PAKISTAN has lost one of its finest diplomats. Jamsheed Marker represented this country in some of the toughest capitals of the world during times that were often tumultuous. However, he held the fort with aplomb and conviction, guided by a keen sense of duty and professionalism.
Mr Marker was a man of the world, well-versed in its ways. Apart from his sterling diplomatic career, he wore many other hats with equal ease, including that of a soldier, cricket commentator, businessman, writer, academic and family man.
Jamsheed Marker was born on Nov 24, 1922 in Hyderabad Deccan and was educated at the prestigious Doon School in Dehradun, India, and Forman Christian College, Lahore. A promising student, he read economics and received a gold medal, graduating with honours. He served with the Royal Indian Naval Volunteer Reserve in World War II; he saw action in Burma (now Myanmar) where he fought the Japanese.
He would later engage his one-time adversaries in diplomacy as our man in Tokyo.
Mr Marker was awarded the Victoria Medal for his military service, along with other decorations. He was also conferred a number of Pakistani and foreign civil awards.
He worked for a period in the family business, primarily in pharmaceuticals. While referring to his stint as a cricket commentator, the seasoned diplomat noted in his memoirs that it was something he “carried out joyfully and with enthusiasm”.
But it was in the field of diplomacy where he would distinguish himself the most. Amb Marker’s career spanned three decades, during which he represented Pakistan in 10 foreign posts, with nine concurrent accreditations. Though himself a ‘lateral entrant’ — the term used for those entering the Foreign Service from outside the system — he criticised the practice.
Yet it was indeed Pakistan’s good fortune that this gifted man “stumbled into diplomacy”, as he put it.
His first assignment, offered to him by then foreign secretary Aziz Ahmad, was high commissioner to Accra, capital of the newly independent Ghana, in April 1965. Following his first posting in West Africa, there was no looking back for Jamsheed Marker. During his three-decade-long diplomatic career, he observed, worked and socialised with some of the most powerful men in the world — men who would shape large parts of the history of the 20th century.
His stint in Ghana came during the height of independence leader Kwame Nkrumah’s popularity, though Amb Marker also witnessed the charismatic African leader’s downfall. He met Charles de Gaulle and Richard Nixon during his posting in Romania, while an encounter with Saddam Hussein in Moscow in 1969 was described by him as decidedly unpleasant.
Mr Marker served in Moscow — then the heart of the Soviet empire — at the height of the Cold War, from 1969 to 1972. While he was less than impressed with the Soviet capital’s architecture, describing it as drab and grey, he befriended leading Soviet artists, considering his penchant for the arts, especially music. In fact wherever Amb Marker went, he took a keen interest in a country’s culture along with its politics. He had his work cut out for him when Pak-USSR relations nosedived as the East Pakistan debacle unfolded.
Amb Marker served in Washington DC from 1986 to 1989 as an epic Cold War battle was playing itself out — the Afghan ‘jihad’. Pakistan was of course at the centre of the storm, which meant that Mr Marker was a busy man in Washington. His recollections of Ronald Reagan are warm, while he had remarkably open access to the American leadership and top politicians during this interesting, utilitarian phase of Pak-US relations.
Amb Marker soon moved from Washington to New York, serving as Pakistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations from 1990 to 1994. Following this Mr Marker was appointed the UN secretary-general’s envoy to East Timor; it is said his efforts were instrumental in resolving the crisis, for which he won praise from Kofi Annan.
Aside from hobnobbing with world leaders and diplomats, Jamsheed Marker saw a long list of Pakistani rulers come and go from the top slot — democrats, dictators and adventurers. Yet his foremost loyalty lay with his country and his duty. He witnessed the highs and lows of the Ayub Khan era and seemed to have a soft corner for the field marshal. But he was honest about the dictator’s weaknesses.
Mr Marker was frank about Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s rule, praising ZAB’s many qualities yet critical of his iron-fisted management style. He worked closely with Gen Ziaul Haq, especially during his posting in Washington, and seemed to hold the military ruler in high regard.
After leaving the Foreign Service, Amb Marker taught international relations at Eckerd College in Florida, US. He was multilingual, able to communicate in English, French, German, Russian, Urdu and his native Gujarati. Though it should not matter, what was also remarkable was the fact that he was a non-Muslim (a Parsi) representing an Islamic Republic in some of the most important capitals of the world.
A thorough old-world gentleman with a sharp wit and keen sense of professionalism and devotion to his family and country, Pakistan will miss Jamsheed Marker.
Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2018