Some thoughts on indigenous peoples

2 February 2016

Last week, I visited the National Museum of American Indian, New York. Thereafter, I posted a few tweets. Sharing them here.


The miniature goes global

10 January 2016


My detailed report for DAWN:

Steeped in the past, and yet, modernist in its application, neo-miniature is the new face of Pakistani art. Having evolved as a genre that is entirely indigenous in its expressions, it has also globalised Pakistani cultural idiom and has inspired a generation of artists within and outside the country

The survival of a revival

Raza Rumi believes the neo-miniature movement is located within the resilience of Pakistani society as well as its struggle to reinvent aesthetic and cultural parameters of identity

Nearly two generations of Pakistani artists have experimented with the traditional genre of miniature art; some have even gone on to expand its scope and vocabulary. It is on the shoulders of such artistic endeavour and innovation that Pakistan’s neo-miniature movement has now turned global.

Neo-miniatures retain traditional techniques while incorporating contemporary themes, and some have even deconstructed the format and articulated sensibilities that otherwise would be identified with post-modernism.

Its entry into Western markets — galleries and private collections — is are recognition of the rigorous technique and innovative thematic inferences employed by Pakistani artists. Undoubtedly, Pakistani art has found a discernible niche in the global art market. (more…)

2015: The year in words

4 January 2016

Last year was long, unsettling and transitional. I have always welcomed change but being unsure about one’s future path is not too exciting.Have been a nomad for the past eighteen months. But I don’t want to start 2016 with complaints or regrets. During 2015, I finished two fellowships in Washington D.C. and then moved to Ithaca College in the Fall. A new beginning and perhaps a new direction.

The good thing is that amid all the transitions, my writing continued.

Here is a quick summary of all that I wrote in 2015. Three policy papers, one long essay and seventy-four commentaries, reviews, analyses and interviews. Most of them are also archived on this website.

Thanks to all those who gave me feedback, encouragement and ideas.

Policy/analytical papers & Essays:

  1. Charting Pakistan’s Internal Security Policy, Feb 2015. United States Institute of Peace
  2. The Prospects for Reform in Islam, March 2015. Hudson Institute
  3. Pakistan: Education, Religion and Conflict, May 2015, Tony Blair Foundation
  4. Long Essay: On the run, October, 2015, AEON Magazine

Commentaries, Op-eds, Reviews, Reports

  1. Op-ed: Countering the terror menace – January 1, 2015, Express Tribune
  2. Report: Protect minorities, says Pakistan Ulema Council – January 2, 2015, The Friday Times
  3. Taseer, an icon for sane, just Pakistan – January 4, 2015
  4. Book Review: A definitive history of Pakistan – January 13, 2015, Express Tribune
  5. Analysis: Islam Needs Reformation from Within – January, 16, 2015, Huffington Post
  6. Analysis: Back in the Driver’s Seat – January 16, 2015, Foreign Policy
  7. Commentary: No exit – January 16, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  8. Report: The Art Of U.S.-Pakistan Relations – January 26, 2015, Foreign Policy
  9. Art: Journey to change – January 30, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  10. Op-ed:The vicious cycle of hate and violence – February 2, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  11. Culture: The verse of freedom – February 6,2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  12. Literature: Manto’s women – February 13, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  13. Op-ed: Pakistan’s future — fraught with perilous possibilities – February 13, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  14. Art: Through the looking glass – February 20, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  15. Analysis: The terrorism challenge – February 27, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  16. Op-ed: Decisive action needed against militancy – March 3, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  17. Memoir: ‘About suffering they were never wrong’ – March 6, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  18. Op-ed: The need to review our India policy – March 11, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  19. Commentary: Brutal Murder in Bangladesh Highlights Growing Religious Intolerance  March 12, 2015, Fair Observer, USA
  20. Art: The City Speaks – March 20, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  21. Op-ed: Pakistan fails its Christians — again – March 21, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  22. Analysis: Bangladesh On The Brink – March 26, 2015, Foreign Policy
  23. Op-ed: A year ago, I was almost killed – March 28, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  24. Memoir: More than “Just” a footnote – April 3, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  25. Op-ed: Counterterrorism: rhetoric vs reality – April 16, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  26. Interview: ‘China wants to stabilize its entire western periphery’ – April 24, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  27. Op-ed: Sabeen Mahmud, Martyr for Free Speech – April, 29, 2015, New York Times
  28. Commentary: A Drone Killed My Friend, Warren Weinstein – April 30, 2015, Foreign Policy
  29. Analysis: Publish At Your Peril – May 12, 2015, Foreign Policy
  30. Commentary: An Era of Reporting Under Fear– May 12, 2015, Huffington Post
  31. Op-ed: Ideology, Impunity & Chaos –  May 15, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  32. News Analysis: The ghost of Osama May 15, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  33. Op-ed: Why India should not worry about China-Pakistan ties – June 9, 2015 DailyO, India
  34. Commentary: Enemies of The State – June 10, 2015, Foreign Policy
  35. Interview: Yazidi Youth Protests Through His Art – June 15, 2015, Huffington Post
  36. Op-ed: How Modi can ruin India and Pakistan relations – June 23, 2015 DailyO, India
  37. Op-ed: A crippling governance deficit – June 26, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  38. News Analysis: Save Palmyra From ISIS’s Rampage – June 26, 2015, Huffington Post
  39. Literature: Abdullah Hussein: alive in his vision – July 8, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  40. News Analysis: Hope & fear: how to read the renewed Modi-Sharif bonhomie – July 10, 2015, Catch News
  41. Book Review: Chronicles of our recent past – July 10, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  42. Op-ed: Why India, Pakistan treat their Nobel laureates shamefully – July 21, 2015, DailyO, India
  43. Commentary: Negotiating Freedom of Expression  -­–July 22, 2015, Center for International Media Assistance, USA
  44. Analysis: Rebuilding public narratives – July 31, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  45. Review Essay: Islam and the “Cold War baroque” – August 14, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  46. Op-ed: Our culture of silence and shame – August 16, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  47. News Analysis: Be mature guys; there’s a lot at stake in India, Pak – August 23, 2015, Catch News
  48. Review Essay: The mythological life and death of Benazir Bhutto – September 19, 2015, Express Tribune
  49. Commentary: Political Princes: Struggles of Rahul Gandhi and Bilawal Bhutto –September 24, 2015, The Quint
  50. Op-ed: Democracy in recession? – September 28, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  51. Culture: Why fanatics of today would not have spared Kabir – September 29, 2015, DailyO,
  52. News Analysis: Watching Kunduz Collapse From The Sidelines – October 2, 2015, Foreign Policy
  53. Art: Pakistani Artist Animates the Times Square – Oct 7, 2015, Huffington Post
  54. Art: Grace in hand – October 9, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  55. Review Essay: Bridging the Divides: Muslims in Europe – October 9, 2015, Huffington Post
  56. Op-ed: Sticky wicket: Why cricket is a lot like the world’s oldest game – October 20, 2015, DailyO
  57. Essay: Exile for me and others – October 25, 2015, The News on Sunday
  58. Report: A Young Pakistani Physicist Who Loves Nuclear Reactors – October 26, 2015, Huffington Post
  59. Essay: Blasphemy it was not – October 30, 2015, The Friday Times
  60. Commentary: Landscape for Journalists in Pakistan – From Bad to Worse  – June 11, 2015, Center for International Media Assistance, USA
  61. Art: Diaspora art: Maximalist miniatures – November 8, 2015, DAWN, Pakistan
  62. Culture: Faiz Ahmed Faiz: A window to what could have been – November 14, 2015, Express Tribune
  63. Op-ed: Nawaz Sharif’s shift to the centre – November 22, 2015, Express Tribune
  64. Essay: Climate of Intolerance: Down the well of religious bigotry – November 23, 2015, Hard News Media
  65. Interview: ‘Blasphemy laws have become an instrument of malicious motives’ – November 27, 2015, The Friday Times
  66. Commentary: Defeating ISIS a far cry without a settlement in Syria – November 29, 2015, DailyO, India
  67. Op-ed: Global terrorism — myth and reality – December 03, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  68. Commentary: ISIS, Muslims and the West – December 9, 2015, Huffington Post
  69. Blog: Islam, Islamism and Islamophobia: The Dilemma of Secular Muslims – December 9, 2015, The Quint,
  70. Commentary: Muslim clerics must reject notions of non-Muslim inferiority, December 16, 2015, Religion News Service, USA
  71. Review Essay: Midnight’s furies – December 18, 2015, The Friday Times
  72. Commentary: In Bangladesh the term Blogger has Become a Curse  – December 21, 2015, Center for International Media Assistance, USA
  73. News Analysis: From terror to trade: Eight reasons Pakistanis now want a peace process from Modi and Sharif, December 26, 2015, Quartz
  74. Interview: How perilous is the threat to Muslims in the US? – December 26, 2015, DAWN, Pakistan

From terror to trade: Eight reasons Pakistanis now want a peace process from Modi and Sharif

26 December 2015

The carefully staged “surprise diplomacy” by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and his warm reception by his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif break a logjam in bilateral relations.

Modi’s short visit to Lahore on Dec. 25 was welcomed by almost all the mainstream political parties in Pakistan. That betrays a consensus within the political elites there, unlike in India where the opposition parties are playing politics over bilateral diplomacy. The truth is that it was Modi who took the initiative, even if driven by the need for good optics. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh, for all his goodwill, could not take the decision to visit Pakistan.

Pakistan’s foreign policy, however, is not the sole domain of its civilian governments. They have to take the security establishment on board. No one knows this better than Sharif. Given this home truth, the diplomatic efforts are not likely to proceed without a nod from the powerful military. The key to this is largely related to Afghanistan.

In sync with the US and other Western powers as well as China, Pakistan is engaged in a tough effort to help facilitate a settlement between the Afghan Taliban and the Ashraf Ghani administration. The process has been far from smooth. It broke down many times. Infighting within the Afghan Taliban also impinges upon the peace efforts.


Remembering Parveen Shakir (1952-1994)

26 December 2015

My 2009 article published in The Friday Times.

parveen-shakir-the-bold-brilliant-and-the-beautifulParveen Shakir (1952-1994) has defined the sensibilities of several generations and beyond. At the relatively young age of 42 years, Parveen Shakir died on an empty Islamabad boulevard, as if this was an essential part of her romantic persona. But she had lived a full life where poetry and tragedy intersected each other and became inseparable from her being.

As a young student in high school, I was introduced to Shakir’s romantic poetry, which was best represented by her first collection of poetry ‘Khushbu’ . I had won an essay writing competition in Urdu and a delightful award came in the form of this tender volume of poetry. Since then I have always returned to bits and pieces of Khushbu . It may not be ‘great’ according to the cannons of literary theory, but it is spontaneous, fresh and almost dreamlike. Shakir was bearly 24 years old when Khushbu was published and since its first edition, this book has been a best seller wherever Urdu poetry is read or appreciated.

CXHeqSFWQAAri4VKhushbu turned Shakir into a celebrity. Aside from mushairas, newspapers and public fora, she was ever-present on the Pakistan television, perhaps as its only saving grace during the rigid years of Zia-ul-Haq’s Martial Law. Shakir had a natural talent for public speaking, reciting poetry and just being herself. I remember one monsoon evening in Murree when we were hooked to her presentation on Pakistan’s Independence Day. There was a distinct tenderness in her voice that was in sharp contrast to the platitudes being churned out. Above all she was beautiful. I remember she would read verses from her own work and from the great masters of Urdu poetry with complete ease and immense refinement. In the short period of time that she lived as a poet, Parveen did rather well and was quite prolific. Her later collections comprised Sad Barg (marsh merrygold), Khud Kalami (conversing with one’self), Inkaar (refusal), Maah-e-Tamaam (full moon) and Kaf-e-Aaina (edge of the mirror).
Her raw romanticism runs through her poetry. For instance, ye haseen shaam apni is a love poem of rare beauty; and has always been a favourite of mine. It is composite, taut and melodic; and here is my translation. (more…)

In Bangladesh “the term ‘blogger’ has become a curse”

21 December 2015


Around the world online freedoms are being threatened both by states and violent criminal organizations that are seeking to repress free speech. One glaring example is that of the endangered bloggers in Bangladesh who have been threatened, harassed, and killed. In 2015 alone, Islamic extremists have killed four bloggers and a publisher for their secular views. To date, the government has not found a way to counter these violent attacks against independent journalists.

The murders have been gruesome. The most recent occurred on October 31, 2015, when Faisal Arefin Dipan, a publisher and a blogger, was hacked to death in his office in Dhaka. Ahmedur Rashid Tutul was attacked and wounded in that attack too. Just a couple months earlier in August, blogger Niloy Neel was murdered in his Dhaka apartment. In May, Ananta Bijoy Das, a blogger critical of religion was hacked to death. In March secular blogger Washiqur Rahman was also killed at knifepoint. These incidents followed the brutal murder of Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi-American blogger and writer who was attacked and killed near the campus of Dhaka University Campus in February 2015, which drew international rebuke.

The tumult in Bangladesh has been brewing for a long time. In March 2013, a group of clerics announced a list of 84 “enemies of Islam” that was circulated by the Bangladeshi media. In August 2015, an unknown group identifying itself as Ittahadul Mujahidin, released a hit list with names of 20 bloggers, artists, teachers, and government ministers accused of insulting Islam. Thus, the situation in Bangladesh appears to be getting worse, not better.


Midnight’s furies

18 December 2015
The violent process of Partition remains a highly contested domain in the study of history. Raza Rumi examines various histories of Partition in the light of arguments from three recent books on the blood-stained events of 1947

Death and displacement from 1947 remain seared into the historical memories of both Pakistanis and Indians

The debate on India’s Partition of 1947 continues even 68 years after the cataclysmic event took place. The manifestations of this historical rupture are all too evident in our ‘present’ as well. For the past few months, Indian authors and intellectuals have been protesting the growing incidents of communal violence and the mainstream Indian discourse on Muslims and Islam was never so pungent. Ironically, the right wing commentators and Hindu nationalist politicians have been advising the dissenters to move to Pakistan. This would have been amusing, if it were not for the looming threat of violence – physical, verbal or even imagine.

For decades, Pakistani dissenters have also been branded as Indian agents. With the rise of social media and the deep, dark havens of bigotry that the Internet provides, campaigns are launched to brand anyone deviating from the official line of ‘Pakistan’, defined by religious nationalism, as a traitor. Human rights defenders such as Asma Jahangir and even centre-right politician such as Nawaz Sharif have been painted in such a light. At the heart of these sterile and offensive campaigns lie issues linked to identity – religious, national and political. In short, the discussions that were taking place in British India of the 1940s have permeated into our contemporary discourses.


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