LAHORE     -    In our world of many splendours, there have been some extraordinary people of exquisite acumen and leadership qualities coming from revolutionary zeal and purpose. President Ho Chin Minh having been such a man was the most beloved of the Vietnamese people having the metaphorical brilliance of a comet as an activist in national liberation and international communist movements.

Remarkably leading the Vietnamese nationalist movement for more than three decades, Ho Chi Minh spurred his people to first fight the Japanese, then the French colonial power, and last not the least the US-backed South Vietnamese.

Described by the Western world, especially the former adversaries, as the ‘Great Man of Culture’, Ho Chi Minh (originally Nguyen That Thanh, born on 19th May 1890) was known and envied to be an unparalleled leader in “negotiating” for many long years – and not warring – to achieve freedom for the Southern Part of Vietnam after the North was liberated with the ‘Declaration of Independence’ (under the UN Charter) in 1945, although the French refused to relinquish their colony and war broke out in 1946.

Ho Chi Minh (meaning ‘bringer of light’) – a title he got from his loving people – excelled all the others in the (communist) Party leadership as at one time it acquired the name of ‘VietMinh’, Vietnamese Independent Alliance Association; the ‘man of pride’, so popular and honourable (and revered owing to unquestionable power he enjoyed), was humble and like an “innocent child” and a patriot par excellence compared to all his comrades; all this yet notwithstanding, his indomitable revolutionary zeal & commitment engaged deeply in all activities to liberate the Vietnamese nation and other oppressed peoples under difficult conditions and hardships. The 1946 (13th Dec) appeal of Ho Chi Minh to rise and resist the French colonialism uniquely for the sake of national independence and freedom saw them win a resounding victory at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

After the North Vietnam fell to the Ho Chi Minh resistance movement and its liberation came about in 1955, the socialist revolution and the struggle was turned south against the American aggressors under the catalytic leadership and unflinching guidance of that charismatic leader that ended in a grand finale of US withdrawal in 1975, though after he died in 1969.

“Not only as the Father of Nation Ho Chi Minh is greatly revered, he is passionately respected and loved by us all heart & soul and we fondly call him ‘beloved Uncle Ho’….”, the former Vietnam Ambassador HE. Mr. Nguyen Xuan Luu was once telling two of his guests in my presence, “but, we lost him too early”, he said with tears in his eyes.

Apart from several books Ho Chi Minh wrote on revolution/struggle and politics, his most favourite and widely read was the ‘Prison Diary’ – a book of about eighty poems that he humbly thought was no alternative to his fifteen-month life in the jail:

I’ve never been fond of chanting poetry;

But what else can I do in the realdom ?

These long days I’ll spend composing poesy,

Singing poems may help in the wait for freedom.

Ho Chin Minh was arrested by the Chinese Nationalist Authority in Guangxi province on 29th August 1942, when he was secretly crossing the frontier for, as he wrote, “meeting some important Chinese officials”. Since that day, he had had experiences as a prisoner till he was freed on 10th September 1943. That was the time he wrote ‘Prison Diary’, which later became famous worldwide. Thereafter, motivating his struggle with a difference, he launched his quiet ‘cultural diplomacy’ towards “winning“ over his supporters and opponents alike with a hand of friendship, and essentially a policy of “accommodation & engagement”, but not ever by submission, till his last day of life in 1969.

Ambassador Luu, during his assignment to Islamabad, was very happy and proud – and his successor Ambassador Pham Hoang Kim as well – that the first ever Urdu translation of ‘Prison Diary’ was undertaken – and he thanked this author for initiation and supervision – to be published by Ferozsons soon, wee-bit late, though not during his tenure. Mr. Luu also had thought – and I agreed with him – that it would be a great idea and most appropriate if Pakistan’s extraordinary socialist poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s work be translated in Vietnamese language and published in Ho Chi Minh city (formerly Saigon).

Indeed, despite the tremendous progress & prosperity Vietnam made over the last three decades (with an hiatus of ‘sobering’ period in between), the honest approach to living a simple life (within means) combined with down-to-earth humility in realism remain to this day – this I would say with all sincerity having seen in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City during my official visits as a Counsellor mid-80’s that bicycles & tricycles infested all the streets & roads, except for some taxis and few private cars; a huge surprise for me then (and I was simply flabbergasted) to see the then Foreign Minister (after my official call on him ended) quietly move to the hind side of the main FO gate, come out with a bicycle and ride off ! The conducting Protocol Officer explained, all Govt. officials were required to use their private transport coming to the office and returning home. Bravo !!

The humility and simplicity of the Vietnamese people is so much a national character nurtured with all the value at their command that, very interestingly, during the American election campaign Donald Trump was approached by a Vietnamese asking him innocently where the red cap DT was wearing came from (with the inscription: “Make America Great”); when DT after taking it off announced: Oh, this is “Made in Vietnam”, the man again innocently commented: “Made in Great Vietnam”, Uncle Ho’s Vietnam !!! 

This is what Vietnamese nation is, this is what Ho chi Minh’s people are like, this till today what prides them as a people, as a nation any in the world would envy with respect !

With the Uncle-Ho legacy intact and ‘good-neighbourliness’ being his continuity policy, Vietnam’s mission today – especially after becoming an active ASEAN member – is one of consistency, independent pursuit, self-reliance, cooperation & development, and above all peace & friendship. China – a one-time imperial master – remains its major trading partner being the largest neighbor and the United States has been wooing Vietnam since 1995 after normalization of relations (President Barack Obama having received Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong in July 2015 for a dialogue at the White House preceding lifting of sanctions and arms embargo).

In case of Pakistan, “East Asia Vision Strategy” policy is one that is desirable and could be sustainable with lot of “commonalities” – as indeed pointed out by the previous as well as the current Ambassadors – and it is time she became more focused with serious discernible interaction so keenly awaited by the ASEAN leaderships. The then Prime Minister of Pakistan was complimented for having met the Vietnam President Tan Dai Quang on the sidelines of the ‘Belt and Road’ Forum in Beijing on 14th May 2018 stressing the need for exploration of business & investment opportunities and more people-to-people contact through cultural means like two-way exchanges, beginning at top-most levels down to the grass-roots.

To quote the Ambassadors – on a heightened note – Uncle Ho was the most respected leader popularly loved for creation of modern Vietnamese culture….himself as a bright example, he developed new concepts in art, culture & literature, and promoted existential heritage, traditions, and customs such as typical romantic form of Vietnamese tea making & drinking for love, comradeship and peace to any one, to any groups, to all peoples, and to regions the world over !!!

As a visionary what Uncle Ho had propounded ‘cultural diplomacy’ as Vietnam’s mainstay of external policy formulations, in actuality, became an intrinsic part of the Foreign Office strategy. In fact, since long UNESCO-backed ‘Cultural Diplomacy’ has been an integral part of the External Affairs and National Image-building wing. The Mission, along with some others consulted, thought it would be the right thing and very timely if we initiated something similar for Pakistan and would support any move to set up an institute or organization of cultural diplomacy even in the corporate/pvt. sector, as discussed by me. Indeed, the Ambassador agreed, appropriateness and efficacy of the concept would be so much relevant mostly to cultural events often associated with visits of high-ranking officials and leaders particularly in the context of national interests, stable political environment, peaceful nation, friendly people, landscapes, cultural heritage, unique traditional festivals, which among others are image and information often disseminated and advertised attracting the interest of many countries in the region and around the world. Cultural diplomacy indeed has linkage to political and economic diplomacy, contributing to promote and strengthen mutual understanding between Vietnam and other states and international forums, and build confidence for the development of lasting friendship.

Cultural diplomacy of Vietnam actively advocates nomination for world cultural heritage inscription. Today in Vietnam there are 19 world heritages, including two natural heritages, five cultural heritages, eight intangible cultural heritages, three documentary heritages and one global geo-park. This is not only the pride of the people of Vietnam but also an opportunity for the international community to share and enjoy the cultural & spiritual values of Vietnam.

As a major thriving ‘developing’ country, Vietnam radiates a promising future for itself and others…and why, one knows, it’s the “just be happy enough” Vietnamese attitude !!

Here what one could say one learns: hope is like a bird that senses the dawn and carefully starts to sing while it is still dark……!

Rtn Salahuddin Choudhry is a former senior career diplomat of Pakistan, and a permanent Ambassador of ‘Mayors for Peace’ International (Hiroshima)