Exodus from Pakistan’s troubled north presents risks, opportunities

27 June 2014

By Raza Rumi, Special to CNN

Polio

 

Pakistan’s much-awaited military offensive in North Waziristan was launched more than a week ago, and followed an attack on Karachi airport that left at least 36 people dead.

Due to the strategic calculations of the Pakistani state, North Waziristan has steadily fallen into the hands of motley militant networks, and has become a mountainous zone for the Pakistani Taliban to recruit, regroup and launch attacks against the country.

The Pakistani Army conducted a similar operation in the Swat Valley in 2009, not too far from the tribal areas, that has been a relative success in reclaiming territory. It is unclear which direction the latest operation will go. But a major humanitarian crisis is brewing in the wake of the new offensive.

As of Wednesday, the government had registered over 450,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) who have been fleeing the area in view of the aerial bombardments and warnings by military authorities. There are fears the figures could be much higher. (more…)

My Name is Khan and I am not a Terrorist: IDP’s of North Waziristan

26 June 2014

Here are some of my tweets shedding light on the plight of IDP’s of North Waziristan and the long forgotten miseries of FATA.

MQM’s MNA Tahira Asif Died, a clear Target Killing

20 June 2014

MQM’s legislator Tahira Asif has been killed after being shot 4 times by “unknown” assailants in Lahore two days ago. She raised the issue of cleaning Punjab University from Al-Qaeda elements. My tweets!

What the Karachi airport attack says about the Pakistani Taliban

10 June 2014

By Raza Rumi, Special for CNN

Security personnel guard the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, Pakistan, on Tuesday, June 10, after gunmen targeted the Airport Security Forces academy nearby. Two days earlier, militants launched an attack in the cargo area of the airport. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the five-hour assault, which left at least 36 people dead, including 10 militants.

Security personnel guard the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, Pakistan, on Tuesday, June 10, after gunmen targeted the Airport Security Forces academy nearby. Two days earlier, militants launched an attack in the cargo area of the airport. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the five-hour assault, which left at least 36 people dead, including 10 militants.

Editor’s note: Raza Rumi is a policy analyst, columnist and consulting editor at The Friday Times, Pakistan. He is also the author of “Delhi By Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani Traveller,” (Harper Collins). The views contained in this opinion piece are solely his.

(CNN) – It would be an understatement to say that Pakistan is under attack.

This week, the Pakistani Taliban bypassed all security checks at the country’s largest airport in southern port city of Karachi.

A few hours earlier, another affiliate of the Pakistani Taliban massacred nearly 30 members of Pakistan’s minority Shiite community in Balochistan province.

A few hours after the Karachi airport was reclaimed by Pakistan’s security agencies, a suicide bomber rammed a truck into a military checkpoint in North Waziristan, close to the Afghanistan border, killing at least three soldiers.

The attack on Karachi’s international airport resulted in the deaths of 29 people, including security personnel. The bodies of another seven cargo workers were recovered Tuesday from a cold storage facility at the airport. All 10 terrorists died during the assault.

Even after those attacks, for the second time in two days, Pakistan’s largest and busiest airport was forced to shut down after militants launched a brazen attack on airport security forces. Tuesday’s assault targeted the Airport Security Forces academy near Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport, the airport’s manager told CNN’s Saima Mohsin in Karachi. The attackers fled, and no one was killed in the attack, officials said.

The obvious question is: How did the militants manage to enter the airport premises with heavy arms and ammunition?

Major security lapses

This security lapse however is not new. In 2009, militants breached an otherwise impregnable fortress – the General Headquarters of the Army in Rawalpindi — and continued their operation for hours.

Similarly, the Pakistani Taliban also attacked Karachi’s naval base in 2011, destroying expensive equipment and killing 10 soldiers.

In 2012, they were also successful in carrying out suicide attacks at Peshawar’s International airport, resulting in more loss of life.

Despite these major lapses, Pakistan’s system of intelligence gathering and sharing has been reformed. The new internal security policy, agreed in December 2013, aims to centralize the intelligence sharing process, but it is yet to be implemented.

In the case of the Karachi airport attack, the military’s swift response helped salvage the situation. Within five to seven hours the airport had been cleared and, given the high-value targets there, major damage was prevented.

Military seizes initiative

Another key feature of the operation was the decisive role of the military, as the civilian government apparently took a backseat.

Under Pakistan’s constitution, federal ministries are responsible for aviation and airport administration, but the ministers were nowhere to be seen.

Even in terms of media management, the military seized the initiative as the head of inter services public relations (ISPR), a major general, was live tweeting and informing about the progress of the operations.

In any other country this would not seem extraordinary. But, given Pakistan’s peculiar history and the recent civil-military tensions, these developments were meaningful. There was a clear public message that the Army was at the forefront and in control of security policy and operations.

Negotiations with the TTP

In the weeks before the attack, Pakistan’s civil and military branches of government had been struggling to find a way out to deal with the TTP.

Civilians are afraid of the reprisal attacks, and the military is in no mood to allow the TTP to continue killing its soldiers.

Formal talks with the TTP commenced in February 2014 but these disintegrated a fortnight ago. Concurrently, the military had been launching airstrikes and the Karachi attack came in the midst of policy shift in Islamabad. The airstrikes resumed after the airport attack was foiled.

Since Pakistan’s new Army Chief Raheel Sharif assumed charge in November 2013, the military has given clear signals of its intent to tackle the TTP militarily. The TTP is believed to have killed between 5,000 and 15,000Pakistani soldiers including generals in recent years. Pakistan’s Army did not suffer such losses in three wars against India (1965, 1971 and 1999).

Civilian leaders are worried about the potential backlash of such military operations.

What complicates the issue further is that some of the factions of TTP are in league with the (Pakistan-friendly) Afghan Taliban, and an all-out operation would hit them as well.

The Pakistani Taliban are not in a position to take over the country. However, the three terror incidents in the past 48 hours underscore their capacity to launch attacks on multiple fronts. They gained media attention and reminded everyone of their cohesion, weeks after reports that the TTP was in disarray after a major faction split from the group in May.

Is the TTP in crisis or cohesive?

In its official statement accepting the responsibility for this attack, TTP cited the Karachi attack as a revenge for the martyrdom of its leader Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike last year.

Since then the TTP — a loose umbrella of various militant groups — has been in a crisis of sorts. Its leader Fazlullah reportedly operates from Afghanistan and, according to Pakistani official sources, gets support from the Afghan authorities. For the latter, Fazlullah’s presence is a lever to get even with Pakistan for its purported support to the Afghan Taliban, who launch frequent attacks and are contenders for the power pie after NATO’s drawdown in 2014.

It is unclear if the recent attacks will lead to the emergence of a coherent policy and civil-military consensus in Pakistan. Civilians are afraid of the reprisal attacks; and the military is in no mood to allow TTP to continue killing its soldiers.

And with the withdrawal of foreign troops, soon the neighboring Afghanistan may turn into an easier space for Pakistani Taliban and their affiliates.

It is time for Pakistan to make a hard choice.

In its strategic calculus, it needs to address mending relations with the Afghan government and viewing terrorism as a shared problem.

Karachi airport attack a sign of wider security challenges

10 June 2014

The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack on Karachi airport, that’s killed at least 28 people, including the ten suicide terrorists.

The militant group says the attack was in revenge for the killing of their leader Hakimullah Mehsud, who died in a US drone strike last year.

The United States has offered to help Pakistan in investigations, but it’s not clear if the offer will be taken up.

So what has led to this huge security lapse in Pakistan’s biggest and most violent city?

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Raza Rumi, Pakistani journalist, columnist, blogger and consulting editor for the Friday Times

RUMI: Karachi is Pakistan’s largest urban centre, where the writ of the state has been withering over time. And you have, as a result, nearly one-third of the city functioning as a stateless zone where private militias, extremist organisations rule the roost and control affairs. So in such a situation, it is easy for sleeper cells or other terrorist networks to breed and exist. And this is what’s happened, that they perhaps were there for some time and had local intelligence, and they managed to breach the security of an otherwise well guarded airport.

(more…)

Countless walls that divide the hearts – by Majeed Amjad

6 June 2014

I had written about Majeed Amjad, a forgotten but outstanding Urdu poet of twentieth century. Today, a friend tagged me (on facebook) with another of his wistful poems. There is a translation along with the poem. I am posting both for readers here. Majeed Amjad’s style is difficult to render in any other language; however, the effort by Yasmeen Hameed (below) is quite competent. Once again this is a powerful, stark poem leaving you immensely moved. The hallmark of great poetry is that it has a unique impact on the reader/listener. Majeed Amjad leaves the reader standing in the ruins of the heart, he often writes about. I also found an audio archive of Amjad reciting his poems in a deep, soulful voice with a slight Punjabi accent.

Its a shame that Pakistan has not acknowledged this great poet. He died in oblivion and the literary establishment is divided about him. Amjad lived and died as an individual in a society that functions along groups, camps and clans. This is why he is so different from most of Urdu poets of his age.

Here is the poem:

These neighborhood dwellings, these little homes, these casements, these courtyards, even before us were as tranquil, as resplendent. 

Those who left did not deny the homes their love, were not so eager to leave. Who could have held them back, though, the stooping arches had no arms. 

Hordes, bound by the chain of fate, could have taken them along, but for the walls which had no feet. 

Their spirits now wail and sob, one with the echoing, dusty winds. To them belong these dwellings: biers burning on the debris of fallen eras. 

Moulded of a hot mixture of ashy bones and tears, only these bricks can recount the magnitude of our defeat. 

It changed us all: the distress of the fractured bricks; our own suffering we dismissed, entrapped in the mesh of stone and hay; we clashed with each other. 

These neighborhood dwellings, their edged roof-tops, the palatial houses, the tent-homes, but for the countless walls that divide the hearts. 


– Majeed Amjad (translated from Urdu by Yasmeen Hameed)

(more…)

Pakistan’s journalists under siege – my interview

2 June 2014

Recently I talked with ” ABC news” (Australia) and explained how Journalism is under siege in Pakistan. Here is the audio-link. The transcript of my conversation – an edited version - is also posted below

 

 

MARK COLVIN: Journalists in Pakistan say they’re under increasing threat both from terror groups and the country’s security agencies….

South Asia correspondent Michael Edwards reports.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: Journalists are supposed to be on the sidelines, be there to report when bad things happen to people.

RAZA RUMI: Six weeks ago I was attacked in Lahore.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: That’s Raza Rumi, the associate editor of the Friday Times, a man who is one of Pakistan’s  influential and high profile journalists.

(more…)

Farzana Parveen and the death of the state

1 June 2014

Farzana’s brutal murder represents all that is wrong with us.

It has become a useless routine to condemn the most ghastly acts of violence and injustice in Pakistan. For many, these are daily occurrences and thus the levels of desensitisation have grown. So has the brutalisation of society, when it adapts to some bare facts and upholds and sometimes celebrates the worst of what constitutes custom, tradition or ‘culture’. What else would explain the fact that there were dozens of passerby near the Lahore High Court — known for its imposing architecture and not the delivery of justice now — who silently witnessed the death of a woman scorned for choosing her partner? Worse, the police did not intervene either. This has become the norm with what we know as the ‘state’ in Pakistan. It chooses to remain indolent, indifferent and even complicit at times. This has left the citizen vulnerable. The weaker you are, the more chance there is of your life meaning absolutely nothing.

A few weeks ago, I underwent the worst of nightmares. Seeking help on a roadside with two wounded men: one almost dead and the other struggling to stay conscious. My romanticism for my own country was shattered on that fateful night of March 28. I am privileged and lucky that I escaped a brutal, unsung death but a life was lost. A large crowd had gathered to ogle at the blood sport but none of them was willing to help in taking a near-dead body out of the car. On a busy street, no car was willing to stop to take my injured driver to the hospital. Farzana’s death and her calls for help have only reopened my wounds — far from healed and as painful as before. This state of our society, drunk on honour, pride, ghairat and other medieval notions of self-worth, has crossed all tolerable levels of dysfunction. Yes, two girls were also hanged, allegedly gang-raped in India, and crimes against women are prevalent in other societies as well. But, at least, there is collective uproar, pressure on the governments and results. (more…)

Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s trip to New Delhi sent multiple signals

29 May 2014

Narendra Modi’s swearing-in as India’s prime minister coincided with a major diplomatic initiative. By inviting SAARC leaders, especially Pakistan’s prime minister, a new beginning has been made. After intense consultations and taking a strategic risk, Nawaz Sharif decided to attend the ceremony.

Pakistan’s India policy has been the exclusive preserve of its civilmilitary bureaucracy. In the past six years, there has been a gradual shift.

Pakistan’s India policy has been the exclusive preserve of its civilmilitary bureaucracy. In the past six years, there has been a gradual shift.

Critics in Pakistan termed the ceremony as a continuation of Delhi Durbar — the grand assembly of local rajas and maharajas to pay homage to the British crown. Old-fashioned hawks spoke about BJP’s role in the fall of the Babri Masjid, the Gujarat riots and general anti-Muslim rhetoric that its parent organisation RSS is famous for. Sharif ignored all of this and took a gamble to remain true to his quest for a normalised relationship with India. For him, this was a pledge he had made to Pakistani electorate last year. The terrorised Pakistanis, for all the anti-India sentiment that has been drummed up, appreciate the value of peace.

He Means Business (more…)

Farzana’s honour killing is a national shame

28 May 2014

My outrage – sadly limited to social media on the brutal stone age murder of a pregnant woman in Pakistan’s ostensibly ‘developed’ city

Do not let the hawks dictate terms, says Raza Rumi on Pakistan

26 May 2014

Raza Rumi

In Pakistan’s neighbourhood, a tectonic political shift seems to be underway. The Indian voters in large numbers have made their choice by preferring ‘strong’ leadership over dynastic rule, jobs over state handouts and ‘good governance’ over accommodation and appeasement of India’s diverse communities. All such choices are driven by a populist construct of Modinomics and promise of a corruption-free, booming India. In a way, this emphasis on performance was echoed earlier in May 2013 when Pakistan’s electorate voted in a new government and-not unlike India-rejected the Pakistan Peoples Party for a more growth-friendly Nawaz Sharif. On balance, this augurs well for the region where voters are getting smarter and the younger population, distanced from the past, is keen for a better life ahead.

 

India’s swing to the right is not different from Pakistan’s either. In the 2013 elections, the victorious Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the second largest party headed by former cricketer Imran Khan were also ‘right-wing’ in their worldview. Both countries now have to tackle the issue of minorities. In Pakistan, the miniscule non-Muslim population is under attack and the Shia minority faces persecution. In the 2014 elections, the Indian Parliament will have the lowest number of Muslim MPs. The strong identification of politics and religion marks the culmination of a century-old political process when religion was infused into political discourse and faith became a plank of political ideologies. (more…)

Pakistan: At the edge of the abyss?

25 May 2014

Pakistan’s blasphemy law is used to fuel violence and death.

 

 

The recent murder of a brave human rights lawyer Rashid Rehman reminds us of the society we have shaped. It is now an unregulated space where even defending the rights of an accused is a crime. Rehman had made all the threats, including those in the courtroom, public. The local state authorities did next to nothing to protect him or rein in the individuals and groups preaching violence. It seems when it comes to religiously motivated violence the might of the state disappears. Victims of blasphemy law are no longer fit for due process. They need to be punished directly. A few days after the murder of Rehman, another accused of blasphemy was shot dead by a teenager in a police station near Lahore.

Since the brutal murder of Salmaan Taseer in January 2011, debates on the colonial blasphemy law have disappeared from the public domain. Those who advocated against its misuse were also silenced through litigation in courts by the right-wing lobbies that no longer constitute the lunatic fringe. In fact, the idea of blasphemy as a threat to Pakistan’s carefully constructed “Islamic” identity mixes passion, politics and power. A state that quietly smiles at the success of its project is now complicit in mob justice and even brutal killings such as the one that took Rashid Rehman’s life. (more…)

Pakistani Media Under Attack

23 May 2014

The Pakistani journalist Raza Rumi survived an assassination attempt in March that killed his driver. He and other liberals have been targeted for criticizing Islamist militancy and a blasphemy law.

See more The New York Times

Pakistani journalist shares why his work led to an attempt on his life

20 May 2014

I was recently interviewed by Al Jazeera TV – here is a video clip:

Raza Rumi describes the state of the media in Pakistan, where 34 journalists were reportedly killed since 2008

http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/201405062237-0023704

Journalist Raza Rumi narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by members of the Taliban network in Pakistan on March 28, 2014.
He joins Aljazeera host Antonio Mora to discuss why journalists in Pakistan often put their lives in danger.

Pakistan is not afraid of Modi’s win

19 May 2014

Finally, the verdict is out. The Indian electorate has given a clear message by electing Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) precisely in this order. The 16th general election in the neighbouring state was contested around the issues of governance, corruption and development. The dismal performance of the Congress’s second term was compounded by a leadership crisis, the diarchic model of governance and highly mediatised incidence of corruption scandals. Mr Manmohan Singh, despite his personal reputation, seemed helpless and at times, directionless. Modi seems to have fully benefited from the public disenchantment with coalition politics and a decade of Congress rule. India is now ruled by a right-wing party with a thumping majority. Unlike the earlier terms, the BJP is in a position to form the government on its own and the opposition has been virtually reduced to naught. (more…)

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