End of a diplomat’s odyssey: Riaz Hussain Khokhar (1942-2023)

former diplomat passes away

Riaz Hussain Khokhar, an eminent diplomat and former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, peacefully departed this world on Tuesday in Islamabad, succumbing to a brief illness, according to reports from private news channels. His legacy, woven with diplomatic prowess, remains an enduring chapter in the annals of Pakistan’s foreign service.

Few Pakistani diplomats have left as indelible a mark on the global diplomatic stage as Riaz Khokhar. Born in 1942, he embarked on a remarkable career that saw him represent Pakistan in key international capitals. His diplomatic journey began in earnest when he served as Pakistan’s envoy to Dhaka, New Delhi, Washington DC, and Beijing, culminating in his appointment as Foreign Secretary in 2002.

Khokhar’s pivotal role in shaping Pakistan’s foreign policy is underscored by his extensive diplomatic stints in India. He served as Pakistan’s political counsellor and deputy chief of mission in New Delhi from 1980 to 1985, followed by a distinguished tenure as High Commissioner from 1992 to 1997. He was present during some critical junctures for Pakistan’s foreign policy, such as the tragic assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984 and the visit of Zia-ul-Haq that came in the middle of heightened bilateral tensions.

The military’s role in foreign policy depends on how a civilian leader handles civil-military relations…I can say this because I have worked with four prime ministers.

Riaz Khokhar

Notably, Riaz Khokhar’s diplomatic career also coincided with some monumental historic events in Pakistan’s foreign relations. As Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States during the nuclear tests of May 1998, he navigated delicate diplomatic waters. And that is how Pakistan’s press remembers him too. “He occupied a ringside seat, as Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington DC, when Nawaz Sharif visited the United States for a hurriedly arranged meeting with President Bill Clinton in the summer of 1999 to bring an end to the Pakistan-India conflict in Kargil,” said a piece published in Herald Dawn in 2018.

A man of conviction and candor, Khokhar was renowned for his forthright yet diplomatic communication style. In 2018, he remarked on Pakistan’s complex relationship with the United States, stating, “Pakistan has always had very interesting relationships with other countries. We have been allies; we have shed blood together. And now we distrust each other.”

Reflecting on the military’s role in Pakistan’s foreign policy, he articulated a nuanced perspective, stating, “The military’s role in foreign policy depends on how a civilian leader handles civil-military relations.” Then added, “I can say this because I have worked with four prime ministers.” His insights into Indo-Pak relations demonstrated a keen understanding of the economic dynamics at play, urging serious and sustained negotiations for regional stability.

While details of his personal life remain shrouded in mystery, Riaz Khokhar’s professional legacy is one of profound impact. He leaves behind a diplomatic community mourning the loss of a stalwart who fearlessly championed Pakistan’s interests on the global stage. His contributions to fostering international understanding and his dedication to public service will be remembered with gratitude and respect.

In his own words, “There is no greater honour than serving and representing one’s country.” Riaz Hussain Khokhar’s legacy as a dedicated diplomat and patriot will endure, leaving an indomitable imprint on Pakistan’s diplomatic history. He is survived by his contributions to a world in need of committed statesmen. May he rest in peace.

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