PAKISTAN’s ties with Syria had nose-dived after Gen Zia hanged prime minister Z.A. Bhutto. Syrian President Hafez Al Assad had urged Zia to spare the elected prime minister’s life. President Assad took serious offence to Zia’s rejection of his plea.
I presented my credentials in early 1982, at a time when our ties with Syria had hit rock bottom. After the hijacking of a PIA Boeing-707 by Al Zulfiqar militants to Damascus, Syria treated the hijackers as state guests.
Ties with Syria were bad when a delegation led by our defence secretary-general Maj-Gen Rahim Khan landed in Damascus to negotiate the return of the hijacked aircraft and passengers.
The delegation was ill-treated, with Damascus siding with the hijackers who demanded release of Al-Zulfiqar detainees in Pakistani jails.
Ambassador Maj-Gen Sarfraz Khan was recalled, and I was sent to Damascus with the mandate to normalise relations.
During the next five years relations with Syria were normalised. The PIA aircraft and passengers were returned after 150 Al-Zulfiqar militants arrived in Damascus.
Later on President Zia was able to visit Syria and had a one-to-one meeting with President Assad.
A number of trade and cultural protocols were signed. I organised an international seminar on Dr Allama Iqbal’s revolutionary poetry in the prestigious Assad library. Papers were read by renowned Arab and Iranian scholars. I established Pakistan International School in Damascus in 1982. It is now one of the most prestigious Pakistani education institutions abroad.
President Assad was concerned about the political instability in Pakistan. During an audience the Syrian president said: “Had Pakistan adopted Arabic, the language of the Quran, as the national language, the lingual rifts and political divisions and anarchy would not have occurred. Pakistan would have remained a united country.”
I reported this to the government and to President Zia.
President Assad ruled with an iron fist. He promoted relations with Moscow, established socialist dictatorship, armed the Allawite minority, which comprised 10 per cent of the population, but discriminated and was unjust towards the 80 per cent Sunni population.
His policy of confronting Israel, and his steadfast policy for the return of Arab land annexed by Israel after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, earned him few friends in the West.
The Sunni population feels it has been discriminated against, and has risen in armed revolt against tyranny.
All cities, towns and localities which have risen in revolt have been destroyed. Hundreds of Syrians have fled to neighbouring Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. The situation now is out of hand.
After the death of six top generals and cabinet ministers in Free Syrian Army’s attack on the National Security Headquarters, the situation now is out of hand. Syria's future is bleak.
AYAZ AHMED KHAN Former ambassador to Syria