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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…)

The politics of Imran Khan and Dr Tahir ul Qadri

12 May 2014

My latest column for Express Tribune published under the heading: “Imran Khan, Tahirul Qadri & a dharma”

Pakistan’s electoral system is far from perfect. Like most other state functions, electoral laws and practices need to be reformed. In a democracy, this is to be undertaken by the legislature and through a multiparty consensus. The allegations of rigging since May 2013 are all too familiar. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which garnered 19 per cent of the total votes(and fewer seats in the National Assembly) has been crying foul of ‘massive rigging’. Now exactly after a year of elections, and quite cynically exercising power in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), the party is launching a protest through a sit-in in Islamabad. Concurrently, another self-styled reformer, Dr Tahirul Qadri, is also launching a protest against the ‘system’. We all have serious reservations about the ‘system’ but the alternative provided by Dr Qadri is vague as well as populist.

These two protests come in the wake of recent tensions between the civilians and the military. Given Pakistan’s history, the PTI’s protest and the return of Dr Qadri from the safe environs of Canada are termed being ‘sponsored’. It is difficult to ascertain the veracity of this perception. However, the timing of these protests against the credibility of a parliament — of which the PTI and its leader, Imran Khan, are part of — is somewhat problematic. This time the responsibility of rigging is being termed a collusive project of the ruling PML-N, the judiciary and the largest television network, ie, Geo Tv. (more…)

Away from the ‘homeland’

9 May 2014

In the past one month, my friends and associates from across the globe have reached out. I am grateful to them. Now that I am out of Pakistan I am safer. This is a trade-off. Choices. Again. Security versus identity. Belonging or choosing a migrant’s life. I have yet to think about these issues and hopefully the mist will clear itself.

I was deeply touched by what the eminent poet and my friend-muse Fahmida Riaz wrote in her commentary on the recently held Islamabad Literature Festival:

…It is no ordinary city or town, our capital. Only weeks ago there was a blast here that killed many people; and just last month, one of its prominent citizens, Raza Rumi, barely escaped death in a car attack. Last year Rumi was the life and spirit of the festival, moderating many sessions, but this year he was nowhere to be seen.

And then this email that pierced into a corner of my being:

Yes, I heard about it. Yes, I also read about it. Quite honestly, I didn’t know how to react to it. Should I pick the phone, say a few words of concern and take a sigh of relief? Or should I sit back, grim and bear it? It took a long time to sink in despite the fact that it sounded familiar. I’ve lost friends (we all have lost friends at some one point in life or the other) but I really can’t afford to lose another. Each time I hear the sound within earshot, I am shaken. I feel weak in the knees while writing this!
I called you today – your number was powered off. I was looking for you at the ILF 2014 but couldn’t see you anywhere. Where are you? How do I connect with you? …
Meanwhile, take everything easy. I can’t stop thanking God for returning you to us. Looking forward to hearing from you.
Best, ….

(more…)

Moving ahead after the attack

4 May 2014

It has been a month since I survived a lethal attack aimed to silence me forever. The support of my family, friends and colleagues has been monumental in dealing with the trauma, especially that of seeing young Mustafa die — an unfortunate victim of the bullets that the assailants fielded for me. The Punjab Police have reportedly apprehended a gang that has been carrying out such activities. It remains to be seen if the creaky, dysfunctional criminal justice system will deliver justice. Nevertheless, the efforts of the police have been commendable in tracing and arresting the alleged attackers.

Much has happened in the last month. Halfway, I had to leave the country given the sense of insecurity that surrounded my daily life and the potential power of those who attempted to kill me. The issue of journalists’ security remains a huge question mark for the government in power as another colleague from Geo TV was brutally attacked on April 19. The core issues since then have been sidelined and the politics of blaming Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency has overshadowed everything else. Is there freedom of speech in Pakistan? How much of it is granted and what are the lines that cannot be crossed by journalists? (more…)

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