111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

Remembering Sartaj Aziz

Pakistan has lost one of its most outstanding sons and indefatigable soldiers; the nation just a few days back said goodbye to one of the last surviving soldiers of the Pakistan Movement, who devoted his seven decades-long engagement in national affairs to promote Pakistan’s economic development, national security and diplomacy, and democratic governance.

He worked tirelessly and selflessly, eschewing the pursuit of personal gain, and believed in resolving inter-provincial differences through dialogue, mutual respect and accommodation, and collaboration.

Born in 1929 in Mardan, Sartaj Aziz got his higher education from Islamia College and Hailey College of Commerce. He joined the civil service in 1950 and a decade later joined the bunch of accomplished economists who turned the country’s Planning Commission into an autonomous, vibrant, and productive development policy institution.

Sartaj joined the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in 1971 and was elevated to head the prestigious World Food Council. He was deputy secretary general of the World Food Conference, held in 1974, and influenced its decisions including the creation of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Noted economist Dame Barbara Ward has written: “Without Sartaj Aziz, there would have been no Rome Forum. I admire him for his wisdom, dedication, and hard work with which he organized the World Food Conference….His work for the welfare of the hungry and the poor deserves better recognition.”

Sartaj served as vice president of IFAD. Initially set up as a billion-dollar fund, IFAD has since disbursed over $19 billion for food production programmes, turning food-deficient developing countries into food-growing economies. In 1975, Sartaj Aziz became one of the founding members of the Third World Forum which brought together scientists and economists of developing nations to articulate the common perspectives of poor countries on global development issues.

In 1976, Sartaj Aziz was elected president of the Society for International Development (SID). He inspired the development of two significant global initiatives: the North–South Round Table, and a Research Program for Alternative Development Strategies. In the 1970s, Sartaj Aziz was recognized as “ an internationally celebrated crusader against hunger and poverty”.

In 1984, Sartaj returned home and was appointed minister of state for food and agriculture. He chaired the National Commission on Agricultural Development whose seminal report suggested pathways for sustained agricultural growth for ensuring Pakistan’s food security. He was elected a member of the Pakistan Senate in 1985 and was re-elected in 1988 and 1994 from the erstwhile NWFP. Sartaj Aziz served as minister for finance, planning and economic affairs (1997-98) and as foreign minister (1998-1999).

In 2004, he became vice-chancellor of Beaconhouse National University in Lahore and served in that position until 2013. From 2013 till 2017, Sartaj returned to political life and served as adviser to the prime minister for foreign affairs and national security adviser until 2017. His last year in public life was as the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission.

A notable feature of Sartaj Aziz’s public life was his ability, as head of national commissions/committees, to resolve some of the most intractable national issues, such as the accord on the apportionment of the Indus Basin waters (1991); a contingency plan for food security (2008); reforms in former Fata and their integration into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (2016); political reforms in Gilgit-Baltistan (2017) and, last but not least, the National Water Policy, a comprehensive blueprint for integrated management of water resources, along with a Water Charter signed by the chief ministers of the four provinces.

Sartaj Aziz was a dynamic speaker and a prolific writer. His books and monographs included: ‘Industrial Location Policy of Pakistan’ (1969); ‘Hunger, Politics, and Markets: the Real Issues in the Food Crisis’ (1976); ‘Rural Development: Learning from China’ (1978); ‘Agricultural Policies for the 1990s’, published by the OECD, (1990); ‘Hunger, Poverty, and Development: Life and Work of Sartaj Aziz’, edited by Anwar Adil, (2009). In 2009, Sartaj Aziz’s autobiography, ‘Between Dreams and Realities: Some Milestones in Pakistan’s History’, was published by Oxford University Press. An updated version was published in 2019.

In December 2018, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) in Islamabad celebrated Sartaj Aziz’s life and achievements by designating him as a “living legend”. The award ceremony was addressed by distinguished personalities, including Shahid Hamid, Dr Hafiz Pasha, Shoaib Sultan Khan, Jalil Abbas Jilani, Salima Hashmi, and Tariq Banuri. Dr Adil Najam, Dr Sania Nishtar, and Dr Ishrat Husain sent their messages paying rich tributes to Sartaj Aziz’s achievements.

Sartaj’s autobiography includes an epilogue in which he describes what he called “four important lessons from our history”. The lessons are noted below:

First, Pakistan “can survive as a dynamic and viable political entity only through a genuine democratic framework, since democracy ensures a sense of identity and a sense of participation to all the federating units and sub-units…”

Second, a “self-sustaining democratic framework can only be built on strong institutions and the rule of law, under civilian supremacy. Military rule with a civilian façade can never become a substitute for genuine democracy”.

Third, a “democratic system and especially a parliamentary federal system can survive only if the three pillars of state, namely, the parliament, the judiciary, and the executive function within the parameters laid down by the constitution…”

Fourth, the vitality of a nation “does not come only from its economic progress and the size of its military, but also from its shared values, cultural heritage, and social energy. In this context, the classical definition of a ‘nation’ with a common language and a common culture, has been replaced with the modern concept of the nation-state with a diverse range of cultures, languages and ethnic groups”.

Shafqat Kakakhel, "Remembering Sartaj Aziz," The News. 2024-01-05.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political reforms , Democracy , Diplomacy , Sartaj Aziz , Shoaib Sultan Khan , Pakistan , SDPI , IFAD