- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 16, 2010

MR. BIG

Saudi Arabia refuses to accept an ambassador from Pakistan whose name translates in Arabic as a vulgar, but flattering, reference to the male sexual organ. The story sounded too good to be true — and it was!

The respected Foreign Policy Magazine picked up a report last month from the Arabic language newspaper Arab Times, which said Saudi Arabia rejected Pakistani diplomat Akbar Zeb because his names loosely translates into what, in Washington parlance, might be described as a “distinguished member.” By the time the magazine ran a correction about a week later, the story had hit almost 47,000 sites on the Internet.

The original story was still making the rounds in some Washington circles on Monday.

Mian Gul Akbar Zeb has been Pakistan’s ambassador to Canada since May 2009 and served previously as ambassador to South Africa and Afghanistan. He also spent some time as a junior diplomat at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington.

He was never appointed or even considered for an ambassadorial post in any Arab country, an embassy spokeswoman said in Ottawa on Monday. The Arab Times article said Pakistan had tried to send Mr. Zeb as ambassador to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, only to have him rejected there as well.

“It’s all rubbish and a little embarrassing,” the spokeswoman, Mamoona Amjed, told Embassy Row.

One Arab diplomat in Washington thought the story had a familiar ring.

“About 10-15 years ago, there was a joke circulating in the [Middle East] about a diplomat with that name,” the diplomat said.

In its correction, Foreign Policy Magazine could not resist the temptation to make one last risque double entendre on Mr. Zeb’s name.

“Let this be a lesson: Don’t believe everything you read in print,” the magazine said. “Sometimes, the press gets hold of a story and, before checking all the facts, goes off half-cocked.”

DIPLOMATS AT RISK

Meanwhile in Pakistan, U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson is warning authorities about increasing security risks for American diplomats, especially some whose home addresses were published in newspapers.

Mrs. Patterson wrote Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi about the “irresponsible” reporting that identified the residences of several U.S. diplomats in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, according to the prominent Pakistani newspaper Dawn.

In her letter, the contents of which were leaked to Dawn, the ambassador noted that the United States holds Pakistan responsible for the safety of its diplomats but did not blame the government for the press reports, which she called an “incitement for violence against Americans,” the newspaper reported.

She warned that any attack on U.S. diplomats in Lahore would have “alarming effects” on American-Pakistani relations, Dawn said.

FREE THE BLOGGERS

The leaders of a congressional human rights panel Monday denounced Azerbaijan after a court denied the appeal of two young bloggers critical of the government who were imprisoned on what critics said were trumped-up charges of assault.

“This is the latest in a long series of setbacks for independent journalism and civil society in Azerbaijan,” said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Co-chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat, added, “This case illustrates the lack of independence of Azerbaijan’s judicial system.”

A lower court sentenced Emin Milli to 2½ years in prison and Adnan Hajizade to two years on charges of “hooliganism,” after they were attacked in a restaurant in what the commission called a “crude, government-arranged incident.” The two activists plan to appeal to the country’s supreme court.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mail [email protected]

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