LAHORE // Journalists should never take themselves too seriously, reads the website of the venerated Pakistani journalist Khalid Hasan, "because what they write in the morning is used to wrap fish in the same evening". Perhaps Hasan underestimated the power of his own pen. Since the written word never dies, fans of the late journalist, author, translator and civil servant are comforted that his legacy lives on in more than four decades of work. Funeral services were held yesterday for Hasan, who died on Friday in northern Virginia after a battle with prostate cancer. He was 74.
Although his later years were spent predominantly in the United States, Hasan continued to serve as an influential voice of the Pakistani people on both sides of the world. Based in Washington since the mid-1990s, he reported for various Pakistan-based English publications, including Nation, the Daily Times and the Friday Times. He wrote more than 40 books and translated the works of Saadat Hasan Manto from Urdu.
Pakistan's prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, offered his sympathies to the family and expressed the country's gratitude for the contributions of "a great journalist". Pakistan's information minister, Shehrbano Rehman, said: "Mr Hasan was one of those rare journalists who earned respect for standing tall in a profession." Hasan's professional ethics, media analysts believe, is one of his greatest legacies, and something towards which the Pakistani media as a whole must strive. His editorials often expressed his concern over the state of the Urdu-language press in Pakistan, questioning whether it emphasised a disconnect of Pakistanis from the western world.
In recent years, Pakistan's media have endured uncertainty, with a history of ups and downs including gag orders under the previous administration of Pervez Musharaf and the country's general political turmoil. Print, broadcast and new media organisations are growing rapidly in number because of a boost in private funding, but qualified journalists are few and far between. "It is an evolving situation where you have more resources today in technical terms or perhaps financial terms, but there is a shortfall as far as human resources are concerned," said Ejaz Haider, the opinion editor for the Daily Times, an English-language daily newspaper based in Lahore.
Hasan's colleagues and friends say the death of this veteran journalist, who published articles as recently as two weeks ago, is a great loss to the industry. "Khalid Hasan had an impact that you don't find in a lot of journalists today," said Adil Najam, a professor of international relations at Boston University and lead author of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
"People would read his columns not just because he was saying something interesting, but because it was Khalid Hasan - he could have written about kite flying, but you read it." Hasan's recent criticism on Muntadhar al Zaidi - the Iraqi journalist famed for throwing his shoes at George W Bush, the former US president - demonstrated his steadfast commitment to journalistic ethics. "What the man did was wrong," he wrote in December. "He must not misuse [his] privilege or employ it to push his personal or political agenda."
Pakistan has long prided its efforts to maintain a free press and Hasan seized that privilege. A one-time press secretary for Zulfikar Ali Bhutto when he was president, Hasan resigned and became a sharp critic of Pakistani politics after the military coup by Gen Mohammed Zia ul Haq. "He was devastated when Bhutto was hanged and never forgave the state of Pakistan for what happened," said Jugnu Mohsin, publisher of the Friday Times, an independent English newsweekly.
His unwavering dedication to addressing the important issues and timely issues could best be seen in his writings about Kashmir. A native of Srinagar, Hasan often candidly expressed his fears that tensions between India and Pakistan would erupt into another brutal subcontinent war. He told CNN in 2002: "What has affected me most is the fear and the apprehension that [between] India and Pakistan, a war could break out and it would result in human suffering on a scale which one cannot even begin to imagine."