Muhammad Ziauddin was an exceptionally fine man, a courageous journalist and a watchful editor. We had known each other for many years, but the association turned into a friendship during the last 15 years of his life, which he spent almost entirely in Islamabad.

There came a time when, in the cosy study room of author and former chief taxman Shamim Ahmed, the three of us used to meet once a month and would debate and dissect everything under the sun — from culture and music to media and political economy.

Along with journalist Jamil Ahmed, Ziauddin had also established and chaired a discussion platform called ‘Senior Journalists Forum’, which continues to meet even now in the library of the National Press Club, Islamabad. Whenever I was back from Lahore, I would try to attend these meetings.

Friends like Dr Naazir Mahmood and Nasir Zaidi were permanent fixtures. Mostly, a leading expert or practitioner from across disciplines was invited to give us a talk on a particular social, economic or political question and then take our questions. Ziauddin had the knack of perfectly summarising these discussions at the end, irrespective of the diverse range of subjects.

In one of the earliest meetings of the Forum, Ziauddin had introduced me to his close friend and associate, Shahid-ur-Rehman. He was another veteran journalist and author.

In 2020, after the Covid-19 pandemic had struck us, Ziauddin needed to be extra careful because of his old age, coupled with compromised lungs and a weak throat. He would seldom leave home. We only met a couple of times during that period in an outdoor café or a park. He passed away in November 2021 after a brief illness.

I recall my friend Ali Aftab Saeed telling me some months before Ziauddin’s passing that, whatever precautions Zia Sahib takes, it is not Covid-19 that poses him a danger. It is, first, losing a friend like Shahid-ur-Rehman and then not being able to meet any other friends to express his grief. Rehman, who Ziauddin would meet most regularly, had passed away in April 2020. At that time, Rehman was working on the manuscript of his fourth book.

Rehman began his career as a journalist with the Pakistani news agency Pakistan Press International (PPI), followed by a stint at the daily Morning News. He later worked with the Kyodo News Service of Japan as their Pakistan correspondent for 40 years, besides contributing to a number of national and international magazines and news outlets. He received a number of international fellowships, assignments and awards for reporting and writing on subjects that he had developed an expertise in over the years: economy, foreign relations and energy.

Rehman’s first book titled Who Owns Pakistan? came out in 1998. It described the elite capture of Pakistan’s economy and polity and the shameless concentration of wealth in a few hands. His second book was published the next year, recording the entire history of the country’s nuclear programme.

Pakistan had tested its nuclear capability just one year before. It was a highly informative and timely book, titled Long Road to Chaghi. The third book, titled Pakistan: Sovereignty Lost, was an account of how debt was accumulated over the years and its impact not only on the economy but also on the country’s political sovereignty. It was published in 2006, when Gen Pervez Musharraf was already in power.

The last book by Rehman titled Pakistan: The Reckoning Begins was edited by Yasir Ali Mansuri and, with due efforts made by his son, was posthumously published in 2023. It is, in some sense, prophetic, because Rehman could see that Pakistan has entered a major and an almost irrevocable energy crisis due to a gross mismanagement of energy resources since the country’s beginning, misplaced priorities and callous and careless policy-making in the economy and the energy sector.

Rehman’s lament is backed up by hard facts and figures that he accumulated over the years. He has written in sufficient detail about different sources of energy — hydroelectric, fossil fuel-fired, nuclear, coal and renewable — and described how they were managed or mismanaged due to a combination of short-term vested interests, coupled with sheer incompetence.

Rehman has courageously unmasked the role of energy cabals, including IPPs, the oil lobby and those individual and institutional decision makers who insisted on constitutional deviations that caused more harm than good to the energy sector. Being a journalist, he has also shared some interesting anecdotes about his meetings with influential people who have either procured relevant equipment in the broader energy sector internationally or negotiated investments.

He has provided excerpts from three interviews he did with top Pakistani businessmen who have had major stakes in the energy sector. Although his book is a scathing analysis of policy and practice, Rehman sparingly gives credit to a few individuals, where it is due.

About his work, Rehman has said: “The genesis of all my publications has always been the anger and frustration that I felt because of willful mismanagement by those in the corridors of power, and publicly sharing the truth through my writings is an addiction that I can never give up.”

His conclusion remains that Pakistan should be run as a pro-people democracy, respecting the federal character of the state and abiding by the Constitution in letter and spirit, including the 18th Amendment to the Constitution which empowers provinces. He has even quoted at length from the relevant provisions of the Constitution in one of his chapters.

Pakistan: The Reckoning Begins is a must-read for those who still find the will to fight the irrevocability of the energy crisis that deepens with each passing day.

The writer is a poet and essayist. He has recently edited Pakistan Here and Now: Insights Into Society, Culture, Identity, and Diaspora. His latest collection of verse is Hairaa’n Sar-i-Bazaar.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, February 4th, 2024

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