One of the last titans

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By Jaffer Bilgrami

WAJID Shamsul Hasan, former high commissioner of Pakistan to the UK and a distinguished journalist, who passed away in London on Tuesday morning after several weeks of illness, was perhaps one of the last of the now-vanishing breed of fearless and bold journalists. After his forty years of association with the media, he breathed his last at Royal Free Hospice. He was a man of natural elegance and warmth. He was unpretentious, but loaded with limitless humour and one who also brought informality to diplomacy. Equally well-known and a popular figure both in the worlds of politics and journalism, his legacy will long be remembered.

Born in an illustrious family of North India in 1941, Mr Hasan grew in highly charged political surroundings where his father Shamsul Hasan was a key figure in the All-India Muslim League and a close confidant of Quaid-i-Azam. His family’s close association with and admiration for the Quaid filtered down to Wajid Shamsul Hasan, and his writings always espoused the ideals of the father of the nation.

Wajid Shamsul Hasan is sitting with Benazir Bhutto

After coming out from university, he with his strong political roots and training plunged into journalism in the sixties by joining the largest media chain of Pakistan where he rose to the position of the editor of the country’s largest evening paper at a very young age. His bold and fearless approach and deep political acumen enabled Daily News to eclipse rival newspapers. His stewardship as an editor enabled Daily News to emerge as one of the leading evening papers of the country known for its juicy and sensational headlines. A style which was often not easily digested by many, but was very popular among the readers.

As a part of his editorial team, I am personally witness to how as an editor Mr Hasan was fearless who gave many sleepless nights to the proprietors of his paper by stepping on the landmines of the establishment. His instantly drafted editorials were often very hard-hitting.

Wajid Shamsul Hasan

Enjoying close relationship with political leaders of the country, Mr Hasan also earned a great deal of trust of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, whom he adored as a charismatic figure and a role model for any developing country’s leader. As an integral part of the prime minister’s delegation in the Bhutto era, he was one of the few journalists who accompanied him to Shimla.

The relationship bet­ween Mr Hasan and the Bhutto clan steered the journalist to assume the role of a political adviser and a confidant of the Bhutto family. His memoirs recently came out in Urdu in which he narrated his linkage with the Bhuttos and his unflinching commitment to democratic and liberal values.

Coming to power in the nineties, Benazir Bhutto first appointed him as chairman of the National Press Trust and later as high commissioner in London where he served again in 2008. He played a pivotal role in drafting the famous Charter of Democracy which was signed between the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in 2007. His association with Benazir Bhutto and affiliation with her party landed him in days of hardship and long and legal encounters with law enforcement agencies after her government ended. But he remained undeterred.

Wajid Shamsul Hasan

The passing away of such a person symbolises the end of an era. For me, it’s the end of a loyal and trusted friend, and a great mentor, who will always remain very special to me.

(The writer is journalist and columnist)