Remembering Dag Hammarskjold: A memorable peacemaker – The Himalayan Times – Nepal’s No.1 English Daily Newspaper

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The month of September is probably the most pronounced month, compared to the other 11 months, in the media and academics on foreign affairs round the world, since a number of events have taken place in this month with far reaching historical consequences globally, touching future successive generations on world peace, security, defense and development.

Most of the events that the world witnessed during the 9th month were undesired ones as they had a negative impact on all aspects of humanity, mainly during the second half of the past century and first decade of the 21 century.

These events mainly originated in the European continent.

Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, the declaration of war on Germany by Britain and France on September 3 that year, germinating the seeds of World War II (1939- 1944) and the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington DC, just to name a few.

It was also in this very month that the life of a great world statesman, Dag Hammarskjold, the then UN secretary-general, came to an end in a mysterious air crash in Zambia, then Rhodesia. The crash on September 17, 1961 came on the eve of the convening of the annual UN General Assembly in New York, which begins from the third Tuesday of every September and runs for three months after indepth deliberation on political, economic, social and other humanitarian issues that impact world peace and security. Dag Hammarskjold died in one of his quests for peace and security missions as the incumbent UN secretary-general.

A venture is made in this column to briefly highlight the incredible contributions that he made.

Of the nine UN secretary-generals from its inception to date, Hammarskjold remains the most talked about personality. A lot is talked about the thoughts and steps he had taken in his official capacity, many books are written about him highlighting his wisdom and vision on world peace and security, spirituality, humanity, and actions initiated and deeds done by him as the UN secretary-general.

Books by renowned authors like Roger Lipsey’s Hammarskjold – A Life, Susan Williams, Who killed Dag Hammarskjold?, Brian Urquhart’s Hammarskjold, Rajehswar Dayal’s A Life of Our Time – Dag Hammarskjold (coincidently, Rajeswar’s brother Hariswar Dayal was Indian ambassador to Nepal in early 1960) and Paul R. Nelson’s book Courage of Faith – Dag Hammarskjold are some of the many books that amply reflect various aspects of Hammarskjold’s life and contributions to world peace.

Hammarskjold’s own book “Markings”, posthumously published by Leif Belfrage, one of his close associates and Sweden’s permanent undersecretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with a foreword by W.H. Auden, amply reflects Hammarskjold’s holistic approaches on spiritualism, humanity and world peace.

Hammarskjold’s image of an extraordinary diplomat has never been equaled by any of his predecessors as he possessed a multidimensional personality.

Discussion and studies on Hammarskjold are focused on mainly two grounds, that he died while on an official trip to negotiate peace as the UN secretary-general and, more importantly, that he was a dynamic personality with a distinct way of thinking and doing for the cause of peace, security and development to benefit mankind through his diplomacy.

That Hammarskjold would stand by a solution to any burning issue acceptable to many world stakeholders could amply be seen through a commonly coined phrase “Leave it to Dag” on the 38th floor, the office of the UN secretary-general.

US President Kennedy had remarked, “I realise now that in comparison to him, I am a small man. He was the greatest statesman of our century”, further eulogising him for his dedication to the cause of peace, his untiring labour to achieve it, willingness to accept all responsibility in trying to strengthen the United Nations to make it a more effective instrument.

In another reference he had viewed Hammarskjold’s death as an organisation’s death.

In contrast, however, Kennedy’s then USSR counterpart, Nikita Khrushchev, blamed Hammarskjold frequently for his handling of the Kalanga, Congo conflict and quite a few other issues, and had even called for his resignation from the post.

To which Hammarskjold had responded, “It is very easy to bow to the wish of a big power, it is another matter to resist”.

Hammarskjold’s role as a mediator during the Suez Crisis and capture of a US reconnaissance plane by the Soviet Union had established him as a great negotiator in 1960. The UN peace keeping force that Hammarskjold established in 1957-58, as proposed by the then Minister for External Affairs of Canada Lester B Pearson, clearly manifests how farsighted he was in maintaining peace and security in the world.

Nepal was admitted to this world body as its member during the incumbency of Hammarskjold on December 14, 1955 due to the veto imposed by the USSR in the earlier fray. The first Nepali permanent representative to the UN Rishikesh Shah reportedly had frequent interactions with Hammarskjold.

That Shah was chosen as chairman of the UN Commission constituted to investigate the death of Hammarskjold aptly displays his well hailed image. That a Nepali diplomat was picked up to chair such a commission was an achievement in itself for Nepal at that time when Nepal had little exposure to the external world. Hammarskjold was the first UN secretary general to visit Nepal, whose poem after his visit to the Swayambhunath stupa in Kathmandu reads: The brilliant notes of the flute; Are heard by the God In the cave of birth Himalayan ice cliffs … A lace of rest. Charcoal fires; Deep in the mirror Vishnu is at peace

A version of this article appears in the print on November 26, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.

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