Pakistan is planning to close atleast its 22 overseas missions due to economic meltdown and budgetary constraints, media reported on Friday. The step is being taken as part of 'austerity' measures and will be announced after approval by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his return from China.
"Five missions identified for closure in the first stage are in Port Louis (Mauritius), Santiago (Chile), Naimey (Niger), Belgrade (Serbia) and Sarajevo (Bosnia)," Dawn newspaper reported.
Moreover, the plan to open a consulate in the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas has been shelved. The closure may hurt the government plan to focus on trade diplomacy and diversify the ties with the countries of Latin America and Africa.
"A number of proposals are being considered to cut the expenditures. But, there is no final decision as yet. It is work in progress," said foreign office spokesman Aizaz Chaudhry.
The move comes in the wake of the government's decision to reduce all non-development expenditures by 30 per cent.
The government has set itself a target of saving Rs. 40 billion this year by reducing the operational expenses of various ministries. The budget allocated in fiscal year 2013-14 for overseas missions is Rs. 10.9 billion against previous year's allocation of Rs. 9.74 billion.
A retired diplomat familiar with budgetary matters estimated that the government could save Rs. 180 million by closing down five missions, while full implementation of the proposal to shut 22 missions could yield savings of up to Rs. 1 billion.
In addition to closing missions, the proposed austerity measures include a host of other spending cuts, something which has angered the diplomats who think that reduction in their allowances would make it difficult for them to live at foreign stations. Foreign service officers are planning to make a representation to Tariq Fatemi, assistant to the Prime Minister on foreign affairs.
According to one of the sources, the Foreign Service Officers Association had sought an appointment with Fatemi on July 9, but there was no confirmation of the date of the meeting being requested by the association that has remained dysfunctional for years.
Allowances for renting houses, health and overseas posting are intended to be reduced by 30 per cent. Similarly, the education subsidy for children of diplomats is proposed to be cut to 80 per cent.
Moreover, missions in Europe, America and Australia are likely to be declared as 'non-family stations' for the non-diplomatic staff. The country currently has some 70 embassies across the world.