Monday July 15, 2024

A courageous voice

More than a decade ago, Hamid Mir’s collection of columns ‘Qalam Kamaan’ attracted wide acclaim and now his new collection ‘Such Bolna Mana Hey’

By Dr Naazir Mahmood
January 29, 2024
Senior Journalist, columnist, and writer Hamid Mir. — X/@HamidMirPAK
Senior Journalist, columnist, and writer Hamid Mir. — X/@HamidMirPAK 

Many of us keep lamenting that journalists of yore were much more courageous, fighting against dictatorships and rebelling against all sorts of censorships imposed on this nation.

This disappointment goes on to mention that there are no more brave journalists around. Though this may be partially true as we see that most journalists do not stand up or raise their voice against injustices, the media landscape is not all that barren.

Despite an increasing tendency among people in the media to be more interested in fame, perks, and privileges that a soft corner to the status quo brings, there are a few valorous voices that keep challenging the authority that violates human rights. From Absar Alam, Azaz Syed and Asma Shirazi to Matiullah Jan and Shahzeb Khanzada, there are gadflies that keep bothering the powers that be.

One name that stands out among the few is Hamid Mir. No discussion about him will be complete without first talking about his illustrious father Waris Mir who stood like a rock against the dictatorship of General Ziaul Haq; he was also one of the few who condemned the military action in East Pakistan.

Waris Mir inculcated in his children a desire to learn about social injustices and sparked a will to expose those who are responsible for any violations of human rights in the country. Hamid Mir is an embodiment of that desire and will.

Though one can disagree with some of his observations and opinions, one cannot question his integrity and courage even at the cost of putting his life in danger. Perhaps he is the only journalist in Pakistan who has faced at least three assassination attempts, one of which nearly killed him in 2014. But that does not deter him as he minces no words while talking about the issues that are an anathema to the powerful quarters. Be it injustices in erstwhile Fata or the issue of missing persons in Balochistan, Hamid Mir’s voice is clear and consistent.

More than a decade ago, Hamid Mir’s collection of columns ‘Qalam Kamaan’ attracted wide acclaim and now his new collection ‘Such Bolna Mana Hey’ (Speaking Truth is Forbidden) is proving even more so.

The 700-page volume contains his 226 columns written from 2018 to 2023. We know that this five-year period did more harm to democracy, economy, and politics of this country than any other period in the 21st century. Reading his book is an enlightening experience that all readers of political history must go through.

A peculiar feature of Hamid Mir’s columns is that he tries to be as objective as possible without showing any personal liking or disliking. That was the reason he gave full attention to Imran Khan even before he came to power. That means that he did not show any personal grudge against Imran Khan and the PTI, giving them their due share of space in his columns. But once it became clear what Imran Khan was up to, Hamid Mir stared cautioning him. However, true to his traits, the good Khan took it personally.

Hamid Mir through his columns cautioned not only Imran Khan but also reminded the PML-N government to avoid indulging in any declared or undeclared censorship. In one of his columns titled ‘Azadi-e-Sahafat ke liye Khatraat’ (Dangers for Media Freedom), he reminded the PML-N leadership what it did in November 2017. It was almost an action replay of what General Musharraf did in November 2007. When under the PTI government the PML-N opposed censorship, Hamid Mir demanded that the party acknowledge its own mistakes of imposing restrictions on the media.

Some of his columns are tributes to interesting and significant personalities of Pakistan’s history and politics. In one such column he talks about Malik Hakmeen Khan and while doing so he also discusses some aspects of Abbas Athar and Anwar Aziz, making his narrative highly readable. Hakmeen Khan as a provincial minister of Punjab wanted to reform jails but Abbas Athar gave his statement an interesting twist by making a headline about how Hakmeen Khan was planning to spread a network of jails across Punjab. Such anecdotes are strewn across the book making it worth reading.

Hamid Mir is also a master storyteller of events. His narration of the visit by Prince William and Princess Kate makes for a hilarious reading. Describing how well-ornamented auto rickshaws carried the guest to the Pakistan Monument where the reception for the couple was organized, Hamid Mir quips and makes you laugh.

At the reception one minister wonders how to translate the term ‘Pakistan monument’ in Urdu to which Mir naughtily replies ‘Yaad Bood Pakistan’ as Yaadgar-e-Pakistan is in Lahore. Similarly, he translates Long March as ‘daang’ (baton) march and explain how most long marches witnessed baton charges.

Another interesting feature of his columns is that they display a high level of literary taste. Many of his columns use beautiful Urdu poetry to make his point clear. In one of his columns titled ‘Jo is mahaul mein such bolta hai, lapata hai’ (whoever speaks the truth in this situation, disappears), Hamid Mir uses poetry by Aqeel Abaas Jafry: ‘Pehley Shehr ko aag lagaein namaloom afrad/aur phir amn ke naghmey gaein namaloom afrad’ (first some unidentified people set the city on fire/then they sing the songs of peace). In the same column he reproduces a moving piece of poetry by a Baloch poet from Gwadar, Imran Saqib.

Many of his columns are devoted to some outstanding personalities of Pakistan. Fakhruddin G Ebrahim was one such personality who remained steadfast in his commitment to democracy and human rights. In his obituary of Fakhru Bhai (as many called him fondly) we get to know about some little known facts about him such as his resignation from at least five major constitutional posts.

At one point he resigned as attorney-general under ZA Bhutto when he got to know that Bhutto had selected Sharif Uddin Pirzada to represent a case without consulting the attorney-general. Later on, the same Pirzada became attorney-general to the usurper General Ziaul Haq and facilitated the judicial murder of Bhutto.

Hamid Mir’s columns also display a deep understanding of the significance of press freedom for any society. He has written dozens of columns about how to defend press freedom and a state does tremendous harm to itself and to the country when it imposes restrictions on the freedom of expression.

His numerous columns demonstrate his unwavering commitment to human rights. The book is full of interesting information and incisive analyses of some of the most disturbing developments in the past five years. All those interested in understanding Pakistan’s recent history will gain immense insights from the book, which is a valuable addition to Hamid Mir’s work that is expanding by the day.

Hamid Mir does not confine himself to Pakistan; his columns about ‘Falestine’ and Kashmir are a testimony to his interest in world affairs especially if they relate to violations of human rights and injustices to any nation be it Baloch, Kashmiri, or Falasteeni.

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK. He tweets/posts @NaazirMahmood and can be reached at: