Senior journalist and founder of The Frontier Post, Rehmat Shah Afridi passed away here on Saturday night after a protracted illness, according to his family. He was 74.
The funeral, held at Bagh-i-Naran on Sunday, was attended by relatives, friends, journalists and people from his native Khyber district.
He is survived by four sons — Mahmoodullah Afridi, US-based journalist Jalil Afridi, Bilal Afridi, and Barrister Ahmad Shah Afridi.
Mr Afridi’s death drew widespread condolences and messages of appreciation for his struggle for the development of journalism in Pakistan in general and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in particular.
Mr Afridi launched The Frontier Post from Peshawar in 1985 when Gen Zia ruled the country. He was its editor-in-chief. Later, he also launched an Urdu daily Maidan from Peshawar.
His former colleagues and staffers termed his death end of an era.
They said the late Rehmat Shah was very clear about defending the rights of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
“Rehmat Shah Afridi believed in the rights of the inhabitants of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and had very clear stand on issues like the renaming of the then NWFP, Kalabagh Dam and net profit on hydel power generation,” said senior journalist and former president of the Peshawar Press Club, Syed Bukhar Shah.
He said Mr Afridi had gathered some excellent journalists under the umbrella of The Frontier Post, especially the progressive voices in the country.
Mr Bukhar Shah, who served in The Frontier Post over a decade, said prominent journalist the late Aziz Siddiqui was editor when the paper was launched. Mr Siddiqui shaped the publication as one of the most progressive voices of the country, which remained in the forefront of struggle for safeguarding the rights of vulnerable groups in society.
Cherishing the memories in the paper, he recalled that Mr Rehmat Shah was pro-workers and was often seen taking lunch or dinner in newsroom or reporting room with his colleagues.
“Rehmat Shah Afridi brought out the Frontier Post from Peshawar right after Junejo sb eased Zia’s curbs on press. He empowered the late Aziz Siddiqui to assemble a stellar news & op-ed team & run the FP with full editorial independence,” US-based columnist Dr Muhammad Taqi wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
An Islamabad-based journalist, who remained the FP‘s chief reporter in 1990’s, Muhammad Ilyas Khan, said, “End of an era indeed. I was in touch with him till early this year. Then his health issues started and chats on phone became infrequent.”
“The Frontier Post will always be a milestone in Pakistan’s mass media history,” he added.
A former bureau chief of the paper in Islamabad, Zafarullah Khan commented on X, “Good bye Rehmat Shah Afridi-founder of The Frontier Post-the newspaper that introduced me to the spirit of journalistic freedom for democracy and space to express without fear. He also introduced the concept of decent wages in journalism.”
He was known for his close relations with PPP leaders, including the late Benazir Bhutto. As he wielded influence among the tribal circles, there were reports after the 1993 general elections that he had convinced some tribal MNAs to support the formation of PPP government at the centre.
PPP leader and former president Asif Ali Zardari extended condolences to his sons. “Rehmat Shah Afridi’s services to journalism will be long remembered,” he said in a message.
The former president prayed to Allah for grant of eternal peace to the departed soul and courage and fortitude to the bereaved family to bear the irreparable loss.
Mr Afridi faced several hardships when he was arrested in 1999 by the Anti-Narcotics Force on charges of drug trafficking.
A trial court sentenced Mr Afridi to death, which was subsequently commuted to life imprisonment by the Lahore High Court.
Human rights bodies, including the Amnesty International, had described his arrest as politically motivated. He was released in 2008 when the then government suspended his sentence.
After his release, he continued to face health issues, but his passion for journalism didn’t end and he continued with his paper.
Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2023