Asrar Ahmad – Unsung hero of Pakistani Journalism
A pioneer of trade unionism in the newspaper industry of Pakistan and a veteran journalist, Asrar Ahmad died, quietly on October 06, 2012 after leading years of secluded post-retirement life in a small dwelling at Rawalpindi. This unsung hero of Pakistani journalism struggled for journalists’ rights besides setting unimpeachable professional standards.
Apart from his achievements in journalism he distinguished himself with his hard work in achieving better privileges for working journalists, not merely in Pakistan but also abroad, as a leader of the Afro-Asian Journalists Association. He remained a bachelor all his life and devoted time to the profession, colleagues and fraternity. The younger generation of journalists, working in the profession today, is scarcely familiar with his name and contribution.
He was born on October 23, 1923 in Gorakhpur (eastern UP) a place famous for the literary legends like Firaq and Majnoon. His father the late Wajid Husain Khan was an educationist, who founded the Islamia High School, Gorakhpur, which was later raised to the status of a degree college. After graduating from Aligarh Muslim University, Asrar Ahmad joined the newsroom of Delhi Dawn, in early 1946, as a sub-editor, where my father the late Hamid Zubairi was already working. When Altaf Husain took over as Editor of Delhi Dawn in 1945, following the exit of Pothan Joseph, he started inducting young Muslims to train and replace the predominantly Hindu and Christian editorial staff. This policy led to the induction in Dawn during 1946 of journalists like M. A. Zuberi, Ahmad Ali Khan, Zuhair Siddiqui and Mujahid Kazmi, all of whom later proved to be luminaries.
On September 14, 1947 Asrar Ahmad witnessed the ‘holocaust’ when the offices of Delhi Dawn and Press located in Daryagung area of old Delhi was attacked by a mob of Hindus and Sikhs. The office equipment was looted and the buildings were set on fire. The driver of the office van was torched to death. Asrar Sahib was present in the office premises, at that time, with his colleges Shams Siddiqui and Muhammad Idris, and was a helpless witness to this horrible episode. When the fire broke out in the building he moved out swiftly through the backyard, with his colleagues, into the lanes and bye lanes of old Delhi and took refuge in a mosque for the entire night. The Dawn thereafter, never appeared from the capital of India. After passing through this trauma Asrar Ahmad reached Karachi and started working for Sindh Observer as a reporter. From there he moved to The Pakistan Times before joining United Press International (UPI) as its bureau chief in Pakistan. This assignment he handled very proficiently for over 35 years. UPI was a major international news agency of America. Since 1982 they have turned much smaller with a shift in customer base and product focus.
After Asrar Ahmad, the only surviving staff member who remained associated with Delhi Dawn as a reporter is Khalid Ali. He is a maternal grandson of Maulana Shaukat Ali and after retirement from a senior position in Ministry of Information, Government of Pakistan, he migrated to the US and is now settled there.
In 1948 Asrar Ahmad was instrumental, with fellow journalists, in initiating the Sindh Union of Journalists (SUJ) the very first trade union of journalists in Pakistan. In fact, SUJ was the mother of KUJ and PFUJ which were formed in 1950. He was founder secretary of the PFUJ and later served as its president till late sixties. His crusade for journalists’ rights and freedom of the press, during the critical era of the first military dictator Ayub Khan, was exemplary in the history of journalism in Pakistan.
Source: Business Recorder