Faruq Ahmed Choudhury
The passing of Faruq Ahmed Choudhury is fresh reason for us to recall the generation driven by idealism and sophistication he belonged to. His was a powerful presence in Bangladesh's diplomacy, given that he was part of the charmed circle of Bengalis who in their time made it, through merit and diligence, to the Pakistan Foreign Service.
Not many Bengalis were there in the administrative and diplomatic structure of the Pakistan state, but of the few who were, there are the instances of how they subsequently brought skills and abilities to bear on the making of Bangladesh as also on the way the new country operated in the councils of the world.
Faruq Choudhury was part of that world. In post-Liberation Bangladesh, he was witness to the possibilities opened up by a successful war for freedom, by the grandeur of the hopes held out by the government of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
His loyalty and esteem for the Father of the Nation were beyond question, a position for which those who usurped the State after mid-August 1975 sought in their many sinister ways to punish him. But nothing dampened Chowdhury's courage. Nothing came in the way of his belief that Bangabandhu was the nation's brightest hope, that his murder had shamed an entire country.
And yet, through the years that remained to him in terms of promoting and upholding Bangladesh's diplomacy abroad, Faruq Choudhury never wavered in his belief in the core principles of Bengali nationalism. On his assignments abroad, he presented the real image of Bangladesh to the world, the image which spoke of Bengali heritage and political history.
In retirement, he focused on life in a different ambience. He wrote books, works that provided remarkable evidence of his role as a witness to some of the more crucial of episodes in the history of this country. He reflected on his years in diplomacy, both in the Pakistan era and in independent Bangladesh.
Having served under political dispensations that clearly could not have made him comfortable, he nevertheless made it his aim to speak of the Bangladesh he knew, morally and historically, in his years in harness.
There was sophistication, of the old world kind, in Faruq Choudhury. Coming from a generation which prized principles above everything else, he let his thoughts take in the world and the many crises it encountered on a day to day basis. Foreign policy was his forte and listening to him dwelling on the nature and necessity and exigencies of diplomacy, especially for a nation like Bangladesh, was a delight.
He exuded optimism in his assessments of the future for Bangladesh. Wherever he served as the nation's diplomat, his urbanity carried the day. It was not for him to genuflect before men more influential than he --- and that included the powers that be. He loved his country, understood its cultural roots. And he served.
There resided an intellectual in Faruq Choudhury. He was attracted to ideas. And ideas flowed from him as well, proof of which is to be spotted in the books he wrote, twelve in all. He was not one to take life and its calling for granted, even in superannuation. Non-government organizations had their doors open for him.
The Awami League, with which he felt a deep affinity, was the beneficiary of his wisdom. He sought, post-retirement, no position. But he did believe he could contribute to a restoration of Bangladesh's ethos through helping to reclaim the space he knew was his and that of millions of others. That space was secularism and liberal democracy.
Faruq Choudhury was an observant man. His memoirs speak of the intensity with which he watched political men operate. In his early days as a Pakistani diplomat in Beijing, he saw how a young Zulfikar Ali Bhutto interacted with the Chinese leadership.
In Bangladesh, at the Commonwealth summit in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1975, he was impressed by the way in which Bangabandhu snubbed the otherwise suave Tanzanian leader Julius Nyerere over the latter's snide remarks on a sharing of pre-1971 assets and liabilities between Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The club of Bengali diplomats truly and fully attuned to the ways of the world dwindles yet once again with the twilight laying a claim on Faruq Choudhury's life. He will be missed, for he was a scholar-diplomat. That should be a reason for his legacy to be upheld in any deliberation on Bangladesh's foreign policy formulations.
Perhaps a Faruq Choudhury Centre of Diplomacy could be a thought.(The article is a reprint. Faruq Ahmed Choudhury passed away on 17 May 2017)
The writer is Editor-in-Charge, The Asian Age
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