Transitions: Shamimur Rahman, journalist who once interviewed Yasser Arafat by the headlight of cars, passes away at 71

Published: August 23, 2012
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Shamimur Rahman. PHOTO: FILE

Shamimur Rahman. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: Once upon a time, Shamimur Rahman filed a story on a split in one of Karachi’s major political parties. The next day the party sent its own clarification, contradicting the story. And while the newspaper agreed to print this version, Rahman was threatened at midnight. He marched into his news editor’s office and handed in his resignation. The conversation went something like this:

“Are you resigning because you were threatened,” asked his nearly disgusted news editor.

“No,” replied Rahman. “I am resigning because my version was not carried with the clarification.”

Indeed, for a journalist like Rahman, lovingly called Puppoo by his colleagues, there are many, many more stories that could be told. But sadly, he passed away on August 21 at the age of 71. He leaves behind a widow, three daughters and a son.

Rahman was born in Patna, Bihar, on July 4, 1941. Soon after doing his masters in International Relations from the University of Karachi, he joined Islamia College as a lecturer. His class fellows at university included Syed Muzaffar Husain Shah, Nasreen Jalil and many others who are now known faces in the field of politics, journalism and academia.

Perhaps the profession of teaching did not appeal to him as Rahman soon switched over to journalism in the late 1960s and joined Pakistan Press International as a political reporter.

He later became one of the founding members of the reporting team of The Sun, a newspaper that was launched under the editorship of Shamim Ahmad in the early 1970s.

Despite the financial crisis that dogged it in its later years, The Sun started out as a bold experiment in contextualizing news stories, punctuating headlines with slang and jargon and departing from the traditional layout. The newspaper produced quite a few reporters, including Rahman, who later made a name in the profession.

After The Sun, Rahman joined the financial daily, the Business Recorder, where he proved to be equally at ease with economic reporting. Despite its phenomenal growth, however, the newspaper industry in this country has generally failed to give working journalists a sense of security. It was probably with this thought that Rahman decided to join the Pakistan Television as a news producer. He stayed here for some 16 years and developed a taste for trade union activities as well.

After leaving PTV, Rahman joined the international wire service, Agence France Presse (AFP), as its bureau chief in Karachi. His last stint was with Daily Dawn where he worked as a senior political reporter especially covering the beats of Pakistan People’s Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement. He was known as a reporter with excellent contacts in both parties, but also as one whose dispatches had the ability to annoy the political leadership on either side of the fence.

PPP leader Taj Haider remembers Rahman as progressive and a supporter of democracy but also a journalist who would go any length to gather news. “Shamim would even steal documents for the sake of news,” he said. “My diary went missing and he calls me later saying: iss mein tau kuch bhi zarori nahi hai (there is nothing worthwhile in it).”

Rahman had a chance to interview famous personalities, sometimes in unusual circumstances. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was at the Karachi airport and Rahman, then working for PTV, was sent to interview him.

“The lights of the camera didn’t work as the battery went dead. The interview then took place in the airport’s parking lot with the headlights of many cars turned on,” said Haider.

Few people perhaps know that Rahman had a habit of collecting documents. “That is what I am concerned about,” urged Haider. “Shamim’s wealth of archives is immense. Journalists should do something to preserve it.”

As information secretary of the PPP, Taj Haider used to send confidential morning notes to Benazir Bhutto who was in Dubai preparing for a political comeback. The notes also went to two journalists – Yusuf Khan and Shamimur Rahman.

Rahman did not just anger politicians, recalled Prof. Dr Moonis Ahmar of Karachi University’s International Relations department. “Shamim sahib used to report in his own way. Once he covered an event and skipped the entire speech of the vice chancellor. That made the university administration really angry.”

But despite his stature as a journalist and proximity to those in power, Rahman was never arrogant. “As PTV’s diplomatic correspondent, he had travelled the world but that man never boasted,” said journalist and colleague Habib Khan Ghauri. “Even as a senior, he talked to a junior with the same respect.”

Rahman compiled a book titled Thar Coal: Salvation Paradigm which is a collection of essays focusing on the power crisis in Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 23rd, 2012.

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Reader Comments (1)

  • Aug 24, 2012 - 5:12PM

    He was like an Elder brother to me. A thorough gentleman. What a loss. He was Lovingly Called “Pappu”. I met him during the second tenure of Mr. Nawaz Sharif in an State Function when Prince Philip of Great Britain on a Official Tour and I was on duty and out of no where Shamim Bhai approached me and asked “what is happening” I was amazed that a Senior Journalist would approach an Intelligence Officer and that too in a Public Function. I said to him, Sir, it wouldn’t be advisable for any journalist to approach Spies and he laughingly replied “what’s the harm in it” , you are doing your duty and I am mine and then he gave me his visiting card which is now a souvenir for me. We used to cover Sindh Assembly proceedings together from 1997 till the imposition of Governor Rule in Sindh and not even once he crossed his boundaries to appease me nor I crossed my boundaries to do him some favour (which is a norm in a Third World country i.e. links between Intelligence Agencies and Journalists for ulterior motives). I resigned from Intelligence Bureau in 2001 and he was bold and upright enough to honour me by inviting me in a function held in Karachi Press Club in memory of Late. Yasser Arafat (with whom Shamim Sahab was very close) Another honour he bestowed upon a non entity like me, were his occasional posts for my humble blog. (links are given below) Another interesting thing which I am still amazed at, was his signatures, once I was sitting with him he signed on some papers and his signatures were in a very artistic Urdu, I laughingly said, isn’t it strange that you work in an English newspaper but your signatures are in Urdu. I don’t know what happened to his book on Afghanistan on which he was working from early 2000. He was like an elder brother to me. May Allah Bless You Eternally Shamim Bhai – Rest in Peace.

    Peace be on you, O’ inmates of graves. May Allah forgive us and you, you have preceded us, and we are following. {Tirmidhi}.

    “Peace be on you, O’ abode of the believing people. What you have been promised with has come to you. You are tarried till tomorrow and certainly we shall reach you if Allah wills. O’ Allah, forgive the inmates of the Baqi ‘ il – Gharqad. {Muslim}

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