Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Jamsheed Marker | Obituary

Naval officer under the Raj who became a cricket commentator and respected diplomat in Pakistan

JAMSHEED MARKER, who has died aged 95, commanded a minesweeper in the Royal Indian Navy during the Second World War, pioneered cricket commentary in Pakistan in the 1950s, and served as a highly respected diplomat, representing Pakistan in the US and a dozen other countries for more than three decades, culminating in a posting to the United Nations.

Obituary in the The Daily Telegraph

As ambassador to the US from 1986 to 1989, Marker, an urbane, cigar-smoking Zoroastrian from Quetta, was intimately involved in forging a joint strategy with the Reagan administration, which culminated in the Geneva Accords in 1988 and the subsequent withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan.

At the UN, Marker acted as spokesman for the non-aligned nations and served as chairman of the Security Council. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, by the time he officially retired in 1995 he had been “ambassador to more countries than any other person”.

Later, under Kofi Annan, he served as a special adviser to the UN Secretary-General and in 1998 Annan appointed him his Personal Representative for East Timor, in which capacity he conducted negotiations between the governments of Indonesia and Portugal and East Timorese separatist leaders, which brought an end to a 10-year conflict and led to the independence of Timor Leste.

In September 2004, Pakistan’s then prime minister Shaukat Aziz named Marker as ambassador-at-large for his years of service, and he continued in this role until 2008 under the Musharraf regime.

Jamsheed Kekobad Ardeshir Marker was born on November 24 1922 in Hyderabad, in British-ruled India, into a Parsee family with business interests in Quetta and Karachi. His grandfather, Ardeshir Marker, had moved to Quetta in 1880 from Bombay and established himself as a supplier to the British military.

Jamsheed’s father, Kekobad Marker, developed the family business, expanding into pharmaceuticals, shipping and other areas, and became a notable philanthropist. Jamsheed’s mother, Meherbano, was a pioneer in social work, a feminist and the author of a history of the Parsees.

Jamsheed was educated at the Doon School in Dehra Dun where the name of the Marker family is still celebrated in the form of “Marker cups”, awarded to students for academic excellence. He went on to study at Forman Christian College in Lahore, graduating with top marks in Economics.

During the Second World War, Marker served as an officer in the Royal Indian Naval Volunteer Reserve in command of a minesweeper, which became the first such vessel to enter Rangoon to liberate Burma. He then served on combined operations in Burma.

As partition approached, Jamsheed’s father Kekobad led the deputation to Muhammed Ali Jinnah which secured assurances about the future of the Parsee community in the new Muslim nation. Jamsheed, meanwhile, was working for the government of India’s home department under the future Indian prime minister Morarji Desai.

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One day Desai visited Marker’s office and asked him what he thought of independence: “He wanted me to work for him. He said to me, ‘What are your plans?’ I told him that I would go back to my home in Quetta as soon as I was released from the shackles of government … My family had been living in Quetta for three generations. They had gone there with the British as contractors. He said, ‘Quetta might become Pakistan.’ I said, ‘Quetta will become Pakistan and I will go there. That is my intention.’”

His commitment was reinforced by the journey from Delhi to Karachi. “I saw those refugee camps. People in them were all bloodied. They had been through riots. They had no clothes or anything, just small broken-up suitcases. [But] you heard them shouting ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ from each refugee camp … They were determined to survive any situation.”

In Pakistan, Kekobad Marker served as director of the Pakistan Industrial Finance Corporation, and as chairman of the Industrial Development Bank of Pakistan while Jamsheed joined the family business and served on boards of public and private corporations in banking, insurance and shipping.

In 1954 Jamsheed, who had been a keen schoolboy cricketer, was contacted by a former teacher who had become director general of Radio Pakistan: “He called me to say that the English commentators that he had like Jack Coles and some other gentleman are not liked by the Pakistan public because they cannot understand their accent, so why not join us in the box with a newcomer, Omar Kureishi. I hesitated, but he was insistent.”

Marker went on to provide commentary for Pakistan’s first home series against India in 1954-55 and, with Kureishi, became “the voice of cricket” in Pakistan. In later life he was nostalgic about those early days, recalling how Hafeez Kardar, Pakistan’s first captain, was never paid any money but was “driven by patriotism, loyalty and duty”.

He was disappointed with the way the game had evolved: “In the old classic days, the players went on to the field like white sparrows, not dressed like clowns.”

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Marker worked in his family’s business until April 1965, when he was appointed Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Ghana, with concurrent accreditation to Guinea and Mali. Over the next three decades he represented his country in Romania, the Soviet Union, Canada, East Germany, Japan, the United Nations Office at Geneva, West Germany, France, the US and finally the United Nations in New York.

He served under political leaders from Ayub Khan to Pervez Musharraf and regretted that so many politicians “saw Pakistan as an opportunity for themselves, not as an opportunity for the people or the country”. Yet, though he always submitted his resignation each time the government changed, he was too valuable to lose.

Marker published two books of memoirs. Among other highlights of his diplomatic career, he recalled how, during his time as ambassador to the Soviet Union a few weeks before the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971, the head of the Indian Army, General Sam Manekshaw (a fellow Parsee and an old friend of Marker’s from pre-Partition days) visited Moscow for an urgent consultation with his counterparts in the Soviet military.

The Soviet hosts took the visitor to the Bolshoi Theatre where they were amazed to find the Pakistani ambassador waiting to greet them, and even more amazed to see Marker and their guest embracing warmly and breaking into friendly chat in Gujarati.

As Pakistan’s ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany from 1980 to 1982, Marker recalled meetings with characters “genuine and shady in tiny cafés tucked away in obscure villages deep in the beautiful Swiss and German countryside” which led to Pakistan acquiring sensitive technology from European firms for its nuclear weapons programme.

As news spread in the West of Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear network, and India applied pressure on the US to intervene, as Ambassador to Washington in the late 1980s Marker outwitted Indian diplomacy with skilful advocacy in Congress and in the US media. He confessed, however, to “a mild, amused contempt for the enthusiasm with which western industrial enterprises, in their pecuniary pursuits, conspired with us to evade their own governments’ law prohibiting all nuclear transfers to Pakistan”.

Marker’s first wife, Diana, died in 1979. He is survived by his second wife, Arnaz, and by a daughter from his first marriage. Another daughter predeceased him.

Jamsheed Marker, born November 24 1922, died June 21 2018