NEW YORK: Former Governor of West Pakistan and one of the founders of Dawn newspaper, Yusuf Abdullah Haroon was buried on Thursday in Karachi. His Soyem will take place on Friday, February 18, between Asr and Maghrib prayers and Dua will be held at 6:15pm at Haroon Villa, Clifton, Karachi.The demise of Yusuf Haroon, 95, the eldest of three Haroon brothers, has meant the loss of one of the last and oldest Muslim Leaguers who worked closely with Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He was also one of the last surviving witnesses to the historic Allahabad session where Allama Iqbal first propounded the idea of a separate homeland for the Muslims of South Asia.
His death marks the end of an era that saw the epic struggle for freedom from colonialism, the Pakistan movement under Jinnah’s leadership, the birth of Pakistan, the holocaust of partition, Pakistan’s struggle for survival during its formative years and the tragedies that later befell the world’s largest Muslim state.
The repeated military interventions, the suppression of the press, and the tragedy surrounding the secession of East Pakistan came as a personal blow to him, and he chose to live in exile, returning briefly only to be disappointed and hence returned abroad.
During the course of a political career that spanned nearly seven decades, Yusuf Haroon worked with a bewildering variety of leaders and politicians, and was witness to events and traumas which have shaped today’s Pakistan.
The brother of Mahmoud Haroon (1920-2008) and Saeed Haroon (1926-1981), Yusuf had a life like that of his father, Haji Sir Abdullah Haroon, and like him, was dedicated to the cause of Pakistan even when Pakistan was merely an idea.
As one of Jinnah’s dedicated followers, Yusuf never compromised on democratic principles and on the freedom of the press and played a crucial role in saving Dawn from what could have been a government takeover when Ayub Khan was the ruler. Yusuf fought the field marshal back with courage and strategy and managed to retain Dawn’s independence.
The paper faced serious difficulties after Altaf Husain, chosen by Jinnah to be the editor of Dawn, Delhi, joined Ayub’s cabinet in March 1965, leaving an acting editor at the helm. The late sixties were a difficult period politically for Ayub, who wanted an obedient press, especially Dawn, in the aftermath of countrywide protests against the Tashkent declaration.
The circumstances leading to Yusuf’s appointment as Editor-in-Chief have been recorded for history by M. J. Zahedi, then news editor.
In an article in Dawn’s 50th anniversary supplement, published on July 29, 1997, and titled ‘Breaking tradition’, Zahedi wrote: “Since the paper did not have a full-fledged editor to replace Mr Altaf Husain who had left it on March 1965, they felt that they must fill the vacuum without any further delay, lest the government uses this as a ruse to plant their own man. They, however, could not immediately find a person who could be the editor and on whom they could fully rely. So they thought that a member of the family would be the best person to step into Mr Altaf Husain’s shoes. And who could be a better choice than head of the Publishing Company.”
This is how Yusuf Haroon, a Muslim League politician, a former mayor of Karachi before independence (May 1944-May 1945), chief minister of Sindh (Feb 1949-May 1950), a former governor of West Pakistan, and a federal minister, broke tradition and took editorial charge of the paper. In April 1966 he became Editor-in-Chief.
This was a tough period for the country’s press and Yusuf Haroon handled it quite well. Zahedi recalls: “He issued instructions to the staff not to give undue importance to news concerning the President. Ayub Khan’s picture was not to be used as a matter of routine. In headlines and captions, wherever possible, the president was not to be identified by name.
A staff member, who was then a subeditor in Dawn’s old office at New Chali, remembers: “The news about Ayub and his ‘achievements’ was virtually hidden from the reader. On one of his visits to Karachi, Ayub found that Dawn had put on the front page not his picture but that of a children’s event.
Those were dangerous times for Yusuf. When matters came to a head (documents were forged in Islamabad to show Yusuf as an American spy), he had to leave in a hurry to avoid arrest. A friend of the family working in the inner sanctums of the establishment (A.B. Awan, secretary, ministry of interior) had warned Yusuf of his impending arrest.
He “escaped with just one piece of luggage” (to use his own words) without delay after State Bank offices were opened in the evening by friend Habibullah Shahab to issue the P-form, needed those days for anyone leaving Pakistan. Yusuf chose to leave the editorship and go into exile rather than make the paper a mouthpiece for the military dictatorship.
He was governor of West Pakistan in 1969 but left after Yahya Khan assumed power. He visited Pakistan for brief periods since Ziaul Haq came to power. A freedom fighter, politician, diplomat, parliamentarian and journalist, Yusuf inherited a passion for politics and service to the nation from his father, Sir Haji Abdullah Haroon, one of Jinnah’s close associates, and spearheaded others of his family in founding Dawn.
As a person who believed passionately in creating an egalitarian society, Yusuf wanted to abolish large landholdings and moved a bill to that effect in the Sindh Assembly when he was the chief minister, but it was sabotaged by fellow politicians, even though he had the blessings of Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first prime minister. As a protest Yusuf resigned his post.
However, before doing so he released the famous dissenting note written by Masood Khadarposh in support of land reforms in the controversial Hari Commission report, something that the government was trying to hide from the public.
Yusuf Haroon’s monumental work for Pakistan related to Dawn. In 1946, when Yusuf was in New Delhi to attend a constituent assembly session, Jinnah called him to his residence and asked him to discontinue the newspaper ‘The Herald’, then edited by Desmond Young, and instead start the publication of Dawn in Karachi, even though Dawn’s Delhi edition would continue to be published.
Jinnah also asked him and his family to buy all the shares of the newspaper so that Dawn, Karachi, could be in the hands of someone he trusted. He made clear that Altaf Hussain was to be editor of the Karachi paper and that Husain would be responsible directly to Jinnah, and in his absence, to Liaquat.
Yusuf Haroon is survived by his wife Mulook Pasha Haroon.