Riza makes surprise exit from UN
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: Iqbal Riza, a former Pakistani diplomat, has resigned as chief of cabinet to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, a development seen as sudden and unexpected.
In a statement issued by his office, Annan said, “It is with very mixed emotions that I have accepted the long-standing request of my Chef de Cabinet Iqbal Riza, to retire from the services of the United Nations effective 15 January 2005. Since 1978, Mr Riza has served gallantly the United Nations in various capacities at headquarters, as well as in the field, from Iran/Iraq, Nicaragua, El Salvador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in the Department of Peace-keeping Operations. He has served as my chef de cabinet since 1997 and has always provided me with wise and trusted counsel. Mr Riza has, throughout these years of service to the United Nations, carried out his duties with unflinching dedication to the ideals and the principles of the Organistion.”
Others have seen the resignation as being surrounded in some mystery. According to a report in the Washington Times, Riza resigned “abruptly” on Wednesday, “surprising even those closest to the Secretary General.” The report says Riza will not be the only senior figure to leave. “The exodus reflects a period of uncertainty among senior UN management as Mr Annan enters the final two years of his current term, a time that is likely to be focused in large measure on the oil-for-food scandal … Catherine Bertini, the head of UN management and administration, also hopes to leave by spring. Mrs. Bertini, 54, the former head of the World Food Programme, said she would stay on until her successor is found, but said she’s looking for a new career path. And longtime UN Controller Jean-Pierre Halbwachs put in for early retirement Tuesday.”
Riza’s resignation caused understandable surprise because as UN spokesman Fred Echhard was making his daily press briefing, he was handed over a piece of paper that turned out to be Annan’s statement announcing Riza’s resignation. The report said that Riza who is 70 and well past the mandatory retirement age of 62, has spoken of retiring for more than a year. “But the speed of the announcement, made hours before Mr Annan departed for the holidays, generated considerable speculation about a hidden motive. ‘This was probably as good a time for him to leave as they could find,’ said one UN observer, who noted that as Chief of Cabinet, the Pakistani national was instrumental in crafting the office’s response to questions about the humanitarian programme for Iraq.”
The Washington Times report described Riza as “a slender and soft-spoken man known as a prickly gatekeeper to his boss, has worked in the organisation since 1978 on various high-profile issues, including the Iraq-Iran conflict, the Nicaragua and El Salvador insurgencies and the Bosnia split from the former Yugoslavia.”
Riza, who served as a Pakistani diplomat for 19 years, was deputy chief of mission at the Embassy of Pakistan in Paris in 1977 from where he resigned in a gesture of sympathy with the PNA-led movement against the disputed 1977 election. He said at the time that he could not serve the Bhutto government as it had acted in an undemocratic way. His resignation surprised his colleagues and there was no shortage of explanations why a career diplomat who was not known for being “political” should have resigned for the reasons given. Riza then moved to Washington and after holding a couple of interim positions landed at the United Nations where his career flowered.