A personal loss

Published October 5, 2019
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

THERE are the concerns over the larger picture, a scene that appears quite dismal; then there are personal shocks to the system, losses that leave one shaken and bereft; losses that leave you dumbfounded as you’d never have imagined one day you’d need to come to terms with them.

My dear friend and former Dawn colleague Niloufer Patel passed away last month, a mere 24 days after being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. It was heartbreaking to hear of her rapidly-worsening health just a few days after first learning of her illness.

Niloufer was the epitome of a Dawn Group lifer, having started her career soon after doing her MBA some 36 years ago and literally being on the job till the very end, ensuring that what we, the journalists, produce gets to you, the reader, unhindered all year round.

She was Dawn’s director of circulation and doordination and would ensure that you got your copy of the paper whether a militant group controlling Karachi was attempting to prevent that from happening or an organised, armed state institution was standing in her path.

Her pleasant, mild, endearing demeanour belonged to someone with a beautiful, gentle heart; her integrity was impeccable, her friendship so sincere that it would be a source of great pride, strength to many of us. But a rollover she was not. She had a will of steel where her work was concerned.

It is incumbent on journalists to also acknowledge that the role of professionals like Niloufer is not celebrated enough.

Over the years, Dawn has faced multiple challenges, mainly on account of asserting its editorial independence. And these challenges, of course, were topped by tactics such as the blocking of its advertisements and the distribution of its copies.

Anyone deploying the latter weapon soon confronted the iron will of my friend as she would work tirelessly so that the reader was not disappointed. Many independent journalists see themselves as champions of the free media.

It is incumbent on journalists to also acknowledge that the role of professionals like Niloufer is not celebrated enough. Regardless of the wonderful content the journalists produce in a newspaper, it gets to the audience only because of these professionals’ tireless efforts and their imagination.

Niloufer was so much more than her designated role asked of her. Much more. Everybody in Dawn whether in editorial or in marketing, production or her own circulation department or senior management saw her as a personal friend, a peacemaker, who was always around for them. Anyone and everyone could ask her for help and she’d never be found wanting.

I left Dawn some nine years back. To her final day, Niloufer remained a considerate friend who was constantly in touch. Her last message to me was just a week before she was hospitalised and diagnosed when she wrote to me to cheer me up after my recent accident and injury.

When I visit Dawn next, I am sure nothing will appear the same with her gone. Her’s is not a loss one can easily reconcile with. When so many of us feel so bereft it is difficult to imagine what her husband Cyrus and son Zeryus and other family must be going through. Thoughts and prayers with them. Rest in peace, my friend.

Such personal losses make the larger picture seem irrelevant but look at it one must. Two events generated considerable excitement over the past few days. One was the army chief’s growing footprint on matters of the state as he seemed to be taking ever greater interest in the economy as well.

The army chief met the captains of trade and industry at GHQ to allay their concerns over an IMF-mandated contraction of the economy that is now hitting production, profitability and jobs as also warning bells that are being rung about the spectre of stagflation.

The other major event was a presentation to the prime minister on the police reform proposals for Punjab which seems to have had zero input/buy-in from officers of the Police Service of Pakistan who have been vocally condemning it as an attempt to devolve all authority, including vital and legitimate police powers, to the civil servants of the Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS).

Many serving and retired senior police officers are decrying the fact that a committee set up in winter this year to draw up proposals to replicate KP police reforms that earned the PTI provincial government accolades in its last tenure has not even had a single meeting.

One senior police officer has pointed out that another committee working under the chairmanship of the chief justice of Pakistan is already working on police reform recommendations so he could not understand the motivation behind and need for these proposals.

Frankly, I am not familiar enough with the topic to say who is right and who isn’t. But having witnessed how policy is often made in Pakistan it will be safe for me to look at some facts. First and foremost is that the man responsible for drawing and driving reforms in KP, former IGP Nasir Durrani, has since fallen from grace.

After retirement he was given an advisory role in the Punjab government but his services were soon dispensed with after disagreement over policy matters. A respected police officer, Salahuddin Mehsud, who followed Durrani as KP IGP, was also sent to Azad Kashmir after disagreeing with the policy governing police in the merged districts.

It is clear that two of the most trusted prime ministerial aides (one former and one serving) are now PAS officers. They are casting a long shadow on policy as is the norm in Pakistan where individuals, and not institutions, matter.

However, if I were a police officer I wouldn’t worry too much as the government has demonstrated time and again how so many of its proposals go no further than the presentation ceremony.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2019

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