Indo Pak peace

Reclaiming One’s Voice

17 July 2014

 

 

Raza Rumi cuts through the high decibel terrorism rhetoric to voice some ground realities of Pakistan, all this while braving attempts on his life.

 Quetta

 

A few months back, I had to leave my country simply to ensure that I would not be left dead. The price of public positions is hard. Perhaps I had ruffled too many feathers or was simply unlucky to have caught the attention of those who tried to kill me. I am trying to make sense of things that may have fallen apart for me. But have they? I keep trying at making sense of my country, the one I belong to and the one I love immensely.

Nuclear state. An Islamic Republic. A Failed state? Endless labels and categories have been accorded to what Pakistan represents today to the world at large. Some facts speak for themselves but perceptions are deceptive as they start morphing into realities. Pakistan is also a resilient country and inspires me to fight the odds, the demons that have to be defeated and the endless list of things that need to be done.

Contrary to what most diagnose, Pakistan’s trajectory was not inevitable. The country’s founder, almost a demonic figure in India, attempted to set a direction in his August 11 speech by recognising that religion could mobilise people and politics but cannot be an instrument for governance. “We are starting with this fundamental principle,” said Jinnah, “that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.” The famous words followed: “…in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.” Critics say it was too late. Others think this was the only way to shape statecraft when a new state had come into being. Perhaps all of this is irrelevant now. Sixty seven years later, Pakistan is hardly the country it was geographically or otherwise in 1947.

(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…)

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 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…)

Pakistan silently watches the rise of Narendra Modi

12 May 2014

My analysis – Pakistan: Cautiously pessimistic about Modi’s expected rise to power – first published here:

A decade of UPA-Congress rule in India ends with limited progress on the Indo-Pak relations.The fact that outgoing Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, despite his good intentions, could not visit the country of his birth even once sums up the structural constraints of this troubled relationship.

The first few years of Congress rule witnessed major developments in back-channel diplomacy and, if Pakistan’s former foreign minister Khursheed Mahmud Kasuri is to believed, a major breakthrough on the issue of Jammu & Kashmir was on the anvil before domestic political crisis led to the weakening and eventual ouster of General Musharraf in 2007-2008. In the later phases of bilateral diplomacy, modest achievements on trade and visa liberalization were realized. But the legacy of the 2008 Mumbai attack continued to haunt the trajectory of the bilateral relations for the past six years. Terrorism and rise of non-state actors in Pakistan shaped the public opinion and it seemed that political initiative of the Singh administration was almost always hostage to the power of corporate media that did not allow the evolution of a well-calibrated Pakistan policy in India.

This is a tough legacy for the incoming government in India. And even more so for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is expected to emerge as the single largest party in the Indian lower house of parliament. Though it is far from clear whether the BJP will form the next government, pundits in New Delhi and the doyens of Indian media have already garlanded Narendra Modi a few times over.

Narendra Modi – a controversial figure

In Pakistan the reputation of Mr Narendra Modi precedes him. He is viewed as a controversial figure specifically as a right-wing hardliner who espouses the Hindutva ideology and someone who advanced his political career on the rhetoric of hating the Muslims and their place in India’s past and present. Seen as an architect of the anti-Muslim Gujarat riots of 2002, his persona justifies the creation of Pakistan. Modi is an archetype that informs the Pakistani mind about the evil design of Hindus. Many Pakistanis believe his current political standing on the other side of the border is a reward for his anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan ‘ideology’. (more…)

Khushwant Singh: ‘The last Pakistani living on Indian soil’

12 April 2014

My tribute to KS (first published in DAWN on March 30)

IT is difficult to evaluate the legacy of writer, journalist and an icon of our times Khushwant Singh who passed away last week after leading a full life that many would dream of leading. Singh was immensely popular in Pakistan. For the past two decades I have spotted his books — legit and pirated — at almost all bookstores in every city. His writings had an impact and inspired generations to emulate his incomparable style. His larger than life stature in India was equally recognised in Pakistan.

Singh was born in Hadali village (now in Pakistan), lived in Lahore and until his last never disowned his roots. Such was his worldview that Partition and the ensuing bitterness did not change his empathy for Pakistan. This is why many Pakistanis were his friends and he gave them due attention, respect and time. A photograph of his best friend from pre-Partition days, Manzoor Qadir (jurist and Pakistan’s law minister under Ayub Khan) was displayed prominently in his living room.

It was Singh’s stature in the world of Indian journalism that is perhaps unprecedented for its influential relationship with readers. As a critic of the establishment, Singh guarded his intellectual independence. His proximity to Indira Gandhi and a brief period of closeness aside, he remained a fierce commentator on all things political and cultural. Singh for example returned the honours awarded to him after Gandhi’s operation at the Golden Temple in the 1980s. Over time, his column ‘With Malice Towards One and All’ became a regular window of refreshingly fresh and iconoclastic commentary. Singh’s attitude to Pakistan was always irksome for the rightwing Hindus and often he would get hate mail, which was a source of amusement to his expansive spirit. Of course Singh came from a privileged background and things were easier for him compared to a lot of writers and journalists across the region. But he did give up a career in law and diplomacy to become a writer. And a prolific one at that.

RAZAKHUSHWANT (more…)

Trade with India: Nawaz Sharif must fulfill his mandate

28 March 2014

Raza Rumi

India will gain from freer mutual trade, but so will Pakistan

Trade with India: Nawaz Sharif must fulfil his mandate

A paramilitary soldier stands guard as a truck crosses into Pakistan from India, at the Wagah border

It seems that the PML-N government may well be set to achieve one of its key policy goals ie bolstering trade with India. During 2013, the process of normalization was scuttled by the untoward tensions on the Line of Control (LoC) and the situation was controlled in part by the meeting of DGMOs in December 2013. That was a welcome initiative led by Nawaz Sharif himself and reportedly some quarters were not all that pleased with such a putsch from the PM’s office.

For years, the right wing and fringe extremists have abused the term Most Favoured Nation (MFN) as some kind of a ‘concession’ to India at the cost of national sovereignty. The political elites have resisted this narrative and Sharif happens to be the most consistent and clear advocate of trading with India. To bypass the constructed discourse on MFN the government is set to give India Non Discriminatory Market Access (NDMA) – on a reciprocal basis – which essentially implies sorting out some of the irrational barriers erected over the years to discourage and/or block trading with the enemy. The positive list of Pakistan comprises 8000 items, but only 1967 are importable from India while the negative list includes 1209 items. In 2012, federal cabinet approved abolishing this negative list. (more…)

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