Jamsheed Kaikobad Ardeshir Marker, from a distinguished Parsi family of Quetta, first became known as a cricket commentator, together with Omar Qureshi, during the 1950s. His diplomatic career began a decade later, in 1964, when Foreign Secretary Aziz Ahmed, under President Ayub Khan, offered him an ambassador’s post in Africa. Marker chose Ghana because he thought he could get to know Kwame Nkrumah, the charismatic new pan-African leader.
In his book Pakistan: A dream gone sour (1997), Marker’s friend and fellow civil servant Roedad Khan recalled that they had both been attracted to Marxism while studying at Lahore’s Forman Christian College. If true, the process of disenchantment in Marker would have begun in Ghana and continued in the years that followed, culminating in the career of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In this new memoir, Marker is scathing in his assessment of Nkrumah’s legacy: ‘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.’
His description of Nkrumah was to fit a lot of the other socialist leaders of Africa, including Gamal Abdel Nasser and Julius Nyerere, and, of course, Bhutto, under whom Marker would serve later. Bhutto took over Pakistan after the 1970 elections, whereupon he nationalised the economy, declaring socialism his political ideology. Without making too much an issue of it, Marker lays down the thesis for Pakistan’s early crisis when he surveys the Foreign Office he joined, with Bhutto as foreign minister: ‘The policy orientation of the Foreign Ministry was more than a few points to the left of the centre, and … it was being pushed further in that direction by Bhutto, despite Ayub’s reluctance and disinclination, and notwithstanding the undisguised suspicion of the Americans.’
After Ghana, Marker was sent to Romania and, thereafter, was given his first major mission in Moscow in 1969. The following year, elections led to a national campaign for independence in then-East Pakistan, in which Moscow sided with India. In Quiet Diplomacy, the chapters on the USSR show Marker in his true colours under pressure, standing up to the Soviet leadership and defending a dictator back home who had mishandled the uprising in East Pakistan. Indeed, Marker was the best ambassador to have in Moscow while losing the war in East Pakistan. His circle of diplomatic friends was wide and his personal conduct was immaculate, complete with a well-known admiration for Russian literature and music. Everybody in the embassy thought he would be drummed out, but just the opposite happened. When he left the Soviet Union in 1972 for Canada, he was made a permanent citizen of Moscow by a visibly moved Soviet bureaucracy.
Looking back, Marker feels East Pakistan fell because of three men:
Mujibur Rehman, Z A 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.
The right man
While Marker did not win the battle for East Pakistan in Moscow, he nonetheless benefited in the shape of the friends he made in the world of diplomacy. His friends Gunnar Jarring and Javier Perez de Cuellar, for instance, both later played significant roles at the UN. By then, Pakistan had recognised that Marker was a good man to have around in multilateral diplomacy, and began asking him to attend important sessions at the UN.
After postings in Tokyo, Geneva and Germany, Marker found himself in France in 1982. It was during this tenure that Shahnawaz Bhutto, Zulfikar’s son, was found dead in Nice. Marker casts some light on the matter, noting that the final report on the incident suggested that it had started in a restaurant in the town. ‘There was a heated conversation, reportedly over money matters, and the brothers [Shahnawaz and Murtaza] came to blows,’ Marker writes.
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 … The French police, when they arrived at the scene a little later found that Shahnawaz was dead … Although no autopsy was carried out, the French thought that a drug overdose was the cause of death.
From 1986 to 1987, Marker was ambassador to the United States, the climax of his career. This was the period during which General Zia ul-Haq was furtively developing a nuclear device. Again, Marker proved to be able to influence the US establishment to repeatedly postpone action on threats delivered by Washington related to Pakistan crossing ‘red lines’ on the enrichment of nuclear material. This stalling became untenable, however, after A Q Khan’s confessions to journalist Kuldip Nayar made it clear that Pakistan had attempted illegally access nuclear technologies. Thereafter, there was no holding back the US from invoking the Pakistan-specific Pressler Amendment, which since 1985 had required annual certification by the US president that Pakistan does not possess nuclear weapons. The Amendment had been regularly circumvented in the following years, largely due to Marker’s initial involvement.
Marker loved US President Ronald Reagan, and was frequent host to two titans of US foreign policy, Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. He got along with an intellectually aloof UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and enjoyed the company of many members of the US Congress. He also felt comfortable with Gen Zia and President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, facilitated by his friend, the ‘environmentalist Sherpa’ Roedad Khan. Although his brother-in-law, Happy Minwala, was greatly enthused over Benazir Bhutto’s victory in 1988, and worked for her, Marker discreetly resigned. ‘In this instance, there were two other factors that motivated my decision,’ he writes.
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.
From 1990 to 1992 and 1993 to 1994, Marker was Pakistan’s permanent representative at the United Nations. This was not, however, before he had seen the dismissal of Benazir back home after the ouster of two individuals: of Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo, following his spat with Gen Zia over the signing of the Geneva Accords to end the fighting in Afghanistan; and, later, of Nawaz Sharif by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. Pakistan was on the Security Council during Marker’s time with the UN, which led him to preside over the Council three times in rotation. During this period, the low points came when he heard the army chief, General Aslam Beg, lie about the first Iraq war, in 1990, declaring that the Americans would be defeated by Saddam Hussein. In this, he was stoked with ‘wishful ideological thinking’ by the then-head of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), General Javed Nasir. The military IQ in Pakistan, never very high, was in free fall.
One would not be wrong to say that Pakistan recognised Marker for what he was only 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 allow for the independence of East Timor, a mission that he completed successfully. In sum, one cannot but agree with the assessment of Stanley Wolpert in his foreword to this book, in which he describes Marker as ‘one of Pakistan’s wisest diplomats’ – and one whose experience continues to hold potent lessons for today’s civil servants.