|by A.M. Rosenthal UN Correspondent, The New York Times.
The New York Times Magazine, March 15, 1953. @ 1952 by The New York Times Company.
This month, under the Security Council's rotation system of picking officers, the president's chair is being occupied by Prof. Ahmed Shah Bokhari, a Pakistani from the Khyber Pass country who is a scholar turned diplomat and in the opinion of the trade one of the two or three ablest representatives of a point of view - in his case, the Asian-Arab bloc - to turn up in the United Nations' seven years.
The proof of Bokhari' s standing among the professionals is easy to come by United Nations people - the people who file the memoranda, write their reports and mutter about the lack of space in the cafeteria - have become painfully used to speeches, to controversies and, above all, to delegates. But when the word gets around that Bokhari is in the chair or will make a speech, the audience always includes a sprinkling of Secretariat people I'" just come to admire.
It is not possible to determine exactly how much of his standing
as a diplomat's diplomat derives from Bokhan s personality and how much from what he stands for. A totally urbane individual whose idea of a good time is to bait his ferociously avant-garde writer friends, Bokhari makes speeches that sparkle with wit and by and large avoid the huge, meaningless generalities of diplomatic jargon. He has delivered U.N. staff workers from boredom and they are grateful. But U.N. people are politically minded and the essential reason they come to see and hear Bokhari is that they believe he has become probably the most effective spokesman of the Asian-Arab bloc, and these days the United Nations is aware of Asia to the point of hysteria.
Pakistan is a Council spokesman of the East, Middle and Far, only by political alignment. Technically, she holds a seat in the eleven-member Council as a representative of the British Commonwealth. By now the British and the Pakistanis are quite nonchalant about being on opposite sides of the political fence on issues of nationalism, and carry it all off with great sophistication.
One day in the Council, when the delegates were discussing Tunisia, which the Asian-Arabs wanted debated and the West didn't, Sir Gladwyn Jebb of the United Kingdom commented modestly that he was the tortoise and Bokhari the hare but after all the British Commonwealth was large enough for all kinds of political animals. Bokhari answered: "That is probably true. But if in the British Commonwealth there are any ostriches they are not found in my country."
During the Tunisian debate last year, Bokhari was in the President's chair under the monthly rotation system. He fought for putting the case on the agenda and lost. But he won some substantial victories, U.N. people think. First of all was the fact that he hammered home the idea that even though the Council had refused to debate French rule in Morocco, the door of the U.N. was not closed. And it was opened later, when the General Assembly added Tunisia and Morocco to its agenda. And there was a personal triumph when the seven days of debate were over, Bokhari, comparatively little known until then, was acknowledged to be one of the best speakers ever heard at the U.N.
The verbatim record alone does not explain the hold Bokhari has on his audience. (As a matter of fact, the verbatim record and Bokhari don't get along. He once quoted from Shakespeare to refer to the United States abstention on Tunisia as the "most unkindest cut of all". A verbatim record editor, who knows a grammatical error when he sees one, primly cut out the "most.")
Bokhari's hold on his audience is based on the fact that he presents his case in terms of people, not theory. He said once, speaking of the situation in North Africa: "We are like people who have seen a fire taking place. We are not guilty of arson ourselves. We have just seen the fire and we have come and reported it to this fire department, saying, 'Please, will you look at this fire and put it out?' The fire department says, 'We will not even look.' This is a strange situation."
Bokhari is the classic example of the full-cycle story which novelists like so much. From a boy of the Indian frontier country he developed into an intensely cultivated Cambridge product, one of the most cosmopolitan of diplomats, with not only a taste for the arts, but the ability to participate in them.
Peshawar, Bokhari's home town, is the capital of the North-West Frontier Province, once India's, now Pakistan's. When life got too difficult for a l0-year old to handle, Bokhari had an outlet - the Peshawar equivalent of running away with the circus, namely, tagging along with the next dawn departure of a caravan bound for Central Asia. The arm of the law and parental authority usually caught up with Bokhari at the Khyber Pass, about a dozen miles from Peshawar. "When I got home, I used to get a cool but warm reception," he remembers.
Multilingualism was part of the way of life at Peshawar and stayed with Bokhari. He used four languages at home - the local dialect, Persian, Urdu and Pashto. At Lahore College - he is on leave as principal now -he picked up a passion for phonetics. He is certainly the only U. N. delegate who ever took private lessons in Cockney. "It startles them a bit when I break out my Cockney in London restaurants," he says complacently, "but after the first shock they settle down to it."
In New York, Bokhari lives in a small house on a small street along the East River that is the quintessence of exclusivity. But it is a simply furnished home, strewn with books - books on tables and on the floor, books singly and books in piles. All of them are evidence of the academic life from which Pakistan's shortage of trained men diverted him into diplomacy.
Today Bokhari' s enthusiasm for diplomacy is strongly diluted by the parties, the endless round of cocktail parties and receptions, the endless vistas of the same people in the same rooms with the same talk. He comforts himself with the thought that at least the parties have historical significance. "They are a hangover from royal receptions," he reasons. "But in those days the equivalent of a cocktail party at least produced some excitement. A guest might wind up dead in the garden."
Bokhari thought about that contentedly for a moment and then sighed: "It was all quite worthwhile then. But nothing like that ever happens now."