Arif Nizami, remembered as an excellent journalist, a proactive editor, and one of Pakistan’s most stylish men
Arif Nizami was known for his many capabilities. He was an editor, an entrepreneur, an analyst and, according to a survey in the late 1990s, one of the most well-dressed men in Pakistan. People who worked with him recognised him as a truly professional journalist and a pro-worker editor.
He was perhaps the only contemporary editor with ‘scoop’ bylines. He famously broke the stories about the ouster of first Benazir Bhutto’s government. I worked for The Nation under Nizami’s editorship for four years. It was during this period that I learnt most of what I know from Arif himself, late Ahmed Aziz Zia, M A Niazi, Sarmad Bashir and Haider Hasan. The Nation under him had a policy independent of Nawa-i-Waqt. The reporters always had a deep sense of security because of Arif Nizami.
Once he assigned this scribe to a special report about the rumoured tug of war between Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, then chairman of Pakistan International Airlines and Arif Abbasi, the managing director of the national flag carrier. The PML-N had been returned with an unprecedented majority and stripped the president of his power to sack the prime minister. It appeared to be spoiling for a show down with the media and the Jang group was already facing an assault from Senator Saifur Rehman (of Redco fame and Ehtisab notoriety). I learnt that Rehman was supporting the MD, a career bureaucrat, against the chairman, a political appointment from his own party. When I confronted Rehman, he arrogantly refused to talk to me. “No need to file this story,” he said, “I will talk to Arif Nizami directly.” The matter was brought to Arif Nizami’s knowledge. He asked for a printout of the story and, having gone through it, forwarded it to the news editor with the directions: “Front Page/ Seven Columns”. In a few days, Arif Abbasi was relieved of his duties at the PIA. Another editor might, perhaps, have succumbed to pressure from Rehman, who was considered close to the prime minister.
Nizami was a pro-active editor. He would often tell us never to hold back a story without a ‘good’ reason. In April 1998, I was finishing some crime stories at around 12.30 am when the landline rang. It was Arif sahib on the other side. He told me that the government was set to hold Local Body Elections in the Punjab on May 20 and that Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif was set to make the announcement at a news conference the next day. When finished, he told me, “Give your byline.“ The next day, Shehbaz Sharif duly addressed a news conference and made the announcement.
He worked at the press to understand how a newspaper is printed, equipped himself as a sub-editor, reporter, editorial writer, marketing officer and circulation manager by working in every section.
Being a stylish person, he wanted everybody in his team to dress well. Once, one of our reporting team colleagues was in a casual dress and wearing flip-flops. Arif sahib stopped him and asked, “Why don’t you dress properly?” The reporter, known for his wit, said, “Sir, I cannot buy clothes and shoes with the salary I get.” Arif called him to his office and wrote a note to the administration, directing that he be paid cash under outfit allowance.
After completing his formal education, Arif Nizami had worked in various departments of Nawa-i-Waqt. He had learnt all the skills related to the newspaper industry. To this end, he had worked in the press to understand how a newspaper is printed, equipped himself as a sub-editor, reporter, editorial writer, marketing officer and circulation manager by working in every section.
After the Kargil War, the then Information Minister Mushahid Hussain, the ISPR director general Brig Rashid Qureshi and the foreign secretary came to Lahore to brief editors about the situation. Majid Nizami and Arif Nizami were both invited. Arif sahib assigned me to report the event. During the briefing, Mushahid Hussain refused to respond to a question asked by Arif Nizami. That led to a tense situation. After the briefing was over I asked him how I should report the attitude of the minister. He said, “It was a personal thing. Don’t mention it. Focus on their claims.”
I last met him at the funeral for Dr Mubashir Hasan on March 14, 2020. He was looking extremely sad. He told me, “Dr Mubashir was the dearest friend of my father’s. For several years, they would have lunch together.” Arif Nizami was the kind of person to value long associations. Pakistan may never see such an excellent journalist again.
Mubasher Bukhari is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and researcher. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher