Honoring the Memory of Waris Mir - A Courageous Pakistani Journalist
By Aitzaz Ahsan: The News, July 9, 2007
In the six decade long history of journalism in Pakistan, there have been merely a handful of journalists who, with courage enough to put their very lives at stake, had successfully preserved the sanctity of the pen and their noble profession by challenging successive military dictators Pakistan has had since independence. And Professor Waris Mir, a top flight Urdu writer and a former chairman of the Journalism Department at Punjab University Lahore, tops the list of those gutsy intellectuals.
Professor Waris Mir’s political and intellectual write ups saw their peak of popularity during the despotic rule of General Ziaul Haq in the 1980s, which had been the most tumultuous period of Pakistan’s political history. Waris Mir is accredited, most honourably, for keeping the lamp alight during the brutal dictatorship of Zia that did its best to enchain and stifle every emerging voice. He died with his boots on in July 1987 at a young age of 48 while confronting Zia dictatorship through his pen. The best words to describe Mir would be: a democracy loving, progressive and liberal intellectual and a truthful, honest and brave journalist. During his career span as a journalist that is scaled on the premises of 25 years, Waris Mir, besides taking up his pen on political issues, wrote on all important national and international issues of his times including human rights, freedom of expression, philosophy, religion, history and social issues.
However, it was the pluckiness of his scholarly writings that earned Waris Mir soaring popularity amongst the readers during Zia’s martial law period. That was the time when the country was shrouded with the brutal Martial Law of Zia. Political activity had been declared unlawful; newspapers and magazines were facing atrocious censorship and those journalists who yet dared to speak out were not spared from the then-common public lashings. Waris Mir’s writings also had to bear the snipping instilled by censorship yet he refused to kowtow — Waris Mir was hardly a man who would compromise on principles or manage to write half-truths. He fought a combat alone with the dictator of his times and set an example to follow.
Keeping in view the present mess created in the country by the dictatorial moves of Pakistan’s fourth military dictator, it can be safely said that General Pervez Musharraf’s despotic rule is actually the action replay of General Zia’s brutal and dictatorial rule. Although one can denote several examples of dictatorship in the brief political history of Pakistan, yet General Zia’s era can be described as the worst chapter in Pakistan’s political and constitutional history. Zia’s popular maxim was, the Army has a right to rule over the country and it is actually the military that can perform the job of the politicians better. Probably that is the reason for the efficiency and enthusiasm with which the general transformed his uniform into a sherwani and because of his totalitarian approach, deformed the national politics for times to come with undemocratic and unconstitutional moves that he used to make to stay in power.
Whatever General Musharraf is doing in Jinnah’s Pakistan today seems to be an action replay of the measures taken by General Zia to consolidate his dictatorial rule. There is a long list of unconstitutional steps taken by Musharraf — dismissal of elected government, becoming a self-appointed president in uniform, giving himself powers to dissolve assemblies at his will, awarding the power hungry politicians important positions in the government after gathering them under the umbrella of the Pakistan Muslim League, forming a National Security Council to ensure that the khakis continue to enjoy an upper hand in the decision-making. In short, General Musharraf seems to be treading religiously well in the footprints of General Zia.
Through his fiery columns, Waris Mir used to voice his opposition to the military intervention in politics, maintaining that the dilemma of Pakistani nation is that the politics and governance of the country continues to be under the firm thumb of the mighty military establishment. However, quite unfortunately, two decades after Waris Mir breathed his last, the Pakistani nation still stands at square one. When one goes through his writings, it seems as if one is reading about Pakistan as it was twenty years ago — the only difference being the replacement of General Zia by General Musharraf. However, at that time Waris Mir was there as the bold critic who brandished his powerful pen in the face of the oppressor. He didn’t know the weakening of morale under duress, fear or threats. Following are a few abstracts from some of his write-ups, which still seem fresh, though they were written twenty years ago:
In a recently released compilation of his articles titled “Politics of the army”, Waris Mir writes: “The army intervention in national politics does not allow the political and economic set up of a country to get strengthened… The military regimes do allow holding general elections but only handpicked parties can participate and chosen loyalists become a part of the government… Pakistan has reached the very heights of desire to become such an ally of America that even our foreign policy and ideals are peppered with the directives of the United States…”
“One president in uniform named it basic democracy and another gave it the title of Islamic democracy but just after a few years, all these presidents became monarchs under their own version of ‘desi’ democracy,” he wrote.
Another topic that he extensively wrote about was the mutilation of the Constitution at the hands of General Zia. And what Waris Mir wrote during the Zia days do not seem a story of the yester years but an incident of today: “The unanimously adopted Constitution of 1973 has been disfigured to such an extent that it has lost its actual spirit. The protege of the regime describe the mutilation of the Constitution as an attempt to strike a balance between the powers of the prime minister and the president. The reality is although quite different — whenever the president feels the prime minister is trying to assert his authority, he can just dissolve the assemblies and dismiss the leader of the house. Those at the helm of affairs have never bothered to enlighten the people about the fact that every political crisis in Pakistan, every time the constitution was ripped; there was merely one reason behind it all: an individual holding power had refused to let go of even an inch of his authority.”
At least during General Zia’s time Professor Waris Mir was alive to extend his message of hope to the people of Pakistan through his writings. Twenty years later, the country once again stands at a cross road, but the sad aspect is that it is hard to find intellectuals of Professor Waris Mir’s stature and calibre, though his voice continues to reverberate through his writings.
The 20th death anniversary of Professor Waris Mir falls today.
The writer is a member of the National Assembly and belongs to the PPP.