Salahuddin Choudhry, PHF
Without the cold and bleakness of the winter,
The warmth and splendor of spring there could never be.
Misfortunes have steeled and tempered me,
And strengthened my resolve even further. Ho Chi Minh (‘Prison Diary’ )
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 Diplomacy’, 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 ‘Uncle Ho’….”, Vietnam Ambassador HE. Mr Nguyen Xuan Luu was telling two of his guests the other day, “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 thraldom ?
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 is very happy and proud that the first ever Urdu translation of ‘Prison Diary’ was being undertaken - and he thanked this author for initiation and supervision - to be published by Ferozsons during his tenure. Mr Luu also thought - and 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 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 neighbour 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 Ambassador - and it is time she became more focused with serious discernible interaction so keenly awaited by the member ASEAN leaderships. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did very well in meeting Vietnam President Tan Dai Quang on the sidelines of the ‘Belt and Road’ Forum in Beijing on 14th May stressing the need for exploration of business & investment opportunities and more people-to-people contact through cultural exchanges, beginning at top-most levels to be most welcome.
To quote Ambassador Luu - 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 major thriving ‘developing’ country, Vietnam today 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……!
Salahuddin Choudhry is a former senior career diplomat of Pakistan, and a permanent Ambassador of ‘Mayors for Peace’ International (Hiroshima).