Remembering MH Askari
The death of Mirza Hasan Askari is a personal loss. We had been friends since at least 1962. He was the Chief Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Agricultural Development Corporation and I was the founding Assistant Editor of the Indus Times in Hyderabad. We remained friends ever since. His was a warm personality and he was loyal to friends – all personal friends, not the hundreds of the big or great.
Although his first love was short story writing, he was a wide-awake journalist. He kept abreast of contemporary thinking. Liberal at heart, his sympathies for the underdog could never be missed. It would be difficult to label him a leftist. He was too independent to be so limited. His was a benevolent nature and was generous in ample measure.
His journalistic career began in India with the Statesman in Delhi and after a year he shifted to Dawn, though not for long. During the Second World War he served the Indian Army in its Public Relations Department. After independence he came to Lahore and joined Radio Pakistan as a News Editor and remained so for over a year.
For some reason, he could not resist the lure of the armed forces. From radio journalism he moved back to the Inter-Services Public Relations yet again and stayed with the orgganisation for many years before joining the Agricultural Development Corporation and Esso Fertilisers as PRO in both cases.
His next love was Foreign Service. He became Press Counsellor in Paris and was later posted as Minister, Press, at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi – the city he was born in and the city he loved. He made many friends in India who still have a nice word for him.
He was an avid reader and his English prose was simple and functional, suitable for serious journalism. In mid-1980s he returned to journalism. He wrote leaders and a column in a leading newspaper. In his column, he usually chose South Asian subjects. In the journalistic fraternity, he was regarded as a specialist on South Asian themes. He wrote columns, usually on India-Pakistan subjects, to the last week of his life, though he had left leader writing and instead became one of editorial consultants of Oxford University Press.
He was a social animal par excellence, was in great demand by those who threw parties for the highbrows. His presence enhanced the parties. The 1990s saw Askari also as an activist. He became, in view of his fascination with South Asian peace and progress, a member of Pakistan-India PeopleÂ’s Forum for Peace and Democracy quite early. When its sister organisation, the Pakistan Peace Coalition, was formed in 2000, Askari joined that too. For two decades, MH campaigned for normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan with a view to developing it into a grassroots level friendship.
He was a great believer in a true people-to-people rapprochement. He thought it was vital for Pakistan as well as the people of all South Asia. Consequently, he was a great believer in the utility, indeed necessity, of SAARC. Its success alone could lift South Asia out of its slough of underdevelopment and poverty. This was the leitmotif of most of his columns.
He wrote and spoke at seminars on these themes at some length. Insofar as these goals were concerned, he was a committed person and went on campaigning for them. His was a restless spirit and, although he spent so many decades doing PR work, he was never cynical, nor, of course, naive. He would always appeal to the rationality of people rather than to their prejudices. May his goals come nearer in the coming days.
Source: The News