Wajid Shamsul Hassan – a great humanist, a true democrat, a fearless journalist, an unpretentious diplomat, a committed Bhutto devotee and a friend in need died on Tuesday in London while living in exile for more than two decades. Inna lillahe wa inna elaihe rajeoon.
His death had a great personal meaning for me. It reminded me of days gone by when, even working in different capacities, we were strung like pearls.
I last spoke to him on the phone recently after his bio Bhutto Khandan Meri Yaadon Mai, a compilation of his memories of Bhuttos by Rashid Jamal and Mujahid Barelvi was published but continued to exchange messages thereafter as well. The last text message to inquire about his health landed on his cell phone a little too late. He did not answer but his son Zulfiqar called to say that dad was terminally ill. Two days later, Wajid was transferred to a hospice for spending the remaining few days of his life in relative comfort.
When Wajid was editing a newspaper in Karachi, I was the editor-in-chief of an English daily based in Peshawar. Thus began the crossroads of our paths. Later, when I left the Peshawar daily, I also wrote for the diary he was writing.
We also both worked in Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s team during his two terms. During his first term 1988-90, I was a speechwriter and Wajid Sahib was appointed chairman of the National Press Trust (NPT). During his second term I was the Prime Minister’s spokesperson and Wajid served as Pakistan’s High Commissioner to London in the mid-1990s.
During Asif Ali Zardari’s presidency, Wajid Sahib was again High Commissioner in London from 2008, when I was the President’s spokesperson. Our functions and roles were different, but similar backgrounds, common goals, and frequent and unavoidable communication with each other brought us closer.
On August 6, 1990, the day Benazir Bhuto’s first government was removed from office by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, he was sitting with me in my office which was at the time in the old Bank building. State in Islamabad. There were already strong rumors circulating that the government would soon be sacked.
Wajid Sahib was simply not ready to believe that the first government elected after a long period could be removed from office.
When I asked him what was the basis for his incorrigible optimism, he said he didn’t believe President Ghulam Ishaq Khan would let his name be smeared in history. “Yaar Ishaq tau tumahare soobai ka hai, tum to jantay hogai, wo apna mun kion in ke kehnai per kala karaiga ” (My friend, Ghulam Ishaq is from your region and you should know better, why would he blacken his face by dismissing the government at “their” authority?). By “their” he obviously meant ambitious generals.
Wajid Sahib had been swept away by Ghulam Ishaq Khan’s reputation as a person of great integrity and had too much confidence in her, it seems.
It was in his presence that Shireen Mazari (currently Federal Minister) telephoned and informed that the government’s impeachment order was being typed in the presidency. How come you are still sitting in your office, she asked? She was then at the faculty of Quaid e Azam University in Islamabad.
“You too Brutus”, commented spontaneously Wajid Sahib at the end of the telephone conversation and he learned what Shireen Mazari had said.
Along with a few other people from her close circle, Wajid and I were with her shortly after the dismissal. “Farhat, balaa ke khatoon hai” (Farhat, what an extraordinary woman!) He exclaimed after witnessing her composure, wit and humor even at this agonizing and dark moment in his political career. .
Shortly after the dismissal of the government, the first official order issued was the dismissal of Wajid Shamsul Hassan from the post of chairman of the NPT.
Following the resignation of Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim as governor, Sindh Benazir Bhutto proposed two names to President Ishaq for appointment as governor. One was Wajid Shamsul Hassan and the other Payar Ali Allana. Wajid did not show any keen interest in this appointment, which however did not materialize.
He was a true Bhutto loyalist. When Benazir’s second government was removed from office by President Farooq Leghari Wajid was in Islamabad. One of the first acts after the dismissal was to call on Wajid to immediately leave Pakistan because “I know Farooq Lehagri, he will not spare you because you are close to me”.
Benazir Bhutto had instructed him to buy property for the high commission, a task that had escaped successive high commissioners. Wajid Sahib accomplished it in a short time. Benazir Bhutto mentioned this later in a meeting with great satisfaction and appreciation for Wajid Shamsul Hassan.
Nobel Prize winner Professor Salam was ill in London and unable to speak properly. During his visit to London, Benazir Bhutto asked Wajid Sahib to visit him and present a bouquet of flowers to the professor on his behalf. Upon her return, Wajid briefed her on the meeting and pleaded that much more needs to be done to honor and recognize Professor Salam.
He was a true Bhutto loyalist. When Benazir’s second government was removed from office by President Farooq Leghari Wajid was in Islamabad. One of the first acts after the dismissal was to call on Wajid to leave Pakistan immediately because “I know Farooq Lehagri, he will not spare you because you are close to me”.
I haven’t done anything wrong and I can’t leave you right now, he said. His worst fears came true when false charges were subsequently brought against Wajid Shamsul Hassan and he was hunted down, tracked down and forced into exile. To date, no wrongdoing has been established against him in court. But the defamation of his name and that of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto continued.
The life, death and burial of Wajid Shamsul Hasan in exile in London will always stand out as a testament to political witch-hunting and reengineering in the name of accountability that seemed to have reached perfection under the current political regime and the leadership of the NAB. .
May her soul rest in eternal peace