Ambassador (Retired) Arif Kamal published his memoirs in January of this year under the title “Reminiscences Of My Wanderings”. He previously served as the Pakistani Ambassador to Qatar and Jordan. Prior to that, he worked as Consul General in Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah and held other posts in Canada, the former Soviet Union, Japan, and Kuwait.
Upon retirement from his 34-year-long diplomatic career lasting from 1973-2007, he chaired Global Studies at the National Defense University’s Institute of Strategic Studies, Research, and Analysis (ISSRA) from 2007-2017. Afterwards, he participated in Track II diplomacy on Kashmir, his homeland.
Ambassador Kamal and his experiences
As a son of the Kashmiri soil whose family fled from what is nowadays Illegally Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IIOJK) when he was just nine months old, Ambassador Kamal has always kept his homeland close to his heart. This inspired him to passionately support the Palestinian cause ever since his university years, which became a lifelong love of his.
The reader can feel his joy at occasionally reconnecting with his fellow colleagues from the University of Lahore while travelling all throughout West Asia, but one of the greatest personal satisfaction that he shares with everyone is when he recounts his travels to IIOJK after retirement.
Ambassador Kamal was privileged to meet many prominent figures including former Prime Ministers Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, and Nawaz Sharif, and former President Pervez Musharaff. He also had the honour of making the acquaintance of Saudi, Qatari, and Jordanian royals during his posts in their countries.
His storied career saw him experiencing everything from the Iranian Revolution during his time as Desk Officer Iran at the Foreign Office, the “Japanese Miracle” of the 1980s, the twilight years of the erstwhile USSR while it was struggling to extricate itself from the Afghan imbroglio, and the regional transformations in West Asia.
A must-read for Pakistanis
His reminiscences are a must-read for anyone interested in learning about those historic events from the perspective of one of Pakistan’s most experienced diplomats. It shines a spotlight on the making of history yet stays short of being prescriptive.
Ambassador Kamal also recounts many personal stories in his book too, some of which are amusing and help to lighten what would otherwise be a very serious read about International Affairs. It’s not all about political details though like some might expect from a former Ambassador since the author spends quite a lot of time sharing his insight about the intriguing milieus in which he worked.
Pakistanis will be particularly interested in learning about their diaspora communities across the world, which Ambassador Kamal spends considerable time describing.
He elaborates on his outreach efforts to each of them, and one story about an informal meeting that he held with some students in Saint Petersburg (then known as Leningrad) who had requested his assistance in regaining their Pakistani citizenship after surrendering it to become Afghans stood out as unforgettable because of how it was wrongly perceived by the Soviet authorities at the time. Other similar anecdotes, albeit of a less scandalous nature, abound throughout the book.
Read more: Pakistan’s Educational Assistance to Afghans
An incredible insight
One unmistakable thread permeates all throughout, and that’s Ambassador Kamal’s observations about the unique blends of tradition and modernity that he experienced first-hand throughout his many travels.
Important lessons can be learned about this from his time in Japan and Jordan in particular, the latter of which he creatively described as embodying the “Hashemite touch”. It’s also really educational to hear about his impressions of Canada’s multiculturalism and the so-called “cultural Muslims” from the former USSR as it was undergoing profound changes catalyzed by the twin policies of glasnost and perestroika.
Ambassador Kamal’s book is very candid and he doesn’t shy away from sharing his thoughts about some of the challenges in his profession. These importantly include the influence of Pakistani domestic political factors on his work, which sometimes directly affected his career, as well as the difficulties in raising children while moving between so many diverse countries.
There are crucial lessons for aspiring diplomats and decision-makers in his text, which deserve to be deeply reflected on in order to learn from his insight. Altogether, his reminiscences are a very enjoyable read and highly recommended for casual readers and political enthusiasts alike.
Andrew Korybko is a political analyst, radio host, and regular contributor to several online outlets. He specializes in Russian affairs and geopolitics, specifically the US strategy in Eurasia. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of Global Village Space.