Jamsheed Marker: The Not-So-Quiet Ambassador

Get an ex-ambassador to speak on your TV channel and the result will be steadily stale, his discourse carefully embedded in exploded theories that only people in the Foreign Office believe. But strangely, now and then, this uniformity of dullness is broken by ‘outsider’ diplomats inducted from other professions, barring the army.

Article By Khaled Ahmed for The Tribune Pakistan

Jamsheed Kaikobad Ardeshir Marker was one such professional. His book Quiet Diplomacy: Memoirs of an Ambassador of Pakistan, Oxford University Press (2010) tells the story of a remarkably successful ambassador representing a remarkably unsuccessful country.

One would not be far wrong in saying that Pakistan recognised him after realising how greatly admired he was in the international community. In 1997, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan got him to head the campaign to persuade Indonesia to do the legal thing by letting East Timor become independent. The book Marker wrote after the successful conclusion of his mission was East Timor: A Memoir of the Negotiations for Independence (2003).

Jamsheed Marker, from a distinguished Parsi family of Quetta, first became known as a cricket commentator together with Omar Kureishi in the early 1960s. His diplomatic career began in 1964 when Foreign Secretary Aziz Ahmed offered him an ambassador’s post in Africa. Marker chose Ghana because he thought he would witness and get to know Kwame Nkrumah, the charismatic pan-African leader.

In Ghana his description of Nkrumah was to fit a lot of other socialist leaders of Africa that he got to observe, and of course Bhutto of Pakistan, whom he would serve later on. Charisma accompanied autocratic enforcement of a socialist utopia, tipped with nationalisation and state sector dominance. Crass dictatorship grows out of this recipe.

Marker lays down the thesis for Pakistan’s early crisis when he surveys the Foreign Office he joined with Bhutto as foreign minister: “My observation was that the policy orientation of the foreign ministry was more than a few points to the left of the centre, and that it was being pushed further in that direction by Bhutto, despite Ayub’s reluctance and disinclination, and notwithstanding the undisguised suspicion of the Americans” (p.8).

Marker was sent to Romania next and then given his first major mission in Moscow in 1969. The following year, elections caused East Pakistan to succumb to a national campaign for independence, with the world reluctantly siding with the people of Bangladesh, and Moscow siding with India on the basis of a mutual defence treaty of 1972. In the book, Kissinger told Marker: “Everywhere else in the world elections help to solve problems; in Pakistan they seem to create them”. In the year 2008, elections caused another crisis in Pakistan which is still ongoing in 2010.

By now Marker’s nose for character was quite developed. He thought East Pakistan fell because of three men: “Mujibur Rahman, ZA Bhutto, and Yahya Khan. The first two because the compulsions of their fascist character precluded the compromise and sharing of power implicit in a democratic polity; and the third because he completely lost his earlier political acumen, and committed strategic blunders of the highest magnitude” (p.149).

After postings in Tokyo, Geneva and Germany, Marker found himself in France in 1982. It was during this tenure that Shahnawaz Bhutto was found dead in Nice, and he thinks the death was a family affair rather than a plot hatched in Islamabad.

Marker was ambassador to the US from 1986 to 1988 and to the UN till 1994. Writing in The New York Times, Robert Pear had this to say about him in 1989: “Jamsheed K A Marker, the Ambassador of Pakistan, is described as tough, shrewd and cultivated by State Department officials and members of the Congress. Of all the diplomats in Washington, few work so intimately with the Reagan Administration as Mr Marker.”

  • Burjor Bharucha

    Wish there were more Ambassadors like Jamsheed specially in terrorist infested nations like Pakistan. Considerable misunderstandings and confusion would be avoided and relations improve and remain cordial.

  • dr arnavaz havewala

    nice article–v informative.