The esteemed diplomat Riaz Khokhar has passed away

Ambassador Riaz Khokhar, a distinguished figure in Pakistani diplomacy, passed away on Tuesday, leaving behind a legacy spanning several decades of profound contributions to his country’s foreign relations.

Caretaker Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani, while expressing sincere condolences on Mr. Khokhar’s passing, characterized the former foreign secretary as a “role model” for the Foreign Service. His absence will be keenly felt within the diplomatic community.

Born on December 31, 1942, Mr. Khokhar embarked on his diplomatic journey in October 1966, becoming one of Pakistan’s most influential figures in international relations. His life was dedicated to diplomacy.

In the early stages of his career, Mr. Khokhar swiftly ascended through the ranks, earning early recognition for his profound grasp of foreign affairs. Notably, he served as the High Commissioner to India from 1992 to 1997, a crucial period marked by intricate challenges in Pakistan-India relations, particularly concerning the Kashmir issue. Mr. Khokhar’s tenure was distinguished by his adept handling of these complexities.

Subsequently, he assumed the role of the United States’ envoy from 1997 to 1999, a critical phase for Pak-US relations post-Pakistan’s nuclear tests in 1998, which strained ties and led to sanctions from the US.

From 1999 to 2002, Mr. Khokhar continued his ambassadorial role in China, where he notably contributed to strengthening Pakistan-China relations, overseeing strategic initiatives like the development of the Gwadar Port and the Chashma Nuclear Power Plant.

His diplomatic perspectives, honed through these pivotal assignments, were notably shaped by his approach toward Pakistan’s significant relationships with the US, China, and India. Advocating a robust stance on India, particularly concerning Kashmir, Mr. Khokhar demonstrated a hawkish viewpoint. His approach to the US was marked by a sense of distrust, possibly stemming from complex geopolitical and historical factors. Conversely, he held a pronounced pro-China stance, recognizing the strategic advantage of fostering strong ties with China.

During his tenure as the foreign secretary from June 2002 to February 2005, Mr. Khokhar navigated a post-9/11 geopolitical landscape, balancing Pakistan’s alignment with the US in the War on Terror while maintaining relations with China and managing strained ties with India.

He played a pivotal role in the Composite Dialogue process between India and Pakistan, emphasizing bilateral issue resolution. Mr. Khokhar’s leadership facilitated confidence-building measures to reduce tensions, notably the 2003 ceasefire understanding.

Despite being appointed by Gen Musharraf, Mr. Khokhar opposed Musharraf’s four-point formula for resolving the Kashmir dispute, advocating adherence to established diplomatic frameworks.

Described as a forthright individual by former foreign secretary Salman Bashir, Mr. Khokhar was a respected figure whose counsel was valued by the government, setting him apart from subsequent administrators.

His legacy includes maintaining integrity by refraining from accepting post-retirement government positions. He continued to contribute insights to the think-tank circuit, actively shaping foreign policy discourse.

Former ambassador to the US, UK, and UN, Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, praised his unmatched knowledge of Pakistan’s foreign policy and remembered his continued engagement even in his final months, sharing thoughts on national and international affairs.

Former high commissioner to India Abdul Basit recalled Mr. Khokhar’s concerns about Pakistan’s foreign policy and the necessity for dedicated leadership to achieve diplomatic objectives abroad.

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