Finland Shuts Down Embassy In Pakistan

Founder Editor Tazeen Akhtar..

Story by ; A.M.BHATTI

This is breaking news plus comment that Finland has decided to close down its embassy in Pakistan and the staff is likely to pack up from here in next three months. The closure of Finnish embassy is a serious matter and speaks volumes for the fact that all is not well in terms of diplomatic and political relations between the two countries. As a host, greatest onus would lie on the shoulders of Pakistan because it was the responsibility of our leadership, especially the mandarins at the foreign affairs ministry to address grievances of foreign missions because this is not for the first time that a country has decided to wrap up its mission from Pakistan. In early 2010 Portugal shut down its embassy more or less on same grounds i.e bad law and order and lack of interest on the part of Pakistan to ensure security of the diplomatic missions.

Finnish decision comes as a surprise for many in Pakistan, though I am sure the decision will not move our government machinery even a fig and which is very unfortunate, because Finland has always been desirous of having closer relations with Pakistan that is why it chose to upgrade status of its mission and appointed a full-fledge ambassador, despite the fact that Pakistan did not maintain its presence in Finland. As a matter of fact our ambassador in Sweden was also accredited to Finland. It was a unique arrangement, one must say, because by and large countries open missions on reciprocal basis and here Finns have to be praised that they maintained their embassy in Pakistan, even upgraded its status from Charge de Affaires to Ambassador, but even this gesture could not convince our government to even think of opening a mission in Finland.

Pakistan is represented or was represented in Finland through an honorary Consul General Mr. Heikki Timonen, a leading Finnish businessman who genuinely wanted to promote relations between the two countries. I met Mr. Timonen on a couple of occasions during my visit to Finland and always found him all agog for strengthening relations between Islamabad and Helsinki. Even he had tried to convince Pakistan authorities to open an embassy but his efforts also proved sterile.

Apart from other reasons, I think Finns here were quite wary of the security situation and their main concern was lack of interest on the part of Pakistani authorities to address their concerns. Diplomacy is yet another area where the incumbent government seems to have failed badly because it was during this government tenure that foreign missions either have to pack up or close down their services temporarily. I mentioned Portugal that close down its mission in March 2010 and in the same year a moment came when Sweden also decided to close down its mission but finally they ended up with only shutting down their visa section in May 2010.

 Expressing serious concerns over the prevailing security situation, Portugal, one of the members of the European Union, had decided to close down its embassy in Pakistan. 18 out of 27 member states of the European Union have presence in Pakistan at the ambassador/charge de affaires level. While Cyprus ambassador to Pakistan resides in Beijing. Remaining countries including Estonia, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia either do not have any presence or are represented by honorary consul generals. 

Ransacking of the Portuguese embassy in Islamabad by some outlaws in 2005, in fact set basis for estranged relations between the two countries. In that incident as many as 35 visas were stolen, due to which the mission was close down temporarily.  However after closure of a year or so, it was re-opened but with limited staff and operations. The then Portuguese Ambassador in Pakistan had conveyed to his foreign office about, what he viewed, deteriorating law and order situation in Pakistan. The Ambassador cited, in his ‘fact-sheet’ sent to the foreign office, a number of incidents that had taken place in past few months, in support of his argument that Portugal should pack up from Islamabad. Resultantly, a security team from Lisbon came to Pakistan in order to examine the security situation and after hectic engagements and thorough reviews, the team reached the conclusion that the mission may be closed down, at least for a certain period of time, keeping in view the safety of embassy personnel.

As regards question of reopening of Finnish mission in Pakistan, diplomatic sources say at least during next five years there are no chances of Finns coming back to Pakistan. Pakistan government need to address this issue on urgent basis for departure of more and more missions would mean the government is not serious in having objective truck with the outer world. It is of course a foreign policy failure. But all said and done, the foreign missions also need to understand difficulties of the government particularly on security front and one way of helping the local authorities may be shifting of all embassies from settled areas to inside the diplomatic enclave. After all, all of them have been allotted space inside the enclave so it is up to them now to move to the designated places as quickly as possible.