Tough talk from the boss provokes red faces among staff at the embassy

By A. Correspondent
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:23

The Pakistani high commissioner, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, has, for some, become one of the most entertaining figures in the saga of the Pakistani cricket team and the fixing scandal exposed by the News of the World.

Mr Hasan went on television to declare that the players engulfed in the alleged betting scam were innocent – he had "got to the bottom of it" he said just by speaking to them. Captain Salman Butt and bowlers Mohammed Aamer and Mohammed Asif have been subjected to "mental torture", he added, and the International Cricket Council had "no business" suspending them. What's more, the whole thing had been cooked up by middleman Mazhar Majeed and Indian bookmakers, with the players "set up" by the News of the World.

This has proved wince-inducing for some of the career diplomats at the Pakistani legation in Belgravia. The comments by the representative of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan at the Court of St James's are portrayed as the latest in a line of gaffs which have included pronouncements on a British Muslim child kidnapped in Pakistan and the arrests of Pakistani terror suspects in this country.

One Pakistani diplomat said he felt "depressed" that some of his colleagues had, instead of thinking how to be seen standing up to the problem of corruption, been considering how to vilify the News of the World journalist Mazher Mahmood. At an impromptu press conference held by Mr Hasan outside the Pakistani high commission, staff were handing out copies of an article about Mahmood by the media commentator Roy Greenslade.

"I heard one of my colleagues say that this chap Mahmood is actually secretly Jewish – can you believe it!" said the diplomat.

"I suppose it is quite funny for outsiders, but the rest of us find it embarrassing. Anyway, it'll backfire, I have my own contacts among journalists and I am told they [the News of the World] will produce more things on Sunday."

The diplomat added: "We had a great chance here to show that we were taking this matter extremely seriously and would root out any corruption. Instead we took a position we couldn't sustain, ended giving contradictory statements, lost out anyway and made a lot of our friends in the cricketing world angry."

The ICC has gone ahead with its suspension of the three players who were interviewed by the police, and senior figures in the England and Wales Cricket Board have been incensed by the remarks made by Mr Hasan and Ijaz Butt, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board.

On the subject of the commissioner, the diplomat said: "We are trying to get him off the TV screens, but there's no stopping him."

The views of the diplomat and his colleagues in the foreign service may not be entirely unbiased. They have been suspicious of Mr Hasan since his arrival as a political appointee of Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari, who is the widower of Benazir Bhutto and is known as "Mr Ten Per Cent".

Allies of Mr Hasan say that his detractors are connected to the Pakistani secret service, the ISI, and the military and are "saying bad things about him" because he is a long-term opponent of the former ruler, General Pervez Musharraf. The diplomat rejects this. "What on earth has all this to do with cricket? The only military thing here is that we have a loose cannon in our hands."

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