Lahore newspapers — III

January 16, 2022

Dr Ajaz Anwar sheds some critical light on English journalism in Pakistan

Lahore newspapers — III

In April, 1959, Progressive Papers Limited was taken over. The idea was to muzzle independent reporting and acquire a mouthpiece for the martial law government. Its editor Mazhar Ali Khan resigned immediately. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the youngest minister in Ayub Khan’s cabinet, visited his residence and tried to persuade him to continue as editor of The Pakistan Times, but the latter refused, saying that tomorrow’s paper should not bear his name as its editor. As fate would have it, on April 6, 1979, the paper carried the headline: “Bhutto hanged, buried.” Two days later, ZA Sulehri wrote an editorial, titled “Death of a traitor.”

The most successful paper was given to the Saigols and later to a consortium comprising Bashir, Enayat, Nazir and Zahoor Elahi. Every succeeding editor turned out to be more pliant than the previous one.

Anwar stopped contributing political cartoons because the politicians had been stopped from taking part in elections for seven years under different sections of Efficiency Bar, or EBDO. Only Hussein Shaheed Suhrawardy challenged it. He got no relief. Anwar contributed only pocket cartoons of NANNA. Occasionally, he would hit back with some camouflaged satire.

The 1958 martial law was imposed to facilitate Pakistan to join the Seato and Cento. When a US spy plane — U-2 — that took off from a Peshawar airbase and was shot down over Moscow, NANNA remarked to his parents: “I was not talking about ‘You Two!’”

Another severe blow was dealt to journalism when the National Press Trust was founded in 1964 and several newspapers were linked to it. Again, every succeeding editor was more pliant than the previous ones. All dictators used these papers. Zia era was the worst as journalists were flogged within minutes after being sentenced by military courts. Strict censorship was imposed and the journalists were asked to self-censor the news. No blank spaces were allowed as that indicated scrapped news items.

During this dark period, Mazhar Ali Khan started the weekly Viewpoint, and gave jobs to some journalists who had lost jobs. Luminaries like IA Rehman, Zim and Hussain Naqi worked for very small pays that at least provided for bread and butter. Every month Mazhar would personally meet every member and apologise for the meagre sum enclosed in the envelope.

Benazir, in her first stint as prime minister, vowed to close down The Pakistan Times but this didn’t happen until 1996. Mian Iftikharuddin’s family was never compensated. The enlarged entrance porch and the portion he had rebuilt at Diyal Singh’s Tribune building was ruthlessly pulled down only recently, even though it was an Evacuee Trust property. Now an ugly eye sore has propped up in its place.

A similar fate had earlier befallen on the adjoining Bharat Building despite the lengthy columns written by Muhammad Idrees. What happened to the old papers bound in two-month files, nobody knows. The archives had been painstakingly cut and glued in files on different subjects by Mr Nizam. Every day, he would compile the cuttings. His only day off would be when no paper was published.

After The Pakistan Times was sold off and ceased to exist, Mr Nizam’s services were acquired by Viewpoint and later by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in the basement of which he continued with his life-long passion. He died while on duty.

Mr Afzal looked after Lail-o-Nihar’s archives. Abdullah Rauf had been privately maintaining files of various newspapers which he gave away to the Government College library. Librarian Mr Naeem was the custodian. Mrs Tahira Mazhar had kept old copies of The Pakistan Times. These she gave away to Ahmad Saleem, who kept these in a house in Islamia Park, and never allowed any researcher to see those.

The newspaper, however, had become a nursery or training ground for many famous journalists.

In the mid-1980s, the time was ripe to acquire declarations for some English dailies. Many disgruntled journalists from The Pakistan Times joined the new papers on higher salaries. Khaled Ahmad joined The Frontier Post. The Nawa -i-Waqt Publications started The Nation. Syed Sarwar Hussain, the magazine editor of The Pakistan Times helped set up The Nation’s magazine section and invited many old contributors on better remunerations. The News was started by Jang Group of Publications. Originally, it was housed in a bungalow on Mayo Road, owned by renowned homeopathic doctor Saeed, opposite the Railway Headquarters.

Once these papers established themselves, the journalists who had come from The Pakistan Times were gradually phased out or ditched. The Pakistan Times, too, was auctioned. Many bidders were more interested in its printing machinery and declaration. They did not want any party to acquire its rights and because of its past reputation to affect the business of their new English dailies.

Despite its brilliant start, The Frontier Post had to be closed down. The Muslim which was started from Islamabad had its Lahore office at the Faletti’s Hotel. But it did not survive long. The daily Dawn, which once used to reach Lahore late in the day, had to establish a local office opposite the Alfalah building and had Nisar Usmani working for it.

Enter the ‘channels.’ Those who could muster teams started their own air links. The newspapers industry had always depended on advertisements and not on the number of copies being sold. The new medium brought in ample opportunities to advertise both live and animated. Even the news were repeated several times in a loop; resultantly, the following day’s newspapers were no longer ‘breaking-news’ and appeared dated.

The Nizami family developed rifts that simmered over the years. Upon the death of Majeed Nizami, the publication house suffered financially with a reduced print order and fewer ads. Its workers were never adequately compensated.

With Shoaib and Arif Nizami parting ways and starting PakistanToday which turned out to be a fiasco and the demise of Arif recently, the days for the house of Hameed Nizami seem to be over.

Besides, the newspaper industry is fated to close down. Today it depends on the internet and international sources way too much. Any ‘non-essential staff’ has been dismissed and they are now placed in entirely different professions, including salesmanship.

Like the book, the newspaper is not going to disappear. Taking a tangible paper in your hands and reading it has a charm of its own.

Most back issues can be viewed on the web, subject wise and contributor wise. What Nizam sahib strived for all his life manually, is now only a matter of a few clicks. The older records need to be scanned and digitised.

The story of Urdu journalism shall be discussed later, including Muhammadi Begum and Imtiaz Ali Taj’s Dar-ul-Ishaat, Punjab.

Note: Free Aat classes, all ages and genders, are held every Sunday online at

(This dispatch is dedicated to Nisar Usmani)

The writer is a painter, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and ta former director of NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at

Lahore newspapers — III