The late Ambassador Mansoor Alam was a diplomat par excellence and a patriot who devoted his life to public service. Riaz Khokar, former Foreign Secretary, expressed the feelings of many: “Mansoor’s passing is a huge loss. He served the country with great distinction and dignity. He was a dear friend and a wonderful colleague, warm-hearted and generous and full of life. Zehra and Mansoor were a much sought-after diplomatic couple. I am deeply saddened by his loss.”
Mansoor Alam passed away in London in October 2017 due to a pulmonary cardiac arrest. He graduated from Karachi University, obtained a law degree, convinced the Islamia College to start an International Relations Department by visiting the then Head Master every day for six months and then becoming the new department’s first professor. He was a rebel at college, a student leader and a great debater. He qualified easily in the CSS exams and opted for the Foreign Service where he started his lifelong career as a diplomat in 1966. He was stationed in 11 countries, served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to 4 countries and was accredited Ambassador to over 15 countries.
I first met Mansoor 54 years ago. In 1963, he was two years my senior in the Department of International Relations at the University of Karachi. Participation in university debates brought us together. We were in the most forward-looking department, led by a stellar faculty, with figures such as Khursheed Hyder, Abdul Kadeer, Shamim Akhtar, Ahsan Choudhry and others. Mansoor’s distinct qualities and his self-assured bearing gave him a magnetic presence that was hard to miss.
We went our separate professional ways after graduating, yet remained close friends. He had a sharp, observant intellect, which was nourished by being a voracious reader of history, philosophy, art, religion, and poetry. He also acquired a confident familiarity with the formal processes and subtle nuances of diplomacy. He drew huge applause in Mexico City when he delivered his farewell speeches in fluent Spanish; he spoke Arabic and Farsi and learnt some Russian before arriving in Moscow. He was a man who bridged cultures, religions, and languages in an effortless manner and believed deeply in the power of dialogue. He expressed his views, verbally and in writing, with clarity and conviction and, where required, with circumspection.
In 1994 due to his encouragement and advocacy, Benazir Bhutto attended the UN-sponsored International Conference on Population and Development despite vocal opposition from militantly conservative Muslims
This was no more apparent than in his last two postings where he played a catalytic role behind the scenes in ensuring purposeful outcomes for two Prime Ministers of Pakistan. In 1994 due to his encouragement and strong advocacy, Benazir Bhutto decided to attend the UN-sponsored International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo despite vocal opposition from militantly conservative Muslims, treading a fragile line between the cultural sensitivities of some unduly influential segments of a predominantly Muslim society and the need to address the economic consequences of imbalanced population growth. Her visit was hailed as a great success and she was applauded for her decision by the Representative Patricia Schroeder of Colorado. She called Ms. Bhutto “the most courageous woman at the conference” as two other Muslim women who headed governments, Prime Ministers Tansu Ciller of Turkey and Khaleda Zia of Bangladesh, stayed home.
In 1999, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, after a meeting in Moscow, proclaimed that their two countries had opened a new chapter in bilateral relations. It was the first time in some twenty-five years that a Pakistani leader had visited Russia. At that time, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Moscow was considered the single most important diplomatic event in recent years, given the mutual distrust that had characterised Pakistan-Russian relations for the previous fifty years. That was a truly historic landmark.
After serving his country to such a high standard, he retired in 2001, but did not just sit back. He felt the urgent need to give back to the country from which he had been away for so long. Turning down yet another diplomatic mission, he set up a social service organisation to promote literacy and primary education for the poor. The NGO was called FLAME and it changed the lives of over 60,000 children over ten years. His initiative speedily mobilised communities and donors to eventually open over 250 non-formal schools in Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab.
Former Ambassador Aziz Ahmed Khan remembers Mansoor as “a great friend, a distinguished colleague and delightful company. One has so many memories of times together and of his and Zehra’s legendary hospitality. He had a distinguished career with important assignments at home and abroad. After retirement he dedicated himself to social service. He is deeply missed…”
Saquib Hameed, Chairman of the Layton-Rehmatullah Benevolent Trust also recalls: “Mansoor was a year junior to me in the University. He was a good student and a very good companion. As Ambassador he served the country in important world capitals. He was a good friend, a suave diplomat and a popular man in social circles. On retirement he helped spread the light of knowledge among the poor and dispossessed. He will be sorely missed.”
Yet nobility of the soul has disregard for accomplishments that bask in the public eye. And it was here that to those that knew him best, he was uniquely Mansoor. He would go out of his way in his daily life to single out those whom others overlooked, to give to those who had no expectation and to instill hope in those who struggled.
What I will miss about Mansoor is not only his gift of diplomacy and his ability to reach out to people across divides. I will miss his smile, his humour and his wisdom.
The writer is a former Senator and Federal Minister