Remembering Dr. Humayun Khan: Icon Of Grace, Intellect And Diplomacy

Remembering Dr. Humayun Khan: Icon Of Grace, Intellect And Diplomacy
Saturday the 20th of November evening was a treat for music lovers of Islamabad. Shahmir Samee, the young talented freelance flautist and media composer from London and a graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, delighted music lovers with his excellent choice of pieces, some in “poco Adagio” and composed by Ian Clarke and Cesar Franck. The occasion was to honour the memory of his grandfather Dr. Humayun Khan, diplomat par excellence, civil servant, scholar, peacemaker and icon of grace, humility and diplomacy.

Affectionately called Humayun Lala by his fans and admirers, he was a role model for many young diplomats and upcoming officers of the Pakistan Foreign service. His legendary exploits and services to the nation will be remembered for all times to come. Very few career diplomats and civil servants can claim to have achieved what he did during his long innings as a civil servant and diplomat. He was that breed of diplomats who do not believe in the mantra of perpetual enmity with India and rejected the notion that India is necessarily hellbent on destroying Pakistan. As High Commissioner to India and as Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, he believed that the two countries can resolve their issues amicably only if India has a larger heart and Pakistan develops a more thoughtful head. He worked tirelessly to bring the two nations together and end the bitter enmity and hatred between the two countries who share a common heritage and deserve to live in peace and harmony. The death of Humayun Khan in 2022 Pakistan has resulted in the loss of a sage, a formidable diplomat, a fiercely patriotic citizen, an original thinker, a great humanist, a scholar and passionate believer in India-Pakistan friendship and prosperity for both countries.

Dr. Humayun was a Pashtun on the pattern of Bacha Khan or the ‘Frontier Gandhi,’ and not the dreadful religious extremists and Islamic militants like the Taliban. He belonged to the Mardan district and is known for a long distinguished and very impressive academic achievements. He attended Edwardes College Peshawar and Trinity College Cambridge. After his undergraduate degrees, he earned an honours degree and another MA from Cambridge University and then another MA and Doctorate from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. Not many can match the academic achievements and laurels that he earned by the dint of his intellect and sheer hard work.
One of the most enduring bilateral agreements between India and Pakistan, “The Agreement on the Prohibition of Attack against Nuclear Installations and Facilities (the “Non-Attack Agreement”) was signed by Khan and his Indian counterpart, K.P.S Menon

He was the scion of a very distinguished family and received his high school education at the Bishop Cotton School in Simla before going to Cambridge for his tripos. He began his career in the Civil service of Pakistan in the prestigious cadre of CSP and served mostly in the frontier regions including as political agent in Malakand and North Waziristan and then as home secretary for NWFP. In the 1970s, Khan was first seconded to and then permanently absorbed in the Pakistan Foreign Service

Dr. Humayun served in the country's missions at Moscow in the Soviet Union and the UN at Geneva before he was appointed Ambassador to Bangladesh in 1979. From 1984 to 1988 he served as Pakistan’s ambassador to New Delhi, India, and later went on to become the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, a position he would hold until 1989. From 1990 to 1992, Dr. Khan served as the Pakistan High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. Upon retirement in 1992, Dr. Khan was selected to head the Commonwealth Foundation, an inter-governmental international organisation. He would hold this position until 2000. Dr. Khan continued to remain active in the arena of public service. He worked with the Pakistan Centre for Philosophy and on numerous other committees dealing with relations between the countries of South Asia.

His educational achievements and extensive Foreign Service experience allowed him to make significant academic contributions in the realm of Indo-Pak relations. Humayun Lala did not have a magic wand to solve the problems between India and Pakistan but his simple formula for the end of enmity was that ‘India must have a larger heart and Pakistan must develop a more thoughtful head.’ If a large heart on India’s part coincided with the sensitive spirit of Pakistan, all problems and bitterness between the two nations would evaporate into thin air. Unfortunately he did not live long enough to see his lifelong dream turn into reality. Even his formidable adversaries within the Indian establishment spoke of his generosity in thought and action. The former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, Gopalaswami Parthasarathy, often seen as a hardliner, happily admitted that Khan “was a class apart.” Parthasarthy and Khan had co-authored a book, Diplomatic Divide, reminiscing about their lives in Islamabad and New Delhi, respectively.

In the early 1990s, he served as Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. TCA Raghavan, India’s High Commissioner to Islamabad from 2013-2015, described Khan as a “mentor and friend.” The brightest feather in his cap was his four-year stint as High Commissioner to India from 1984 to 1988. He was posted to Delhi during the last days of the Premiership of Indira Gandhi and stayed on during the time of Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto’s diplomatic honeymoon period, and managed many tricky twists and turns during that period in bilateral relations.

One of the most enduring bilateral agreements between India and Pakistan, “The Agreement on the Prohibition of Attack against Nuclear Installations and Facilities (the “Non-Attack Agreement”) was signed by Khan and his Indian counterpart, K.P.S Menon, on 31 December 1988. A notable failure during Khan’s tenure as Foreign Secretary was the inability to arrive at an agreement and disengage at the Siachen glacier. Both Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto, seeking a major foreign policy success (Rajiv Gandhi particularly after the fiasco in Sri Lanka and Nepal) had apparently personally intervened to give “political clearance” to a plan to demilitarise Siachen, but the agreement fell apart after meeting strong opposition from the Indian armed forces, unwilling to move out of the dominating heights of the Saltro ridge. Even in retirement and in his 80s, he remained very active in track-two diplomacy with India and made a meaningful contribution to the cause of peace between the two rivals of South Asia.

His efforts had the blessings of political leadership on both sides of the border. His was a voice of reason, restraint, moderation and nuance and he brought with him the highest drafting skills when demanded.

Dr. Humayun has left a void that will be – if not impossible – certainly very hard to fill. Pakistan is desperately in need of more individuals with the intellect, knowledge and sincerity of purpose as exhibited by Dr. Humayun Khan.