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Empire strikes back with envoy
- Queen sends a Bangladeshi as high commissioner to Dhaka
Choudhury

London, Dec. 9: Anwar Choudhury, a 44-year-old Bangladeshi in London, supports England when it plays his native Bangladesh at cricket — which is just as well since he has just been appointed Britain’s new high commissioner to Dhaka.

“Since I am a representative of Her Majesty’s Government, I will support England,” says Choudhury, who thereby passes Norman Tebbit’s so-called “cricket test” of loyalty to the immigrant’s country of adoption.

“I came to England at an early age,” adds Choudhury, who was born in Sunamganj on June 15, 1959. “My first priority is serving HMG.”

The foreign office, which is often seen as the last redoubt of the old fashioned, public school and Oxbridge-educated, upper class Englishman, is creating history by placing on Choudhury’s shoulders the onerous task of championing British interests in Bangladesh.

There is a certain amount of ceremonial involved with the job, such as giving a garden party to mark the Queen’s birthday and presiding over formal dinner parties with nameplates on a polished English oak table top. Afterwards, he is supposed to lead the men into the smoking room for cigars and brandy and remember happy days at Eton or Harrow.

Much of this is a stereotype, of course. When Tony Blair came to power in 1997, his first foreign secretary, Robin Cook — now his sworn enemy after the two fell out over Iraq — promised an ethical foreign policy and a new look foreign office in which blacks and browns would have a place in the sun. Some welcome changes were made when Keith Vaz, as Europe minister, became a deputy to Cook and ensured that Indian savouries were served in the very building from where the British once ruled the empire.

Choudhury, who has fast-tracked his way to the top, is not a career diplomat but an engineer by training. He got his BSc in electrical & electronic engineering at Salford University, and did his MBA from Durham University.

He and his wife, Momina, who live in Ilford, east London, have a son, aged 10, and a daughter of one.

Since 2000, he has been a director in the cabinet office, though he shifted recently to the foreign office on King Charles’s Street, right next door to Downing Street, in preparation for taking over from the present incumbent, David Chater, as high commissioner in Dhaka from spring next year.

Between 1995 and 2000, he was an assistant director in the defence ministry; between 1993 and 1995, a strategist in signal engineering establishment at the Royal Air Force; and between 1986 and 1992, a consultant engineer with Siemens Plessey plc.

When the job of high commissioner in Dhaka came up, seven people applied internally for the post, and Choudhury was apparently considered the best.

The secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Iqbal Sacranie, welcomed the appointment of “Britain’s first Muslim ambassador”, though there is nothing to indicate Choudhury has projected his Islamic credentials.

“We had been expecting such an appointment and are pleased that the process of involving British Muslims in the foreign policy mechanism has begun,” commented Sacranie.

The University of Salford, which is proud that “we have our own mosque and that halal food is available in all major catering outlets”, has also claimed credit. It issued a press release to the effect that “this news helps to demonstrate the career heights that Salford University graduates can achieve”.

The appointment makes sense from one perspective. Relations between Britain and Bangladesh are driven to a certain extent by the presence of a large Bangladeshi community in Britain which numbers more than 200,000. Many are of Sylheti origin and responsible for the success of “Indian” restaurants in Britain.

They are proud of Choudhury whom they will regard as “our man in Dhaka”.

If all goes well, Choudhury will, in time, go to Buckingham Palace in tails and top hat and arise as Sir Anwar Choudhury.

“He thinks he can achieve a good relationship between Britain and Bangladesh,” said Nobab Uddin, editor of the Bengali weekly Jonomot. “I met Anwar Choudhury and found him very bright and very pleasant.”

It may be sometime before a Singh or a Patel goes to Delhi as British high commissioner but Lord Swraj Paul was appointed a roving “ambassador for British business” by Cook, in which capacity he is supposed to bat for British business and generally for UK plc. But Lord Paul’s is not a diplomatic appointment.

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