October 2007

Vol 7 - No. 4
 

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Books | October 2007

 


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Memories & Reflections of a Pakistani Diplomat

 

BY ISHTIAQ AHMED (IDN) *

 

The second edition of Memories & Reflections of a Pakistani Diplomat (Karachi: Paramount Books, 2006), is an autobiography by one of Pakistan's very prominent career diplomats, Sultan Muhammad Khan. It is written in a very lucid style and easy, straightforward prose. I believe the book was first published in 1998 but is now available in a cheap paperback edition and includes a new chapter on the Zia period. 

 

It is my belief that if one is by temperament a storyteller then writing an autobiography is the best way to tell one's life story. Sultan Muhammad Khan is undoubtedly a very gifted storyteller. The narratives flow smoothly and one learns a great deal about Pakistan's diplomatic history from 1947 till 1980.

 

It begins with a brief presentation of family history during the colonial period. We learn that the author belongs to a branch of the royal family of Afghan origin of a small princely state, Jaora, which existed in the Central Indian State Agency during the British period. He lost his father when still an infant and his mother when he was in his early teens but was brought up with great affection by his uncle.

 

To everybody's surprise he joined the British Indian army, something which in his family was not done as they were expected to serve the state. He was in the Indian army and was posted in Malaysia. At the time of the partition of India he opted for Pakistan, although he did not have any particular political grudge against the Congress Party.

 

He began his diplomatic career in Delhi being assigned a position in the Pakistan High Commission in that city. He describes a scene one day when anti-Muslim riots and attacks were still taking place. He writes:

 

"One day I was passing the shopping area of Connaught Place in New Delhi and saw the only Muslim shop there -- Ghani's -- being looted. Some policemen were pretending to be asleep on their cots nearby. Suddenly a car pulled up, and Pundit Nehru rushed towards the policemen, picked up one of their "lathis" (steel-tipped long stick) and started hitting and yelling at them to stop the looting. They were shocked to see the Indian Prime Minister of India, and carried out his bidding effectively" (page 52).

 

Later, in the book where Sultan Muhammad Khan refers to Nehru it is always in his role as a patriotic Pakistani and diplomat and given the bad relations between the two countries I can understand that he has nothing good to say about the late Indian prime minister.

 

An interesting revelation that is made is that King Faisal of Saudi Arabia had proposed that India should be invited to join the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) and at the Rabat Conference of 1969 India had been invited to participate. The Indian ambassador, a Sikh, was present when the first meeting was held and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad, who was then a minister (later president of India) was on his way to the meeting. President Yahya Khan had agreed but then some Pakistani journalists in Rabat started a campaign against India's participation. That campaign finally succeeded and India was denied membership.

 

There are very interesting anecdotes from his postings in Egypt, Turkey, Italy, UK, China, Canada, US and Japan. He also served as foreign secretary. He is witness to many events during that long period and speaks about them with utter candour. He praises General Ayub Khan as a good president who conducted himself gracefully on his foreign trips and was a successful negotiator when dealing with foreign leaders.

 

It seems that of all the statesmen and political leaders he met he admired the Chinese Prime Minister Zhou En Lai (Chou En Lai) the most. Zhou En Lai apparently was the architect of maintaining good relations with Pakistan whereas he was always suspicious and wary of the Indian ambitions. From the Pakistani side we know that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was the one who promoted good relations with China.

 

Zhou En Lai offered sincere advice to Pakistan at the time of the East Pakistan crisis when Sultan Muhammad Khan met him in April 1971. He told the author that the military should exercise restraint and efforts should be made to find a political solution to the violent confrontation. Moreover, the Pakistan army should have mixed units including East Pakistanis. Sultan Muhammad Khan thinks that had Pakistan followed the advice of the Chinese Premier the break up of Pakistan could have been avoided.

 

We also learn that Nixon and Kissinger were sympathetic to Pakistan's survival as a state and the French were also concerned, but India drew full capital out of the situation. Mrs Gandhi could thus achieve the dismemberment of Pakistan. The Soviet involvement was dictated by its Cold War concerns.

 

The author, however, does not hesitate to condemn the disastrous impact of the Cultural Revolution on China. It was perhaps the most negative feature of Chinese mob rule in which the perfectly honest and patriotic Chinese, some of them heroes from the Liberation struggle were humiliated and meted out degrading punishments including executions.

 

Sultan Muhammad Khan praises Zulfikar Ali Bhutto but says that once he became president and later prime minister he was surrounded by sycophants. He started losing touch with reality and that brought him down ultimately. Bhutto sent him, the author, into retirement in 1976. But he was recalled by General Zia who appointed him as ambassador to the US again in 1979 where he served for two years. The last chapter on Zia discusses how the general acquired self-confidence and proved to be a shrewd and crafty political animal who outmanoeuvred his opponents. 

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* This review was first published in the News International on 4th August 2007. The author is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), National University of Singapore on leave from the University of Stockholm. Email: isasia@nus.edu.sg.

  

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