The central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan had been on my bucket list for some time. And a letter from Dr Munawwar Alam in the Commonwealth Association newsletter a few years ago finally inspired me to explore this possibility.

Though I had never met Dr Alam who had joined the Secretariat a few years after I left in 1997, I wrote to him expressing a desire to visit the country where he is currently working as a senior UN official.

I received a prompt and warm response from him, asking me to let him know once I had made my travel plans. But then Covid 19 intervened.  However, I was pleased to visit Kyrgyzstan in October 2023.

Munawwar – pictured right with me at a local shopping mall – was at the Secretariat from 2004 – 2013. He worked as Adviser, Sub-National Government and Administration, in the erstwhile Governance and Institutional Development Division. During this period, and specifically between 2013-2015, he worked closely with the Commonwealth Local Government Forum to strengthen local governance in Commonwealth countries. He is now based in Bishkek, the Kyrgyzstan capital. Munawwar is a qualified physician and also holds a PhD.

Though he had just returned from leave in his home city of Karachi, Munawwar could not have been more welcoming. He not only organised a full day’s tour of the city and neighbouring tourist attractions for me but also personally showed me around Bishkek, introducing me to one of the city’s best coffee houses and a Turkish restaurant, besides the city’s modern shopping mall.

Bishkek’s main mosque
Opera House, Bishkek

Best of all, we reminisced about our time with the Secretariat, and fondly remembered former colleagues we both knew, particularly three of my favourites – Amitav Banerji, William Rezel and Jasimuddin. The credit for this wonderful experience goes entirely to our membership of the Commonwealth association which brought us together.

In the summer this year, I was also delighted to catch up with Selina Mohsin, who after her tenure at the Secretariat had served as Bangladesh’s high commissioner to Maldives. During one of her regular visits to the UK, she took me out to lunch at her favourite London restaurant near Marlborough House.

I am now hoping that I will have an opportunity to welcome both Munawwar and Selina to Hastings where I live and introduce them to this historic town on England’s south coast.

Asif Khan

Information Division

1978 – 1997