With the death of Syed Abbas Athar, group editor of the Daily Express, a historic chapter in Pakistan journalism has come to an end. He was laid to rest on May 6th leaving behind hundreds of thousands of mourners. More fondly known as Shah ji in the journalistic circles, Abbas sahib was a journalist par excellence, a progressive poet and a self-made man. A giant among journalists with unrivalled scruples, Shah ji stood out amongst many other icons of his generation.
He was one of the few good men who not only believed in ethical journalism but stood up for his principles. Journalists today sometimes seem to be more interested in sensationalism, unlike the old school of thought that Shah ji adhered to. He recognised the real meaning of journalism, he knew how to editorialise and he understood the importance of words.
Pakistan’s English press is known to be more progressive than its Urdu counterpart but Shah ji’s liberal views brought a whole new dimension to Urdu journalism. He was one of the few Urdu journalists who took a stand for Governor Salmaan Taseer. In the wake of Mr Taseer’s assassination, Shah ji took on the right-wing fundamentalists and tore them apart through his logic and rationality. As the journalist community bids adieu to Shah ji, his poem Bhutto ki Beti will live on for eternity. Despite being a devout Bhuttoist, he minced no words when it came to criticising the PPP government. A good journalist is the one who treats everything on merit, with an unbiased and impartial view. Shah ji did that and more.
His creativity knew no bounds. With an excellent command over the Urdu language, Shah ji’s columns read more like poetry than prose. It is no wonder he had a great following amongst the Urdu readership. While his commitment to his ideals is no secret, his creativity set him apart from other editors. Pakistani journalism will never be able to replace a man of his stature. It is with heavy heart that we say goodbye to an icon. RIP, Shah ji.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 7th, 2013.