Ali Asseri – ambassador par excellence- who has recently taken charge as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Lebanon, has left a trail of glory behind him that he blazed during a nine-year tenure in Pakistan.
The departure of the inspirational and indefatigable Saudi Ambassador to Pakistan Ali Asseri and his elegant wife, Ayesha, was nothing short of heart-rending: the VIP Lounge at Islamabad’s airport was filled with friends of all nationalities and walks of life who came to say goodbye to their beloved friends and their son Feisal. This outpouring of emotion is a testament to the love, honour and respect gained by the Asseris during their nearly nine-year stay in Pakistan.
Ali Saeed Awadh Asseri stood out for his brilliance, dynamism and enthusiasm. He worked at a frenetic pace to a grueling schedule without ever flagging.
In the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake that devastated Azad Kashmir, part of the North West Frontier Province and the Northern Areas – a huge swathe of land larger than Norway – Saudi Arabia provided immediate and unequivocal assistance. Outstanding were a constant air bridge set up between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and a state-of-the-art field hospital established in Mansehra. Ali Asseri went to hospitals and refugee camps to visit earthquake victims and personally distributed Aab-e-Zamzam and dates to them. For his stellar help in mitigating Pakistan’s suffering, the President of Pakistan especially conferred on him the country’s second-highest civilian award, the Hilal-e-Imtiaz, a signal honour and recognition indeed.
During his tenure the brotherly ties between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan grew manifold in every field. Asseri always maintained that in an increasingly competitive world, it is the economic partnership between any two countries that defines the true nature and depth of their relationship.
A specialist in counterterrorism, Asseri was an invaluable voice in Pakistan’s continuing fight against the menace. Earlier this year HRH Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz visited Pakistan to offer support in the ongoing struggle against terrorism. He reiterated his country’s resolve to contribute ceaselessly to advance the cause of Pakistan’s security, sovereignty and strength, which has always been the cornerstone of the two countries’ policies.
Asseri’s soon to be published book, Combating Terrorism: Saudi Arabia’s Role in the War on Terror (Oxford University Press) discusses effective measures to eliminate terrorism and how to counter the emergence of radicalized forces.
His perspective is particularly interesting, as being a Saudi, he understands the nuances of Arab and Muslim culture that elude most western authors. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Ali Asseri’s was a powerful and articulate voice in the defence of Islam and Muslims. While he proposes stringent and effective measures to stamp out terrorism, citing the exemplary precedent set by Saudi Arabia, he remains keenly aware of the forensic scrutiny faced by the Muslim world and emphasises the need to project the true face of Islam as a religion of peace and beauty. In particular, he stresses the need to enact legislation forbidding the hate-filled invectives preached by self-appointed clerics, distorting Islam for their own self-serving interests.
His unrivalled grasp of the subject is demonstrated by his urgent call for addressing the widening chasm between rich and poor as grinding poverty and destitution create a fertile terrorist recruitment ground. He provides a detailed account of Saudi Arabia’s anti-terrorism strategy and the reasons for its success, which can be emulated and adapted to suit other countries. Notably, he elucidates the difference between ‘terrorists’ and ‘freedom fighters’ — a distinction not understood by many.
Understanding the complexity of the situation, Asseri had earlier stated: “Saudi Arabia has been a victim of terrorism and, therefore, fully understands the magnitude of the crisis that Pakistan is confronted with.” His diplomatic achievements have earned him respect and acclaim in both Pakistan as well as in Saudi Arabia. His knowledge and insight into the challenges faced by Pakistan meant that his views resonated within the corridors of authority with rare power and clarity. That is why Ali Asseri’s was perhaps the only table around which politicians of all hues would comfortably collect, regardless of their often-acute differences with each other. Indeed, the Asseris became an integral part of Pakistani society and gave it their support on a personal level, sharing in the joys and sorrows of the people of Pakistan. Their home formed the social hub of Islamabad and the Asseris gained renown for their unparalleled hospitality and genuine love for Pakistan and Pakistanis.
Ali Asseri’s tenacious dedication to bolstering relations between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan reaped manifest rewards and the two countries interacted closely at bilateral, regional and international levels. As he begins his perhaps even more difficult tenure as the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to Lebanon, Asseri’s impressive legacy in Pakistan will stand him in very good stead.