PAKISTAN has lost its ‘completest’ diplomat. And he wasn’t even a member of the foreign service. Maybe that is why. Jamsheed ‘Jimmy’ Marker was in his own self-effacing way Pakistan’s ‘renaissance man’. In cricketing terms, an ‘all-rounder’. He served with distinction in the navy, he was from a pioneering business background and he became a diplomat par excellence and served as ambassador in more missions than any other Pakistani. He was equally admired as an international diplomat whose views and company were sought by the movers and shakers and the great and the good.
Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan praised Jamsheed Marker as “one of the most seasoned and skilful diplomats” he knew. He noted “Marker’s intelligence, discretion, capacity to listen, patience, perseverance and endurance” which enabled him in conflict situations “to find creative solutions, bridge differences and seize any opportunity” to achieve positive outcomes. The author Stanley Wolpert, observed that with regard to Pakistan’s diplomatic and political scene Jamsheed was at “cover point” (the title of his last book) which is “near enough to the wicket to follow the action around the stumps … yet sufficiently distant for a general overview of the state of play”. To be simultaneously engaged and objective requires a very special talent and temperament.
Talking of cricket, who of my generation can forget that incomparable duo of cricket commentators: Omar Kureishi and Jamsheed Marker? In the pre-TV radio commentary era of the 1950s, they brought Pakistan’s Test matches into the homes of millions of cricket fans of all ages in a way that TV has never been able to. The exchanges of “over to you Jamsheed” and “thank you Omar” still reverberate in the memories of those who were privileged to listen to that matchless pair of commentators: one full of boundless enthusiasm and hyperbole countered and complemented by the other’s measured tones of an equal passion and enjoyment. Contrapuntal indeed! The technical expertise of today misses out on that all-embracing wonderment and fascination that was the essence of cricket’s golden era.
Jamsheed’s love of music, works of art, books (both as author and reader) his philanthropic activities, his sensitivity to pain and suffering in Pakistan and beyond, and the indelible impression he made on people from all walks of life who came in contact with him defined the range and depth of his humanity. A cool-headed analyst, a nonpareil raconteur, a wonderful family man, one who bore personal grief and loss with moving dignity and forbearance, a true lifelong friend of a lucky few, Jamsheed was indeed a jewel in any setting.
Yes, there have been other great Pakistani diplomats. But Jamsheed was among the very finest.
He was born in Hyderabad Deccan, but he belonged to Quetta where his grandfather had come with the British and the railway in the late 19th century. He was a true pioneering entrepreneur and great philanthropist. Marker House located on what was Lytton Road (today Residency road) was the first private mansion to be constructed on it in 1895, and it remains a landmark. I grew up getting to know Jamsheed’s younger brothers, Khurshid and particularly Minoo. While distinguished in their own right they doted on their eldest brother who was an inspiration and model for them.
It was only later, after joining the foreign service, that I discovered where the younger brothers got their inimitable wit, mischievous humour, flair for merciless mimicry, limitless curiosity, generosity, sincerity and sagacity from. Today, Minoo alone holds the fort while the torch of the House of Marker passes to a younger generation.
The Markers are a distinguished Parsi family whom it is Pakistan’s privilege to have among its finest and most patriotic citizens. In Pakistan’s most difficult moments — and there have been far too many — when Pakistan’s image was at a very low ebb, even the most sceptical and “hostile” foreign diplomats and opinion and policy makers could not come away from a meeting with Jamsheed without feeling the need to have another look at their own opinions, and adopt a more balanced and realistic approach towards Pakistan. This was an incomparable service. Yes, there have been other great Pakistani diplomats. But Jamsheed was among the very finest.
Jamsheed was an enlightened and progressive conservative. He sought to preserve as much of the good that had made the present as possible, and develop the future without using a wrecking ball. He admired the great statesmen, philosophers, generals, innovators and artists who contributed to the development of Western culture and civilisation, so much of which he saw as still relevant to the great task of reconciling the essence of other great world cultures and civilisations — including our own — to the imperatives of the contemporary world.
While always courteous and soft-spoken, Jamsheed had definite opinions about what and whom he liked and disliked. He made this clear in his writings. When it came to public figures and particularly political leaders his criterion was simple: did they contribute to the well-being and security of Pakistan in a demanding world? Or did they consciously serve lesser and more personal agendas? He was deeply saddened by the spectacle of men of straw elevated to positions far beyond their moral stature and wreaking havoc while bringing grief and bitter disappointment to the people of Pakistan. This lent a certain melancholy to his manner in his last years.
But he never gave up hope that a younger generation of Pakistanis would eventually overcome apparently insurmountable obstacles and redeem the country that fired the imagination and informed the passions of its founding fathers. Jamsheed was a fan of Winston Churchill — a man of many parts; many grand and many not so. In a telling message to those who dare to call themselves ‘leaders’ in Pakistan, Jamsheed quoted Churchill’s eulogy to prime minister Neville Chamberlain in 1940: “the only guide to a man is his conscience; the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions. With this shield, however the fates may play we march always in the ranks of honour.”
Jamsheed ranks among the honoured of Pakistan.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.
Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2018