Pakistan, A Diasporic History-V

Muhammad Najm Akbar

Immigrant children learning French or English and going through school systems became leaders in communication. They interpreted between cultures and acted as negotiators between the state’s education and social services, and their parents who had to invariably deal with these state and local institutions.  Children were also way ahead in technology and assimilation. Home bread terror did not demolish that logic but poked deep and dark holes into it.  London transport bombers of July 7, 2005, Shahzad Tanveer, Mohammad Sidique Khan, Hasib Mir Hussain, and Germaine Lindsay; Boston marathon bombers of April 2013, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev; and Paris/ Porte de Vincennes killers of January 2015, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly; Copenhagen killings suspect of mid-February 2015 Omar Abdel Hamid el-Hussein and British diaspora members working for extremist forces in the Middle East, for example,  defied that logic. Other incidents around the world caused equally horrible tremors.  Homebred terror showed how innocent souls could connect to networks of horror. There were examples of enlightened individuals as well. A French Muslim policeman, Ahmed Merabet, lost his life in an encounter with the terrorists in the street outside the Charlie Hebdo office. Another Malian Muslim, Lassana Bathily, saved lives during the kosher market siege.

Homebred terror conveyed a worrisome message. These lost souls raise questions that need further exploration and analysis to stop this mayhem.  I had known terror for the first time in Charlie Hebdo’s homeland, at the beginning of my diplomatic life in the mid-1980s.  France had then palpably trembled with terrorist bombings.  An investigating magistrate finally linked these atrocious incidents to a religious network. He sought to interview an Iranian national, Wahid Gordji, to advance his findings.  He was an interpreter at the Iranian Embassy. France had experienced a series of bombing up to June of 1987.  The French investigating magistrate issued Gordji’s arrest warrants for non-compliance with the summons. Iran claimed diplomatic immunity for the interpreter, lodged him at their Chancery building a la Julian Assange and denied access to the French authorities.  Amid tensions, to which a few other incidents also contributed, the two countries broke off diplomatic relations on July 17, 1987. The French placed barriers outside the Embassy to ensure Gordji would not escape.  They also blocked the section of Avenue d’Iéna where Iranians had their gorgeous chancery building.  Iran responded by putting a blockade around the French Embassy compound in Tehran.

I had seen all this through the eyes of the French news channels. The media had not gone 24/7 as yet but had enough coverage of current events in any case.  Within a few days, Ambassador Naik called me to his office.  Mr. Naik had a new assignment for his junior most diplomatic colleague. He asked me to go through a top-secret cipher message from Islamabad that became news within a few hours.  Pakistan had accepted to become the protecting power of Iranian interests in France. Late Mr. Naik wanted me to accompany him to the French Foreign Office. He wanted to communicate formally to the Quai d’Orsay that the Embassy of Pakistan will have an Iranian Interest Section. I became intensely involved in it because Mr. Naik and his team of senior diplomats had a far more important task on their hands. 

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, the late General (Retd) Sahabzada Yakub-Khan, had ambitiously decided to become the Director General of UNESCO.  His campaign faced enormous hurdles as delegates compared, contrasted, and questioned educational, academic, intellectual, and scholarly credentials in the competing field. Finally, the late Gisele Halimi, the Algerian-born French Permanent Delegate to the UNESCO Executive Board, decided to end his torment.  She disagreed with the French government’s decision to support the retired general. She preferred to resign from the Board instead of voting for a former general who, she reminded the intellectual body of the world, had been part of the Zia-ul-Haq cabinet that hanged Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.  Most paradoxically, a year later, the retired general retained the portfolio of Foreign Minister when the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s daughter, the late Benazir Bhutto, became the Prime Minister of Pakistan. She had to honor a deal that the military imposed on the top winner of the 1988 elections.  The next morning’s press in Pakistan carried a handout accusing the Jewish, Hindu, and Western lobbies of working against the prospects of a Pakistani Director General of UNESCO. Halimi was an icon of the long centuries of Arab/Muslim-Jewish coexistence in the Islamic world.  Accusing her of a conspiracy against Pakistan was typical of political distortions that afflicted human minds to generate a mindset responsible for hate and terrorism.  Chasing Gordji had a legal logic but Halimi in the corridors of UNESCO had put her finger on terrorism of another type. Pakistan had lived through a far more egregious and consistent pattern of violations of human rights and the right to life addressing which was equally indispensable.  No organized institution including the late Benazir Bhutto’s party could dare act against perpetrators of the longest martial law in Pakistan. The military regime took several innocent lives including that of Benazir Bhutto’s late father and committed irreversible excesses against the fundamental freedoms of Pakistani citizens.  Yaqub-Khan still believed that he had strong credentials to lead an international organization devoted to education and human rights.  He failed to succeed Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow.  Federico Mayor Zaragoza of Spain did. Pakistan lost its bid for leadership of UNESCO not because of some anti-Islamic conspiracy but because delegates did not see any correlation between the organization’s ethos and the candidature her diplomats promoted.  

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Najm Akbar

I have remained focused on the interface of history and policymaking while pursuing graduate studies in history at Fresno State, developing on three years of my education at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (MA 1995, MALD 2011). While teaching Urdu between 2005-2018, or holding diplomatic assignments between 1981-2002, the intersection between these two processes has been the mainspring of my personal, professional and intellectual pursuits. This platform would continue that endeavor.

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