13 February 2011

"Quiet diplomacy" by Jamsheed Marker

Taking you to far away places and letting you have a first hand insight into unfolding events and making you feel you are a part of the ambience is not something new to Jamsheed Marker. He was a cricket commentator in those TV less days when the spoken word was the only way to vicarious enjoyment of a match.

Jamsheed Marker had a long and colorful innings as a diplomat. He was Pakistan’s ambassador to the Soviet Union when Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan. He was ambassador to the United States when US sponsored Mujahideen fought against Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

Jamsheed does not disappoint. His prose is entertaining and insight engaging.

Some interesting snippets:

One: When you move from Anglophone West Africa to Francophone West Africa, according to the author, the cuisine improves and plumbing worsens.

Two: The President of Cote d’Ivoire observed that when you send a young African to Paris he returns a Marxist; when you send him to Moscow, he returns a conservative!

Three: After inviting Sekou Toure of Guinea to speak, unaware that the microphone was still on, Indira Gandhi said in Hindi “Oh dear, this man is going to speak forever”!

Four: Desmond Tutu said that when the missionaries came to Africa, they had the bible and the Africans had the land. After the Africans joined the prayers and opened their eyes, the Africans had the bible and the missionaries had the land!

Five: Voltaire said that the best form of government is a benevolent despotism, tempered by the occasional assassination.

Six: Kissinger told Yahya Khan that for a military dictator, Yahya ran a lousy election!

Seven: When a translator conveyed Gromyko’s message to Pakistan’s ambassador to “please not take any action that would oblige us to fulfill our obligation to a country with whom we have a Treaty of Friendship”, Gromyko intervened and clarified that he did not use the word “Please”.

Eight: Helmut Schmidt said that “Moscow’s concept of settled frontiers was to have Soviet troops stationed on both sides of the border”.

However, the book suffers from two major deficiencies: One, it is too sanitized. All people appear nice, hold nice thoughts and say nice words. Two, Jamsheed steers clear of the strategic thinking behind Pakistan’s foreign policy.

Pakistan has had a good innings in international relations by positioning itself as the frontier for the free world in the past; and the trench line to protect Islam recently. The success and implied perils of such thinking merited some commentary from the pavilion but is missing.

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