Professor Samuel Burke, who died on 9th October 2010 at aged 104,

Professor Samuel Burke, who died on 9th October 2010 at aged 104,

Professor Samuel Burke, who died on October 9 aged 104, was one of very few Indians to become a senior official in the Indian Civil Service under the British Raj; following Partition, he helped to set up the Foreign Office in Pakistan and became an ambassador for the country, serving in 11 different capitals.

After retirement from the diplomatic service he became an academic in the United States, publishing a number of books on the history of India and the politics of Pakistan.

Samuel Martin Burke was born on July 3 1906 at Martinpur, a small Christian village near Faisalabad in what is now Pakistan. His father was the headmaster of a school and wrote poems under the pseudonym Burq (“lightning” in Urdu), which was adopted as the family’s surname. Exceptionally bright, Samuel took a first class degree in History and a masters at the Government College of Lahore before passing the Indian Civil Service (ICS) exams in 1931.

He rose to be a High Court judge and, in the closing phase of British rule in India, served as chairman of the three-man election petitions committee for the Punjab, set up to consider appeals against the results of the general election of December 1945, which had pitted the Congress Party, supporting a united India, against the Muslim League, campaigning for an independent Pakistan.

The commission had been appointed on the recommendation of the then prime minister of the Punjab, Sir Khizer Hayat Khan, whose Unionist Party was propped up by the Congress Party, and was thus regarded with suspicion by the Muslim League. But Burke did not hesitate to give judgments in favour of the League where he felt they were warranted.

While the commission was still sitting, Indian political parties agreed to the formation of Pakistan, and a circular was sent to members of the ICS asking whether they wished to serve India or Pakistan or to retire. Burke felt that the only way he could assure leaders of all the political parties of his continued impartiality was to make it plain that he was not interested in government service in either country. Accordingly, he became the only Asian civil servant who decided to retire on August 15 1947.

By this time, however, his reputation was such that he was invited by both Congress and the League to come out of retirement. Since he had been born in what became Pakistan, he decided to serve in Pakistan.

The West Pakistan government offered him a ministry to represent the Christian minority, but he chose to join the newly-created Foreign Service. He was given charge of the two most important portfolios: India (with which innumerable partition disputes were in progress), and the United Nations (where the Kashmir dispute was being debated in 1948).

His first appointment abroad was in 1949 as counsellor to the High Commission in London. At a time when Pakistan was still wrestling with matters arising from Independence this was the country’s largest foreign mission. In 1952, he was transferred to Washington as counsellor, but was soon promoted to the rank of minister.

Because of recurrent crises with India, Pakistan had decided to request military assistance from the United States, and to earn American goodwill Burke and his English-born wife Louise undertook nationwide speaking tours, his own Christian faith helping to undermine negative stereotypes about his country. His efforts soon began to bear fruit. In the food crisis of 1953, America promptly shipped a large quantity of wheat to Pakistan as a gift.

After Washington, he served as Chargé d’Affaires in Rio de Janeiro, and as Deputy High Commissioner in London. He then became the first Christian head of a Pakistani diplomatic mission, as Minister to Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark from 1953 to 1956. When the Commonwealth heads of mission in Stockholm gave a reception during a state visit of the Queen, they chose Burke to escort her during her walkabout.

After a spell in south-east Asia as first resident ambassador to Thailand, Burke was appointed to his final diplomatic posting, as High Commissioner in Canada from 1959 to 1961, when he signed an agreement for the peaceful uses of atomic energy which enabled Pakistan to purchase uranium from Canada.

Burke retired from Pakistan’s Foreign Service to take up a new chair in South Asian Studies created for him at the University of Minnesota.

His books include Foreign Policy of Pakistan, and he also advised on the compilation of A Historical Atlas of South Asia.

Burke continued to write after he and his wife moved to England. Akbar the Greatest Mogul, published in India, won a commendation from Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. With Salim Al-Din Quraishi, he also wrote Bahadur Shah, the Last Mogul Emperor of India; The British Raj in India; and Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, His Personality and His Politics, in which he argued that, contrary to received wisdom, it was Gandhi, not Jinnah, who introduced religion into Indian politics and ultimately drove Muslims and Hindus apart. Burke was appointed to the Sitara-e-Pakistan, Pakistan’s highest honour, by President Ayub Khan.

He was predeceased by his wife, whom he married in 1933, and by a daughter. Three other daughters survive him.

The Telegraph (18/11/2010)

Posted by South Asian Foreign Relations on 2010-11-18 12:30:57

Tagged: , Professor , Samuel , Burke

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