By Umer Nangiana
INTERVIEW: Dato’ Ahmad Jazri Bin Mohamed Johar
Frank, fluent and witty, he is a born diplomat. You have to meet him just once to become his friend for good. Meeting new people, striking friendships and talking his way into agreement, it all comes instinctively to him.
Foreign Service was a career of choice for him and he has excelled at it. During his long diplomatic career, he has played a pivotal role in his country’s political achievements, both on the national and global fronts. Winning the membership of the Conference on Disarmament of United Nations was one of them.
HIS CALLING: Ambassador Johar says he always wanted to be a part of his country’s history. Photo by Umer Nangiana
Dato’ Ahmad Jazri Bin Mohamed Johar, Ambassador of Malaysia to Qatar, h as been right at his job since his arrival here in April, 2011. He received the prime minister of his country in Qatar within just two weeks of his posting. Since then, he has been one of the most prominent members of Doha’s vibrant diplomatic community.
He is seen spearheading cultural festivals and community gatherings at one time while in his more casual moments, he is heading out to the sea catching fish. Last month, on one such excursion with his ambassador friend, Johar landed the biggest catch, a 15kg ‘hamour.’
“It was like pulling a rock out of water,” Johar laughs as he sits down for a chat with Community at his office. “I could hardly believe my eyes. Once this fish was out there, all the rest appeared small. It is my record now,” he smiles as he talks about his love for fishing and golf, the vibrant Malaysian expatriate community in Doha and his long diplomatic career spanning almost three decades.
OPENING: The ambassador with other members announcing the Asean Katara Festival in April last year. File photo
Johar joined Foreign Service in 1988 and will be retiring by June next year. “I hope I best utilise whatever time I am left with in further strengthening relations between Malaysia and Qatar,” says the ambassador, who would love his country to become a strategic partner of Qatar in different fields.
Before coming to Qatar on his first ambassadorial assignment, Johar had been to Indonesia, Australia and Switzerland as a diplomat but he fondly remembers his posting at Malaysia’s permanent mission at United Nations in Geneva where he believes he contributed the most to his country.
He was given the task of getting Malaysia the membership of the Conference of Disarmament for which they had already applied. “It was thrilling for me. Just a month before the end of my assignment in Geneva, we got the membership. It didn’t come easy though. I had to do a lot of lobbying and negotiations but I only had to be brave and blunt and I took every opportunity,” recalls Johar.
This kind of work was the reason he had joined the Foreign Service, he says. During the difficult times and when “everything had to be ready by yesterday and not tomorrow,” he had his wife’s full support.
“I was lucky that I had a very understanding wife. She helped me a lot,” says Johar. However, his son who is his only child often hated it whenever they had to move from one country to another.
“He would say, Pa, I just made friends and now we are moving again,” Johar says, smiling. Luckily, he says he was able to send his son to international schools and thus his education did not get disturbed. He has done his degree in chemical and biomolecular engineering from the University of Sydney and is now working in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Johar recalls the time when he was the desk officer for Eastern Europe and it coincided with the fall of Berlin Wall. Eastern Europe was changing and in that year alone, Johar says, 11 heads of states visited Malaysia. He was on his toes but he enjoyed it.
“I wanted to be part of the history of my country. And today, I would say I have no regrets. It has been very exciting,” says the Malaysian envoy. He looks after a generally very active Malaysian community here in Doha.
A majority of 4,848 Malaysians are employed in highly skilled and professional jobs and regularly organise their community gatherings, sports and recreation events besides desert safaris.
“In fact, MAQ (Malaysian Association of Qatar) is one of the most active Malaysian associations in the world. They organise a set of events every year from sporting events including football, badminton besides treasure hunts, drives around Qatar and other such recreational activities,” says Johar. He often joins them.
He is also the patron of the Malaysian Golf group and is the chairman of the group of golf ambassadors. Besides his own community, Johar also engages other South East Asian and Asian communities into cultural activities.
He helps organise Asean sports events every year where they play badminton, bowling, and table tennis. “I used to be good at table tennis when I was younger but now I think guys have been beating me. I still give them tough time though,” Johar laughs. He secured second position in last year’s badminton competition of the heads of missions.
Johar has also been instrumental in getting Asean Committee in Doha (ACD), a group of Asean countries’ communities living in Doha, registered with Asean secretariat and has chaired ACD for a year.
He, along with other ACD member ambassadors, organised an ASEAN festival with Katara Cultural Foundation last year which, Johar says was visited by over 45,000 people in three days. Visitors particularly loved the Asian cuisine.
And that is his personal favourite food as well. He loves rice, rendang beef, sweet and sour fish and grilled chicken. Johar says there are plenty of places in Doha for him to find these dishes.
Johar also chairs the Asian Ambassadors’ Group in Doha and regularly organises gatherings and meetings of the group comprising 20 members.
“Qatar has a very active diplomatic community. Almost every other night, there is an event. I try my best to be at all of the events and represent my country,” says the Malaysian ambassador. “It keeps us closely knitted. The wives of ambassadors also enjoy. The Asian ladies are very well known for their selfies. Whenever they meet, you would see a lot of selfies,” he laughs.
Johar says he has enjoyed every day of his stay in Qatar. Villaggio Mall, for its ambiance and eateries, is his favourite shopping place and whenever he gets a chance, he visits it with his wife.
“When I first arrived here, Qatar was booming and I think they have done really well with their resources. They have turned Doha into a modern looking city in a short time,” says the ambassador.
Malaysia, he says, also attracts a lot of tourists from Qatar. More than 7,000 Qataris visit it every year and if the expatriates are included the figure goes higher. He says the tourism friendly infrastructure in Malaysia makes it possible for everyone to visit the country and go places easily once there.
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