When Pakistan was at a political crossroads last year, Gen Pervez Musharraf and the late opposition leader Benazir Bhutto agreed to meet in Dubai to work out a power-sharing agreement to stabilise the government. The man behind the meeting, many say, was Ahsan Ullah Khan, the outgoing Pakistani Ambassador to the UAE.
The slender, smartly dressed Mr Khan is scheduled to retire from the post at the end of next week, but leaves behind an imprint few ambassadors have managed to achieve, his friends and supporters say. His list of personal, business and political contacts, fostered over three decades, is legendary. Prior to being appointed ambassador, he worked in the UAE's energy sector. And during his tenure, he oversaw a steady increase in the flow of trade between the two countries, including the establishment of a US$5 billion (Dh18.4bn) crude oil refinery in Pakistan by the Abu Dhabi-owned International Petroleum Investment Company.
"He has been the best representative for Pakistan. He oversaw so much investment into Pakistan," said Dr S Qaiser Anis, president of the Pakistan Business Council, who said he was glad to count Mr Khan as a friend. "We'll feel his absence." On Wednesday night, dignitaries and friends gathered at the Hilton hotel to fete Mr Khan and wish him well. "I've been very happy to be here," said the ambassador, who plans to remain in Abu Dhabi and to continue supporting the Pakistani community.
Mr Khan said he was honoured to have developed a close relationship with the Royal Family, but was especially grateful for the respect of ordinary Pakistanis. Among the dignitaries who gathered for the ceremony was Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Higher Education. In his speech, Mr Khan praised the late Sheikh Zayed, founder of the nation, and the Royal Family's continued support of Pakistan, which was the first country to recognise the UAE. "He took the risk because he had faith in our country," he said. "He set the precedent for others to follow."
Trade between the two countries is valued at more than US$7bn, and remittances from the UAE's near 850,000-strong Pakistani population has already topped US$1bn this year alone, according to officials. Pakistan is also aiming to achieve US$2bn in exports to the UAE next year, and hopes to enter the UAE construction materials supply market. But Mr Khan had a warning for Pakistani business leaders: "If you trifle with these investments, they will not come back. We need to hang on to these investors."
The message stemmed from ongoing labour disputes at Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL), which was privatised in 2005 by Etisalat. Mr Khan is a PTCL board member. He also made reference to the recent arrest at Dubai International Airport of the Pakistani cricketer Mohammed Asif, who was detained for allegedly carrying illegal drugs. Mr Khan was credited with helping to secure Asif's release.
"We cannot afford to break any local laws," he said. "Please understand that the hands of the embassy and consulate are tied, if laws are broken, are flouted at airports, there is a price to pay." Mr Khan also acknowledged Pakistan's problems, including the political upheaval and the increasing militancy in its northern region. But he asked all those attending to tell family and friends back home that the arrival of the new government of Yousuf Raza Gilani meant that Pakistanis had to move forward.
"We now have to tackle serious problems, food crises, oil crises, getting clean drinking water to people in our villages," he said. "These are what they want, and what we must deliver." With such talk, Mr Khan gained admirers such as Tauseef Farooqi, commercial director for Taweelah Asia Power Company. He said he considered the ambassador genuine because he did not come from the bureaucracy. "A gem of a person, he is very dynamic," Mr Farooqi said.
Members of Pakistan's diplomatic corps also praised Mr Khan. "We will miss him a lot," said Bilal Khan Pasha, a commercial counsellor at the embassy. "He encouraged us to go into the field, and his contacts were invaluable." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org