Escaping death in the Land of the Pure

29 March 2014

Finally, I countenanced what I had been dreading for quite some time. Journalists and media houses being under threat is a well-known story in conflict-ridden Pakistan. I had also heard about my name being on a few hit-lists but I thought these were tactics to scare dissenters and independent voices. But this was obviously an incorrect assessment of the situation.

On Friday night, when I had planned to visit Data Darbar after my television show, my car was attacked by “unknown” (a euphemism for lethal terror outfits) assailants. The minute I heard the first bullet, the Darwinian instinct made me duck under and I chose to lie on the back of the car.

This near death experience with bullets flying over me and shattered window glass falling over me reminded me of the way my own country was turning into a laboratory of violence. Worse, that when I saved myself, it was not without a price. A young man, who had been working as my driver for sometime, was almost dead. I stood on a busy road asking for help and not a single car stopped. (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…)

In An Antique Land

28 March 2014

Another review on my book “Delhi By Heart” appeared in Outlook Magazine India.

By Venky Vembu

In his novel The Shadow Lines, Amitav Ghosh writes of the imagined cartographic lines that divide people in the Indian subcontinent and cleave their souls. Many of these “shadow lines” are etched in bitter, hand-me-down memories and imaginations, and for that reason are rather more indelible than lines on a map, which can perhaps be redrawn over time.Delhi By Heart: Impressions Of A Pakistani Traveller

Indians and Pakistanis may have shared a civilisational bhai-bhai bonhomie, but the horrors of Partition, compounded by decades of mutual mistrust at the political level, have served to  ensure that, outside of the world of the mom batti wallas at the Wagah border, there is little interest in knowing each other beyond a demonisation of ‘the other’.

As Pakistani writer and development professional Raza Rumi observes in this account of his travels to Delhi, although he himself is decidedly of the post-Partition generation, he was born into “textbook nationalism” and grew up in a milieu that conditioned him to resent India. But Rumi’s own family history is illustrative of the interwoven strands of subcontinental social history. His Hindu ancestors from Lahore were on a pilgrimage to Benares when their caravan was looted. They were offered shelter in the khanqah of a wandering Sufi dervish, and were drawn by his magnetism to embrace Islam.

Read full review on my blog “Delhi By Heart

Delighted!

Freedom to broadcast hate

27 March 2014

This report by the BBC is extremely insightful. How broadcast media are fanning sectarian passions across Middle East – on all sides. With dubious financiers, power interests, it becomes even more relevant for us in Pakistan.

Listen to the podcast by clicking here 

Comments and views welcome

Conversation with Mushir ul Hasan on my book

25 March 2014

Last year, my book was released in Delhi. The video and transcript of the discussion have been uploaded now.

Mushir ul Hasan: I’m delighted to be associated with the launch of this book; however, I believe that the subtitle of the book could have been a touch different. ‘The impressions of a Pakistani traveller’ – immediately creates an image in my mind of the ‘distinct other’, and I think it is this sense that we’re probably trying to do away with here. One of the strengths of this book lies with the fact that it does try to bridge the intellectual and cultural gap that exists, or has been created, since both country’s gained independence in 1947.delhi-by-heart-cover21.jpg

I particularly noticed the fact that Raza doesn’t actually look at Delhi, its cultural profile and its social profile as an outsider or someone who hails from Pakistan. He demonstrates empathy and respect for the city and has knowledge of the city’s development and its growth. According to me, he relied on skill and intuition to study some of the features of this city – particularly those of you who have read the sections on the Sufi shrines. They’re not only informative to many readers, but evocative at the same time, and yet in a certain sense, they also represent, the true character and complexion of this diverse city. I would like to thank Mr. Raza for writing a book about ‘our city’; as it is a very lively, vivid and comprehensive narrative.

I would also want to bring to the attention of academicians, that in order to understand the book, one needs to draw a distinction between academic and journalistic writing. The thin line that divides the two is blurred nowadays, which is why I would be glad to recommend your book to my students to understand what eloquent and comprehensive writing is all about. The book has a considerable amount of interesting insights, with the exception of certain sections.

The book is incisive from the outset and it looks at a city through a holistic lens. To eloquently describe its history, its past and its present without having lived here is a commendable effort and I am lending my voice and my views, to the number of reviews that have already appeared in the newspapers, regarding the book. Almost all the reviews that I have read are very interesting and I do hope that this book will go a long way in familiarizing Raza’s countrymen and our countrymen with the vibrancy of this city, its multifaceted personality and the manner in which Delhi has grown over the centuries. Thank you once again, for writing such a good book.

Read full transcript and watch video on my blog “Delhi by Heart

Worrying signs of Pakistani public discourse

25 March 2014

I was ranting on twitter about how extremist views find sympathy, sharing for those who missed them.

Indus Valley School of Learning: The school which teaches Humanism

23 March 2014

On Pakistan Day, I was invited by the Indus Valley School of Learning in Rawalpindi. I tweeted about my visit and the pleasant experience. There is so much about Pakistan that remains invisible – many people who are working hard to make it a plural and tolerant place. Whilst I complain about our curricula all the time, here is a school which is striving within formidable constraints to provide quality education.

Policy paralysis haunts our security

22 March 2014

By Raza Rumi

Pakistan’s government has appointed a new committee to conduct ‘peace talks’ with the Taliban. The old committee, with journalists acting as peace-brokers, has been replaced by a coterie of bureaucrats who, in spite of their solid credentials, are likely to be men without a mandate. The talks between the TTP and the government in Islamabad will remain in a flux as the right-wing politicians most keen to engage with them still refuse to deliver on what they have sold to the general public — that you can actually negotiate with groups that have killed 50,000 Pakistanis including over 4,000 security personnel. Why do the government’s peace committees have no politician in them?

A recent report by The Wall Street Journal stated that the Pakistan Army has lost almost twice as many soldiers in the conflict with Taliban fighters as the United States (March 10, 2014). Yet, the civilian government and the army are opting for negotiations. This baffles plain logic unless there is a greater strategy at work. The civilian leadership seems split as the interior minister defends the TTP, while the defence minister warns of a military operation. At the same time, most of the demands put forward by the TTP can only be met if the military agrees to deliver on them. Thus, the future of talks remains dogged by this inherent divergence in the power structure within Pakistan. (more…)

Paradise lost

21 March 2014

Raza Rumi narrates two tales of radicalization

 

Paradise lost

 

Writing about domestic help is distasteful as it means Pakistan’s obsession with ‘servants’ crosses the comfort zones of living rooms and travels into the printed lines. With much trepidation I plan to tell the readers about my own experience with a young helper who arrived from Pakistan’s Hazara area into my home a few years ago. Jabbar, a school dropout, had ambitions from day one and I spent the first few months convincing him that to liberate himself from a life-long career of domestic drudgery he would need to complete his education.

In my great moment of overcoming the middle class guilt, I found Jabbar a tutor and his formal education was resumed. He completed his Matriculation and Intermediate diplomas as a private school and did reasonably well given his circumstances and initial schooling. These days, he is enrolled as a graduate student and hopefully will find a better job than servicing my household needs. (more…)

Saudi bailout & jihad as a foreign policy tool

17 March 2014

Pakistan’s finance minister has proudly announced that a friendly country has deposited $1.5 billion in our reserves and more is likely to follow. The impact of this cash injection has been the stabilisation of the rupee and its dramatic appreciation in the past few days. This may prove to be good for arresting inflationary trends and decreasing energy prices. However, the underpinnings of this generous assistance are lesser known. Usually, bilateral agreements operate under a legal framework and there is a semblance of transparency. However, this case remains mysterious thus far. The government needs to tell parliament and the people as towhat the deal with the friendly government entails. Recent developments on our foreign policy — hostage to worn-out doctrines — may provide some clues.

In recent weeks, there have been high-profile visits of Saudi officials and the joint statement issued on the visit of Deputy Prime Minister Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz, in February 2014, indicated a shift in Pakistan’s approach to the ongoing Syrian crisis. Discarding the earlier policy stance, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, in addition to the usual diplomatic platitudes, agreed on the “formation of transitional governing body with full executive powers enabling it to take charge of the affairs of the country”. This, essentially, means the ouster of the Assad regime. (more…)

Writing from the Heart

15 March 2014

What a Lovely Review on my book “Delhi by Heart” published  in South Asia Magazine!

By Tariq Bashir

Delhi by Heart is a passionate rendition of a great city’s story steeped in history and rich traditions of religion, literature, music and cuisine. By all standards it delhi-by-heart-cover21.jpgfigures as an excellent first book by Raza Rumi who seems immersed in,and equally perturbed by, the violence and mindless massacre of Partition, as the book unfolds. His Apa’s unfulfilled longing to roam the streets of her Amritsar, and the charred remains of burnt houses in the Shah Alam area of Lahore when she returns after the wave of riots has subsided, paint a heart-wrenching scene befitting any good movie on 1947. Raza Rumi writes from the heart.

At times he sounds like a traumatized adult who is baffled and confused at the raison d’être that forcibly detached him from his history, his cultural ‘half’ when he sets out to find many unanswered questions and does find some of them.

His quest starts from the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi wherefrom emanates an absorbing and highly readable account of Delhi. The dramatis personae of Rumi’s excellent work include historical figures like Amir Khusrau, Nizamuddin Auliya and Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, to name but a few and the contemporary characters of Delhi like Qurat-ulAinHaider, Saadia Dehlvi, Khushwant Singh and many others.

Read full review on my blog “Delhi by Heart

Mullahs, mullahs everywhere

14 March 2014

Raza Rumi

It is a test for the state and the political parties of Pakistan as to how they can deal with a narrative that is fast capturing political space as well as prime time on TV.

 

Mullahs, mullahs everywhere

Last week on a television show I had a chance to interact with Maulana Sami ul Haq while he was in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This was the day when the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had announced a month-long ceasefire (March 1). Maulana was ecstatic about the news and offered a bagful of platitudes on how important was the so-called ‘peace process’ and negotiating with the terrorists. When I asked him that despite the peace talks, outfits close to TTP had carried out dozens of attacks killing soldiers and civilians the Maulana’s mood changed. In a fit of anger he accused me of ‘sabotaging’ the process and before he could take the argument forward by calling me an agent of Hanood-Yahood, my guest – another Maulana – Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi intervened and rescued me from a live declaration of being an enemy of the peace.

The false and utterly bizarre packaging of accepting terrorists within our fold as ‘peace-agents’ has assumed a life of its own. Appeasement or terrorist outfits is turning into a mainstream political ideology. The right wing parties – bearded and non-bearded – are busy selling the merchandise that Pakistani state had earlier branded as means to bolster ‘national security’. Militant groups aiming to liberate Kashmir are legitimate, those planning to fight the imperial US and NATO are ‘good’ and the foreigners operating from Pakistani soil are ‘guests’ of proud Pakhtuns, we are told. Any divergence from these labels is akin to being unpatriotic, parroting the United States and feeding on dollars as the charismatic Imran Khan has said time and again. (more…)

Analysis: Attackers punch hole in Islamabad security

10 March 2014

Raza Rumi

A police commandos stop a photo journalist near a local court building after a gun and suicide attack in Islamabad on March 3, 2014. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD: Today’s suicide bombing at the Islamabad courts complex suggests that the capital and its sensitive installations are vulnerable. The premeditated murder of a judge, who had turned down an appeal made by the Lal Masjid clerics, has raised question marks for the future of Pakistan’s battle with terrorism. If judges are not secure in the capital, one wonders who will ensure their safety in less developed, remote districts where terrorist networks run their bases.
A few weeks ago, interior ministry officials had told the nation that the capital was not safe. While briefing a Senate committee, the ministry termed Islamabad’s security situation ‘extremely dangerous’ due to the presence of militant groups. In particular, the risk was heightened due to the presence of alleged sleeper cells al Qaeda, TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) within the limits of Islamabad. The interior minister was quick to contradict his own ministry’s report and told the nation last week that reports of sleeper cells operating in Islamabad were exaggerated and that the capital was safe. He also insisted that neither foreign agencies nor terrorist groups, including al Qaeda, were operating from Islamabad.Nisar also announced a set of measures, which were being taken to improve the situation. Sadly, the political rhetoric has been exposed as today’s attack in Islamabad comes as a major security lapse right under the nose of the interior minister, leaving the prime minister red-faced for saying a bit too much.

But at the end of the day it is about collective responsibility in a parliamentary system. The government’s vacillating policy on negotiating or fighting the militants has much to contribute to the worsening security scenario across the country. (more…)

New battle against old demons

9 March 2014

Raza Rumi

After 30 years of self-defeating policies, the new National Internal Security Policy may be the right way to make a fresh start

 

New battle against old demons

National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz

 

Pakistanis should be grateful for small mercies. The federal cabinet finally approved the draft of the internal security policy that was pending for review since December 2013. This is some improvement from the earlier performance of civilian authorities and complete outsourcing of security question to the military. The approval does not suggest that the military has backed off and the civilians are fully in charge. In fact, reports suggest that the military leadership has proactively argued for a cleanup in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) and had advised the Prime Minister for not delaying the final putsch any further.

The National Internal Security Policy (NISP) has a detailed conceptual part that highlights the extent of damage that Pakistan has suffered during the last 12 years. While reporting on the victims of terror, the NISP notes that from 2001 to November 2013, 48,994 people were killed in the country including 5,272 personnel of the law-enforcement agencies. The attacks on security apparatus accelerated during 2011-2013 as 17,642 casualties including 2,114 security personnel took place during this time period. The NISP notes that with more than 600,000 strong personnel in 33 civilian and military security organizations provide adequate capacity to the Pakistani state to fight terrorism. The impact of terrorism has been calculated as losses worth $78 billion to Pakistan’s economy. Surprisingly, the draft also refers to the foreign policy priorities with respect to Afghanistan, Kashmir and India and limited civilian input in policy process. Governance failures also find a mention in the draft.

The democratic process in Pakistan has been a victim of terrorist narratives

Perhaps the most important feature of the NISP refers to the emphasis on the narratives – political and martial – which have increased the domestic support for terrorist outfits and mislead many a citizen in believing that terror tactics are justifiable at a certain level. This area has been largely unaddressed by Pakistan’s political parties and permanent state organs. While the PPP-led coalition tried to make some amends, it was often cowed down into acquiescence by militancy all around. In fact, the elections of 2013 took place under the threat of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that decided which political groups had more space to campaign and contest. Certainly, the democratic process in Pakistan has also been a victim of terrorist narratives. (more…)

Enhancing Pak-India Trade Ties

26 February 2014

Raza Rumi

Notwithstanding Pakistan’s internal challenges or the ‘war on terror’ in its backyard, the troubled relationship with India continues to drive its internal and external policies. Pakistan’s mighty military is essentially trained to counter the bigger neighbour and imagines India to be the greatest threat.

In recent years, there have been signs of some shifts in military’s worldview but these shifts are yet to filter down into the institutional structures: the way strategic calculations are made and ‘threat perception’ is determined. Despite these structural constraints, the political elites have resolved to undo the bitter legacy of the past and push for improved trade ties and continued dialogue with the archenemy. At times the enthusiasm of Pakistani politicians appears to be at variance with the views of Indian political class, which seems divided on how to transact this bilateral relationship.

Since the election of Nawaz Sharif as the Prime Minister in June 2013, domestic terrorism and skirmishes at the Line of Control (LoC) have prevented any major development to take place. In fact by the end of 2013, many feared that the modest gains (trade and visa liberalization) made in the past few years had been reversed due to the continued hostilities at the border. (more…)

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