Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists pioneer Asrar Ahmed passes away
ISLAMABAD: The foundations for a large number of blessings journalists enjoy in Pakistan can be traced back to pioneers like Asrar Ahmed. Throughout his life, he fought for journalists’ rights and the freedom of the press in the country.
Despite his essential contributions, only a few among Pakistan’s younger generations knew him until he passed away on Saturday, in secluded corner of Rawalpindi. Ahmed was 90 years of age. He will be laid to rest in the city’s Westridge area on Sunday.
Ahmed left behind no family. He remained unmarried throughout his life.
“He risked his job multiple times and faced several difficulties but nothing could keep him from raising his voice, louder than all, against restrictions on the press,” said senior Tauseef Ahmed Khan, a former colleague of Ahmed.
Khan said Ahmed was always a leader. He was the pioneer of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ). In its inaugural election in Dhaka, he defeated IA Rehman. Ahmed was also instrumental in the creation of the wage board and led PFUJ’s first major campaign against the Press and Publication Ordinance.
“He was great at organizing journalists well towards the end of the 1970’s. He wanted PFUJ to develop into a professional organisation,” Khan added.
During military dictator Ayub Khan’s regime, Ahmed led almost every movement against the suppression of free speech.
“Asrar Ahmed was a perfectionist. He would never go by what you see about an event. He would grill you until you came up with facts. He set very high standards,” Muhammad Ziauddin, the Executive Editor of The Express Tribune. Ziauddin worked under Ahmed at United Press International, a foreign news wire agency where the latter served as a bureau chief.
“People who worked with him or under him went on to lead media organisations,” said Raja Asghar, a senior correspondent for Dawn in Islamabad. Asghar too had a brief stint under Ahmed. “Ahmed led the only successful strike against low wages in Pakistani journalism’s history… he gather journalists from united Pakistan behind him,” added Asghar.
Former Dawn editor Saleem Asmi, another one of Ahmed’s former colleagues, termed him a true professional and a pleasant personality ‘who never liked making unnecessary noise’. “He always remained committed to journalistic freedom,” he added.
Talking about Ahmed’s career, former PFUJ office-bearer Mazhar Abbas said the former led a number of movements since 1949 while working at the Sindh Observer, a year before his election as the first PFUJ secretary general. “This includes the strike at the Sindh Observer against its general manager’s involvement in the paper’s editorial policy. During the movement, many journalists were arrested and tortured by the police,” said Abbas.
In April 1952, Asrar Ahmed as the PFUJ secretary general demanded a press commission, which should recommend measures to improve the working conditions of the newspaper industry. It was the first such commission constituted in Pakistan. It gave a 350-page report of the industry’s working condition and recommended a better wage structure for journalists.
“We all must thank people like Asrar Ahmed, MA.Shakoor, Safdar Qureshi, Ahmad Ali Khan and others for giving us a strong platform. It is now our responsibility to remember these great people and their struggle,” said Abbas.