Try as you may, it is difficult to set clichés aside and not judge a book by its cover. With the faces of Ayub Khan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Ziaul Haq and other leaders staring right at you, the cover of Jamsheed Marker’s Cover Point may give the impression of being just another self-indulgent reflection of a celebrated diplomat. But it is Marker’s name and legacy that immediately dispel any concerns of the book being a mundane memoir. Marker states that the book is “neither history nor biography nor memorabilia”. He calls it a compendium of recollections and reflections. And standing from the vantage Marker describes as cover point – “near enough to the wicket to follow the immediate action around the stumps and yet sufficiently distant for a general overview of the state of play” – he has written an insightful account of his interaction with the country’s top leadership.
Marker served as an officer in the Royal Indian Naval Volunteer Reserve during World War II and joined his family business when the war ended. In 1965, he was appointed as High Commissioner of Pakistan to Ghana, which marked the beginning of a long, distinguished career as a diplomat in various parts of the world. He is the recipient of too many awards to list here. But it is important to keep Marker’s credentials in mind before attempting to understand the reasons for sharing his experience with the world. At his age and stature, Marker is not one to feel the need to fawn over the dead or praise the living. His observations are at once honest and gracious. He actively refrains from highlighting personal vices unless they form the basis for a leader’s professional conduct. Marker’s Cover Point is an earnest and erudite impression of Pakistan’s rulers punctuated by his expansive experience in matters of state and policy.
Book review: A mountain of disappointment
The book opens with a chapter on the early days of Pakistan. In it, Marker terms not having met Jinnah one of the greatest regrets of his life. In his overview, however, he makes his admiration for the nation’s founder evident. Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan are two leaders Marker calls “incorruptible”. And with the exception of these two, all the others succumbed in their own ways to sycophancy and flattery, according to him. Every chapter, apart from two, is dedicated to a single leader. As is Marker’s intention, he elaborates in some detail why some leaders were not given enough public recognition (Haq), while in other cases such as Bhutto’s there was a need for ‘de-Stalinisation’. For the most part, Marker leaves this judgment to the reader, sticking to his observations in a manner that should appear to most as devoid of any personal prejudice.
The dedicated and competent patriot he is, it is sometimes painful to read Marker’s observations. For instance, he narrates how in the time of sanctions imposed by the US following nuclear tests by Pakistan in the 90s, Nawaz Sharif’s government expropriated all foreign currency holdings in banks, in exchange for Pakistani rupees at a depreciated rate.
People were urged to accept it as a sacrifice and tighten their belts. Marker, like others, became a victim of this arbitrary act. There were rumours then, and still persist, that the top leadership at the time closed their own foreign exchange accounts and remitted the proceeds abroad prior to the decision. Marker suspects the rumours were true. And so do many others, especially now, as the recent Panama Papers leak may further incriminate. The book is a fascinating read for all enthusiasts of history. It is a nuanced and well balanced assessment from a man who, in his own words, “has seen something of the world”. And he is not afraid to show it.
Title: Cover Point
Author: Jamsheed Marker
Publisher: Oxford University Press Pakistan
The writer is Features Editor at The Express Tribune. He tweets @haiderhabib
Published in The Express Tribune, April 10th, 2016.
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