Kashif Abbasi is one of the countryâ€™s most accomplished journalists and a well respected anchorperson hosting his political talkshow Off the Record. Telling it like it is, he sticks to an unbiased middle ground. Kashif tells Haider Rifaat about his career in journalism, the elections and work-life balance
As a journalist, you are known for asking pertinent yet hard-hitting questions. Has that ever caused you trouble?
I was banned twice. Practically every political party around, be it Imran Khan himself, PPP, PML-N and MQM have boycotted me. It is an occupational hazard and you cannot avoid it. There is no other option for this kind of work. Whatever you like doing, you continue to do it and there is nothing you can do if there are consequences.
Did anyone tell you if journalism does not work out, you should have a backup plan?
My family used to say this to me. Back in the day, our salaries were meager. I come from a financially viable background. When I started, I never looked back. I didnâ€™t feel the need to leave journalism and do something else.
As a layman, who are you rooting for this election?Â
This is a difficult question to answer. I canâ€™t publically say who I support and there should be no bias on a journalistâ€™s end. Besides, I wonâ€™t be in Islamabad to vote because of live transmissions in Karachi.
Do you find PTIâ€™s post-election agenda realistic given that it largely targets a middle-upper class demographic?
It is easy for upper or middle-upper classes to assume political positions. They are not helpless, they have no financial pressures and the law enforcement cannot question them. However, without the down trodden or lower class, a political party cannot win an election. I canâ€™t imagine PTI not factoring the lower class into their campaign.
â€œWhen I entered…journalism, I received a message that said, if you are tired of your family, have no friends and want to destroy your life, you should become a journalistâ€
In Pakistan, there are two types of politics, rural and urban. The dynamics of rural politics are very different. The class you are talking about is mostly rural. I think manifestos are an ideal make up of what you can promise, not what you can deliver. Each party considers the poor because there are more voters who belong to such a class. I do find it tough for PTI to implement their manifesto.
PTI seeks to implement its success models in KP to other provinces of Pakistan including Sindh, Baluchistan and Punjab. Do you think an average Pakistani will respond optimistically to these policies considering cultural barriers and other factors?
I donâ€™t think so. It is important for a party to establish its government not only in KP but in Sindh or Baluchistan. If you talk about liberalizing Pakistan in terms of coeducation, proms and dance parties, that is where cultural factors come in.
Clean water, efficient policing and institutional reforms have no cultural restraints. If you want to reform the system, there are no barriers. There are hurdles only if you go against a culture. PTI has tried to change the system and if you bring a similar shift in Punjab or Baluchistan, powerful individuals and beneficiaries will oppose change. An average Pakistani only suffers because of these problems. I donâ€™t think a layman will have a problem with these reforms, be it any political party. People will be happy if they realize that their problems are being resolved.
Earlier this year, it was reported that 1.8 million cases are pending in the Supreme Court. Is there a delay in justice for a majority of Pakistanis?
This problem is not new and there is no such thing as justice in Pakistan. A grandson is fighting his grandfatherâ€™s case and there are issues of land ownership. I know many people personally, who have pending court cases for the last 30 to 40 years.
â€œClean water, efficient policing and institutional reforms have no cultural restraintsâ€
The Supreme Court and every other court has to look into this. There are different mechanisms in this world and you are not inventing anything new. The adjournments should end. A case should be resolved in less than three to six months.
How do the next five years look for Pakistan?
Our problem is that we have considered infrastructure progress. Our economy is unsustainable. We have no industry, tax or growth. I wonâ€™t say we have hit rock botTom but our misplaced priorities have ruined this country. People have realized that they want change. I hope there are some sensible people out there who think beyond their political interests.
What makes you stand apart from the rest of the journalists in Pakistan today?
I donâ€™t get into comparisons. I am not the only one with unique qualities. Everyone is working to the best of their abilities. They might have opposite convictions but there is no one person running the media. Everyone is contributing their part and they are doing a good job.
What is your ongoing hobby and favourite pastime?
I try not to miss the gym and I like travelling too. It is a way of life.
In another lifetime, who would you want to be and why?
That is a tough question. I really enjoy my life. I can talk about things that affect many people in this country. I would not want to change anything. I really enjoy what I do. So, I would probably take this job again in another lifetime. I canâ€™t be Superman, so that is not an option (laughs).
What is success to you?
If you are in peace with yourself somewhere, you are successful.
To whom do you owe your life to for your success?
My mother. She has really worked hard on us. My family used to make fun of my mother because she was very strict in terms of studies. I had a passion to play under 19 cricket but I was constantly told to study. Today, I acknowledge it and everyone realizes that it was my motherâ€™s hard work that got me here today.
How has your family shaped you?
Whatever you become, it has to do with everyone around you. Your family, friends and colleagues continuously shape you throughout your life. I am not who I was a few years ago. Everyone around you shapes you and transforms you into who you are. Sometimes the company you keep takes you in the wrong direction.
Photography by Haider Rifaat