This week, Pakistan lost a consummate diplomat, an author of amazing recall and credibility, and a connoisseur of fine music and understated elegance.
With the passing away of former ambassador Jamsheed K A Marker in Karachi, Pakistan lost one of its noblest citizens, who left an indelible mark on those he met and the events that he participated in.
Marker was the scion of a distinguished Parsi family that had migrated to Quetta some two hundred years ago from Iran. While the family prospered in shipping, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, it gave away even more in charity and philanthropy. After having served in the Royal British Navy, Marker focused on his family business while remaining passionately devoted to cricket commentary (he and his friend, Omar Kureshi became the inseparable pair of the most astute and knowledgeable commentators on cricket).
Around this time, former president Ayub Khan tapped him in 1965 for an ambassadorship to a European country. Marker, however, insisted on going to Ghana – which had recently gained its independence from the British – as he believed that stepping on virgin soil would be more challenging.
He had initially obtained his mother’s permission to serve abroad for only two years. But he was to serve his country with unflinching devotion and unquestioning loyalty, which made him the envy of both professional diplomats and political appointees, for an unmatched record of more than three decades as Pakistan’s ambassador to a dozen countries. He never sought an extension. In fact, with every change of government, he tendered his resignation, as mandated by the law.
But no government was willing to lose a person whose only passion was work and whose only loyalty was to the state. Always preferring a difficult station to a cosy assignment, he served in some of the most important stations at the most contentious times in our history. And yet, he always retained the respect and admiration of his opponents. His tenure in Moscow coincided with the civil strife in East Pakistan and the Indo-Pakistan war, in which the Soviet Union was squarely behind India. Nevertheless, he never lost his access to or the esteem of Soviet leaders.
It was, however, in the US and the UN that Marker’s personality was to blossom to its full glory. No one did more to project Pakistan as a moderate, modern and progressive Muslim state in the US and in the corridors of multilateral diplomacy, than this soft-spoken, mild-mannered gentleman with a perpetual smile on his face and twinkle in his eyes. In fact, with Sahabzada Yaqub Khan as foreign minister in Islamabad and Marker in Washington and, later, at the UN, Pakistan was fortunate in having two profoundly knowledgeable, deeply cultured and highly sophisticated diplomats who could hold their own in any setting.
Choosing to write his autography was no easy decision for Marker. Reserved and reticent by nature, Marker was torn between his conviction to being fair and honest, and his inborn nature to not hurt the sensitivities of friends and colleagues. But he did finally decide to go ahead with this project as he was convinced that he owed it to future generations to share with them his memories and recollections of events that had a profound impact on the destiny of this country.
The chapters in his book, ‘Quiet Diplomacy’, about his assignment in Moscow and later in DC are essential reading for students of history and diplomacy as they are not only accurate and honest, but are also loaded with assessments and observations that contain invaluable lessons to those with an interest in foreign affairs.
Much later, in the twilight of his life, he re-summoned his frail self to pen memories of his personal interaction with many of Pakistan’s founding fathers, in his book ‘Cover Point’. This too I recommend in particular to the youth so that they can better understand our past, as well as, appreciate that we did have a few – sadly far too few – outstanding, selfless individuals whose sacrifices and services did make a difference to this country. Marker never claimed to be among these individuals. But if anyone did belong to this esteemed set, it certainly would be him.
I shall always remain indebted to this kind and affectionate mentor who, with unlimited patience but firm guidance, made me a much better person than what I was when I landed in his mission in Moscow – raw and callow – on my first diplomatic assignment in 1970.
It was again my good fortune that he chose me to be his deputy head of mission when he was appointed as the ambassador to the US. There are many others in our diplomatic service who he nursed and nurtured to towering heights. They all owe a huge debt of gratitude to this noble person. So does the nation. May his soul rest in peace.
The writer is a diplomat who served as the special assistant on foreignaffairs to the PM.