the site is I would not do that. If they want to make it useful they could bring down the whole website and just offer links to do the following

  • book appointment at embassy/consulates for various tasks
  • on line visa application for foreigners
  • log complain online
  • working/authentic/accountable contact details

With Pakistan’s IT export exceeding 2 billion dollars i.e providing software solutions to the world is it technically difficult or just lack of willingness? If its lack of willingness then it is better shut all these useless embassies and save the country 47 billion rupees?

The author tweets at @mbabarhaq