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Tribute to Sir Gerald Kaufman — a great friend of Pakistan

Top Story

March 4, 2017

In the death of Sir Gerald Kaufman, Pakistan, people of Kashmir and occupied Palestine lost a great friend and a dauntless supporter (Feb 26, 2017). Known as the man who stood and raised his voice for justice and right causes irrespective of the caste, creed or colour of the people- Sir Gerald remained tenaciously committed to his principles under death threats and all sorts of challenges.

Personally I lost a mentor who I found always at a short call 24/7 whenever need be. I have no words to express what an enormous asset he was to me all through my two tenures as Pakistan's High Commissioner to UK. During my long period of exile too with no residential status I could always rush to Sir Gerald for support to my need to stay. 

I owe my introduction to Sir Gerald to Pakistan's twice elected Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. It was in 1991 we were visiting London on way to United States she took me on her call to the then Shadow Foreign Secretary. I sized the great British politician in her comment about him that Sir Gerald declined invitation to visit Pakistan while military dictator and executor of her father martyred Zulfikaur Ali Bhutto—President General Ziaul Haq-- was in power. 

One-hour long meeting in Sir Gerald's Westminster office on that cold and dreary February evening was quite heartwarming for us as his words of support at a juncture when we were democracy and yet it was much more of the same then what we had been through in General Zia's time. His words of advice and his undiluted support for democracy to her can only be measured in letters of gold. Following our meeting martyred Bibi told me that in Sir Gerald was a rare breed of politician who stood his ground whatever the consequences without compromising on his principles. 

Sir Gerald’s name was on top of her list of eminent people who I was to develop friendly and dependable relationship when she appointed me as Pakistan’s High Commissioner in early 1994. For his love for Pakistan and support to democracy Sir Gerald was decorated by her government with the highest civilian award Hilal-e-Pakistan. 

Not trained as formal diplomats who are proverbially groomed to ‘lie abroad for the good of their country’, I being a journalist by profession (as was Sir Gerald) believed differently. In my professional duties I did not beat about the bush and developed frank relationship with my colleagues and higher ups. Instead of ‘lying’ abroad for the sake the country, one told them to go to hell in such a pleasant and friendly manner that whoever heard what was being offered looked forward to going there. 

First challenge to me as a diplomat came in 1995 when Robin Cook as Shadow Foreign Secretary speaking as chief guest at a function in Brent hosted by Indians said that Kashmir was integral part of Indian state. It caused great dismay in Pakistan Foreign Office, among the Pakistani and Kashmiri Diaspora. 

On the advice of Sir Gerald I did not cross swords with Robin. Sir Gerald knew that Robin had a Pakistani and Kashmiri Diaspora as his voters in Scotland. With George Galloway already there as our major supporter in Labour, Pakistanis led by Ch Mohammad Sarwar were able to convince Robin to issue a clarification. Later I was advised to meet Robin that I did. We had a candid exchange of views and I was promised that Robin would retrieve the position in the historic perspective. Although the notice was short, Robin also accepted to be chief guest at our Independence Day function at Wembley Conference Centre with over 3000 Pakistanis from all over UK in attendance. 

Sir Gerald briefed me that Robin was an upright man and once he is convinced of his mistake, he had the courage to own and rectify it. Later, in October (1995) at the Brighton Labour Party Conference Sir Gerald guided Robin in drafting the resolution presented by him at Labour Party NEC to clarify Labour Party's position. His resolution was passed unanimously. What came to be known as Brighton Resolution stated clearly that Kashmir was an unfinished agenda of the partition that was arranged by the Labour Party. It was as such an obligation for it to seek a solution based on commitment to peace, democracy, human rights and mutual tolerance. It further reiterated that Labour in government will be prepared to use its relationship with India and Pakistan to provide good offices to assist in a negotiated settlement to the tragic dispute. This reinforced UN Security Council's Resolutions on Kashmir and human rights violations were condemned. 

Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was overjoyed over this achievement described as a major diplomatic defeat for India by Indian media. Besides its legendry High Commissioner Dr RL Singhvi, Delhi had sent two union ministers and mobilised its over 200 councillors and delegates to the conference to counter lobby. Robin Cook, Sir Gerald Kaufman, Clare Short, Max Madden and George Galloway who addressed the largely attended fringe meeting organised by Sir Gerald carried the day since it had snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat. Since Brighton Resolution nothing significant has been achieved on the issue of Kashmir internationally.

Freedom for Kashmiris was a passionate cause for martyred Benazir Bhutto as it was for her father Zulfikaur Ali Bhutto. She was opposed to policy of cross-border terrorism and wanted to have it resolved through negotiations, intense international lobbying and highlighting of human rights violations in the occupied state. She agreed with Sir Gerald that outside interference would harm a cause and would give it different colour from that of a genuine indigenous freedom movement. 

Pakistan supported to the hilt National Lobby on Kashmir organised by firebrand Labour MP George Galloway. It was a sight to see several thousand members of Pakistani and Kashmiri Diaspora queue at the Parliament to hand over their demand for the implementation of UN resolutions to the MP of their area. Later, this lobby took several hundred of its members in train to Brussels to present their case at European Parliament. It was again a major diplomatic success. While George Galloway organised it, Sir Gerald travelled with us to lend his weight and support to it wholeheartedly in freezing Brussels. 

All through that period and later in my second tenure as High Commissioner (2008-2014) we had Sir Gerald at the back and call of Kashmiri people always and it meant a great deal to them. Sir Gerald, indeed, at each and every step of his politics proved that for him commitment to genuine causes was more important than expediency. If the Kashmiris wanted a heavy weight supporter to plead their case in UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva—thunder, lightning or rain—he would volunteer himself as their advocate, cancel all his engagements and be there to expose to the world organisation gross violations of human rights. 

Being a student of history I enjoyed reading speeches of Oliver Cromwell, Edmund Burke, Benjamin Disraeli and Sir Winston Churchill to name a few all time greats. Their words remain shinning jewels in the art of oratory. Sir Gerald was among the front rankers. He had his unique style of being incisive, razor like precision in selection of his words, witty and the bite he had left the pain but did not leave the mark. He earned his fame as an unrelenting Laborite for his sharp tongue dismissal of his own party’s 1983 manifesto as ‘the longest suicide note in history’. However, the most outstanding aspect of his life was that he was more of a human being respectful to all faiths than anything else. He was essentially a constituency politician always available for the service and assistance of his constituents. Once I asked him when he would call it a day or move to Lords, “I will die with my boots on”. Forty seven years in House of Commons, he indeed was the Father of the House upholding its traditions, its values and efficacy. 

It was in June 1996 President Yasir Arafat as head of Palestine State Authority was on official visit to London. I hosted a reception in his honour and on top of his list of guests was Gerald Kaufman. How close Sir Gerald was to him is overly reflected in the picture (June 6, 1996). Finally he had come to conclusion that ‘the sufferings of the Jewish people cannot be used as some sort of justification for what Israel does to Palestinians. I find it degrading that the sufferings of the Jews in the Holocaust should be used as a kind of justification for persecuting Palestinians’. His love for Pakistan was manifested in the fact that whenever Sir Gerald was a candidate for Parliament, he used to be a unanimous choice of Pakistanis, nay Muslims and other interfaith communities. His voters of all caste, creed or colour voted for him with religious zeal—a rare phenomenon of universal respect not to be seen for anyone else. And that indeed showed that he was more of a human being first and last--not born every day. How dear he was to Labour Party was witnessed on his burial when Labour Party leader Jeremy Corybin was with us on a freezing day in Leeds to bid farewell to party’s long serving colleague. May his soul rest in eternal peace!

(Author is former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK, long time Adviser to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and a veteran journalist.)


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