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Remembering a comrade

Recent instances and developments on the political and social fronts have led to a stark reminder of the loss of someone we all knew as a friend and veteran journalist. January 30 marked the first death anniversary of Zainul Abedin, the late op-ed editor of The News.

Zain is no more but his legacy lives on. Hundred of his comrades have been working in various left-wing groups trying to rid society of the oppressive system that has enslaved so many. Throughout his life, he strove for a system characterised by social justice, free from all kinds of exploitation. From the narrow alleys of SherPao Colony to the low working-class area of New Karachi, as a young man he visited many settlements in a bid to raise awareness regarding people’s rights – by conducting study circles during which his listeners would be mesmerised by his grip over subjects ranging from history to literature.

Zain had established an English language centre in Gulistan Society, Landhi, where he not only taught for years but also arranged different extracurricular activities. He would often invite the late Mansoor Saeed, a member of the Communist Party of Pakistan, left-wing intellectual Dr Jaffer Ahmed and others to talk to the students. In addition to that he also formed a forum called Shaoor to organise weekly and monthly discussions on various topics. He did this all amidst the rising power of sectarian and jihadi organisations that were vehemently opposed to such activities. Some of these went to the extent of threatening him but undeterred he continued his activities for years.

When we see today’s campuses, it is worthwhile to remember that there was a time when people like Zain would take time and invest their energy in forming platforms such The Reasoners – which he did in Karachi University – to discuss socioeconomic issues. The forum successfully held a Faiz festival during the decade of the 1990s. Although The Reasoners was not a political organisation, it soon started attracting political activists from all student organisations with some giving up their mother organisations and joining the ranks of progressive circles. Sindhi, Baloch, Punjabi, Pakhtun, Saraiki, Hazara, Gilgit, Baltistani, Kashmiri and Urdu-speaking political activists attended the The Reasoners sittings where Zain would openly condemn chauvinistic nationalism, asserting that it was damaging the cause of the working class.

Zain had a deep regard for intellectuals but also a deep disdain for those who had pretensions to intellectualism but did not have enough courage to speak truth to power. This he made clear when criticising the policies of the MQM when it came to ethnic tensions in the city of Karachi, noting how the party had actively destroyed the education system, promoted extortion and driven a wedge between working class people.

At a time when some from the Left had romanticised the capture of Swat by the Taliban, he had vehemently condemned their attempts to describe such extremists as class warriors, arguing that they were nothing but harbingers of obscurantism who wanted to reverse the course of history. And, while he challenged the regressive elements of society he did not spare liberals either for throwing their support behind an imperial America that was recklessly killing innocent citizens in Afghanistan.

Although during the last years of his life, he had not been politically active, he remained an astute observer of the main contradictions of Pakistani society, arguing that progressive forces should support anyone trying to hold power to account. As a supporter of the Lawyers’ Movement, he had been convinced that had the PPP also supported the movement democracy would have only been strengthened. Which is why he had also been supportive of Nawaz Sharif and the current opposition when they spoke of civilian supremacy. As we stand in today’s Pakistan, watching debates on democracy and presidential systems, we feel the loss of people like Zain who never wavered from his convictions regarding class, democracy, and struggle.

Email: egalitarianism444@gmail.com

Abdul Sattar, "Remembering a comrade," The News. 2022-02-16.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political activists , Political fronts , Taliban , Extremists , Democracy , Nawaz Sharif , Zainul Abedin , Kashmir , Pakistan , PPP , MQM