Akhtar Mirza: An Illustrated Editor
His death has been widely condoled by journalists across the province.He was laid to rest in Quetta’s Cantonment graveyard in the presence of hundreds of friends, relatives and colleagues.
Mirza had been appointed as the Quetta resident editor of Daily Jang, the most widely read Urdu newspaper, after the retirement of Majeed Asghar. Indeed Mirza’s biggest achievement was his noncontroversial stint in a controversial newspaper. Otherwise, his predecessor had narrowly survived an assassination attempt in Quetta some years ago.
Mirza’s untimely demise has created an extraordinary gulf in Balochistan’s media. He was widely respected and admired for his commitment to the rights of the people of Balochistan. Throughout his life, Mirza climbed the ladder of success by sticking to the principles of professional journalism. His biggest contribution was the induction of local pages and district diaries in Daily Jang. He had to fight hard with the newspaper’s management to increase the coverage of local issues, a matter for which newspapers published from other cities are often criticized.
According to BBC Urdu service, Mirza had remained under intense pressure for the past couple of weeks because of professional reasons. He had been under the burden of doing justice with his profession and also staying safe from all threats reporters in Balochistan are confronted with. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), an anti-Shia militant Islamic radical group, had threatened to kill reporters and editors if they did not publish their press releases without even editing the derogatory and violent language in the text of their statements.
On the other hand, the Chief Justice of the Balochistan High Court had warned to put journalists into the jail for at least six months if they defied the law which prevents the publication of banned groups’ press releases. The Balochistan High Court deems this gesture as glorification of violence. It makes sense what kind of pressure Mirza underwent as a team leader of an important newspaper during perhaps the most difficult time in the history of Balochistan’s media.
Ironically, Mirza is our first distinguished colleague in many years to die of a cardiac arrest. Otherwise, around a dozen journalists have been brutally killed in the past few years in the violent province. It may sound like a sick joke but Mirza was luckier than those journalist who were mercilessly killed or subjected to inhuman torture before being murdered.
Newspaper editors like Jan Mohammad Dashti of Daily Asaap had to face assassination attempts on their lives while a former deputy editor of Daily Tawar, Javid Naseer Rind is still ‘missing’ after being kidnapped more than a month ago. Mohammad Anwar Sajidi, the editor of Daily Intekhab, recently disclosed in a meeting o the Balochistan Editors’ Council that an underground armed group had threatened to kill him and his son. There are also reports that a BBC correspondent in Quetta has received death threats.
Akhar Mirza will be remembered as a professional journalist who spoke for the rights of the people of Balochistan. After his appointment as the resident editor of Daily Jang, the coverage of local issues remarkably expanded. He also personally supervised every district correspondent and gave them the responsibility of doing a full page special report about the problems of their respective districts.
“I have told my reporters, here is your full page. Don’t fill it with press releases. Come up with exclusive and investigative reports on health and education,” he told the participants of a media workshop last year at Quetta Press Club. Mirza was a mentor for young journalists who was easily approachable for those who wanted his advice and guidance.
His was a crucial job because he served as the resident editor of Jang, which is not a very popular paper with some sections of the population. Nationalists look at Jang as a newspaper which does not give sufficient coverage to the local issues on op-ed pages. The population also complains that Jang has been publishing its Quetta edition for many years merely to make profits from the official advertisements. Therefore, the newspaper faced immense pressure from different groups. However, only a neutral and widely connected editor like Mirza could lessen the public critique of the newspaper and ensure maximum coverage of all stakeholders in Balochistan.He did his job splendidly.
Mr. Mirza was also a staunch champion of the freedom of expression. He was an active member of the bodies struggling for the rights of journalists. He was temporarily arrested by the police during General Pervez Musharraf’s time when he resisted the military junta’s curbs on the media. Two weeks ago, he was once again on the forefront of the protest rally taken out by journalists in Quetta against threats directed to reporters and editors by state and non-state actors. He was a humble human being, passionate activist and a professional editor whose work was recognized throughout the province.
Mirza leaves behind a rich and envious legacy of a hardworking neutral newspaper editor of Balochistan. He will truly be missed by friends and colleges.