ISLAMABAD, Sept 6: Agha Shahi, former foreign minister and don of Pakistani diplomacy, passed away here on Wednesday. He was 86. He had suffered a heart attack in Karachi last week on his return from Geneva after a three-week visit. On Monday, he was brought to Islamabad and admitted to PIMS where he breathed his last on Wednesday morning.
Agha Shahi even after his retirement from the Foreign Service remained very active. He headed the International Council of World Affairs and till September last was the chairman of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad.
He remained foreign minister from 1977 to 1982 and was the foreign secretary from 1973 to 1977. He also served as Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN and represented Pakistan in the UN Security Council from 1968 to 1969. For more than a decade, he led Pakistan delegations to UN General Assembly sessions, conferences of Non-Aligned Movement and the Organisation of Islamic Conference.
Although popularly dubbed as a hardliner diplomat, Agha Shahi was in fact an ‘enlightened realist’. He understood difficulties Pakistan faced globally but remained committed to ascendancy of diplomacy as a tool for promoting Pakistan’s national interest. For example, in Afghanistan, he firmly took the position of “handshake with the Americans, not an embrace”. His position was not completely appreciated by military ruler Ziaul Haq and it became one of the reasons for his exit.
Shahi always remained in the frontlines to defend Pakistan’s interests at critical junctures in the country’s chequered history. In July 1972 when he was Pakistan’s ambassador to China, he convinced the Bhutto government that it could play the “China card” to settle the Prisoners of War issue and thwart India’s game plan to use the POWs card to make Pakistan settle Kashmir issue on its own terms, wrote columnist Nasim Zehra in her article “The Chinese Veto that Foiled India’s design on Kashmir”. It was Agha Shahi’s brainwave that foiled India’s plan to make Pakistan surrender Kashmir and the Kashmiri right to self-determination, she notes.
Till his last, Shahi followed developments in the international arena and was regularly consulted by the Foreign Office on key policy issues. He remained particularly concerned about Pakistan’s India policy.