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OP-ED: In memoriam

  • Published at 01:06 am December 30th, 2020
Syed Muazzem Ali
Syed Muazzem Ali: A brilliant diplomat with a career spanning five decades COLLECTED

This outstanding diplomat passed away on this day a year ago

Bangladesh during the past 50 years has produced some excellent diplomats, who have served the country with dedication and courage. In the pantheon of distinguished diplomats, it is worth recalling the contribution of our senior diplomats who played a critical role during the Liberation War, and who made an invaluable contribution to the establishment of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the diplomatic service of the country.

This first generation of senior diplomats was assisted by a group of hard-working mid-level and junior diplomats, who in the course of time rose to occupy the senior-most positions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as heads of mission in key countries. One such diplomat was Syed Muazzem Ali, who after a diplomatic career spanning five decades left us one year ago today.

I happened to be in Delhi last year in December, and was invited to attend the farewell reception hosted by our departing High Commissioner Syed Muazzem Ali and his wife Tuhfa, at their residence on December 10. The reception was a grand affair, present were members of the diplomatic corps, senior government officials, retired Indian diplomats, senior leaders from the business community and civil society, academicians, journalists, and many others from various walks of life -- it was a veritable who’s who of Delhi. 

To cap it off, the reception was also attended by the Indian Minister of External Affairs, Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who gave a speech at the reception in which he paid tribute to Muazzem for the important contribution he had made in strengthening Indo-Bangladesh relations. This was undoubtedly a very special gesture. 

But little were we to know that this farewell reception was a final farewell, for only 20 days later, back in Dhaka, Muazzem on December 30 died of a heart attack. Leaving behind his family, friends, and colleagues to mourn the death of a freedom fighter, an outstanding diplomat, a loving husband, a proud father, and a doting grandfather, a man of courage and principles. 

My wife Nasrin and I first met Muazzem and his wife Tuhfa in May 1976 in Warsaw, when we were on our way to Moscow from Belgrade. Nasrin and I, accompanied by our two small children, spent six days in Warsaw with them, where Muazzem was posted at the Bangladesh embassy. In February 1978, I was posted back to the Foreign Ministry as director general responsible for international organizations, the United Nations, and multilateral economic affairs. Shortly thereafter, Muazzem was to join me in the ministry as director international organizations. Thus, our friendship as colleagues was extended to a close working relationship. 

I was impressed by Muazzem’s capacity for hard work, his efficiency, dedication, and his professionalism. We worked extremely well as a team, and continued to do so when both of us moved from the ministry to the permanent mission in New York. During my tenure as foreign secretary, Muazzem was the Bangladesh ambassador to Iran, where he gave an extremely good account of himself, as he was to do in his subsequent postings in Paris as ambassador and permanent representative to Unesco, as foreign secretary, and finally as the Bangladesh high commissioner to India.   

Although Muazzem has left us, he will be remembered for his many achievements, the most notable of which was during his tenure as permanent representative to Unesco, when he spearheaded the adoption of a resolution by the Unesco general conference in November 1999 which resulted in February 21, a day solemnly observed in Bangladesh every year in memory of the martyrs of the language movement, to be commemorated throughout the world as International Mother Language Day.  

Muazzem wrote in great detail about this momentous event in the chapter contributed by him for the book titled, Serving the Nation: Reflections of Bangladesh Diplomats, published by the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute. 

I will remember Muazzem for his many qualities, including his sense of humour. We had several good addas together, laced with laughter, spanning nearly 50 years. We usually agreed on most matters, but he never hesitated to argue his case and stand up for what he felt was right. He was always respectful of his senior colleagues, and believed in extending a helping hand to his juniors. 

He and Tuhfa worked extremely well as a team, she was an enormous asset for him throughout his diplomatic career. As we look back on the life and career of Muazzem, we can share with Tuhfa and her two sons, Nausher and Nageeb, their feelings of enormous loss, while at the same time also sharing their sense of pride and admiration for the life of one of our outstanding diplomats.

Farooq Sobhan is Distinguished Fellow, Bangladesh Enterprise Institute.

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