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Labour Party Pakistan starts Inkaar Tehreek (No Movement)

People of Lahore not to pay the new bus fares

Despite heavy raining, LPP activists gathered in front of a private bus stand at Railway Station Lahore area to protest the recent raise in Lahore bus fares. They appealed to the people of Lahore not to pay the revised bus fares. They demanded an immediate withdrawal of the increased oil prices. Many travelers joined the very live demonstration and agreed with the demand.... more




COMMENT: Mazhar Ali Khan’s legacy: Viewpoint —Dr Mohammad Taqi

The state takeover of the PPL publications, their subsequent nationalisation and the eventual formation of the National Press Trust, did irreparable damage to the freedom of expression and the people’s right to be informed in Pakistan

“Many will probably conclude that
the dictatorship’s gravest crime was its deliberate destruction of press freedom, because so many other evils flowed from this act of denying to the people of Pakistan one of their fundamental rights” — ‘Ayub’s Attack on Progressive Papers’, Mazhar Ali Khan, Pakistan Forum, January 1972.

The takeover, at gunpoint, of Mian Iftikharuddin’s Progressive Papers Limited (PPL) on April 18, 1959, was a watershed event after which the Pakistani Left, or for that matter any opposition group, has not been able to find a viable alternative to the state-controlled propaganda machine.

However, there were sporadic exceptions to this rule and the August 14, 1975, launch of the weekly Viewpoint from Lahore by Mazhar Ali Khan had ushered in one such era that ended nine months before his death in 1993.

I had an opportunity to meet Mazhar sahib, courtesy my uncle Afzal Bokhari — a regular columnist for Viewpoint. On a bright but nippy Lahore morning in December 1987, we arrived at the Viewpoint offices. At age 17, I was still experimenting with various progressive ideas and knew of Mazhar sahib as “the father of Tariq Ali”. His younger son, Mahir, was in Peshawar in those days at The Frontier Post.

My recollection of Mazhar sahib walking in is of a smiling man with a greying moustache, in white kurta-shalwar suit. His gait was steady and demeanour calm and rather soothing. I felt comfortable enough to fire a dumb question — where could one find Tariq Ali’s Trotsky for Beginners, I asked. His smile broadened and with a hand on my shoulder, he said, “Yeh to aap Tariq se hi poochein” (that is something you should ask of Tariq himself).

Mazhar sahib showed us around the office and I was pleasantly surprised to see Alys Faiz in the next hallway. During the conversation with her, I once again lobbed a question about “ideological non-issues”, i.e. her and Faiz’s early days in Amritsar. With a smile peculiar of Alys’ thin upper lip, she steered the discussion towards asking about Aziz Siddiqui, who was editing The Frontier Post from Peshawar in those days.

Faiz, Mazhar sahib and Aziz Siddiqui were all at The Pakistan Times (PT) at one point. They were matchless journalists and ideologues — traits, which when combined with the towering personal integrity of each, scared Ayub Khan’s military regime.

The junta responded by censorship — a policy that later took many names like the so-called press advice, and was legitimised by the fig-leaf of notorious laws like the Press and Publication Ordinance (PPO).

However, such tactics were no match for the prowess of Mazhar Ali Khan’s pen and the power of his convictions. He was the editor of The Pakistan Times at the time of its takeover by the Ayub regime. The ailing chairman of the PPL, Mian Iftikharuddin, was put under house arrest and the offices sealed after confiscating the records and accounting data.

The junta’s goons led by a general and aided by bureaucrats like Qudratullah Shahab made an offer to Mazhar Ali Khan to continue as the editor with the assurance that after removing Mian Iftikharuddin as the chairman, the status quo ante will be restored. In fact, he was promised that the editorial titled ‘The New Leaf’ — written by Qudratullah Shahab announcing that the paper was “under new management” — would not even be published if Mazhar sahib agreed to remain the editor.

Mazhar sahib responded with a resounding no to any and all offers to serve as a protégé of martial law. The regime had the audacity to tell him that under the new rules he could not even resign. But not being the one to be cowed down, Mazhar sahib called it a day.

The state takeover of the PPL publications (the dailies Pakistan Times and Imroze and the weekly Lail o Nahaar), their subsequent nationalisation and the eventual formation of the National Press Trust, did irreparable damage to the freedom of expression and the people’s right to be informed in Pakistan.

In the years leading up to the creation of Bangladesh, Mazhar sahib remained one of the key leftist ideologues in Pakistan and an inspiration for many in the mainstream parties like the National Awami Party (NAP) and for students becoming increasingly politicised against the repressive military regimes.

After the independence of Bangladesh, Mazhar sahib went there, in a last ditch effort to work out some form of a confederation formula with Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. But the mission, supposed to be a low-key effort with the backing of ZA Bhutto, fizzled out.

Mazhar sahib also accompanied ZA Bhutto to the Simla talks and according to Dr Aftab Ahmed, was able to prevail upon Mrs Indira Gandhi to do business with the first elected leader of Pakistan.

However, the sophisticatedly simple Mazhar sahib is remembered not for mere ideology or the diplomacy stints but for his sober, independent publication — Viewpoint.

This rather thin journal, with a non-glossy cover, composed usually in Times New Roman and printed on newsprint, became the flagship of dissident journalism from the latter years of ZA Bhutto’s government through the dark ages of Ziaul Haq’s Islamic martial law.

It was almost miraculous that a journal, which received neither the newsprint quota nor a lifeline of lavish advertising money from the government, survived, let alone became a pioneer in serious public interest journalism.

The simple charisma of Mazhar sahib’s editorship rallied together a group of fearless journalists like Eric Cyprian, IA Rehman, Amin Mughal and Zafar Iqbal Mirza, who made Viewpoint an exception to the rule of submissive journalism in Pakistan. However, it was his personal devotion to the core principles of serious ideological journalism that kept Viewpoint going.

Identifying the right issue for the editorial, opening timely debate on relevant matters, focusing on the country and region without missing the global perspective, and above all keeping the opinion out of the news while still upholding the highest ideological values, was what Mazhar sahib was all about.

A group of energetic young individuals, led by Farooq Sulehria, has come together to re-launch Viewpoint as a web magazine, with its first issue going online tomorrow (May 21, 2020).

The Viewpoint is the legacy of a fine human being, an impeccable ideologue and inimitable journalist that Mazhar Ali Khan was. My submission is that we take utmost care in handling this trust.

Dr Mohammad Taqi teaches and practices medicine at the University of Florida and contributes to the think-tanks
www.politact.com and Aryana Institute. He can be contacted at mazdaki@me.com




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