Sahabzada Yaqub Khan, a former military leader, foreign minister and diplomat who was Pakistan‘s public face in international affairs for three decades, died late Monday or early Tuesday in Islamabad. He was 95.
His death was announced by the Aga Khan University. Mr. Yaqub Khan was founding chairman of the university’s board of trustees, serving for 16 years until his retirement in 2001.
Mr. Yaqub Khan had helped facilitate President Richard M. Nixon’s overture to China in 1972. In the late 1980s, as a United Nations-sanctioned envoy, he helped negotiate the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the windup of the civil war in Nicaragua.
In 1999, William Safire, the New York Times Op-Ed columnist, described him as “the most skillful diplomat in the world today.”
As Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Mr. Yaqub Khan was one of several Muslim diplomats who interceded to end the so-called Hanafi siege in 1977, in which a breakaway group from the Nation of Islam seized three buildings and at least 134 hostages in Washington. A radio reporter was killed, and the remaining hostages were released after a 39-hour standoff.Continue reading the main story
Mr. Yaqub Khan also served as Pakistan’s envoy to the Soviet Union and France, and was Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s United Nations special representative for Western Sahara.
He demonstrated his savvy in the military sphere in 1970 when, as a lieutenant general and governor of East Pakistan, he refused a superior’s order to deploy troops to quell a mutiny there. His defiance ended his army career, but he was vindicated when his successor’s crackdown led to a massacre, Indian intervention on behalf of the insurgents and the breaking away of East Pakistan, into what became Bangladesh.
Sahabzada Muhammad Yaqub Khan was born to the royal family of Rampur on Dec. 23, 1920, in Rampur, in the northeast of what was then British India. His father, Sahabzada Sir Abdus Samad Khan Bahadur, was a diplomat. His mother was Sahabzadi Aliya Sultan Amir Dulhan Begum Sahiba.
He studied at the Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College (now the Rashtriya Indian Military College) in Dehradun, India; served with the British Indian Army in North Africa in World War II; and was captured at Tobruk, where the British repelled a prolonged German siege, and imprisoned for three years.
When Britain granted independence to what became India and Pakistan in 1947, Mr. Yaqub Khan was among the Muslims in India who migrated to Pakistan.
He served as an ambassador from 1972 to 1982, then under seven governments as foreign minister until 1991, and again briefly beginning in 1996.
He is survived by his wife, Begum Tuba Yaqub Khan, and his sons, Samad and Najib.
Mr. Safire, a language maven, noted Mr. Yaqub Khan’s erudition, lauding him for what he called the best new politico-diplomatic usage of 1982.
Mr. Safire wrote that the ambassador “used a word I never heard before to describe the country that lies between the Soviet Union and the gateway to the Persian Gulf: ‘Afghanistan might one day be intended by the Soviets to be a glacis.’” (The word is loosely defined as “buffer.”)
But above all, Mr. Safire was impressed by Mr. Yaqub Khan’s diplomatic skills, saying he had been dispatched by his country on delicate missions, including when Pakistan sought to reassure Washington that a bloodless military coup by Gen. Pervez Musharraf against an elected but incapable government was both necessary and temporary.
“Is democracy an end in itself,” Mr. Yaqub Khan asked rhetorically, “or a means to an end? What do you do when democracy leads ineluctably to chaos?”
An obituary last Sunday about the Pakistani diplomat Sahabzada Yaqub Khan misidentified the United Nations secretary general who appointed him special representative for Western Sahara. The appointment was made by Boutros Boutros-Ghali, not by Javier Pérez de Cuéllar.