ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday April 13, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 46

Remembering a pathfinder and peacemaker

The 79th birth anniversary of the former Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. A. C. S. Hameed fell on April 10

By M.H.A. Haleem

Born on April 10, 1929, Dr. Abdul Cader Shahul Hameed was educated at St Anthony’s College, Katugastota, Vijaya College and Zahira College, Matale. While in school, in Standard VII, he launched a magazine for Matale schools called “New Broom”. He went on to launch the Matale Student Union and was elected its first president.

Dr. Abdul Cader Shahul Hameed

Being interested in adult education and the teaching of English, he was responsible for establishing several educational institutions for this purpose in the Matale and Kandy district, particularly in backward Muslim localities.

He was director and principal of Winchester College, Matale (named after a famous public school in England), which prepared students for local and foreign examinations conducted in English. Dr. Hameed was also president of the Central Ceylon Muslim Assembly, and it was through this organisation that the Kandy Muslim Teacher Training College was inaugurated.

Dr. Hameed became actively involved in politics in 1956, and joined the United National Party. He contested in the general elections of March 1960, and was returned in eight consecutive elections. He served in Parliament for a total of 39 years, one of the longest unbroken records for a Sri Lankan parliamentarian.

He was elevated to the Cabinet in 1977, when the UNP returned to power. He became Sri Lanka’s first Foreign Minister. One of his first ministerial decisions was to remove all restrictions on the issue of passports and to open embassies in Middle East countries. Today more than one million Sri Lankans are employed in the Middle East, thanks to the pioneering efforts of Dr. Hameed.

Throughout his unparalleled stint of nearly 15 years as Foreign Minister, Dr. Hameed remained a deeply committed student of all aspects of foreign policy and international affairs. He could talk knowledgeably on all manner of subjects. During his time as Foreign Affairs Minister, he spearheaded discussions abroad to settle many national and international disputes. He was involved in at least three of the major efforts to resolve Sri Lanka’s armed conflict through negotiation – namely, the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement of 1987; the Premadasa-LTTE talks of 1989/90, and the All Party Conference of 1990-1992, of which he was vice- chairman.

Dr. Hameed’s leadership qualities were recognised by all the ministers who made up the negotiating team. The fact that he was proficient in Tamil (he was trilingual ) was an invaluable factor in establishing rapport with the LTTE team, especially the team’s younger members. His ability to follow the nuances of the LTTE team’s arguments was a great asset to the government team. Throughout the negotiating process, he showed a strong commitment to finding a political solution to the armed conflict.

He was chairman of the ministerial conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) from 1977-1979. He visited many countries in Asia as an envoy of the United Nations to solicit support for a United Nations Conference on New and Renewable Sources of Energy. He served on the UN Advisory Board on Disarmament Studies for 10 years. An ardent advocate of internationalism and regionalism, he was a proponent of greater understanding among South-Asian nations for the resolution of common problems facing the people of countries belonging to the South-Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC).

In 1981, he inaugurated the first meeting of foreign secretaries of South Asian countries, held in Colombo, to explore prospects for regional co-peration. As one of the most experienced foreign ministers in the international arena in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, his advice and contributions were widely sought at various international forums.

As a Cabinet Minister, he tried to respond to problems in a practical and positive manner, rather than as a dogmatic intellectual. He had enormous drive and a stupendous capacity. He established himself as a national figure through his proven competence and leadership potential.

In 1978, Dr. Hameed was awarded an honorary doctorate in political science by the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, South Korea. In 1990, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters by the University of Sri Jayawardanapura.

His published works include The Pursuit of Peace, Disarmament – A Multilateral Approach, Foreign Policy Perspectives of Sri Lanka, and The Owl And The Lotus, a modern-day fable on the human situation.

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