Remarks by Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood on Reference in honour of Late Former Foreign Secretary Dr. Humayun Khan
Begum Munawar Humayun Khan Sahiba,
Ambassador Shireen Safdar,
Ambassador Ashraf Jahangir Qazi,
We are gathered to remember and pay tribute to one of the giants of our diplomacy.
Former Foreign Secretary Dr. Humayun Khan, who passed away last week, embodied all the best qualities and attributes that one associates with a quintessential diplomat. As a professional, he was erudite, insightful, eloquent in speech and on paper, and articulated his perspective with both passion and nuance. As a human being he personified remarkable dignity, grace and integrity.
When I joined the Foreign Office, Dr. Humayun Khan was our High Commissioner to India. As Section Officer India-II, I would frequently get to see his communications, which were always rich in information, contained incisive assessments, and recommended a clear way forward. That was a great learning experience.
The next, and most enriching encounter was when President Zia-ul-Haq convened an Envoys Conference in the summer of 1988. Dr. Humayun Khan was assigned the task of leading the syndicate on ‘Pakistan-India Relations’. As a Section Officer in the India Directorate, I was attached with this syndicate to provide facilitation in its substantive and logistical work. The depth of Dr. Humayun Khan’s knowledge, his formidable command of the subject, his clear views were all so evident throughout the proceedings. For a young officer still probably in the probationary period, one could not ask for a greater opportunity to learn.
It was during the same Envoys Conference that the decision was made that Sattar Sahib would go to Moscow as our Ambassador and that Dr. Humayun Khan would be our next Foreign Secretary.
Shortly after that, I left for studies abroad and had no interaction with Dr. Humayun Khan as Foreign Secretary. But it was obvious that he commanded tremendous respect in the institution. He was then and remains to this day a role model for the officers of the Foreign Service.
Dr. Khan leaves behind an extraordinary and diverse legacy of service to the country. The lesson I draw from his life is that one does not have to hold any public office to perform public service. It is fitting, therefore, that we should celebrate Dr. Khan’s life, even as we mourn his passing.
Dr. Khan served Pakistan first as an officer in what we now call the Pakistan Administrative Service, then as a diplomat, and finally as an educationist and humanitarian. He also dabbled in politics, co-authored a celebrated book on Pakistan-India relations, and pursued his passion for rural development. Most of us struggle to do justice to one vocation in life; Dr. Khan excelled at four or five!
Of course, we are most familiar with Dr. Khan in his avatar as a diplomat and a member of the Foreign Service.
Besides serving with great distinction as Foreign Secretary between 1988 and 1989, Dr. Khan served as Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Bangladesh and the United Kingdom.
But perhaps the highlight of Dr. Khan’s career was, as mentioned earlier, his stint as Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India. His time in New Delhi helped shape Dr. Khan’s unique vision for the relationship between Pakistan and India. It also won him great respect and admiration in India. We have seen a glimpse of that in the glowing tributes coming from across the border in the past week. A former Indian High Commissioner described Dr. Khan as “a mentor and a friend; another called him “a class apart.” There can perhaps be no higher compliment for a Pakistani diplomat!
Let me conclude by conveying, on behalf of all my colleagues, our heartfelt and sincere condolences to Mrs. Humayun Khan and her daughters, who have honoured us their presence today. Our thoughts and prayers are with you in this hour of grief.
May Allah Almighty bless Dr. Humayun Khan with the highest rank in heaven and grant the family and all his loved ones sabr and fortitude to bear this irreparable loss. Ameen!