Jamsheed Marker at his home in Karachi | Malika Abbas, White Star
Jamsheed Marker at his home in Karachi | Malika Abbas, White Star

Sitting with, and listening to, Jamsheed Marker is a fulfilling experience. History, diplomacy, anecdotes about politicians, music, culture, and a lot of cricket — he enlightens his audience in many ways. At 94, he possesses a remarkable memory and speaks coherently even though his physical weakness has bound him to a wheelchair.

Marker has been Pakistan’s ambassador in more countries than any other diplomat. He has a plethora of information and memories from those assignments in different capitals of the world. He has seen the formative phase of Pakistan from close quarters and is witness to some of the most decisive phases of the country’s history, the separation of East Pakistan being one.

Cricket has also been Marker’s passion. He dawned on the horizon of Pakistani cricket as its earliest commentator along with the redoubtable Omar Kureishi. The two had amazing chemistry that made cricket commentary in Pakistan as popular as the sport itself.

Marker, who comes from a Parsi business family, is a lover of music and the arts. He spends a lot of time in his study where walls are lined with bookracks, memorabilia, paintings and photographs.

Syed Jaffar Ahmed. A number of books have come out in the last 15 years or so that talk about Pakistan as a failed or failing state. After such a long and rich experience of living in Pakistan, how do you see its future?

Jamsheed Marker. During the creation of Pakistan, there were doubts whether the state would come into existence at all. I remember a party one evening at New Delhi Club where a group of people – Hindus, Muslims and Europeans – were arguing fiercely and plenty of whiskey was flowing around. This was sometime in July 1947. The subject was ‘how long Pakistan will last — six months or six years’. I heard [someone] saying, ‘They will come back begging to us within three months, asking us to take them back.’ Now that was the attitude of a lot of people. We had nothing. When I say nothing I mean minus, zero. It was just the iron will of this man [Muhammed Ali Jinnah] who really put this country out. He said, ‘There is no need to get scared; we will survive.’

"Liaquat Ali Khan was in complete command but he exercised his power in an exemplary fashion"

From Delhi, I came to Karachi. As I was driving [from the airport to the Cantt railway station], 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. The situation was such where you couldn’t be happy. You’d see children in their bloodied clothes crying and mothers on the roads yelling. But those people had unbelievable passion — all because of this one man. They were determined to survive any situation.

Ahmed. How did this resolve continue after Quaid-e-Azam died?

Marker. We had Liaquat [Ali Khan] who was a man of impeccable devotion for Pakistan. The things this man did –– you cannot believe that they can be done here. He left a lot of his property, thousands of acres, in his hometown [in India]. The house he had in Delhi was in the best locality. He knew what he had to do for Pakistan. He led from the front and he was totally, totally devoted. His last words were ‘Allah Pakistan ki hifazat kare’ (May God protect Pakistan).

Ahmed. How did you get to know Liaquat Ali Khan?

Marker. Karachi was a small city and everybody knew everybody else. We happened to have a friendship with begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan and the prime minister.

People were trying to destroy what we had and were trying to see what they can get out of it. All those flatterers one day came to Liaquat Ali Khan and said, ‘Sir, you should have an Englishman as a military secretary. You should have those British ADCs (aide-de-camps). These are your entitlements. [The flatterers] didn’t think we had the capability of handling [those duties].

Liaquat Ali Khan said, ‘I’m the prime minister. I decide these matters. I don’t need this kind of privilege. If I put an Englishman there, it’ll be because I think that is what is needed for Pakistan. I’m not moved or impressed by these goras in their uniforms.’

Marker at the United Nations | Courtesy Jamsheed Marker
Marker at the United Nations | Courtesy Jamsheed Marker

Ahmed. During the time of Quaid-e-Azam and Liaquat Ali Khan, the bureaucracy had started taking over the power of the state. How did that happen?

Marker. Liaquat Ali Khan was in complete command but he exercised his power in an exemplary fashion. He said, ‘There has to be a system and we have to work under that.’ If we had two or three people more like Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan would have seen it through. Our leaders saw Pakistan as an opportunity for themselves, not as an opportunity for the people or the country.

Ahmed. When did you have your fist encounter with people in power?

Marker. It was in the late 1940s. I was in the naval selection board, working under the Government of India’s home department. Morarji Desai [who would become India’s prime minister later] was working as home minister [in the pre-Partition administration]. He came to inspect us in this small place called Porbandar near Pune. Our office used to be in an old Shivaji fort. [Desai] was Gujarati-speaking like me. He asked me what I thought of [independence]. In those days, we had Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in our selection board so I told him to keep that intact but he said, ‘This will never go on because there is too much impartiality [in it].’ I asked why it couldn’t be done if there was will for it. He said we would have to find something better suited to the genius of our politicians than [to that of] our people.

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 the government. My family was there and my business was there. 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.’

We had a family business of shipping and chemicals based in Keamari, Karachi. Right until 1952, I used to drive from Karachi to Quetta in my own car and I never experienced any security problems. We used to leave at around 10 pm, spend the night in Sukkur and go on to Sibi and then to Quetta. The whole journey was done by night because of the hot weather. We never feared anything. If there was ever any accident, 20 bus drivers would come along to help within 10 minutes. It was a totally different [environment].

"There was no concept of bribery at the time. Nobody could even think about it"

Ahmed. Who else were you in touch with among the leaders after Partition?

Marker. There was I I Chundrigar, Fazlur Rehman (the education minister), Khawaja Nazimuddin. They were all very dedicated people.

Ahmed. There is this perception about Nazimuddin that he never allowed himself to act as governor general while Liaquat Ali Khan was alive.

Marker. They were all a team. They used to get together and work hard to solve the problems. Nazimuddin was not the brightest of them, but he was an honest and modest man. There was no concept of bribery at the time. Nobody could even think about it. Like I told you before, Liaquat Ali Khan refused all the honours and [forsook] all his properties. A lot of Hindus left their properties here during Partition and the same happened on the other side. There was a law about evacuee properties. The government appointed people to distribute those properties to the ones who didn’t have anything.

Ahmed. There are allegations that false claims were made to get evacuee properties. That is how the process of corruption started. Is it true?

Marker. Yes, it started [then] and Liaquat Ali Khan tried his best to shut it down. I remember we used to meet at his house for an informal lunch. He was a very punctual man. Everything had to be done according to schedule. The time for lunch was 1 pm, and we were there on time but he was late by about half an hour. Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan was angry with him. When he walked in, Ra’ana said, ‘It’s very shameful that you kept your guest waiting. How can you do something like that?’ Liaquat Ali Khan was normally a very polite and calm man and that was the first time, perhaps the only time, I saw him in a fury. He said, ‘You don’t know what has happened to me. These bureaucrats will finish us.’

We came to know later that the property department’s secretary had brought a file to him, trying to get his signature for the allotment of land to Liaquat Ali Khan himself. When asked about it, the secretary said, ‘These are your entitlements. These are, in fact, much less than what you should have gotten.’ Liaquat Ali Khan looked out of the window of the prime minister’s house at the slums which were all over the country at the time. He took the file and threw it across the room. ‘Look here, go and see those slums outside. Look at the condition of those poor people. When you have taken care of all of them and resettled them, then you bring this file to me.’

Jamsheed Marker (L) with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (R) | Courtesy Jamsheed Marker
Jamsheed Marker (L) with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (R) | Courtesy Jamsheed Marker

Ahmed. How right was it for Pakistan to opt for joining the Western Bloc when Mohammad Ali Bogra was the prime minister, rather than adopting a non-aligned policy?

Marker. Everyone asks me this question. The answer is that, at the time, it was in our national interest to be friends with the Americans. The whole world was looking towards America because it was the only country with money. We beat the Indians to it. This was a great stroke of diplomacy. At the time, the Indians were furious that we had managed to secure the Americans first. [It] was a great success.

Ahmed. Don’t you think that a non-aligned policy would have been more useful for Pakistan?

Marker. Not under the circumstances then prevailing. The pressure from India was so great that this was the only way Pakistan could have stood up to the Indians.

Ahmed. Was the Indian threat real or did we make more of it than was necessary?

Marker. The threat was real. [The Indians] made it quite clear that they were out to break Pakistan one way or the other, by hook or by crook. Every attempt was made to demolish and destroy Pakistan. [India would have attacked Pakistan] if Krishna Menon had been successful in bringing around [Pandit Jawaharlal] Nehru, and if the Chinese had not thrown the Indians out [in the 1962 war]. I mean, he was completely Nehru’s man and he was a rare, evil genius and a Rasputin. There were many Indian Rasputins but he was the chief Rasputin.

It was also due to Quaid-e-Azam’s obduracy that no Hindu engineer, civil servant or politician opted for Pakistan. Though many Hindus lived in East Pakistan, we did not mentally [accept them as Pakistanis]. That was the beginning of the struggle between East and West Pakistan. Here, two things happened. The first was when Jinnah said Urdu would be the national language of Pakistan. I think it was a major blunder. One of the few he has made.

"We behaved abnormally, with contempt, towards the Bengalis. It was a very difficult situation to begin with."

It was a blunder which undid all the work that he had done for the creation [of Pakistan]. And then Miss [Fatima] Jinnah did the same kind of thing. [People in East Pakistan] were already in a very sensitive mood and there was already an attitude [in West Pakistan] of looking down upon the Bengalis. It was an attitude.

Once we were in Dhaka for a cricket match. I told all my friends to look at the enthusiasm of the crowd for the Pakistani team. I was in awe of that, with so many Bengalis [cheering for Pakistan]. But we did not have a single Bengali [player in our team]. It was the most colonial dismissal with which they said, ‘These Bengalis cannot play cricket.’ How the succession of [East] Bengal [from Pakistan happened] is another historical thing. Can you think of another country in which the majority secedes from the minority?

Ahmed. If this colonial mindset was there in the selection of the cricket team, don’t you think it was also there in the domains of politics and statecraft?

Marker. There was. We behaved abnormally, with contempt, towards the Bengalis. It was a very difficult situation to begin with. There was the issue of population [disparity], wherein the majority was being controlled by the minority. We never accepted [the Bengalis] wholeheartedly.

Ahmed. How do you look at the emergence of the military’s power in statecraft?

Marker. West Pakistan’s politicians brought it on themselves. They raised this tiger themselves and today we are facing the consequences of that. Before independence, it was very hard to find Muslim army officers. The senior ones were either Englishmen or Hindus. This tradition passed on after independence.

Marker with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan | Courtesy Jamsheed Marker
Marker with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan | Courtesy Jamsheed Marker

Ahmed. You have been Pakistan’s ambassador in more countries than perhaps any other ambassador…...

Marker. I always submitted my resignation each time the government changed ... I was not in the [Foreign] Service so I did not have to hack my way to the top [to become an ambassador].

Ahmed. In 1965, Pakistan had started gravitating towards China, and the United States had started to have a very sceptical view of Pakistan…...

Marker. Yes, and the [Americans] bullied us like hell. They bullied us over India, telling us that India is a good country and is our neighbour and that we should be friends with it.

Ahmed. Who was the architect of Pakistan’s relations with China?

Marker. [Huseyn Shaheed] Suhrawardy, unquestionably. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto [came to it later], going around wearing those Mao caps.

Ahmed. But Suhrawardy remained prime minister for only thirteen months in 1956 and 1957.

Marker. What is important about [relations with China] is that it did not change, but it was only redirected [when Bhutto became foreign minister].

"It did [annoy the world] and the Indians exploited that. They said Pakistan had a slave’s mentality towards the West."

Ahmed. What do you say about Suhrawardy’s position on the Suez Canal Crisis when he supported the West against Egypt?

Marker. He said the Arabs were zero plus zero plus zero and he was quite right. They were thoroughly useless.

Ahmed. But didn’t it annoy people around the world? Nationalistic feelings were on the rise at the time?

Marker. It did [annoy the world] and the Indians exploited that. They said Pakistan had a slave’s mentality towards the West.

Ahmed. In 1969, Bhutto wrote The Myth of Independence in which he observed that we went an extra mile to befriend the United States, yet the United States did not fully reciprocate. To what extent was his analysis correct?

Marker. Bhutto’s foreign policy for Pakistan was what was good for Bhutto. Deep down, he didn’t care about Pakistan ... [Even when he was running a pro-China foreign policy], he was accumulating support and recognition for himself. He got that recognition, even from China that [felt], ‘He could be our man.’

Ahmed. But Bhutto was not the only person running the state. He remained foreign minister for not more than three years. I mean, Ayub Khan was there. The military establishment was there and both were more powerful than the foreign minister.

Marker. They were very fiercely supported by Bhutto because he knew that was where the power rested in Pakistan –– in the General Headquarters.

Marker (far-left) and his wife (far-right) pose with Ronald and Nancy Reagan | Courtesy Jamsheed Marker
Marker (far-left) and his wife (far-right) pose with Ronald and Nancy Reagan | Courtesy Jamsheed Marker

Ahmed. Let’s move to the separation of East Pakistan. Who do you hold responsible for that?

Marker. It’s easy. There were three people: Yahya Khan, Bhutto and Shiekh Mujibur Rahman –– and each of them [for] his own reason. There’s no question about that.

Ahmed. Mujib was in Suhrawardy’s party so how did he become a breaker of Pakistan?

Marker. Because he had organised the Bengalis in the direction [of separation]. I was there when there was a fierce discussion between Mujibur Rahman and Suhrawardy [at an] informal get-together. Mujib attacked Suhrawardy and asked why he had accepted [electoral] parity [between the two wings of the country] in 1955. He said that East Pakistan had the majority and the power was all theirs to wield. He kept quoting the 1940 resolution — and correctly so as [to highlight the rights of East Pakistan].

I see no reason why, at the time, they could not have got together [to talk]. It would have worked, it would’ve been messy but there might not have been this horrible bloodshed.

Ahmed. Mujibur Rahman could have become the prime minister of all of Pakistan with the parliamentary majority he had.

Marker. I don’t think so. I think he was being maligned [so that he could not become the prime minister]. Although it was not horrible to think of him as our prime minister, but the kind of noise that was being made about him at the time was a wrong thing to do.

Ahmed. Do you think it would have been wrong if the country was given to him?

Marker. As long as he had maintained a coalition with the Baloch [political parties], that would have kept Pakistan together. A combination of Balochistan and [East] Bengal would have held Pakistan together. [But] Yahya was determined to remain in power and he had some assurance from Bhutto. Bhutto pursued [the idea that giving power to the Bengalis would upset the whole civil-military arrangement]. He realised that this was the only way in which he could have become the ruler of the country.

"The fact is that we surely used to have our relationship with China before [Bhutto] and afterwards, of course, it was Ziaul Haq [who took care of the nuclear programme]."

Ahmed. How do you look back at Bhutto’s tenure?

Marker. Three events turned the course of history in Pakistan. The first was Ayub Khan’s martial law which was entirely peaceful. People were happy. The second was when Bhutto came and changed the thinking of Pakistan. As a taxi driver in New York once told me, ‘Sir, he gave us our freedom to speak.’

And the third was Ziaul Haq’s [takeover of power]. He was a cold but patriotic man. Zia inflicted a lot of damage on Pakistan but he also stood up for our nuclear programme. If it weren’t for him and [Air Marshal] Nur Khan, [the nuclear programme] wouldn’t have been possible.

Ahmed. Wasn’t Bhutto the initiator of that programme?

Marker. That is what his soldiers claimed. He also claimed to be the initiator of relations with China. [Both] are key elements in the strengthening of Pakistan. But the fact is that we surely used to have our relationship with China before [Bhutto] and afterwards, of course, it was Ziaul Haq [who took care of the nuclear programme].

Ahmed. Coming back to my very first question, how do you look at Pakistan’s future? Marker. The people of Pakistan have been let down by political [leaders]. As long as that continues, we will continue to lurch. The other thing I am depressed about is that everyone feels that we ought to be friendly with India –– everyone except India. We have to stop this rivalry and avoid wasting resources [on it].

Ahmed. People talk about the Quaid’s speech of 1947 to argue that he envisaged a democratic, secular Pakistan. Do you think this is what our national narrative should be?

Marker. You can’t be talking of the 12th century at the present time and hope for it to be successful. There was this reception held at a banker’s conference during Ziaul Haq’s time where I asked a German how the conference was going. He said very badly. I said what happened and he said, ‘In the 20th century, we are talking of bringing banking procedures of the 14th century. We don’t see any benefit in it nor are we interested in it. If that’s the way you decide to go, then God help you.’

Marker with his wife | Courtesy Jamsheed Marker
Marker with his wife | Courtesy Jamsheed Marker

Ahmed. If Ziaul Haq promoted religious fundamentalism, why do you give him credit for good things?

Marker. One good thing, for which I give him credit for more than any other, is that he stood up to the Americans on the nuclear issue. Pakistan was playing in the hands of the Americans and had agreed to become the front line state vis-a-vis Afghanistan. It was either the sagacity of Ziaul Haq or the Americans preferred to overlook it, but that enabled us to complete the nuclear plant. It was Ziaul Haq’s determination to take whatever the Americans would throw at him as long as he could [continue work on the plant]. The Americans were in no way going to kill us for that.

Ahmed. There is a narrative that flows from Quaid’s August 11 speech — that the state will have nothing to do with religious affiliations of the citizens. Then there is another narrative that flows from Ziaul Haq — that takes us to a theocratic Pakistan. Where do you think the future lies?

Marker. I think it’s one of Pakistan’s greatest misfortunes that we have been forced into this fundamentalist mindset. Nowif we’re talking in terms of democracy, you have to accept that we are being driven by the force [of popular will]. If we reject it, that will mean a conflict. There has to be popular consent. And I fear we are losing the battle [for that]. We are taking these poor people to the wrong path. [We should take them] towards the secular part of the narrative.

Ahmed. How do you recall your days as a cricket commentator, working alongside the late Omar Kureishi?

Marker. He was a great friend of mine. He brought cricket not only to Pakistan but spread it to South Asia. It is incongruous [with our culture]. It is not one of our instinctive national games. It is an expensive game.

Ahmed. If I were to ask you about the three greatest Pakistani cricketers, who would you name?

Marker. I’m not following cricket these days. [Abdul Hafeez] Kardar, Fazal Mahmood and Imtiaz Ahmed are my favourites and, oh yes, the Little Master [Hanif Mohammed] too.

I have been disappointed, I must say, [with how the game has evolved]. In the old classic days, the players went on to the field like white sparrows, not dressed like clowns.

Ahmed. Cricket is not just about sport, it is also about values. How do you assess its evolution in the context of values?

Marker. Values were bound to change because cricket has not been able to sustain itself in the present. Look at how county cricket has changed in England. Nobody has time now. Somebody asked Danny Kaye, the American humorist and actor, about his experience after he had been to Lords to see a cricket match. He said, ‘I have seen cricket, and I know it isn’t true.'

This article was originally published in the Herald's February 2017 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.

The writer is a professor of politics and history, and holds a PhD in social and political sciences.