THE quest for a progressive society in Pakistan, at peace with itself and its neighbours, suffered a big setback in the passing away of Ibn Abdur Rehman on Monday. Rehman Sahib, as he was known across much of South Asia, was a celebrated and dogged pursuer of peace in the subcontinent. He founded the Pakistan-India Forum for Peace and Democracy. Implicit in the nomenclature was the suggestion dear to Rehman Sahib: one could not go without the other. “A legend, a crusader for justice, peace and democracy, a lover of literature, poetry and music”, is how the PIFPD remembered him in a statement. At home, he will be equally warmly remembered as a defender of myriad human rights, most urgent among his priorities being the fight for equality and justice for Pakistan’s women and minorities.

Rehman Sahib was the recipient of several major awards, including the Magsaysay, for his pioneering work in human rights, which in his view began facing a stepped-up assault in Pakistan in the Zia era. The legacy of that military rule with its mediaeval trappings has proved difficult to dislodge. He believed the making of an illiberal society in Pakistan accelerated sharply during that particularly dark chapter of history. Rehman Sahib was forthright in advocating democracy and human rights in neighbouring countries where he was celebrated as a friend and a hero of valiant causes. A formidable journalist with experience that was honed in the era of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Mazhar Ali Khan, he will be greatly remembered for his sharp observations, including in his weekly column for this paper, on practically every issue that touched the lives of ordinary people . He used the option of clear prose for most issues, but displayed a knack for occasional sardonic humour too. India and Pakistan were nearly similar in a parity of 19-21 he would say, departing from an Urdu metaphor that stresses a tinier difference as 19-20. “If we say that you might take offence,” he would laugh with his Indian friends.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2021

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