PUBLISHED IN Daily Times /February 06, 2010
REVIEWED BY: Afrah Jamal
This veteran Pakistani diplomat has a striking resume. With ten posts and nine accreditations, his name appears in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the only person to have served as ambassador to more countries than anyone. He took his curtain call when Pakistan declared him Ambassador at Large in 2004, and has been on the faculty at Eckerd College, St Petersburg — Florida as Diplomat-in-Residence. He ended his tenure with a wry observation, ‘the batting card on the scorecard to Masters in Pakistan’, which came to ‘two presidents, seven prime ministers, three chiefs of army staff and three foreign secretaries’.
His book vividly captures a medley of hits and misses during 30 years spent in the diplomatic service of Pakistan and chronicles assignments starting from Ghana (Africa) in 1965, as its first resident High Commissioner (as ambassadors from Commonwealth Member Nations were referred to), when war clouds were gathering in Pakistan, ending in the UN — New York as President and Member of the UN Security Council in 1994. He received a shot at multilateral diplomacy in the European Office of the United Nations, Geneva (Switzerland) and served as a Permanent Representative of the UN Secretary General for East Timor.
Divided into ten parts, each devoted to a specific country/region, accompanied by a ‘Chiaroscuro’, covering the “vagaries of bureaucracy”, synchronised with the polarising politics of home in a separate section aptly named, ‘Meanwhile in Pakistan’. Severing the narrative into three portions is an interesting departure from standard fare but it does not affect the flow of the narrative nor does it detract from the story.
As a historian, Marker faithfully records his impressions of people and places and politics of the time as his work takes him on a panoramic journey. As a diplomat he uses deft strokes to depict the diplomatic sparring contests carried out in charged atmospheres that led him to some of the most memorable and untenable moments of history. One such instance was in Russia, where he came closest to receiving a declaration of war whereas in Washington he helped shield Pakistan from the crippling effects of reduced US support at a critical juncture. Referring to his Washington days he admits that his modus operandi would get him declared a persona non grata in other capitals of the world including his own, for interfering in political affairs, without which he would be sacked.
He was in Russia (1969-72) at a time when ‘tripartite mutual distrust’ prevailed (Soviets vs the US and China, China vs the US and Soviets and the US vs Soviets and China) and watched the Russians assume the position of “prime arbiters of war and peace in the subcontinent” — a direct consequence of the Friendship Treaty of 1971; he came to the US during “historic moments of tectonic change in the existing international order”, opened the first Pakistani mission in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) while it was behind the Iron Curtain, and served in the dual capacity of ambassador and UNESCO representative while in Paris. Scattered among his high profile assignments are some that he would simply classify as goodwill missions. At each of these destinations we learn a little bit more about the delicately woven fabric of international relations and the dextrousness required to keep it intact.
He attributes success in the UN to the “skill, dedication and professionalism” of Pakistani diplomats and “skilled deployment of resources” at par with guns and oil that typically manipulate diplomacy. Even setbacks had silver linings. Pakistan was Chairman of the Group of 77 (129 + members from so-called developing nations, as the writer puts it), an organisation dealing with the economic side “set up to coordinate policies and positions for negotiations with developing nations”. Its role in the UN Conference in Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio, while unproductive at the time, ultimately led to the Kyoto protocols.
Leaders back home get their share of attention too. Marker shows President Zia in a different light as a man whose “bold and imaginative statesmanship” led to a peaceful end to the Baloch uprising, which held for eight years. Prominent world leaders of the time have a place but not everyone gets the respect. Some are casually brushed aside for evoking “apprehension not admiration”.
His world provokes comments about its decayed practices; the opening sessions of the Conference in Cuba have been referred to as “elaborate and opulent affairs — spectacular displays which only totalitarian regimes can produce”. The author infuses subtle shades of humour into his writing, transforming mundane acts like walking down a hall in the UN into delightful performances where delegations, likened to convoys composed of battleships followed by “fussy little destroyers and sloops”, break/tighten their formation depending upon their relations with the approaching ‘convoys’. Jamsheed Marker’s memoir provides a vital perspective on Pakistan’s foreign policy. It also leaves readers wondering if present day diplomacy can mirror these successes.