My first meeting with Khalid Mahmood goes back to when I enrolled as a liberal arts student at Government College Lahore in 1966. It was my good fortune to be in the Economics class being taught by a young lecturer with plentiful hair on his head. In keeping with tradition we called him Sir, although it seemed odd because Khalid himself was very young; some of us suspected that he was a student from a senior class playing a prank on us by masquerading as a professor. However, soon enough, when he started to explain the theory of the “indifference curve” and the concept of “marginal utility” we began to take him seriously; he was earnest to get his message across even though his audience, including myself, was a bunch of juveniles in their teens who were in the process of discovering the marvels of Lolita and did not care much if the supply curve ever intersected with the demand curve.
Soon Khalid disappeared from the scene and one heard different stories of his whereabouts from the chatter in the tuck shop. The truth was that he had been poached by the head of the department of Economics at the Punjab University; this move made perfect sense because the student body there was comprised of students who were far more serious about learning Economics than the relatively less mature group at the college with an awesome spire. This change of scene also gave Khalid a perfect platform to prepare for the highly competitive examination to enter the country’s “Superior Service” which he passed with distinction and joined the roster of the Pakistan Foreign Service. Khalid’s time at the Punjab University was also splendidly rewarded by the opportunity to meet an absolutely wonderful woman, Saqiba, who was to later become his wife and his best friend for the rest of his life.
My next encounter with Khalid took place more than fifteen years after he had left Government College Lahore, and it was a chance meeting in Ankara in 1985 where Khalid was serving as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Pakistan in Turkey. I was at that time working for a New York-based international bank, and had just been assigned to Istanbul. Being fellow Ravians (a badge of honor flaunted by alumni of Government College, Lahore) it did not take long for the two of us to connect, and I immensely benefited from Khalid’s brilliant insights into Turkey, a geography that was quite new to me from a professional perspective.
On my second visit to Ankara, Khalid invited me to his home for dinner where I had the pleasure of meeting Saqiba and enjoying their gracious and generous hospitality. The icing on the cake was an introduction to two exquisitely well-mannered young girls, Farheen and Maheen, who were as charming as their parents. Over time my business visits to Ankara became more frequent and a dinner with the Mahmood family became an essential ritual. Farheen and Maheen, too, began to view me as a friend and it was an absolute joy to interact with them.
[quote]He landed his first assignment in Paris[/quote]
In one of our earlier meetings Khalid and I exchanged notes about our respective odysseys after the two of us had left Lahore. He landed his first assignment in Paris where he was sent to gain proficiency in the French language. His scholarly interests also took him to the US where he completed a Master’s degree at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. His other assignments outside of Pakistan, before coming to Ankara, included stints in Accra and Brussels; it was in these two capitals that he and Saqiba were gifted with their two beautiful daughters. In 1988 Khalid was once again assigned to Paris, this time as the Deputy Chief of Mission. His subsequent assignments were as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman that was followed by a posting as the Ambassador to the Republic of Poland with concurrent accreditation to the Czech Republic and the Republic of Belarus. After returning to headquarters in Islamabad, Khalid served as the Chief of Staff to the Foreign Minister until his retirement from service. At the time of his untimely death on April 22, 2014 – at the ripe young age of 69 – Khalid was in a meeting with Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri with whom he had worked very closely.
Khalid was a frequently sought-after speaker and delivered lectures at various prestigious institutions in Pakistan and abroad; these included the National Defense University at Islamabad, the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), National School of Public Policy at Lahore, the Omani Diplomatic Academy at Muscat, the College of Europe at Warsaw, the European Policy Center at Brussels, the Institut Francais des Relations Internationales (IFRI) at Paris and, last but not least, at the mecca of foreign policy discussion and debate known as the Chatham House in London.
Soon after reconnecting with Khalid in Ankara our wives and children got to know each other. Nigi and I, as well as our boys, cherish the lovely memories of the Mahmoods coming to stay with us in Istanbul and Cairo; we also treasure the memories of our stay with Khalid and Saqiba in their most beautiful home in Paris where the two of them and their lovely girls showered us with their affectionate warmth and hospitality. Our visits with each other widened the bandwidth of the friendship and, over the years, it continued to broaden.
Khalid possessed all the qualities, and much more, that enabled him to represent his country with the highest honor. At heart he was a scholar; a person who always relished pursuits that involved serious study and thought, and he had Saqiba as a partner to nurture and sharpen the intellectual side of his personality. While at Harvard he was a student of the world-renowned statesman and scholar, Joseph Nye. A few years ago I mentioned to Khalid that I would be meeting with Dr. Nye at a roundtable discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations and he asked me to convey his regards to him. When I met with the man I mentioned that one of his former students had asked me say hello to him. He laughed and said “Tell me more; I have so many former students”. Upon hearing the name he said “Khalid is not only my student but also my friend; he hosted a lovely dinner for me in Muscat”. Dr. Nye then went on to ask me a lot of questions about his former student and friend and wanted an update as to what Khalid was doing.
[quote]Khalid viewed name dropping and social maneuvering rather dimly[/quote]
Khalid was an extremely understated person; he viewed name dropping and social maneuvering rather dimly, and was never impressed by the hoity-toity types. Once he invited me to attend a Pakistan Day reception in Ankara. When I arrived I realized that Khalid and Saqiba were the principal hosts as the new Ambassador from Islamabad had not yet arrived to take up his assignment.
Soon after the guests started coming everybody was quite surprised by the arrival of Turkey’s then Prime Minister (later to be President) Turgut Ozal with Madame Semra on his arm. Khalid and Saqiba outdid themselves in hosting the event with great aplomb; it was a class act. The Turks loved the couple and even today, when my path crosses with those who were in government and business then, they always ask after Büyükelçi Khalid Bey.
The bond between Khalid and me assumed a new dimension after he had retired from the Foreign Service and I had left my full time job. He was now in top gear in his devotion to the second love of his life i.e., reading and writing. After retiring from my job I had become more involved with pursuits at the Council on Foreign Relations that included being part of Study Groups, Roundtable Discussions, and serving on Task Forces. This led to more frequent communications between the two of us. Khalid was not only most au courant in terms of global events but he was extremely rich in his analysis; this, of course, stemmed from his consummate experience of having trotted the globe as a diplomat, his penchant for history and, to boot, his study of economics. He was deeply versed through reading, and he read with an open mind; there was no orthodoxy in his thought processes that would make him feel weak in the knees if he had to revisit – and in some cases revise – his own paradigm on a particular issue. Khalid possessed the confidence of a scholar who was ready to discuss but would never be argumentative. Although we were far apart in terms of distance – he in Lahore and I in New York – we used to have long chats. Often we would read the same book and then share our thoughts on what we had read. We also shared and exchanged articles and papers. He would give me his assessment of what was happening in and around Pakistan and I, in turn, would share with him what I had heard and observed in the think-tank world in New York and Washington. When in doubt about something, I would pick up the telephone and seek the benefit of Khalid’s wisdom. He was always most thorough and intellectually honest in helping me seek clarity.
The long and frequent chats that Khalid and I had were serious without being businesslike; they were more in the tradition of a salon discussion. I used to throw in humorous anecdotes and analogies – some of them bordering on what could be perceived as being indelicate – which were only reciprocated by loud laughter from the other end. For me, personally, the news of Khalid’s death was quite devastating; I was planning to call him the next day, after Saqiba and Nigi (who is on a short visit to Lahore as I write these lines) had met for lunch. Of course that call will now not take place, regrettably there will be no more long distance salon discussions and, much to my sorrow, Khalid and I will never share the laughs that we used to laugh together.
Khalid’s absolute, total and complete honesty made him one of the finest people I have had the privilege of knowing. He never had an unkind word to say about anybody, even those who double-crossed him. He loved his country and, even in the choppiest of arguments, remained loyal to the cause of Pakistan. Khalid was a calm and publicity-shy person. After a distinguished performance in the Foreign Office, that spanned thirty-five years, he returned to academia; he was totally focused on a book covering a subject that, without any doubt, is most critical towards ensuring a better future for Pakistan. Through our countless discussions on this work-in-progress I know that Khalid’s heart and soul were passionately immersed in what he was doing.
I got to know Khalid as a teacher; the relationship transformed into a friendship. But through our frequent discussions I continued to learn from Mr. Integrity. In my heart and mind he will always remain both; my teacher as well as my dear friend. I will miss him sorely.
Khalid Bhai, Khuda Hafiz!