Marker’s Memory


June 27, 2018

Post by




Distinguished diplomat Jamsheed Marker was truly one of a kind

There is no better description for Jamsheed Marker than the foreword penned by historian Stanley Wolpert for the former diplomat’s autobiography, Quiet Diplomacy: Memoirs of an Ambassador of Pakistan: “One of Pakistan’s wisest diplomats, whose career as its most brilliant Ambassador started in 1964, ending with the Security Council of the United Nations in 1994.”

Article by Kemal Jufri—Newsweek, AFP


Jamsheed Kaikobad Ardeshir Marker (1922-2018), who died at his home in Karachi on June 21 at the age of 95, served Pakistan for three decades from Ghana to Romania and Bulgaria, the USSR and Finland, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Japan, France, and the United States of America. The multilingual diplomat—he spoke six languages—was honored for his lifetime of service with Pakistan’s second-highest civilian award, the Hilal-i-Imtiaz, in 2003. However, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Pakistan recognized his skills and talent only after realizing how greatly admired he was among the international community. In 1997, then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan tapped him to head a campaign to persuade Indonesia to do the legal thing by East Timor and allow it to become independent. Marker was instrumental in the success of that mission, as outlined in his second book, East Timor: A Memoir of the Negotiations for Independence.

Born on Nov. 24, 1922, Marker was from a distinguished Parsi family of Quetta. He rose to prominence in the 1950s as a radio cricket commentator alongside Omar Kureishi. The diplomatic career that defined the rest of his life began in 1964 when Aziz Ahmed, the foreign secretary under President Ayub Khan, offered him an ambassador’s post in Africa. As detailed in his memoirs, Marker picked Ghana for his post because he hoped to witness and get to know Kwame Nkrumah, the Ghanaian revolutionary who led his nation to independence from Britain.

In his 1997 book Pakistan: A Dream Gone Sour, Marker’s friend and one-time co-author Roedad Khan says that they were both attracted to Marxism while studying at Lahore’s Forman Christian College. If this was the case, Marker’s disenchantment from that political philosophy likely began in Ghana and filled the years that followed, culminating in the career of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. His views on the Ghana founder can be applied to lot of socialist leaders that he also got to observe, and of course Bhutto of Pakistan, whom he would serve later on: “Nkrumah’s policies, an amalgam of dynamic idealism, vainglorious self-promotion and ruthless repression, constituted a vivid enigma whose early impact continues to resonate on the African continent.”

Charisma accompanied autocratic enforcement of socialist utopia tipped with nationalization and state sector dominance, eventually resulting in the perfect mix for dictatorship. Marker could see the crisis that could result from replacing capitalism with socialism without adequate planning and told Nkrumah that Ghana was a rich country with poor people.

There is wisdom in this remark. The post-colonial presumption was that the resources exploited by colonial states would now be fully available to the liberated nations and that, by replacing capitalism with socialism, these would enrich the people. Marker appeared to realize that they were wrong on both counts. Without making too much a point of it, he outlined the crises facing Pakistan in his survey of the Foreign Office led by Bhutto: “My third observation was that the policy orientation of the Foreign Ministry was more than a few points to the left of the center, 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.”

Marker’s disenchantment with socialism was perhaps also linked to his career trajectory, which saw him represent Pakistan in many states that were trying to distance themselves from capitalism. After Ghana, he was sent to the Socialist Republic of Romania, which was followed by his first major mission in Moscow in 1969. The following year, election results prompted East Pakistan to succumb to a national campaign for independence. The global community reluctantly sided with the people of the newly minted Bangladesh. Moscow also backed India’s support for the new nation on the basis of a mutual defense treaty in 1972. Pakistan’s struggling democracy was perhaps summed up best by American diplomat Henry Kissinger, who told Marker: “Everywhere else in the world elections help to solve problems; in Pakistan they seem to create them.”


The author, Khaled Ahmed, right, interpreting for Marker in Moscow, 1971

While Marker’s autobiography is full of insights worth reading in full, the chapters on the USSR are particularly interesting in that they show the former diplomat in his true colors under pressure, standing up to the wrath of the Soviet leadership and defending a dictator at home who had mishandled the uprising in East Pakistan. It is apparent that this was not to Marker’s liking, but he was nonetheless the best ambassador Islamabad could have had in Moscow after losing East Pakistan. He was well-liked despite his tit-for-tat meetings with Soviet ministers and his circle of diplomatic friends was wide and his personal conduct immaculate, complete with an undying admiration for Russian literature and music. Everybody in the embassy thought he would be drummed out as a non grata ambassador, but just the opposite happened. When he left the Soviet Union in 1972 for a post in Canada, he was made a permanent citizen of Moscow by a visibly moved Soviet bureaucracy.

Marker, by now his nose for character quite developed, thought East Pakistan fell because of three men: “Mujibur Rehman, Zulfikar Ali 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.”

Marker did not win the battle for East Pakistan in Moscow, but he benefited in the shape of the friends he made in the world of diplomacy: the Western world sent its best men as envoys to the USSR. His friends Gunnar Jarring and Javier Pérez de Cuéllar both played their roles at the U.N. By then, Pakistan had also recognized that he was a good man to have for matters of multilateral diplomacy and began asking him to attend important sessions at the U.N.

marker-newsweekAfter a decade spent at 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. Recalling the incident in his book, he says: “The final report, conveyed to me verbally by [French official] de Grossouvre after about six weeks, was that the incident had commenced in a restaurant in Nice, where the immediate Bhutto family, comprising Begum Nusrat, Benazir, Sanam, Murtaza, and Shahnawaz, together with their wives, had gathered for dinner. There was a heated conversation, reportedly over money matters, and the brothers came to blows.”

He goes on: “The party then broke up, and Shahnawaz and his wife, after returning to their hotel room, were followed by Murtaza, and another altercation took place between the brothers. The French police, when they arrived at the scene a little later found that Shahnawaz was dead and accordingly arrested his wife and Murtaza. The latter was released on production of a Syrian diplomatic passport and immediately fled the country. Shahnawaz’s wife was charged under a French law that imposes culpability on any person that fails to assist or call for assistance, in aid of a victim in distress.”

He concludes: “I was told that she had obtained a lawyer and was prepared to defend herself but was dissuaded from doing so by the family, and eventually left the country. Although no autopsy was carried out, the French thought that a drug overdose was the cause of death. I was told that the French Law Minister Robert Badinter, who was a friend of the Bhutto family, had helped in bringing the unsavory affair to a close.”

Four years later, in 1986, Marker was appointed Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., serving in the position for a year that would serve as the climax to his distinguished career. He has been attributed with helping negotiate the Soviet military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, while also dealing with General Zia-ul-Haq’s furtive development of nuclear weapons at home. Marker, thanks to his contacts across the world, was just the man to repeatedly postpone the many threats of sanctions facing Pakistan over its uranium enrichment, especially following the passage of the Pressler amendment a year earlier.

Writing in The New York Times in 1989, journalist Robert Pear noted Marker’s diplomatic success in the U.S.: “Jamsheed KA Marker, the Ambassador of Pakistan, is described as tough, shrewd and cultivated by State Department officials and members of Congress. Of all the diplomats in Washington, few work so intimately with the Reagan Administration as Mr. Marker. He has helped forge a joint strategy with the United States in one of the great geopolitical battles of the 1980s, the effort to expel the Soviet army from Afghanistan. In the process he has dramatically strengthened relations between Pakistan and the United States, American, officials say.”

For his part, Marker loved then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan, and was frequent host to diplomats Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. He also got along with the intellectually aloof Egyptian diplomat Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and enjoyed the company of many U.S. Congressmen. Facilitated by his friend Roedad Khan, Marker also felt comfortable with Zia-ul-Haq and Ghulam Ishaq Khan. This bonhomie did not continue into the government of Benazir Bhutto, formed after elections in 1988, despite Marker’s brother-in-law Darayus Cyrus Minwalla’s enthusiasm for the PPP leader.

As he notes in his memoir, Marker chose to resign rather than continue under potentially trying circumstances: “In this instance, there were two other factors that motivated my decision. One was my reservations with regard to Benazir’s style and management, not to mention the choice of her collaborators as there was a whiff of incompetence and corruption. The other was my conviction that any Pakistani ambassador in Washington must have direct access to, and must possess the confidence of, the head of government. In my case this was clearly not so.”

In 1990, after the dismissal of Benazir Bhutto on corruption charges, Marker was appointed Pakistan’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations. He would continue in that role until 1995. Pakistan was part of the Security Council at the time, and he presided over its proceedings three times in rotation.

One of Pakistan’s elder statesmen, Jamsheed Marker’s passing leaves a void that might be impossible to fill. Patriotic, principled and fiercely intelligent, he fought to keep the country engaged with the global community even as internal forces backed isolation. We may never see his like again.