Category Archives: Personal

2015: The year in words

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

Music: Tabla master Sandeep Das & Kayhan Kalhor

Tabla master Sandeep Das joins multiple Grammy nominee and co-founder of Masters of Persian Music Kayhan Kalhor following their March D.C. appearance with Silk Road Ensemble 
The U.S. does not boast many kamancheh (Persian spike fiddle) performers, let alone any in the same league as Kayhan Kalhor. He is, quite simply, the most internationally acclaimed master of this instrument, which produces a broad range of sounds, from an almost percussive bark to a sweet, throaty tone. The Tehran-born Kalhor closes out Washington Performing Arts’ season-long exploration of the Silk Road, performing with artists from other countries on the historic Silk Road, on Saturday, May 16, 2015 at 8pm at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. Kalhor is joined by his Silk Road Ensemble colleague, renowned table master Sandeep Das. This is the second time this season that D.C. audiences will be treated to Kalhor and Das’ inimitable style. Their Jugalbandi was peformed at the lauded March 1, 2015, Washington Performing Arts presentation of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, of which Kalhor and Das are original members and frequent collaborators. Continue reading

Kal bhi woh darte the

A few lines I wrote after Malala’s
Nobel and some of the reactions of Pakistanis on social media


(English translit. below)

کل بھی وہ ڈرتے تھے
نہتی لڑکیوں سے
آج بھی نالاں ہیں
وہی مذہب کے بیوپاری
اہک ننھی ملالہ سے!
وہ جھوٹے دعوے کرنے والے
وہ بے ایمانی کے سوداگر
دہشت کے پجاری
کیا تم جانتے نہیں؟
یہ ننھی بچیاں
تم کو ہر بار شکست دیں گی!
یہ بھی سچ ہے کہ
ابھی دور ہے حق کی جیت
اس میں بھی مات تمھاری
تم گولیاں برسا کر بھی
بازی ہار گۓ

ابھی بہت سے موسمِ بارود گزرنے ہيں
ابھی ملالہ کو جلا وطن رہنا ہے
اور کوۓ ملامت کو سنبھلنا ہے
لمبا ، کٹھن سفر ہے باقی
اور کچھ ہو نہ ہو
تمہاری شکست کی آواز
تمھاری بزدلی کے چرچے
سارے جہاں میں عام ہو گۓ
ایک نہتی لڑکی نے
پھر سے ہرا دیا

سب بندوق والوں کو
بندوق دینے والوں کو
بندوقیں ماننے والوں کو

Kal bhi woh darte theMalalaKailash2
Nihati laRkiyoN se
Aaj bhi nalaaN haiN
Aik nanhi Malala se!
Wohi Mazhab ke beopari
Woh Jhoote daawe karne wale
Woh be-aimani ke saudagar
Dashat ke pujari
Kiya tum jante nahiN?
Yeh nanhi bachiaN
Tum ko har baar shikast deiN gi!
Yeh bhi sach hai keh
Abhi door hai haq ki Jeet
Is meiN bhi maat tumhari
Tum goliyaan barsa kar bhi
Baazi haar gaye
Abhe bohot se mausam-e barood guzarne haiN
Abhe Malala ko jilaawatan rehna hai
Aur koo-e malamat ko sanmbhalna hai
Lamba, kathan safar hai baaqi
Aur kuch ho nah ho
Tumhari shikast ki awaz
Tumhari buzdali ke charche
Saare jahaN meiN aam ho gaye
Ik nihati laRki ne
phir se Hara diya
Sab bandooq waloN ko
Bandooq dene waloN ko
Bandoqen manane waloN ko

‘Hum Bhatak bhi Gaye au Kia Hoga’

After a long time, I attempted to write a poem. Here it is – pretty raw and unpolished. Will translate it later for readers who may not understand the language. It is entitled —
(so what if I went astray..)

Tum apni dunya kay baasi

Hum apni chah kay aseer
Milay jo ik din
Anjani rah per
Dekhna yeh hai keh
Who rah jis peh safar
Dushwar hi nahin
Shayad namumkin ho
Kis moR peh ja niklay
Ya phir
Kaun pehlay rastah badal day
Yeh hua bhi to
Koi ‘Nai’ baat nah hogi
Sun rakha hai
Muhabbat baad mein hogi
Jo mil nah saken
In ki yaad mein hogi
Hum Musafir-e-Dil
Bhtakna Jantay hain
Dil gariftah, Dil Nawaz
Hawadis aashna
Yeh bhi jantay hain
Muhabbat na bhi mile to
Hijr kay phool
Sanbhalna jantay hain

تم اپنی دنیا کے باسی
ہم اپنی چاہ کے اسیر
ملے جو اک دن
انجانی راہ پر
دیکھنا یہ ہے کہ
وہ راہ جس پہ سفر
دشوار ہی نہيں
شاید نا ممکن ہو
کس موڑ پہ جا نکلے
یا پھر
کون پہلے رستہ بدل دے
یہ ہوا بھی تو
کوئی ‘نئی’ بات نہ ہو گی
سن رکھا ہے
محبت بعد ميں ہوگی
جو مل نہ سکیں
ان کی یاد ميں ہوگی
ہم مسافرِِ دل
بھٹکنا جانتے ہیں
دل گرفتہ، دل نواز
حوادث آشنا
یہ بھی جانتے ہيں
محبت نہ بھی ملے تو
ہجر کے پھول
سنبھالنا جانتے ہيں

(A poem in Urdu – written casually – comments & criticism is welcome)

I know how men in exile feed on dreams

To the accompaniment of songs, poetry and history, Raza Rumi spent a bittersweet evening with fellow exiles exploring the state of his banishment

Raza rumi and neelam

Neelam Bashir and Raza Rumi

“Our native soil draws all of us, by I know not what sweetness, and never allows us to forget.” ? Ovid

I sat there, on a wooden deck with a motley crew under the summer sky. Deep into the suburbia of Maryland this was a spontaneous get together with a diverse group of Pakistani-Americans. The sorted, integrated types not at odds with the ‘evil West’ as we know it back home. Yet, they were exiles, dislocated in their own way. This was a strangely intimate evening with so many stories that merged into a moment of connection, a nameless bond.

Noreen and Amjad Babar – old residents here – are great hosts. Their home, an open house in all senses, hosts all the progressives across the length and breadth of the United States. That evening when we all congregated perchance, it was a melee of writers, poets, doctors and journalists of Pakistani origin. This was also the weekend when the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA) was holding its annual convention.

Far from home

Pakistani American doctors hold a huge festival every year where they congregate, network, vent and even make matches for their hybridized children.

This year’s event was dedicated to hundreds of doctors who have been killed for their ‘wrong’ faith in Pakistan

I was invited to speak at a panel organized by Karachi’s Dow Medical College Alumni (formally known as the ‘Dow Graduates Association of North America’) that attempts to raise the unpopular issues of extremism and progressive change in Pakistan. This year’s event was dedicated to hundreds of doctors who have been killed for their ‘wrong’ faith in Pakistan. Most notably, Dr Mehdi whose assassination did not even invite a simple statement of condemnation from Pakistan’s so-called ruling ‘democrats’. The panel was great: Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, poet-writer-journalist Hasan Mujtaba and the bold columnist Dr Taqi. Haqqani amused the audience with his wit and exceptional command over Pakistan’s history. Only a few bilingual speakers can match his erudition. Continue reading

Away from the ‘homeland’

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, ….

Continue reading

What do you read, my lord?

My book will be launched this Saturday. I can say that its going to be a big day in my quest to become a writer. Those in Delhi are invited. Click the image for the full picture and details.

“Lord Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.
Lord Polonius: What is the matter, my lord?
Hamlet: Between who?
Lord Polonius: I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.” ~Shakespeare

Invite (Delhi by heart) 5x7 inch Final