PROFESSOR Shameem Akhtar is no more with us. An elder brother and friend to me, he passed away on Jan. 7. I had known him since 1954 when we used to live in the same apartment — until I moved to another house after I got married in in 1965.
He worked as Asst. Editor in Dawn’s sister publication, the Illustrated Weekly of Pakistan. In the late fifties he received a scholarship to study international law at the Southern Methodist University, Austin, Texas, where he did his LLM. On return to Pakistan he joined the Department of International Relations, University of Karachi.
A few years later he became Professor and its head and remained associated with it for more than forty years.
His knowledge of international relations was amazing, and nature had equipped him with extraordinary memory. He was an exceptionally gifted speaker and his proficiency in Arabic, Urdu and English helped him acquire superb oratorical power. In a discussion on geopolitics no one could surprise him.
Years ago I met one of his students and asked him which among his college and university teachers impressed him most. His prompt answer was: Prof. Shameem Akhtar. I asked why. He said: “Shameem Sahib was one man who could prove a point wrong and at the same time prove it right if he wanted!” His power of reasoning was so convincing that many of his contemporaries often shied away from him.
He wrote for Dawn and regularly contributed to several Urdu dailies. On retirement, he started the University’s CSP (Civil Services of Pakistan) evening classes for students intending to appear in the civil service exams. On being elevated to professorship, he told me that Dr. Ishtiaq Hussain Qureshi, then KU Vice-Chancellor, though ideologically opposed to him, promoted him and not either of the two other candidates. May he rest in peace.
DIMUNITIVE in physical build but ten feet tall in his dedication to teaching, Professor Shameem Akhtar, formerly associated with the Department of International Relations, University of Karachi, who passed away last week, represented some of the finest qualities of progressive thought, forthright expression and the imparting of an education that truly enlightens. He also taught at a university in Balochistan for some time.
Privileged to have been his student between 1963 and 1966, and fortunate to have retained contact with him over the past half century and more, the under-signed remained enthused and inspired by the clarity of his philosophical thought, his candour in both speech and in writing (including occasional contributions to Dawn), his integrity and his humility. Of such rare individuals are educational role models made.
Even in a hospital bed in his last few days of life, with diminished energy and power of speech, at the ripe age of 92 years plus, he was avidly reading a journal during the first of my visits, and then guided me through his hand-written notes of details about his family and former students.
He was particularly prescient about how imperial, hegemonic forces cloaked in democratic garb continue to bend international law and global norms to self-centred ends. May his values and vision motivate his students and others to help reduce injustice and shape a better world.
Senator(r) Javed Jabbar
Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2020