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Media in the Cross Hairs: Militants continue to Target Journalists in Pakistan

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Despite the commitments of the Pakistan government to protect journalists, media freedoms remain endangered in the country. Pakistani journalists continue to struggle with the threats posed by violent extremists who consider media to be a legitimate target. In fact, extremists often target the media because it ensures that they will get publicity in the form of coverage. Thus, journalists remain quite vulnerable as the government has yet to find workable mechanisms to ensure their safety in the country.

On March 27, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban carried out a deadly attack on a busy park in Lahore that killed more than 72 and injured 300. In a message claiming responsibility on Twitter, the spokesman for the group was quick to warn, “Everyone will get their turn in this war, especially the slave Pakistani media.” He also ominously added that the group was “waiting for the appropriate time,” presumably referring to an attack. The threat is not new. In 2014 the Pakistani Taliban issued a detailed fatwa that justified attacking the media and killing journalists.

The Ongoing Threat and the Emergence of an ISIS-branch in Pakistan

This new threat comes in the wake of earlier incidents that have made media workers anxious. On January 14, ISIS claimed that it launched an attack on a Pakistan TV station. Two assailants riding a motorbike threw an explosive device and fired gunshots at the ARY television network offices in Islamabad. The shooters ran away when the guards fired at them. In December 2015, another television channel, Din News, was also attacked in Lahore injuring a staffer and two police constables. A militant group claiming itself to be an affiliate of ISIS, the Khorasan Group (Daulat-i-Islamia Khorasan), claimed responsibility for the attack. The Khorasan Group had also carried out an attack a month earlier. In November 2015 a hand grenade was thrown at the bureau office of Dunya News television in Faisalabad, the third largest Pakistani city. Two employees of the channel were injured.

The extent of ISIS presence in Pakistan is unclear, and its appeal is not widespread. Yet, reports have suggested that the group is attempting to make inroads in Pakistan. Its presence in Afghanistan has already been confirmed as splintering groups of the Taliban have been professing allegiance to the ISIS leadership. ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack on a Pakistani consulate in eastern Afghanistan on January 13 that killed seven members of the Afghan security forces. […]

My interview with Ithaca Times, U.S.

Recently I was interviewed by Ithaca Times, USA. Here is the text:

The Ithaca Times sat down with Rumi to talk about his work—in past, present, and future—the state of Pakistan, and his impressions of the United States so far.
Ithaca Times:You took an unorthodox path into journalism. Tell us a little bit about your background and how that informs your work now.
Raza Rumi: I was a civil servant in Pakistan, and then got into international development. I was with the Asian Development Bank for nearly a decade, during which time I began to write for Pakistani papers. I was enjoying it so much, getting so much feedback, that I said, ‘Let’s give it a try and make it into a kind of career.’ In 2008 I took a leave from the Asian Development Bank and started editing the Friday Times, a liberal weekly newspaper in Lahore … My background gives me an immense edge in terms of commentaries and analysis. I write with that experience; I know which parts of government talk to each other, how transactions come into effect. […]

April 4th, 2016|Arts & Culture, Pakistan, terrorism|6 Comments

Even as Lahore limps to normalcy

A splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for killing at least 72 people in a heinous attack in Lahore at a popular park where scores of families had gone to spend their Sunday. Images of wailing mothers and a bloodstained park continue to haunt the people of Lahore, Pakistan and the global community at large.

Growing up in Lahore entails a relationship with its parks. Historically known as the city of gardens, it offers public parks like no other metropolis in Pakistan. The tradition is older, as before the merciless encroachments even the famed Walled City had gardens around it, remnants of which can still be found today. From the British-created Lawrence Gardens, now rechristened after the country’s founder, to the new ones, these parks are where most of Lahore’s population across class, faith and creed finds recreation, refuge and peace.

A personal story

Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, which was attacked on Sunday, is one such public space in Lahore. I was a child when the park was created amid a large housing development known as Allama Iqbal Town, named after the national poet Muhammad Iqbal. (Iqbal’s tarana is still a second anthem in India. Such are the contradictions of our nationalist frameworks.) The scheme was called sola sau acre (1,600 acres) and catered to the galloping housing needs of the middle class. One of my aunts found her abode there, and each time we visited her, a trip to Gulshan-e-Iqbal was mandatory for our entertainment. I still have some faded Polaraid photographs taken by the vendors there. The attack on my city is more than a news detail for me. It is intimately violent. A disquieting personal calamity.

Exactly two years ago I was also attacked in my own city. I survived that attack, but my companion did not and died on the spot. Another was injured. The list of victims is long and dreadful. I suffer from the burden of privilege that allowed me to escape the context to reclaim sanity, but the hapless families whose children died may not be that fortunate. As is the case that there are little or no trauma counselling services in Pakistan, and more often than not the perpetrators of such attacks remain outside the ambit of the justice system. More importantly, they are victims of a state that has not been too responsible towards its citizens, especially those surviving on the margins such as the poor, the minority groups (both Muslim and non-Muslim) and the ones who live in regions such as tribal areas where full citizenship is still denied through colonial instruments we conveniently forgot to reform.

The attack on Gulshan-e-Iqbal is the second in the area. In 2009, close to the park, a busy trading centre called Moon Market was also attacked. The bombing resulted in at least 60 deaths, and dozens were injured. Who knows what happened to them? Once again most of the victims were women, children and random passers-by. A spiritual healer, Dr Ahmad, who was a guru to a close friend, died in that attack. That was the day when Pakistan’s terrorism problem actually reached into my inner circle. And within years, it reached my own doorstep. […]

March 30th, 2016|Extremism, Pakistan, Published in The Hindu, terrorism|0 Comments

Pakistan Needs Deradicalization Programs. Force Alone Won’t Cure Intolerance

LAHORE, PAKISTAN - MARCH 28: Pakistani commando stand guard at the suicide blast site in Lahore on March 28, 2016.  At least 70 people, mostly women and children, have been killed at a crowded park in Pakistan in a suicide blast that also wounded more than 300 people. (Photo by Rana Irfan Ali /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Even by Pakistan’s warped standards, recent turmoil in the country is extraordinary. On Sunday, a suicide bombing in a public park in Lahore killed more than 70 people and injured at least 300. Most were women and children. A Taliban splinter group that treats non-Muslims as inferior claimed the Lahore attack was an assault on Pakistan’s small and marginalized Christian community, taking advantage of the tradition of celebrating religious festivals in public spaces.

While Lahore was still grappling with the immense tragedy, a rally in Islamabad turned violent. Thousands of demonstrators had turned out to protest the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, a former policeman who murdered a governor who had dared to criticize Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws.

The demonstration was organized by groups that follow relatively peaceful branches of Islam in South Asia. The protestors burned vehicles and reached the Parliament building in a high security zone. Their demands — other than declaring the executed policeman an official martyr — include the imposition of an Islamic system in Pakistan.

Military action and executions are no substitute for structural reforms of schools and seminaries that breed intolerance.

Together, these events represent many of the various shades of religious extremism found in Pakistan. From the country’s inception, disparate groups have continually contested Pakistan’s identity. The founder of the country, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, mobilized Indian Muslims using religion as a marker of a distinct identity. When the idea of a Muslim homeland became reality, Jinnah quickly declared the need for religious tolerance. But he died soon after, and his successors — both civil and military — exploited religious imagination as a useful political lever to both maximize power and also build a new “nation” composed of diverse ethnicities and linguistic groups.

The slide continued as the country acquiesced more space to religious extremists. Over the decades, Sunni clerics, representing the majority, pushed the state to adopt numerous laws and constitutional provisions that are semi-theocratic in nature. For instance, a non-Muslim cannot be the head of the state in Pakistan (and many other majority-Muslim countries).

[…]

WATCH: Raza Rumi Speaks Out on Countering Violent Extremism

by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on FEBRUARY 18, 2016:

In November I had a chance to sit down with policy analyst, journalist, and scholar Raza Rumi at the ISLAMiCommentary office of the Duke Islamic Studies Center and speak to him about countering violent extremism in the Middle East and in Pakistan, and the plight of journalists in his native Pakistan.

Rumi was at Duke to lead a conversation on “Countering Violent Extremism: The Case of Pakistan.” He had been invited by the Duke Pakistani Students’ Association and his visit was co-sponsored by the Sanford School of Public Policy, the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy, and the Duke Alexander Hamilton Society.

Rumi has been living in the U.S. since shortly after a March 2014 assassination attempt on his life that left his driver dead and guard seriously injured. While escaping with minor injuries, he said that after his car was ambushed he felt “insecure” and “traumatized,” and had to leave Pakistan after a few weeks. State agencies and local police, he said, couldn’t promise it wouldn’t happen again. (Police later reportedly implicated members of the Taliban-affiliate Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in the attack) […]

In Bangladesh “the term ‘blogger’ has become a curse”

Around the world online freedoms are being threatened both by states and violent criminal organizations that are seeking to repress free speech. One glaring example is that of the endangered bloggers in Bangladesh who have been threatened, harassed, and killed. In 2015 alone, Islamic extremists have killed four bloggers and a publisher for their secular views. To date, the government has not found a way to counter these violent attacks against independent journalists.

Bangladesh blogger

The murders have been gruesome. The most recent occurred on October 31, 2015, when Faisal Arefin Dipan, a publisher and a blogger, was hacked to death in his office in Dhaka. Ahmedur Rashid Tutul was attacked and wounded in that attack too. Just a couple months earlier in August, blogger Niloy Neel was murdered in his Dhaka apartment. In May, Ananta Bijoy Das, a blogger critical of religion was hacked to death. In March secular blogger Washiqur Rahman was also killed at knifepoint. These incidents followed the brutal murder of Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi-American blogger and writer who was attacked and killed near the campus of Dhaka University Campus in February 2015, which drew international rebuke.

The tumult in Bangladesh has been brewing for a long time. In March 2013, a group of clerics announced a list of 84 “enemies of Islam” that was circulated by the Bangladeshi media. In August 2015, an unknown group identifying itself as Ittahadul Mujahidin, released a hit list with names of 20 bloggers, artists, teachers, and government ministers accused of insulting Islam. Thus, the situation in Bangladesh appears to be getting worse, not better.

[…]

Global terrorism — myth and reality

A new report by the Institute for Economics and Peace, an international think tank based in Australia, brings to light some hard data on global terrorism. During November 2015, a series of terror attacks in Beirut, Paris, Nigeria and Mali reignited the debate on the global ‘challenge’ of terrorism. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, another coalition is being gathered to bomb Syria to eradicate the Daesh or Islamic State (IS). It is unclear if a militaristic response would yield results in Syria, given the complexity and competing interests of Middle Eastern actors, Russia and the West. In fact, the lack of a multilateral approach has only served to benefit the IS in the recent past.

The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) report confirms that terrorism, globally, is on the rise. Since 2001, there has been a five-fold rise in terrorism. The year 2014 was deadliest with 14,000 terrorist attacks in 93 countries, leaving 32,000 dead. The number of terror victims was 80 per cent more than in 2013. At the same time, countries that battled 500 or more terrorist attacks have seen a staggering increase by 120 per cent since 2013.

The other startling fact, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace, is that Boko Haram, the Nigerian militant group, was the biggest killer in 2014, and not the IS. During the last year, 6,644 deaths attributed to Boko Haram signified an increase of over 300 per cent compared to the deaths occurring in 2013. The IS was the second-most lethal group as it killed 6,073 people. Tactics used by Boko Haram are deadlier as it indiscriminately targets private citizens in its attacks. […]