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Pakistan’s Top Ten Columnists

Posted on August 15, 2006
Filed Under >Hassan Abbas, People, Politics
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Guest Post by Hassan Abbas

We should occasionally take time to apprecaite and salute the political commentators and columnists who continue to struggle through their pen to make Pakistan what it was meant to be: a democratic, pluralistic and modern Muslim state at peace with itself and its neighbors.

In this spirit, I want to honor these courageous columnists and writers who continue working towards this goal, despite hurdles in their way. In my opinion – supported by many other friends who I talked to on this issue – these men and women are doing a great service to the true cause and ideals of Pakistan. The list is drawn from those who write regularly in Pakistani English newspapers/magazines. A quote from a recent article is provided for each columnist to exemplify their work.

1. Ardeshir Cowasjee (Dawn)

“On the 59th anniversary of Independence we continue to be ruled by a vast government made up of members of dubious political parties all of whom claim to have ‘vision’ (of grandeur, no doubt, and of nothing else).”

2. Ghazi Salahuddin (The News)

“One great tragedy in our lives is that these people who may recognise the folly of the government’s action keep quiet because they want to retain their positions in the power structure. Such moral bankruptcy is the cancer of our political governance.”

3. Khalid Hasan (Daily Times)
(Also see earlier ATP Post here)

“Jefferson’s ghost must have risen from his grave in rural Virginia when Ghumman (a Pakistani minister visiting the US) declaimed that since democracy was the root of all evils, he would rather have a ‘dictator.’ He also informed his flabbergasted audience that ‘democracy has not worked in Pakistan and it has failed over and over again.’ The Minister is also either poor at counting or his history is about as strong as my quantum physics, because he went on to say that in the last two and a half centuries, nobody had dared to go into Pakistan’s tribal territories as Gen Musharraf had. ‘We now have a leader who wants to establish Rule of Law in that area.’”

“If what is happening in Waziristan is Rule of Law, then I am migrating to Darfur.”



4. Khaled Ahmed (Daily Times)
(Also see earlier ATP Post here)

“As realpolitik, Pakistan followed the best course in Cold War even though the Pacts were unpopular. When the Soviet Union collapsed, India was found holding the Friendship treaties with no benefit and Pakistan’s strategy was proved successful. Pakistan had taken the US for a ride, equipped its army on false pretences, and fought unsuccessful wars with India for which America was not to blame. Now economic historians think Ayub’s was the best period in our history. A similar verdict is in store for Musharraf when he is gone. We keep on rejecting our history and the strategies of realistic survival followed by our leaders, some of them un-elected. Denial of what others see as good for us links up with a self-flagellating collective psyche. This is death-wish, pure and simple.”

5. Naseem Zehra (The News)

(On Baluchistan): “Indeed what the government must not do is go on the military and political offensive to neutralise the brewing crisis. Threats, warnings, ultimatums and maximalist positions will only worsen the situation. It could push either side ‘against the wall’ decreasing possibility of an amicable settlement of genuine grievances. We could then be headed towards greater difficulties, dovetailing into other unresolved challenges of politics, security and democracy.”

6. Amir Mir (Newsline and Outlook)

(On refusing to take ‘APNS best journalist award’ from Gen. Musharraf’s hands): “It isn’t that I detest Musharraf beyond forgiveness; it’s just that I love my principles more. I don’t know what Musharraf loves. But it isn’t the Constitution.”

7. Ahmed Rashid (Guardian and Nation)

“Al Qaeda’s money, inspiration and organizational abilities have helped turn Pakistan’s Pashtun belt into the extremist base it is today, but U.S. and Pakistani policies have helped more.”

8. Prof. Khawaja Masud (The News)

“We must continue to march intoxicated with the Quaid’s “shy and splendid idealismâ€Â? till we realise the dream of Pakistan as visualised by Quaid-e-Azam i.e. democracy, social justice, tolerance, open mind and heart.”

9. Amina Jilani (Nation)

“The majority of our tried, tested and failed politicians, for the larger part of their political lives and when they are not haymaking, are mired in inertia.”

10. Ayaz Amir (Dawn)

“Hezbollah has no F-16s but it is running rings around one of the best armies in the world. We can have 500 F-16s in our air force but given the crisis of resolve we face, we will remain a country ready to jump at the sound of a single phone call.”

Hasan Abbas is author of Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism, a keen purveyor of political news and commentary of Pakistan, and maintains the blog Watandost: Inside News about Pakistan, where this post first appeared.

74 Comments on “Pakistan’s Top Ten Columnists”

  1. August 15th, 2006 8:07 am

    1)Cowasji 2)Ayazamir for English

    Abdul Qadir Hasan,Jawed Chudhary,Ataul Haq Qasmi,Orya Maqbool Jan(Urdu)

  2. Nuzhat Aziz says:
    August 15th, 2006 8:09 am

    I also do not agree with Naseem Zehra. One other Urdu columnist is Hasan Nisar.
    How about a list of journalists? Ansar Abbasi, Rauf Klasra , Talat Hussein come to mind.

  3. MSk says:
    August 15th, 2006 10:12 am

    nice idea.
    But no one from TFT. How can that be (I gues Khalid and Khalid are). But no Najam Sethi-thats not right. And also no Irfan Hussin. No, no no.
    Also Hussain Haqani of Nation.he is a total sell out lota in politics but his recent articles are very good. And he does write well.

  4. ayesha says:
    August 15th, 2006 10:41 am

    I would agree with MSK. What about the likes of Ejaz Haider from TFT?

    and Hasan Askari Rizvi?

  5. Hassan Abbas says:
    August 15th, 2006 3:17 pm

    First, I am thankful to Adil Najam for this. Secondly, I must clarify – that the number at which a certain name appears is not meant as a ranking – for me all are at # 1 and so there is no sequence implied. Ofcourse, personal likes and dislikes make an impact on one’s judgement but one crucial criterion I had in mind was courage to speak out the truth. Some of these (not all) are certainly anti-government but they should not be interpreted as anti-Pakistan or unpatriotic.

  6. Roshan Malik says:
    August 15th, 2006 4:48 pm

    I beleive these columnists and some other reporters are contributing a lot as catalysts and analysts on issues of national interest. Some are outspoken, the others are fearless, some have subtle satire in their expression while others critically evalutate government policies. I think their purpose noth offending the government, rather they advocate for the betterment of the society.

  7. Shazia Faiq says:
    August 15th, 2006 5:54 pm

    I like the selected quotes of these writers. However, besides the two women mentioned, , some more women writers doing a great job are: Beena Sarwar, Masooda Bano, Mariana Babar and Shireen Mazari. Anyways, full marks for the idea of supporting our great writers.

  8. BD says:
    August 15th, 2006 8:25 pm

    where’s Najam Sethi? >.

  9. MSk says:
    August 15th, 2006 9:23 pm

    They also have very different expertise and interests. Here is how I read my columnists.
    For Pakistani foreign policy and deep understadning of how Pak establishment is thinking NASIM ZEHRA is tops.
    For a dose of sanity in Pakistan’s crazy domestic politics ARDESHIR COWASJEE
    For insights into little knows gems of language and social history KHALED AHMAD
    For wonderfully written, humourous and on the edge commentary KHALID HASAN
    For the big global pictrue view NAJAM SETHI
    For Central Asia insight and deep knowledge AHMED RASHID
    For investigative reporting HERALD and NEWSLINE
    For the someone most likely to say what I am thinking AYAZ AMIR

  10. Aziz Akhmad says:
    August 15th, 2006 10:36 pm

    Judging columnists is subjective like judging politicians. If one were to devise an appraisal criteria for columnists one might include the following qualities, among others:

    1. Influences public opinion and mood
    2. Influences government actions
    3. Provides information and insight into issues and concepts
    4. Voices public grievances and anger
    5. Entertains (humorous)

    Again, we can judge each quality on a scale of 1 to 5 and reach at some empirical conclusion.

    You may like to judge the listed columnists against the above criteria and force rank them.

  11. August 16th, 2006 1:57 am

    Hasan Nisar and columnist?Joke of the day

  12. fara says:
    August 16th, 2006 5:31 am

    …..i have mentioned those to whom i think columinst..if Mr.Adanan doesnt want to agree…its ok..every one is free in expressing his views..

  13. Omar Chughtai says:
    August 16th, 2006 5:00 pm

    Farrukh,
    Well, you are right Husain Haqqani’s recent articles were good but he remains a political player and all others named above have been writing columns for a long time – as regular columnists. Husain has to prove himself for a period of time before people will forget and forgive his past. However, to be fair to him his recent book – Pakistan between mosque and military is definitely a good read and an honest appraisal of what went wrong with Pakistan.

  14. August 17th, 2006 1:33 am

    Fara:Offcourse everyone is free to select someone as his/her “favorites” but i seriously doubt that hasan nisar is a genuine columnist,specially anti-govt?

  15. ram krishna says:
    August 17th, 2006 2:43 am

    i read amir mir and ayaz amir regularly in asian age ,published in india. i like both of them as they know the basics of ethical journalism .
    but i would say ayaz ,sometimes ,gets carried away in emotions not while writing but while speaking on indian channels like NDTV.

  16. Awais says:
    August 17th, 2006 6:23 am

    yayyyyy..Prof. Khawaja Masud is in that list too. He has had such a long teaching career, its unbelievable. Ok. He taught my “taya abu”, he taught my father, then he taught me Maths in O level, and if that wasn’t enough, he even taught my sister who is three years younger than me. Amazing. though my sister tells me his memory was failing him when she was his student. He would sometimes forget the route to the school. Still what an achievement.

  17. Funbie says:
    August 17th, 2006 4:21 pm

    Nice post,would you care to post about the top 10 Urdu ones as well cos i am more biased to reading urdu ones!!!Thanks

  18. ashok says:
    August 18th, 2006 7:31 am

    Being an Indian,Iknow very little about columnist from Pakistan but still I do feel that Mr. Irfan Hussain should have been included. one thing sure comparing to India columnist from Pakistan are far far better in terms of analysis ,boldness, fresh thinking.can Mr. Abbas tell me why we in India don’t have columnist to the caliber of say Ayaaz Amir or Irfan Hussain.

  19. Mariam says:
    August 19th, 2006 7:26 pm

    I like Irfan Hussain and Ayaz Amir Impartiality. In his recent column Wishing away reality, Irfan Hussain sums up everything very objectively.

  20. ashok says:
    August 20th, 2006 2:45 am

    “wishing away reality”,sure an objective analysis of problem. what about any possible solution ???

  21. August 20th, 2006 8:28 am

    ashok the columnists rarely talk about any solution and they leave it upto the “govt”

  22. Aziz Akhmad says:
    August 20th, 2006 7:19 pm

    Of the 10 columnists listed in your post I find Khalid Hasan very amusing to read. He criticiizes things in a very subtle and humorous manner. For example, in a recent column he takes a dig at the beard brigade thus: “a Tableeghi group knocked at Ahmed Faraz’s door and asked him if he could please recite the kalima, Faraz said, “Why, has it changed?â€

  23. Mariam says:
    August 20th, 2006 8:54 pm

    Ashok,

    I guess you didn’t gave much weight to Irfan’s last sentence.

    And if we cannot see the problem, we cannot even begin to solve it.

    The dilemma is most Pakistani people don’t have a clue about the real problem or they don’t want to hear about it.

  24. ashok says:
    August 22nd, 2006 8:54 am

    with all due respect to Mr. Ayaz Amir I am sorry to say that his columns are no more as objective as used to be earlier. he is turning die hard anti Mushraf, anti Bush etc. etc. well that all can be apprecited from his perspective, but now he seems to be becoming something pro fundamentalist forces is cause of worry.

  25. Aziz Akhmad says:
    August 30th, 2006 1:04 am

    According to Daily Times, Lahore “In protest at Bugti’s killing: Naseem Zehra declines Sitara-e-Imtiaz”.

    Does this take her up or down in the ranking order?

  26. August 30th, 2006 1:47 am

    I hav read some topics in this discussion and i liked it. I dont know where is Hassan nisar columns, i missed them so any one who knows where is he writting at the moment plz leave a message for me. Thank you veyr much indeed.

  27. Zak says:
    October 16th, 2006 2:15 pm

    Cool I hadn’t seen this article..I don’t agree with Ghazi Salahuddin, I find his writing very uninspiring. I like Nusrat Javed work in the Post.

  28. Owais Mughal says:
    October 16th, 2006 2:21 pm

    I like Irfan Husain who writes for Dawn by the name of Mazdak. He is very forward looking.

  29. Zak says:
    October 16th, 2006 2:28 pm

    That he maybe Owais ..I find his style very meandering..Amina Jillani writes well, so does Humayun Gauhar ..Roedad Khan also writes well as well..as far as Pak politics is concerned, I break my mus reads down to

    Cowasjee,
    Ismail Khan (Peshawar bureau chief Dawn)
    Ayaz Amir,
    Shafqat Mahmood
    Kamran Shafi
    Nusrat Javed

    Skimming through these writers and newsline or herald you essentially know whats really going in Pakistan.

  30. MQ says:
    October 16th, 2006 3:19 pm

    Owais,

    Irfan Hussain used to write under the pen name Mazdak but does not use that name anymore. He uses his real name now for past many years. He is a progressive and liberal writer but most of his columns nowadays are about his vacation in England, Canada or wherever he is vacationing, the cottage he is (or was)building in Sri Lanka, the exotic food that he has learned to cook and the parties or plays that he attended. Average educated Pakistani does not relate to such topics.

  31. Sridhar says:
    October 16th, 2006 3:53 pm

    MQ:

    Irfan Husain has two different columns. The one in Dawn is usually on political issues and he does not waste time on his personal travels, food etc. there. His column in the Daily Times on the other hand tends to be mostly about these and I don’t even read them any more as a consequence.

    He is a liberal, has views that run contrary to the established (i.e. establishment) wisdom, but I notice a limit beyond which he seems to not want to go. Also, his columns are not particularly insightful, though any contribution on the liberal side is welcome. Overall, he is a good columnist, but not one you read for new insights. His columns read like the letters written by a good uncle of mine – always good, uplifting thoughts, but things that I had thought of on my own anyway.

    BTW, what is the readership of the English press in Pakistan? I ask because I found out recently that English newspapers in Pakistan are quite expensive (@Rs. 13-15 for an issue). It seems excessive to me given that I am used to the Rs. 1.50-2.50 range for a newspaper in India, whether in English or in some other language. Are Urdu newspapers in Pakistan significantly cheaper?

  32. Sridhar says:
    October 16th, 2006 4:30 pm

    I asked the question about readership but it wasn’t tangential to the main point of this discussion. I asked because most of the columnists people have listed are from the English press. But if it is not read, it is probably not very influential. There are probably pretty influential columnists in the Urdu press and I wanted to find out who they are.

  33. MQ says:
    October 16th, 2006 4:34 pm

    [quote comment="4499"]

    BTW, what is the readership of the English press in Pakistan?” [/quote]

    Sridhar,

    The newspaper readership in Pakistan is a guarded secret — by the publishers. I don’t know why? No one knows the exact figures.

    But among the English newspapers (there are only 3 or 4 daily newspapers of significance) Dawn has probably the highest circulation and is read the most in Karachi. It is also popular among the bureaucracy in Islamabad and elsewhere. The News is probably number 2 and is read more in Punjab and is said to be popular among the business and professional class. Daily Times is probably at number 3 and is said to be read by the intellectual elite, mostly in Lahore. Its online readership, however, is said to be pretty large. The Nation would be at number 4. There are one or two other papers but of not much consequence.

    Yes, Urdu papers are cheaper but nothing in Pakistan is priced at Rs. 1.50 or 2.00!

  34. Sridhar says:
    October 16th, 2006 5:07 pm

    I just did some googling and found Dawn’s circulation, as admitted by the newspaper itself in 1996.

    The claimed circulation is 115000 in 1996. Ten years since, I don’t know what it might be.

    The News International claims to be the largest English daily (presumably by circulation, though it is not specified). It claims a circulation of 140000.

    I am not sure what the circulation of the Nation is, but is probably small. My guess, based on the above numbers is that the total circulation of English language newspapers is about 400,000.

    How do these numbers compare to circulation for the Urdu press?

    The leading Urdu daily, Jang, claims a circulation of 800,000 (source: same link as for the News)

    I couldn’t find numbers for Nawa-e-Waqt.

    But in any case, the Urdu newspapers seem to have circulation almost an order of magnitude higher. So shouldn’t a discussion of the top columnists include at least some Urdu columnists too? Are there any that write both in English and Urdu?

  35. Owais Mughal says:
    October 16th, 2006 5:13 pm

    I was talking about Irfan Hussain’s columns in Dawn. He mostly writes about current affairs there.

  36. PatExpat says:
    October 16th, 2006 5:49 pm

    We are listing top ten columnist and we have mentioned only those who write columns in English.

    Either the title of the post is wrong and should have been top ten English columnists or it has been assumed that Urdu columnists are not at par with English columnists.

    I read most of these columnists. Each has an inimitable style of analysis yet like their readership, they are far from the masses.

    To relate to masses, to really have an idea of how the masses think or what the masses read, one should read the Urdu columnists. Though I would not suggest reading Hasan Nisar unless you are a cynical interested in ramblings of an evergreen angry young man.

  37. BhindiGosht says:
    October 16th, 2006 7:48 pm

    How about some of the younger writers? I like Shakir Lakhani’s “Hit and Run” in The News. Shandana Minhas, again in The News, is quite good; articulate, sharp and witty. Afiya Zia, Masooda Bano and Khusro Mumtaz are ok too. Some of The Friday Times gang is quite good, particularly Umbreen Baig Mirza. She writes interesting columns on the mundane and the not-so-mundane, like the “moorha”, chamakpati on trucks and buses, snake charmers, the acchar making industry of Karachi etc etc.

  38. October 17th, 2006 4:08 pm

    The issue of urdu columnists was raised and discussed when the post first appeared (above) so I will not repeat that. Of course, the language divide is very real in Pakistan and I would Khalid Ahmed’s columns in The Daily Times for the implications of this divide…. or, for a lighter take, Owais Mughal’s series on ‘Hot from the Urdu Press.’

    Circulation numbers in Pakistan – as in many other developing countries – are (or used to be) a matter of great economic value. Largely becasue payments for government ads were directly proportional to your professed circulation. Hence, the incentive to exagerate.

    Plus, between the 60s to the 80s there was also the ‘paper scam’ where newsprint was imported and subsidized and doled out depending on circulation. This led to ‘paper papers’.. i.e., newspapers that claimed large (false) circulations, printed a few copies every day, and then sold the excess newsprint which they had recieved on subsidy in the blackmarket. Many of us probably grew up going to school with notecopies made of this blackmarketed paper. At one point, for example, Faisalabad boasted of nearly 30 newspapers… most of whcih most people never saw but which contributed both to ‘lafafa journalism’ and to getting cheap notecopies in the hands of school children. This scam got largely erased in the 1990s when the restrictions on newsprint manufacture and import were lifted in a set of budget steps first during the first BB term and then during the first NS term.

    Back in teh 1990s I had done a detailed study of this and published a detailed paper on circulations. That work is too old to me meaningful now (since circualtions have probably increased) but the general rule of urdu papers circulating at an order of magnitude higher than English papers is correct. Moreover, Urdu papers get read even more becasue many end up at ‘public’ spaces such as naai shops, restaurants (Pinglish=hotel), etc. and get read multiple time and over many days.

  39. October 17th, 2006 4:19 pm

    On prices, my understanding is that English papers sell for around Rs. 12-15 as Sridhar mentions. Urdu papers for around Rs. 6-9. This is a factor of circulation (i.e., economies fo scale) and also of teh fact that newsprint is still largely improted and therefore expensive. My assumption would be that lower prices in India are also largely a result of similar factors.

  40. Sridhar says:
    October 17th, 2006 4:28 pm

    BTW, I did not see Rahimullah Yusufzai here – for issues related to NWFP/Afghanistan.

  41. Aziz Akhmad says:
    December 4th, 2006 8:37 am

    While commenting on this post a few months ago, I had mentioned four or five qualities on which a good columnist may be judged. I want to add one more quality to that list: The ability to admit one’s error or ignorance (everyone is ignorant about something) and readily apologize for it. Let me explain.

    Yesterday, Ardeshir Cowasjee had written a
    column titled “Lest we forget -II”. It was the sequel to his earlier article on Salam. In the article he listed the names of all the Muslim Nobel Prize winners. Surprisingly, in his list of 2006 Nobel winners he also included 3 strange names, which one had never heard of. Plus two of the names were so coined that they sounded like racial or religious slurs. One of your readers on this blog, Eidee Man, also noticed it and pointed it out.

    I immediately sent an e-mail to Cowasjee pointing out the boo-boo. Let me reproduce our exchange of e-mails:

    [quote]
    Dear Mr. Cowasjee,
    Among the Nobel prize winners you have mentioned in your latest column, the last three names are fictitious: Kamal Jacqui, Muhammad P Dofile and Rag Headiv. In fact the last two names are pejoratives used by racists for Muslims. I don’t know what is the source of your information but these names are not in the Nobel list of 2006.

    Best
    Aziz
    New York
    [/quote]

    Within hours came Cowasjee’s reply:

    [quote]
    Source Wikepeadia list of Muslim Nobel Prize winners.
    Why would they do such a thing?
    [/quote]

    Not satisfied with the reply, I wrote back:
    [quote]
    “Dear Cowasjee,
    Why don’t you consult the Nobel Foundation website? Wikipedia, you should know, is self correcting source of information and is not totally reliable.
    I don’t mean to be unnecessarily critical, but such obvious factual mistakes would affect the credibility of your otherwise excellent column.

    Best,
    Aziz”
    [/quote]

    No response the whole day (night in Pakistan) but this morning I found the following message from Cowasjee:
    [quote]
    “You are quite right
    This is not criticism
    You are pointing out a glaring error
    Entirely my fault–sloppiness in not checking
    Thank you
    And apologies
    Was not aware of unreliability of Wikipaedia
    Best
    AC”
    [/quote]

    So, in my judgment Cowasjee stays in the top 10 columnists of Pakistan.

  42. Yahya says:
    December 4th, 2006 9:56 am

    [quote comment="13914"]
    So, in my judgment Cowasjee stays in the top 10 columnists of Pakistan.[/quote]

    …and not get sued by nobel foundation at the same time .:)

  43. Aziz Akhmad says:
    December 4th, 2006 10:33 am

    Yahya,
    I don’t know what the Nobel Foundation’s policy is on such matters, but I appreciate the fact that he accepted his mistake and apologized for it. A lot of Pakistani won’t do it.

  44. Adnan Ahmad says:
    December 4th, 2006 11:36 am

    An other one of his virtues that must be mentioned is that he always gets back to you on any serious comments you send him.

  45. Adnan Ahmad says:
    December 4th, 2006 2:56 pm

    Folks,
    Change is very much in the air. Ayaz amir gives the current snapshot of islamabad in dawn. As he aptly suggests it could be the return of the clowns but may be they are much needed for now. All the changes that Musharraf promised to make 7 years ago may be he is planning on making them in this second part of his presidency. One of the changes was to take on mullahs head on but he chose to walk with them instead for whatever reasons. We’ll see how it goes next. May be the general has been energized by seeing all the positives coming out of the change in hudood law.

    http://dawn.com/weekly/ayaz/ayaz.htm

  46. Kazim Alam says:
    January 13th, 2007 2:40 pm

    As for Urdu press columnists, hardly anyone would deny that Javed Chaudry (currently writing in Daily Express, formerly associated with daily Jang) attracts the largest readership.
    Anyone, who read Jang, would hardly miss his column. Similarly, after he joined Express, the paper became the most-circulated one in the whole of Pakistan.

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