Recent Posts

Even as Lahore limps to normalcy

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

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. […]

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

March 30th, 2016|Extremism, Pakistan, Published in The Huffington Post, terrorism|

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).

[…]

A message from Nizamudddin Dargah

March 27th, 2016|Arts & Culture, Sufism, Sufism and Sufi poetry|

I have never met Marta but the attachment to Nizamuddin Dargah has bound us for years. Yesterday I got this email and beautiful photographs from Marta Irene. Marta herself suffered a major accident in recent years and survived.
Human connections… RR

Dear Raza Rumi,

After a long time I am finally back in Delhi for a short visit. My heart is an explosion of joy. It seems that I love everything here, pollution included: the voice of the Kabari-Wala, the barking dogs, the children playing in the street, the traffic, the exciting fragrance of flowers mixed with many less noble smells…But above all, the Dargah. 31 years have passed now since I wrote the essay you later published on your site. My passion has just kept growing, every day pushing me beyond the limit of my capacity of love, everyday leading me across my fears and my endurance. An extraordinary travel, and so much way to come ahead!
Sitting in front of the Dargah, of course I also think of you. I have no news, and if I try to imagine your life, shivers run along my back…May God protect you with His grace. I know the Saint is close to your heart, He is the best Friend you could have.
I send you a few pics of the Dargah, hoping to convey a little of its magic to you.

With Love,

Marta Franceschini

IMG_7998

[…]

A twist in the tale

March 10th, 2016|books, Delhi By Heart, governance, Journalism, Pakistan, Published by Earthen Lamp Journal|

book cover

My Interview conducted by Abdullah Khan for Earthen Lamp Journal:

ELJ: Tell us something about your journey from being a civil servant to […]

Badge of honour

March 3rd, 2016|Arts & Culture, Cinema, Pakistan, Pakistani Art, Published in India Today, South Asian Art, SouthAsia, women, World Artists|

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s incisive documentary helps reignite the debate on honour killings in Pakistan.

Second success: Sharmeen with her Oscar. Photo: Reuters Second success: Sharmeen with her Oscar. Photo: Reuters

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has won the second Oscar for a short documentary that brings international attention to an endemic evil in Pakistan (and India for that matter) known as honour killings. Officially, there are a thousand victims of honour killings every year but the actual number may be much higher. Aside from Sharmeen’s recognition by Hollywood, which by itself is a big win, the Oscar for A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness is a victory for Pakistan’s long list of activists who have been advocating to end this heinous practice. Days before the Oscars ceremony, a special screening of the movie was held at Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s house. The Pakistan PM issued a statement saying he would bring changes to the legislation to end the curse of honour killings. Sharif’s recent overtures to causes such as minority rights and talking about a liberal Pakistan have come as a surprise, given his conservative politics, and his party’s attempts to prevent progressive legislation during the 1990s. Or it is a sign of Pakistan’s drift into extremism that even centrist politicians like Sharif are worried about the future of the country.

A Girl in the River narrates the heart-wrenching story of Saba Qaiser who survived an attempt to kill her and lived to tell her tale. Saba was lucky to survive. Most victims are not. The issue of honour killings is cultural as a woman’s conduct is seen as an instrument of honour of the family. That such tribal and feudal customs continue in the 21st century is a shame indeed. As if the customs were not enough, General Zia-ul-Haq and his successors worked on a law that compounds murder and also enables the murderer to seek forgiveness under an interpretation of Islamic law. In short, honour killings rarely, or never, get punished.

Worse, the parliamentarians, who in any democratic society are required to enact legislation that ends brutal customs, have been divided and complicit. In 1999, a young woman, Samia Sarwar, was killed outside the offices of Pakistan’s renowned human rights lawyers, Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani. A resolution moved by a liberal senator in Parliament could not be carried through as a Pakhtun member of the Awami National Party objected to the attempt to interfere with the ‘honour’ culture. In the Musharraf era, a weak law was enacted but when a woman member of parliament presented a resolution, it was shot down. Sherry Rehman’s earlier efforts to table a reform bill were also rejected by the then ruling party closely allied to Gen Musharraf. The Islamists who were in the opposition supported the government on that front.

[…]

“Remembering Intizar Husain”

February 19th, 2016|Arts & Culture, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times, Urdu, Urdu Literature|

Raza Rumi remembers Intizar Husain as a colossus of letters, but also as a formative influence for himself
ishtiaq1

(L-R) Jamila Hashmi, Intizar Husain, Masood Ashar and Kishwar Naheed

I remember the languid afternoon in Lahore when I met Intizar Husain surrounded by his friends and admirers. This formal introduction happened as poet-writer Fahmida Riaz was visiting Lahore and wanted to see Intizar Sahib – as we all called him. This was nearly a decade ago and my memory of that meeting is a bit hazy. All I remember is that Intizar Sahib showed extraordinary enthusiasm when he heard my name.

Arrey I have been reading you in The Friday Times”, he said. Bewildered, I thought that he was trying to humour a young novice with literary pretensions. Noticing my maladroit attempt to hide my expression, he added in chaste, homely Urdu: “I had thought that this guy Rumi was some old man writing about the shared cultures of the subcontinent…Aap tau naujawan nikle (you turned out to be a youth).”

In those days, I was regular feature writer at TFT and had penned many a rant on the civilisational ethos of the Indian Subcontinent that has fast eroded in the past few decades. Little did I know that it would be noted by – of all the readers – Urdu’s master fiction writer and columnist, essayist and a critic!

ishtiaq2Intizar Sahib had resisted the temptations of turning into a cult figure, a pop star or a pir

This was a moment of reckoning for me. I was but a pygmy in front of this literary giant and man of all proverbial seasons. Hearing his acknowledgment was a kind of homecoming – a process that continues, distracted by the necessities of garnering jobs and nurturing pretenses of a ‘career’. Among other reasons to change direction in my life, perhaps Intizar Sahib was a major reason. His encouragement – to an utterly unimaginative person like me – acted as an elixir.

[…]

Back in the Driver’s Seat

By | January 16th, 2015|History, Pakistan, Published in Foreign Policy, terrorism|

Pakistan’s military retakes pivotal control, and the public does not seem to mind. Pakistan’s military is back in the driving seat. This time, not through a conventional coup d’etat, but through an amended constitution that enables military tribunals to try civilians accused of terrorism. On Jan. 6, in a joint session, the Parliament amended the country’s constitution to establish military courts. The Islamist parties, opposed to the inclusion of the term “religious terrorism,” backed out at the last minute. But the major secular political parties, ostensibly committed to democratic rule, passed on the judicial powers to special military courts for a period of two years. This is a significant blow to the democratic transition that occurred after Gen. Musharraf’s ouster in 2008, when the country returned to civilian rule. The unenviable history of democratic evolution in Pakistan is well known. The military directly governed for more than three decades, and in the periods of so-called civilian rule (such as the present one), the military retains control over security and foreign policy. Pakistan’s military is also synonymous with the nationalist identity and therefore shapes the political discourse as well. The current prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, assumed office in June 2013. In November, he appointed a new Army Chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, thinking that he was consolidating civilian power. Sharif also pushed for the trial of former President Musharraf (who ousted Sharif in 1999) for violating the constitution by imposing emergency rule in November 2007. […]

A definitive history of Pakistan

By | January 13th, 2015|Bangladesh, books, Extremism, History, India, India-Pakistan History, Pakistan, Politics, Published in the Express Tribune|

Pakistan’s best-known historian, Ayesha Jalal, is back with a new book: The Struggle For Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics. This book essentially synthesises much of Jalal’s earlier work that by all accounts is rich and comprehensive. In short, the new book presents an overview of Pakistan’s progression as a national security state, a lop-sided federation to its current existential woes fuelled by state-sponsored Islamisation. Jalal acknowledges that the country’s Islamic identity was not enough to hold it together and the continued cycles of military rule turned it into a polity that cannot provide full citizenship rights to all Pakistanis. This emphasis on citizenship is an important perspective that Jalal has brought forth to a global reader, who views the country as an epicentre of terror and blowing itself as a jihadi state. As the premier scholar on the country’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Jalal refers to the origins of Pakistan as a “truncated … moth-eaten and mutilated state” in the most peculiar circumstances of 1940s and the breakdown of power-sharing schemes that were deliberated in that decade. Lord Mountbatten’s ominous sentence marked the start: “As far as Pakistan is concerned, we are putting up a tent. We can do no more.” And even today in many parts of the country, the tent exists without a responsive state structure. Sixty-seven years later, Pakistan is a country of 200 million people with no local governments that can assure accountable services (including security) to its citizens. Pakistan’s insecurity is rooted in that phase when it was widely projected that it may just collapse under the burden of its inherent contradictions. Over 40 million Muslims stayed in India; its two wings were 1,000 miles apart and the task of creating a nation-state was even more onerous given the diversity — ethnic, linguistic and religious — of the new state. Nearly 25 per cent of Pakistanis in 1947 were non-Muslims (today only four to five per cent are). The perennial debate on Pakistan’s national identity has not ended. […]

Don’t expect a miracle to happen

By | December 24th, 2014|education, Extremism, History, human rights, Pakistan, Peace, Published in the Express Tribune, terrorism|

The ignoble massacre of children and teachers in Peshawar has led to unprecedented anger and grief across the country. The state has responded by ending the moratorium on the death penalty and convicted terrorists are now being hanged. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has announced that the days of differentiating between the good and the bad Taliban are over. A parliamentarians’ committee is reviewing counterterrorism measures that need to be adopted. The military leadership has undertaken the diplomatic-security initiative to engage with Afghan authorities on potential action that can nab the Taliban leadership based in Afghanistan. All these measures are important and noteworthy. The ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb is here to stay and perhaps, is likely to be extended to other areas. But the central question is, whether these tactical moves are sufficient to tackle the hydra-headed Frankenstein’s monsters that Pakistan’s flawed national security policy has created, sustained and nurtured, sometimes with outside support and on occasions totally on its own. There is a name for this Frankenstein’s monster and it is known as jihad — a narrow, self-seeking interpretation of an otherwise lofty and ethereal religious concept. The struggle embedded in jihad — according to most scholars and not semi-literate clerics — is self-improvement. Instead, this has turned into a spectator sport where private militias carry out state objectives in the region and within the land of the pure. This trajectory is an old one. It did not happen overnight nor was it a ploy of the Unites States and other powers to get Pakistan into a royal mess. In 1948, ‘jihadis’ from the tribal regions started with the battle of Kashmir that continues to date. Conventional wars or private ‘jihad’ efforts have brought neither glory to Pakistan nor relief for the Kashmiris, most of whom are sick of India and Pakistan treating their land and rights as national fiefs. […]

Conspiracy Theories as ‘History’

By | October 29th, 2014|Bangladesh, books, History, India-Pakistan History, Pakistan, SouthAsia|

Pakistan’s official historian in a book on education has to say this about 1971 tragedy when we lost half of our country. I don’t blame the minds who cite ‘external’ conspiracy at the drop of the hat because this is what we have popularized. Overlook the failings and crimes of Pakistani state and blame it on everyone else. Three generations have internalized this and I guess this is enough time to shape norms and ‘truths’. ‪History‬ and its teaching is farce. It would have been funny had it not resulted in such disastrous consequences for a populace esp the young minds. Image via Manan Ahmad, a professor at ‪Columbia‬ University. […]

“Lahore broke my heart”

By | October 5th, 2014|Arts & Culture, books, Culture, Extremism, History, human rights, India, Lahore, Minorities, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times, Sindh, SouthAsia, terrorism, women|

Author Reema Abbasi spoke to me about her travels across the country while researching for ‘Historic Temples in Pakistan’. Some excerpts from the conversation. Reema Abbasi with her book What was the inspiration to author a book on Pakistani temples? For the last 10 years my reporting, columns and editorials concentrated on socio-political issues with a strong focus on secular values already enshrined in Islam. The tide of Islamism eclipsed Pakistan’s happy confluence one grew up in. So I felt it was time to make a concrete contribution through a topic that fused history through antiquated symbols of unity — which, in this case, belong to the ancient faith of Hinduism — and an essentially tolerant populace that believes in humanity and the pull of history. This is why the book is “Historic Temples in Pakistan: A Call to Conscience” as it documents structures that can challenge time and shuns the idea of the supremacy of any singular faith. Every call to prayer demands respect. Your book tells us multiple stories. The temples are endangered but there are positive stories as well. How would you give an overall view? By and large, Pakistan and its communities deserve much praise for the upkeep of these age-old treasures. Many are now heaps of stones such as Tilla Jogian or Suraj Kund, but then disuse does that all over the world. Our over a year long journey across the country was an eye-opener. It sprang one surprise after another and assailed many presumptions with Kali Ki Gali in Peshawar, Shivala Mandir in Mansehra, a pujari’s words in Pindi:  “Yeh mutthi bhar dehshatgard kitna bigaar leingay?” to name a few. But Punjab broke my heart, especially Lahore, a jewel layered with many diverse eras, has forced its Hindus to live with the greatest of burdens – false identity. They live lies by adopting Christian names. Has the Sindh government proven to be a better guardian of the Hindu places of worship than other governments? Or is it the same story everywhere? Sindh has done a tremendous job of maintenance, restoration, and reverence, so has Balochistan with Hinglaj and much of KPK honours its shrines. Punjab has lost over 1000 pre-historic emblems to neglect, greed and bigotry. […]

After the Army’s public statement, the crisis deepens

By | August 31st, 2014|governance, History, Pakistan, Politics, Storify|

My storified tweets on the deepening Political crisis in Pakistan.   [View the story "After the Army’s public statement, the crisis deepens" on Storify]

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A definitive history of Pakistan

By | January 13th, 2015|Categories: Bangladesh, books, Extremism, History, India, India-Pakistan History, Pakistan, Politics, Published in the Express Tribune|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Pakistan’s best-known historian, Ayesha Jalal, is back with a new book: The Struggle For Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics. This book essentially synthesises much of Jalal’s earlier work that by all accounts is rich and comprehensive. In short, the new book presents an overview of Pakistan’s progression as a national security state, a lop-sided federation to its current existential woes fuelled by state-sponsored Islamisation. Jalal acknowledges that the country’s Islamic identity was not enough to hold it together and the continued cycles of military rule turned it into a polity that cannot provide full citizenship rights to all Pakistanis.

This emphasis on citizenship is an important perspective that Jalal has brought forth to a global reader, who views the country as an epicentre of terror and blowing itself as a jihadi state. As the premier scholar on the country’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Jalal refers to the origins of Pakistan as a “truncated … moth-eaten and mutilated state” in the most peculiar circumstances of 1940s and the breakdown of power-sharing schemes that were deliberated in that decade. Lord Mountbatten’s ominous sentence marked the start: “As far as Pakistan is concerned, we are putting up a tent. We can do no more.” And even today in many parts of the country, the tent exists without a responsive state structure. Sixty-seven years later, Pakistan is a country of 200 million people with no local governments that can assure accountable services (including security) to its citizens.

Pakistan’s insecurity is rooted in that phase when it was widely projected that it may just collapse under the burden of its inherent contradictions. Over 40 million Muslims stayed in India; its two wings were 1,000 miles apart and the task of creating a nation-state was even more onerous given the diversity — ethnic, linguistic and religious — of the new state. Nearly 25 per cent of Pakistanis in 1947 were non-Muslims (today only four to five per cent are). The perennial debate on Pakistan’s national identity has not ended. (more…)

Citizen of the world

By | November 26th, 2014|Categories: Arts & Culture, books, India-Pakistan History, Pakistan, Pakistani Literature, Published in The Friday Times, South Asian Literature|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

He wanted variety and could not confine himself to a uni-dimensional career or vocation. Other than being a rare blend of East and West, Patras exemplified the modern man – searching for new meanings in life and experimenting with experiences

Patras

This December witnessed a literary landmark of post-internet Pakistan.A dedicated website – www.patrasbokhari.com– on Patras Bokhari, a towering literary figure, was launched at the Government College University, Lahore. It is well-known that the GC produced world-famous personalities while it was the leading educational institution in this part of the subcontinent, but its stature as a hub of education, culture and literary regeneration declined over the years. Some observers hold, however, that the recently increased autonomy and elevation of GC to the status of a university will reverse the decline. It was the glorious tradition of this institution that produced giants such as Patras, Faiz and Iqbal, amongst many others.

Prof Syed Ahmed Shah Bokhari (1898-1958) is most famous through his penname “Patras” Bokhari. While he was a first-rate educationist, broadcaster and diplomat, perhaps his lasting fame is the result of his stature as an inimitable essayist and humourist – a rare trait amongst the mourning and elegy-prone South Asian creed. Patras Ke Mazameen , immortal as they are, set the standard for high quality, incisive satire and humour. Unlike the medieval mores of literature being the preserve of the courts and its courtiers, these essays reach out to everyone, encompassing a modern sensibility that makes them pertinent and attractive even today. There is a distinct universality in these writings that perhaps had to do with the humane and cosmopolitan side of Patras himself. The compelling evidence of this aspect was his huge success as a diplomat when he served as Pakistan’s permanent envoy at the United Nations in the early 1950s, enabling him to be titled ‘a citizen of the world.’

(more…)

The legend’s shadow

By | November 25th, 2014|Categories: Arts & Culture, books, Culture, India, India-Pakistan History, Published in The Friday Times, South Asian Art, SouthAsia|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Forays into analysis give resonance to Dilip Kumar’s recollections that are occasionally derailed by Saira Banu’s looming shadow, I wrote in this review of the legendary actor’s autobiography, The Substance and the Shadow.

Dilip

The three legends of Indian cinema: Amitabh Bachan, Shahrukh Khan and Dilip Kumar

‘Yousuf Khan is scared of Dilip Kumar. Only Allah knows who Dilip Kumar is and what all he can do.’

Dilip Kumar will always be the touchstone by which Indian actors will be judged. His recently published book – The Substance and the Shadow – An Autobiography – gives much insight into his life and career. Known as the tragic hero of Indian cinema, Dilip ruled the hearts of millions. His expression and screen persona inspired dozens of actors in the subcontinent. Pakistan too has a claim on him.

Yousuf, the real name of Dilip Kumar was born in 1922 in Peshawar. There has to be something unique about the city – now in tatters and under the grip of extremist ideologies – which produced so many legends including Raj Kapoor. Even Shahrukh Khan’s family has a Peshawar connection. In the mid 1930s the family migrated to Bombay and settled at Deolali where Yousuf studied in Barnes School and Khalsa College. Like other boys of his age, Yousuf played soccer and read the works of European authors and Urdu writers. We are told that his father wanted Yousuf to one day earn the title of Order of the British Empire. But he surpassed that expectation and proved his mettle in the film world and earned countless laurels. (more…)

Conspiracy Theories as ‘History’

By | October 29th, 2014|Categories: Bangladesh, books, History, India-Pakistan History, Pakistan, SouthAsia|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

Pakistan’s official historian in a book on education has to say this about 1971 tragedy when we lost half of our country. I don’t blame the minds who cite ‘external’ conspiracy at the drop of the hat because this is what we have popularized. Overlook the failings and crimes of Pakistani state and blame it on everyone else. Three generations have internalized this and I guess this is enough time to shape norms and ‘truths’. ‪History‬ and its teaching is farce. It would have been funny had it not resulted in such disastrous consequences for a populace esp the young minds.

Image via Manan Ahmad, a professor at ‪Columbia‬ University.
Curriculum

(more…)

Raza Rumi on Hospitality

By | October 14th, 2014|Categories: Arts & Culture, books, Culture, Delhi By Heart, Music, Pakistan, Peace, SouthAsia|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

Raza-Rumi 1

A Tidings conversation about hospitality, friendship and loyalty with Raza Rumi, a Pakistani journalist, blogger, author of Delhi by Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani traveller and follower of Sufi thought. The subject of hospitality holds a certain irony for Raza who is now in exile, forced to flee from his country after narrowly missing an assassination attempt on his life in Lahore which tragically killed his driver.

“Lahore broke my heart”

By | October 5th, 2014|Categories: Arts & Culture, books, Culture, Extremism, History, human rights, India, Lahore, Minorities, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times, Sindh, SouthAsia, terrorism, women|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Author Reema Abbasi spoke to me about her travels across the country while researching for ‘Historic Temples in Pakistan’. Some excerpts from the conversation.

Reema abbasiReema Abbasi with her book

What was the inspiration to author a book on Pakistani temples?

For the last 10 years my reporting, columns and editorials concentrated on socio-political issues with a strong focus on secular values already enshrined in Islam. The tide of Islamism eclipsed Pakistan’s happy confluence one grew up in. So I felt it was time to make a concrete contribution through a topic that fused history through antiquated symbols of unity — which, in this case, belong to the ancient faith of Hinduism — and an essentially tolerant populace that believes in humanity and the pull of history.

This is why the book is “Historic Temples in Pakistan: A Call to Conscience” as it documents structures that can challenge time and shuns the idea of the supremacy of any singular faith. Every call to prayer demands respect.

Your book tells us multiple stories. The temples are endangered but there are positive stories as well. How would you give an overall view?

By and large, Pakistan and its communities deserve much praise for the upkeep of these age-old treasures. Many are now heaps of stones such as Tilla Jogian or Suraj Kund, but then disuse does that all over the world. Our over a year long journey across the country was an eye-opener. It sprang one surprise after another and assailed many presumptions with Kali Ki Gali in Peshawar, Shivala Mandir in Mansehra, a pujari’s words in Pindi:  “Yeh mutthi bhar dehshatgard kitna bigaar leingay?” to name a few.

But Punjab broke my heart, especially Lahore, a jewel layered with many diverse eras, has forced its Hindus to live with the greatest of burdens – false identity. They live lies by adopting Christian names.

Has the Sindh government proven to be a better guardian of the Hindu places of worship than other governments? Or is it the same story everywhere?

Sindh has done a tremendous job of maintenance, restoration, and reverence, so has Balochistan with Hinglaj and much of KPK honours its shrines. Punjab has lost over 1000 pre-historic emblems to neglect, greed and bigotry. (more…)

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Global terrorism — myth and reality

By | December 3rd, 2015|Categories: Extremism, Pakistan, Peace, Published in the Express Tribune, terrorism|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

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. […]

Mumtaz Qadri – Salman Taseer- Blasphemy it was not

By | October 30th, 2015|Categories: education, Extremism, Islam, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times, Religion, terrorism|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has upheld the death penalty for Mumtaz Qadri – the policeman who murdered former Punjab governor Salman Taseer in January 2011 for an alleged act of ‘blasphemy’. I analysed the implications. The Supreme Court of Pakistan on 7 October upheld the decision of the trial court and the Islamabad High Court and rejected the appeal against Mumtaz Qadri ’s death sentence. The defence lawyers had argued that because the slain governor Salman Taseer termed the blasphemy laws as “black laws”, Mumtaz Qadri had the right to kill him. Salman Taseer with Aasia bibi The obiter dicta from the bench, as reported in the press, were also encouraging. Supreme Court Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, while discussing the case, remarked that “criticizing blasphemy laws does not amount to committing blasphemy” and that Mumtaz Qadri had no legal grounds to take the law into his own hands. The fact that such a remark clarifying that “questioning the blasphemy law is not blasphemy” becomes a cause for celebration says quite a lot about the socio-cultural milieu of Pakistan. Similarly, it is highly unlikely that the apex court would have actually bought into the sham arguments presented by the defence lawyers and overlooked the rather clear admission of the accused. Ghazi Ilam Din Shaheed The idea of committing violence as a religious obligation is neither alien nor criminal for a sizeable number of people However, the temporary euphoria after this judgment must not conceal the fact that a former Chief Justice of Lahore High Court and a former judge of the same court were defending the accused largely on theological grounds. In fact the former judge, Justice Mian Nazir Akhtar, in an interview declared that disliking kadoo (pumpkin) was akin to committing blasphemy, since that was a vegetable preferred by our Holy Prophet (PBUH).  While the verdict is an important step to establish rule of law, the lawyers who showered rose petals on Mumtaz Qadri will not disappear nor will young students who vandalized a vigil for Salman Taseer earlier this year. […]

Exile for me and others

By | October 25th, 2015|Categories: Extremism, Pakistan, Published in the NEWS, terrorism|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Pakistan needs to remember those who wanted to but could not stay back Little did I know that a sojourn to recover from a trauma would turn into exile for me. Exile — forced, self-adopted or incidental — is banishment from your context. Almost a liminal space; where you suddenly know no belonging. In the discourses of diaspora, the exiles are a marginal story. The ‘diaspora’ for a middle-income country like Pakistan is a source of remittance, a vehicle of transferring jobs, knowledge and skills. The exile is an odd feature of the story — a continuous affront to the nationalistic pride, contrary to the ‘image’ that states want to project and diplomats to peddle. For decades now, a good number of Pakistanis have lived in such a state of being. Under the various military regimes — especially in the 1960s, 1980s and 2000s — several political activists, writers and even high profile politicians had to be away from their countries. Intellectuals such as Prof Fazalur Rahman and Daud Rahbar who were the rationalists that our society needed, spent their lives in academia abroad. Their works are cited globally but have limited or virtually no traction within Pakistan. […]

The South Asia Channel Watching Kunduz Collapse From the Sidelines

By | October 2nd, 2015|Categories: Extremism, India, Pakistan, Published in Foreign Policy, SouthAsia, terrorism|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The fall of Kunduz jeopardizes Pakistan’s quest for internal stability. This week, the Taliban have overrun Kunduz, the first major city to suffer such fate in over a decade. While there will be obvious security and policy ramifications for Afghanistan and the United States, what will it mean for Pakistan? For Pakistan, the fall of Kunduz means that its quest for internal stability could be in jeopardy. Pakistan has to use its leverage over the Taliban to bring them to the negotiating table. Pakistani Army chief, General Raheel Sharif, has once again called for restarting the Afghan reconciliation process for the security of the region and added that the Chinese investment in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor could be shared with Afghanistan. Gen. Sharif’s suggestion can only materialize once the Taliban are contained and the Afghan government is strengthened. There is a consensus among most experts that if the Taliban’s power grows in Pakistan’s neighborhood, it could exacerbate Pakistan’s internal security problems. Pakistani Taliban, currently fleeing to Afghanistan due to the military’s clean-up operations, will find support from their Afghan counterparts. The Afghan Taliban might not support the Pakistani Taliban or fight alongside them, but they will let the Pakistani Taliban regroup on Afghan soil in order to mount attacks within Pakistan which will come back to haunt Pakistan. […]

Be mature guys; there’s a lot at stake in India, Pak

By | August 23rd, 2015|Categories: Extremism, India, India-Pakistan History, Indo Pak peace, Pakistan, Peace, Published in Catch News, SouthAsia|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The much-hyped talks between the National Security Advisers of India and Pakistan have been called off. It is clear that the recent thaw in bilateral relations was illusionary as the hardened positions of the respective states remain unchanged and a greater level of distrust was reflected in the recent days. The major roadblock came in the wake of Pakistan’s desire to engage with Kashmiri separatist leaders in New Delhi. This was unacceptable to India, that wanted the talks to be terrorism-centric. Issues on the table The Ufa declaration did not preclude Kashmir, but did highlight that the talks will focus on “all issues connected with terrorism.” Exactly a year ago the Indian government called off its Foreign Secretary’s visit to Islamabad when Pakistan’s High Commissioner in Delhi met a group of Kashmiri separatists. This is a pattern set by the Modi administration: Look tough, act tough when it comes to Pakistan. The Indian position on Pakistanis talking to Hurriyat and other Kashmiri representatives is intriguing as it was a routine in the past. Even during the time of the previous BJP government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, General Musharraf met them during his 2001 India visit. […]

Islam and the “Cold War baroque”

By | August 14th, 2015|Categories: Extremism, History, Published in The Friday Times|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

When “empire” strikes back, but the Force remains strong – in the arts and academia of contemporary Muslim countries. I spared with Sadia Abbas As the world moves into a maddening phase of Islam versus the West, Pakistani academic Sadia Abbas presents a layered narrative in her book, At Freedom’s Limit: Islam and the Postcolonial Predicament (Fordham University Press, New York), on the contours of a new, imagined view of “Islam”. In great detail and with crafted nuance, she analyses the complexities of the postcolonial condition of Muslim societies and Muslims, and the myriad modes and facets of anticolonial ambitions. Abbas’s study is unique because it delves into the intricate relationships between Islam, empire and culture, and weaves the story of the current crises that inform the lives of Muslims and their societies, through a literary lens. This study, in effect, presents an alternative discourse to the debates that surround depictions of both “Islamic terror” and “Islamophobia”. At Freedom’s Limit suggests that the complex histories of identity and struggle at the global level are vital to understanding the “new Islam” that has emerged since the early 1990s. […]

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Islam Needs Reformation from Within

By | January 18th, 2015|Blasphemy, Extremism, Islam, Pakistan, Published in The Huffington Post, Religion, terrorism|

“Would you permit me to teach my children that God is greater, more just, and more merciful than all the (religious) scholars on earth combined? And that His standards are different from the standards of those trading the religion” — Nizar Qabbani, Syrian poet. Much has been said about the French magazine Charlie Hebdo and its slain cartoonists and their provocative cartoons about Muslims. Satirical representations of the Muslims in Europe do merge with racism and evoke destructive passions. But the barbaric killing of journalists exercising their right of free speech is beyond condemnable. It strikes at the heart of press freedom. Muslim communities in most Western countries view themselves as besieged collectives. Issues of integration, racism and the colonial baggage resonate each day. But in the past two decades especially with the rise of violent extremism as global phenomena, these complexities have become even more intractable. By brutally killing staffers of Charlie Hebdo magazine, the violent extremists have offended their faith far more than the perceived blasphemy of the magazine. Theirs is a political ideology — of using terror as a weapon — to avenge a history, to settle grievances and to assert power through violence. Billions of men and women who practice Islam often have little input in shaping such narratives of hatred. Such violent ideas emanate from the minority schools of thought within Islam, which rationalize the killing of ‘infidels’ and their ‘associates’. This ideology is the same that hounded Salman Rushdie, and killed Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam for a film. Ironically, the main targets of this ideology have been Muslims themselves. From the mass killings of Hazara Shias in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the ongoing killing spree in Syria and Iraq, it is the Muslims that bear the brunt of this violent mindset. Dozens of Sufi shrines and hundreds of schools have been blown up in Pakistan by extremists. Most of the 50,000 Pakistanis killed in the last decade were Muslims. And in this day and age this ideology prevents the majority of Pakistanis to access YouTube simply because somewhere, someone lampooned the holy figure of Islam. […]

Blasphemy Divide: Insults to Religion Remain a Capital Crime in Muslim Lands

By | January 8th, 2015|Blasphemy, Extremism, Islam, Islamophobia, Journalism, Religion, terrorism|

Excerpt of My statements: “The issue of blasphemy is about the political insecurity of the Muslims, and about the Muslim public reaction to the so-called injustices committed by the West,” said Raza Rumi, the editor [...]

‘Europe faces a huge challenge in dealing with its Muslim citizens’

By | October 31st, 2014|Extremism, Islam, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times, Religion, terrorism|

I talked to Akbar S. Ahmed  about the perception of Islam and Muslims in the West   Mannequins dressed in brightly coloured headscarves at a shop in Cite, France Raza Rumi: With the rise of ISIS, a global debate has ensued about Islam and its followers. ISIS adherents term their acts in sync with Sharia. What are your views on ISIS and its ideology? Akbar S. Ahmed: Let me make some generalizations here based in research and reflection. ISIS can only be understood in the context of the collapse of relations between tribes and central governments and the implosion of tribal society. I go into this process in detail in my book The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a War on Tribal Islam in which I examine 40 case studies in detail across the Muslim world. In Pakistan we have seen something like ISIS with the emergence of the TTP, in West Africa with Boko Haram and Al Shabab in East Africa. Muslim tribes typically live by a code of behavior that emphasizes honor, hospitality, courage and especially revenge. This code has provided a kind of stability for centuries despite the fact that certain aspects of it such as taking revenge are against Islam. Yet after independence these tribes were integrated into modern states and the relationship between them and central governments has often been tumultuous. Today, in a trend seen especially since 9/11, Muslim tribal society is in chaos and the code of revenge especially is completely out of control. Support for ISIS comes from tribal groups in both Syria and Iraq who have been oppressed both by central governments in Damascus and Baghdad. There is nothing Islamic about what they are doing, but their actions can be explained through the mutation of the code of revenge. When they kill western hostages, for example, they say explicitly this is to take revenge for airstrikes. Similarly, the TTP has taken similar action against Pakistani soldiers in revenge, they say, for drone strikes. There has been simply too much suffering in these societies as ordinary people are confronted with airstrikes, drones, suicide bombers, and tribal feuds. In order to remedy the situation and bring stability and peace, we must all have a clear idea what is going wrong. We must not confuse the minority of militants with the larger tribal society from which they come—as has too frequently been done. We must work toward a situation where the tribal people of Muslim countries feel they are treated as full citizens of the state with respect for their human rights and opportunities for economic development. It is only then that the violent forces in these societies will be effectively checked. […]

Malala Yousufzai – A symbol of Pakistan’s Resistance to Bigotry

By | October 13th, 2014|education, Extremism, India, Indo Pak peace, Islam, Pakistan, Peace, SouthAsia, Storify, women|

[View the story "Malala Yousufzai - A symbol of Pakistan's Resistance to Bigotry" on Storify]

Farzana Parveen and the death of the state

By | June 1st, 2014|Extremism, human rights, Islam, Lahore, Minorities, Pakistan, Published in the Express Tribune, Religion, Sufism, terrorism, women|

Farzana’s brutal murder represents all that is wrong with us. It has become a useless routine to condemn the most ghastly acts of violence and injustice in Pakistan. For many, these are daily occurrences and thus the levels of desensitisation have grown. So has the brutalisation of society, when it adapts to some bare facts and upholds and sometimes celebrates the worst of what constitutes custom, tradition or ‘culture’. What else would explain the fact that there were dozens of passerby near the Lahore High Court — known for its imposing architecture and not the delivery of justice now — who silently witnessed the death of a woman scorned for choosing her partner? Worse, the police did not intervene either. This has become the norm with what we know as the ‘state’ in Pakistan. It chooses to remain indolent, indifferent and even complicit at times. This has left the citizen vulnerable. The weaker you are, the more chance there is of your life meaning absolutely nothing. A few weeks ago, I underwent the worst of nightmares. Seeking help on a roadside with two wounded men: one almost dead and the other struggling to stay conscious. My romanticism for my own country was shattered on that fateful night of March 28. I am privileged and lucky that I escaped a brutal, unsung death but a life was lost. A large crowd had gathered to ogle at the blood sport but none of them was willing to help in taking a near-dead body out of the car. On a busy street, no car was willing to stop to take my injured driver to the hospital. Farzana’s death and her calls for help have only reopened my wounds — far from healed and as painful as before. This state of our society, drunk on honour, pride, ghairat and other medieval notions of self-worth, has crossed all tolerable levels of dysfunction. Yes, two girls were also hanged, allegedly gang-raped in India, and crimes against women are prevalent in other societies as well. But, at least, there is collective uproar, pressure on the governments and results. […]

Pakistan: At the edge of the abyss?

By | May 25th, 2014|Blasphemy, Extremism, human rights, Islam, Journalism, Pakistan, Peace, Published in Al-Jazeera, Religion, terrorism|

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. […]

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In too deep: Afghanistan, Pakistan & the region

May 3rd, 2014|Afghanistan, Extremism, Pakistan, Published in Himal Magazine, SouthAsia|

My piece for Himal published in March 2014.. Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan is caught in the muddled terrain of domestic political machinations and regional ambitions   Afghanistan’s history is a turbulent one filled with civil wars, invading armies, foreign political meddling, and disputed successions. Sitting on trade routes between the Mediterranean and China, the Silk Road, and the entrance to India, it has been seen as a prize for many conquering empires. Sadly, Afghans have paid a heavy price for this curse of geography. The British Empire in the 19th century could not subjugate the territories, nor could the Soviets in the 20th. Now the US-led coalition forces, after a disastrous occupation of 12 years, plan to leave the country later this year. 2014 is not just significant for Afghanistan: it will result in regional shifts of power and a new security paradigm, with serious implications for Pakistan. The Soviet invasion in 1979 unleashed a period of intense conflict as the US and the West responded by mobilising unprecedented resources and funnelling support to mujahideen fighters through regional proxies, most notably Pakistan. Driven by its regional ambitions and perennial fear of India, Pakistan entered the game and for a decade supported the development and oversight of a jihad industry that played on Islamist passions against the ‘infidel’ Soviets. Thus, a stream of jihadists crossed the Durand Line and found many allies to further the rise of Deobandi Islam on both sides of the border. This was a defining moment when jihad acquired a legitimacy of its own and engulfed not only Afghanistan but also Pakistan. […]

Policy paralysis haunts our security

March 22nd, 2014|Afghanistan, education, Extremism, Islam, Pakistan, Published in the Express Tribune, terrorism|

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. […]

Murder in the capital

November 26th, 2013|Afghanistan, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times, terrorism|

By Raza Rumi Nasiruddin Haqqani’s assassination is a significant move in a game of chess and nerves A photographer takes picture of the spot where Nasiruddin Haqqani, a senior leader of the feared militant Haqqani network, was assassinated at an Afghan bakery in the Bhara Kahu area on the outskirts of Islamabad Pakistan’s media had to turn its attention to the visible-invisible world of good Taliban when the news of a high profile assassination hit social media. A key member of the controversial Haqqani network was assassinated in a quiet corner of Pakistan’s capital. The slain Nasiruddin was the brother of Siraj Uddin Haqqani and a son of Jalaluddin, a key figure of the Afghan jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s. Haqqani group or better known as a ‘network’ is reportedly close to Pakistan’s security establishment. Pakistan’s alleged patronage and protection to Haqqanis has been one of the major causes for trust deficit between Pakistan, US and Afghan authorities. It may have jeopardized counterterrorism efforts over the last decade. “He was the financier and emissary of the Haqqani network” Nasiruddin Haqqani was known as the financier and emissary of the Haqqani network and unlike his brother and his father, kept a low profile. News stories circulating in the mainstream media consider his death to be perpetrated by ‘unknown assailants.’ The aims can inevitably be linked to demoralizing or undermining the network, which has been at the core of Pakistan’s security policy vis-à-vis Afghanistan. In the aftermath of HakeemUllah Mehsud’s death in a US drone strike in the village of Dande Darpa Khel of North Waziristan the Afghan Taliban’s overt support to the Pakistani Taliban or the Tehreek e Taliban I Pakistan (TTP) emerged as a clear signal of how the two branches of the same ideology reinforce each other. Haqqani network, according to several reports, though separate was not too averse to TTP either. […]

At the Abyss

November 13th, 2013|Afghanistan, Extremism, human rights, Islam, Published in The Friday Times, terrorism|

By Raza Rumi The recent drone strike in Pakistan’s northwest has eliminated an enemy of the state and his close associates. Hakimullah Mehsud’s death in North Waziristan has shaken the loose alliance of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). In any other country, the security policy managers would have capitalized such an opportunity. Not in Pakistan. In fact the reaction from the political parties, which had recently vowed to hold talks with TTP to secure peace, are alarming to say the least. Despite the great urge of politicians to hold talks, there were murmurs that the military may not be too excited about this development even though the COAS Gen Kayani gave his public assent saying that the army was following the political consensus. A PTI leader recently posted on social media that there was only a 40% chance of success for a military operation. However, the party stalwarts on social media later refuted this claim. Independent security experts and political commentators have been highlighting that the simplistic, populist solution of ‘talks-will-lead-to-peace’ was designed to fail. Whom would the government negotiate with? What would be the conditions? Would the TTP end its terror attacks against Pakistani state and its citizens? All of these questions were unanswered. Yet, Hakimullah’s death has invited a barrage of reactions from politicians and right wing media that the latest drone strikes were a ‘murder of peace’. […]

The future of Afghanistan – towards a regional solution

August 29th, 2013|Afghanistan, India, Peace, Politics|

Here is a video podcast I did for the Pak-China institute. The transcript follows the video. The situation in Afghanistan, especially as its unfolding before the NATO pull-out in 2014, obviously has already started to manifest some of the key critical issues there. First of all is the problem of stability and security for the people, because it is widely expected now that if there are no basic agreements, and durable regional agreements which include Pakistan, China and India, the country may once again fall into anarchy, and with different militias and power wielders vying for space in the country. So that is a major challenge that, not just the Afghan people or Pakistan but the world is concerned about… The unfortunate part of the story is that for 30 years, Afghanistan has been in the throes of instability. […]

Pakistan, Taliban and Karzai

August 29th, 2013|Afghanistan, Pakistan, Politics, terrorism|

My piece for ANN (link) where I argue how Pakistan’s Prime Minister is struggling to taking charge of the country’s security policies, away from the security forces, and turning around its economy. Pakistan in real terms has no choice but to facilitate a peace process given the likelihood of more instability after 2014.   Afghan President Hamed Karzai’s visit to Pakistan has ended without concrete outcomes. However, in terms of building trust with Pakistan and negotiating the future of Afghanistan this was a significant development. The impending pullout of NATO/ISAF combat troops from Afghanistan and forthcoming presidential elections in April 2014 require the nebulous peace process to be accelerated. The Afghan government accuses Pakistan of letting the Taleban use its soil for attacks against the country and Pakistan denies this charge adding that its leverage with the Afghan Taleban is limited and exaggerated by all concerned parties. During the parleys between Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Karzai the issue of the Afghan Taleban’s former second-in-command Mulla Baradar and facilitating a direct contact between the Afghan Taleban and the Afghan High Peace Council must have been discussed. The press conference held by both leaders comprised statements of good intentions but avoided specific references to the issues discussed and agreements made. Predictably, Nawaz Sharif mentioned trade and energy related matters and was upbeat about the completion of ongoing projects. The real issue – getting the Taleban on the negotiating table – was missing in the public statement. Historically, Pakistan’s regional security policy is an exclusive domain of its powerful military and premier intelligence outfit, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. While Karzai is close to completing his term and is concerned about his legacy and holding a peaceful transition, Sharif is gradually moving towards setting the institutional frameworks right. The national security committee is being revamped and Sharif is keen to take charge of the complex policy environment. […]

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One size may not fit all

March 8th, 2015|Extremism, human rights, published in DAWN, Religion|

Excerpts from my statement: Raza Rumi, Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace, says the government has much to do when it comes to reforming madressahs. “There are three issues of main importance: [...]

The terrorism challenge

February 27th, 2015|Extremism, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times, Religion, terrorism|

The Pakistani government must take swift, effective action to implement its will and assert its authority. Pakistan’s terrorism challenge has burgeoned into a full-blown national crisis. Terrorism emanates from extremist ideologies that use religion to glorify violence. In addition, when there is constant marginalization of particular sections of society, people are denied basic necessities of life and any aspirations for a better life are in vain, many are driven towards violence. In Pakistan, surveys have shown that while the masterminds of extremist outfits are often well-educated, their recruiting ground is among the under-privileged. In Pakistan the extremist narratives emanate from three main sources – the mosque-madrassah complex, school curricula, and the media. The country’s policymakers and law enforcement agencies need to take appropriate steps targeting these sources in both the short and long term, if the menace of terrorism is to be effectively curtailed. Terrorism emanates from extremist ideologies that use religion to glorify violence Short Term Measures: Credible information is needed about all mosques and madrassahs operating at the district, provincial and national level. At the district level, the District Coordination Officers (DCOs) should be tasked to map and monitor all mosques and madrassahs operating within his jurisdiction. All madrassahs should be required to be formally registered with the local authorities. Information collected from each district should then be compiled into provincial and national data banks containing verified information on those running these mosques/madrassahs, their activities, their donors etc. Any madrassahs with foreign funding sources and teachers should be kept under extra scrutiny. In addition, police officers need to compile their data from each district and create national data centers which can help law-enforcement agencies to identify and monitor suspicious activity in any part of the country. Any funding from any sources, both loc […]

Militancy in Sindh: End of our plural culture?

February 3rd, 2015|Extremism, Pakistan, Published in Daily Capital, Religion, Sufism, terrorism|

The recent carnage in Shikarpur has come as a shock for many Pakistanis. Rural Sindh, invisible from the view of Punjab and Karachi obsessed media rarely makes news unless there is a major political rally or the images of dying children that can enable some quick political point scoring. For the past decade, the land of Sufis known for its tolerant and plural ways has been the latest laboratory of Pakistan’s sectarian jihadists. Along the major highways, the mushrooming of seminaries is evident and the recent build up of hate crimes testifies to the ideological grafting that is underway. The Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi have since long succumbed to the madrassa-welfare complex that in part responds to state failure as well as fits into the security architecture. The largely secular Sindh and Balochistan provinces are now under attack to balance what is known in the official-speak as ‘inter-provincial harmony’. Balochistan has seen the worst incidents of sectarian terror in the past few years. Hazara settlements being bombarded with explosives hidden in water tankers, youth spaces such as snooker clubs attacked and young women going to college targeted, are incidents all too well known. But forgotten as they happen away from the centres of power. The sectarian outfits nourished in the populous plains of Punjab have branched out in Balochistan for a variety of reasons. The foremost reason is to challenge the nationalist movement with sectarian-religious passions. Media reports have also indicated that the sectarian militants may have infiltrated the ranks of some separatists but all of this is speculative thus far. Reporting from and on Balochistan is as perilous as covering Syria or Iraq these days. According to Reporters Without Border, Khuzdar is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. You are bound to get on the wrong side of major players: the security agencies and the militants. […]

Islam Needs Reformation from Within

January 18th, 2015|Blasphemy, Extremism, Islam, Pakistan, Published in The Huffington Post, Religion, terrorism|

“Would you permit me to teach my children that God is greater, more just, and more merciful than all the (religious) scholars on earth combined? And that His standards are different from the standards of those trading the religion” — Nizar Qabbani, Syrian poet. Much has been said about the French magazine Charlie Hebdo and its slain cartoonists and their provocative cartoons about Muslims. Satirical representations of the Muslims in Europe do merge with racism and evoke destructive passions. But the barbaric killing of journalists exercising their right of free speech is beyond condemnable. It strikes at the heart of press freedom. Muslim communities in most Western countries view themselves as besieged collectives. Issues of integration, racism and the colonial baggage resonate each day. But in the past two decades especially with the rise of violent extremism as global phenomena, these complexities have become even more intractable. By brutally killing staffers of Charlie Hebdo magazine, the violent extremists have offended their faith far more than the perceived blasphemy of the magazine. Theirs is a political ideology — of using terror as a weapon — to avenge a history, to settle grievances and to assert power through violence. Billions of men and women who practice Islam often have little input in shaping such narratives of hatred. Such violent ideas emanate from the minority schools of thought within Islam, which rationalize the killing of ‘infidels’ and their ‘associates’. This ideology is the same that hounded Salman Rushdie, and killed Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam for a film. Ironically, the main targets of this ideology have been Muslims themselves. From the mass killings of Hazara Shias in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the ongoing killing spree in Syria and Iraq, it is the Muslims that bear the brunt of this violent mindset. Dozens of Sufi shrines and hundreds of schools have been blown up in Pakistan by extremists. Most of the 50,000 Pakistanis killed in the last decade were Muslims. And in this day and age this ideology prevents the majority of Pakistanis to access YouTube simply because somewhere, someone lampooned the holy figure of Islam. […]

Blasphemy Divide: Insults to Religion Remain a Capital Crime in Muslim Lands

January 8th, 2015|Blasphemy, Extremism, Islam, Islamophobia, Journalism, Religion, terrorism|

Excerpt of My statements: “The issue of blasphemy is about the political insecurity of the Muslims, and about the Muslim public reaction to the so-called injustices committed by the West,” said Raza Rumi, the editor [...]

Countering the terror menace

January 1st, 2015|Extremism, Minorities, Pakistan, Published in the Express Tribune, Religion, terrorism|

Ten days after the ghastly attack on the military-run school, Pakistan’s prime minister (PM) finally appeared on national television and announced a set of measures that reflect the civil-military consensus on the country’s counter terrorism [...]

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You have fallen in love my dear heart

June 20th, 2010|Poetry, Rumi, Sufi poetry, Sufism|

You have fallen in love my dear heart Congratulations! You have freed yourself from all attachments Congratulations! You have given up both worlds to be on your own the whole creation praises your solitude Congratulations! […]

Without Love…

April 16th, 2010|Rumi, Sufi poetry|

What a moving quatrain by Rumi Without love, all worship is a burden, all dancing is a chore, all music is mere noise. All the rain of heaven may fall into the sea. Without love, not one drop could become a pearl. — Version by Jonathan Star and Shahram Shiva […]

I am a child of love

March 15th, 2010|Rumi, Sufi poetry|

I profess the religion of love, Love is my religion and my faith. My mother is love My father is love My prophet is love My God is love I am a child of love [...]

the two insomnias

March 11th, 2010|Rumi|

“When I am with you, we stay up all night. When you're not here, I can't go to sleep. Praise God for those two insomnias! And the difference between them.” * Jalal ad-Din Rumi

Rumi – Guest House

March 9th, 2010|Rumi|

This being human is a guest house Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are [...]

Lovers have nothing to do with existence

March 3rd, 2010|Love, Poetry, Rumi, Sufi poetry, Sufism|

The lover’s food is the love of the bread; no bread need be at hand: no one who is sincere in his love is a slave to existence. Lovers have nothing to do with existence; lovers have the interest without the capital. Without wings they fly around the world; without hands they carry the polo ball from the field. That dervish who caught the scent of Reality used to weave baskets even though his hands had been cut off. Lovers have pitched their tents in nonexistence; they are of one quality and one essence, as nonexistence is. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ […]

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The sufi solution

February 14th, 2012|SouthAsia, Sufism|

“…The Chishti school of Sufism did not exclude any religion and gave way to a plural Indian identity. This is why the extremists in Pakistan, especially the Taliban, are against such devotional practices.” In 2010, the dargah of Baba Farid in Pakistan, another saint of this Sufi order, was bombed…” This is a fabulous piece published in Livemint.com.. On entering, the white dome attracts your attention. It’s not the architecture or the gold centrepiece at its top. Nor the birds circling it. This dome seems to shape and consecrate every moment of this place. The fakirs (ascetics) near the ablution pool face it. So do the pilgrims in the marble courtyards. The Khwaja’s tomb is directly below. The heart of Sufism: Pilgrims carrying flowers for Moinuddin Chishti. Four months later, when Rajasthan’s desert winter has given way to the heat of June, the dargah will be filled with lamps. Its assembly hall, resounding with the sound of the qawwals’ harmoniums, will herald the 800th urs of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer. Smaller groups of musicians will draw their own listeners within the various courtyards and sama (a gathering listening to mystical verse) music will echo in the streets. The terraces surrounding the dargah will come alive with their own qawwali gatherings and the last melodic strains will die only when the early morning prayer is called by the muezzin. As the cliché about the intolerant Muslim refuses to go away, as Sufism remains anathema to a section of Muslims, what is the significance of South Asia’s most important Sufi shrine? […]

Marta Franceschini: H Nizamuddin Auliya’s devotee

January 25th, 2012|Arts & Culture, Personal, Sufism|

This message cheered me up. Amazing that some of us have never met yet there is a bond we share - the calm space in Delhi where a 13th century mystic is buried. I am [...]

River Indus: Flow of life – Part II

October 20th, 2011|Arts & Culture, Culture, Pakistan, Pakistani Literature, Published in The Friday Times, Sufi poetry, Sufism|

By Raza Rumi: From ancient Vedic times to stories told by Sufi saints, the Indus continues to play a central role in the legends and folklore associated with the region. Even today, the shrine of Uderolal, a composite Hindu-Muslim place of worship and the cult of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar are rooted and nurtured by the Indus and its magic. Not long ago, both Hindus and Muslims believed that the flow of Indus was determined by the saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is also referred to as Jhule Lal, or the god of waters. Some Hindus also referred to him as Raja Bharati. The Partition of the subcontinent in 1947 brought with it a new shape to the politics and cultures of the Indus region Current beliefs and practices still reflect continuity with the past. Sehwan Sharif, where the tomb of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s is situated was the site of a Shiva centre. It is said that the name Sehwanistan has been derived from Sivistan, city of Shiva. Moreover, there is a striking similarity between the dressing of contemporary faqirs and Shivite yogis as both dress in ‘torn clothes with matted hair.’ The Mohanas (fisherfolk) have been displaced and driven towards alternative livelihoods As noted above, Uderolal is a curious tomb: Muslims believe that a saint named Shaikh Tahir is buried here; while the Hindus consider this place to be the shrine Jhulelal or Uderolal. In common parlance, he is also known as Zindapir (Living Saint). Uderolal is one of the places where the Indus is still worshipped by Hindus and Muslims. It is also worshipped in another part of Sindh, near the town of Sukkur. Shrines of Sufi saints are situated along the riverside in Sindh. It is believed that 125,000 holy men are buried ‘in the yellow sandstone necropolis at Thatta’ alone, writes Samina Quraesihi in her book on Sufism. All year round, a great number of people continue to visit the tombs as a way to show their respect and receive blessings. Just like Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, Khwaja Khizr is also referred to as Zindapir and ‘ pani ka badshah’ (Water King). The devotees still believe that he lives under the water and the river flows the way that he commands. As recently as the late nineteenth century, Hindus and Muslims also worshipped side-by-side at the Zindapir’s shrine in Sukkur. Moreover, many of the saints have said to have caused miracles in the region through their powers over the Indus. Mangroves are vanishing and the boat-communities are struggling for their survival Such meta-religious beliefs and practices can also be understood with reference to Shah Abdul Latif’s Risalo. This is a sacred Sindhi book put together by Latif. It is given equal reverence by both Hindus and Muslims, and contains excerpts from the Quran, the traditions of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), Persian poetry and Sindhi folklore. It does not focus on any one form of authority and includes doctrines from various sects in Islam. On the whole it represents the similarity in spiritual beliefs related to Hinduism and Islam as practiced in the region. Moreover, it is still a symbol of this peaceful co-existence between the followers of the two religions. […]

Charday suraj dhalday…

January 24th, 2011|Poetry, Sufi poetry, Sufism|

Charday suraj dhalday waikhay, Bujhay diway balday waikhay, Heeray da koi mull na taaray, Khotay sikkay chalday waikhay, Jinna'n da na jag te koi, O v puttar palday waikhay, Ohdi rehmat de nal banday, Pani [...]

Destination of love by Ahmad-i-Jam

January 11th, 2011|Sufi poetry, Sufism|

Sohaib Qureshi has translated 12th century mystic Ahmad-i Jam's verse - thanks to his endeavours Manzil-i ishq az makàn-i dìgar ast Mard-i ìn ràh rà nishàn-i dìgar ast Bar sar-i bazàr-i sarràfàn-i ishq Zìr-i har [...]

Priests and scholars parade their learning to please the kings

December 16th, 2010|Personal, Sufi poetry, Sufism|

Abayat from Sultan Bahu on Priests and Scholars (thanks to Shahidain) “Parh parh ilam mulook rijhaavan, kiaa hoiaa is parhiaan hoo Hargiz makkhan mool nah aave, phitte dudh de karhiaan hoo Aakh chandooraa hath keeh aaiaa, es angooree phariaan hoo Hik dil khastaa raazee rakkheen, laieen ibaadat varahian hoo” Priests and scholars parade their learning to please the kings – of what avail is such erudition? […]

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The heart divided

June 27th, 2013|Arts & Culture, books, India, Personal, Published in The Friday Times, Travel|

Here’s an excerpt from my book ‘Delhi, by heart’ that was featured in TFT   I am not sure how I met Bunty. It was perhaps through a reference from the office during one of my early work-related visits. Bunty Singh, brother of Sunny Singh and Goldie Singh, became my guide and companion. Sunny and Bunty have set up a mini empire of rental cars through investments made by Goldie who lives in Germany and is married to a “good” German girl. Bunty, a boisterous, internet-savvy young Sardar, found me to be somewhat like him. We spoke in Punjabi, often using lines that would quite miss those outside the ‘Punju’ realm. And we both were equally fascinated by each other-the thirty-something grandchildren of Partition. So after an hour of awkward client-service interaction, Bunty decided to befriend me. It was just the right thing to have happened I guess. How else would I know a real Sardar? Most of my interactions with Sikhs took place when I was a student in the UK decades ago. However, as soon as there was mention of Partition, there was a palpable unease. It was only after a day or two that he confided how half his family was butchered at a railway station. To use Amrita Pritam’s words: Who can guess How difficult it is To nurse barbarity in one’s belly To consume the body and burn the bones? I am the fruit of that season When the berries of Independence came into blossom. (Translated from the Punjabi by Harbans Singh) […]

That easy intimacy

October 15th, 2011|Bangladesh, Published in Himal Magazine, SouthAsia, Travel|

By Raza Rumi A Pakistani re-discovers Bangladesh. Image: Carey L Biron As a Pakistani, there is a part of you that reacts instantly to the word Bangladesh: guilt, remorse or, in some cases, nostalgia can suddenly take over. I am from the generation that was spared the horrors of Pakistan Army actions, of information blackouts on the massacre of Bengalis in the name of Pakistani nationalism. But what does it mean to be half a Pakistani, without East Bengal – especially when you know a bit of history and have managed to see through the falsities of the textbooks? It means nothing or it means a lot; it depends on which way you want to look at the other half, now a proud, vibrant country. Working in international development is what took me to Bangladesh for the first time, nearly five years ago. Prior to that, I had been familiar with the country’s mythical music, rich poetry and tales of its golden sunsets and singing rivers, but had never touched its soil. Bengal’s magic is embedded in the Subcontinental imagination, and these images and literary references long shaped my view of the country. However, my romantic notions were severely jolted when I arrived in Dhaka – at first glance, an overcrowded concrete jungle typically lacking in urban planning. More of the same, I concluded: big cities, despite their buzz, can let you down. Still, my disappointment did not last, as I soon undertook to seek out the city’s various corners, its hidden spaces of beauty and comfort; above all, what I found was an engaged citizenry marching on. Discovering the University of Dhaka and its surroundings came as a much-needed connection, though older parts of Dhaka are also quite mesmerising. The gulmohar (or krishnachura) trees, almost on fire, greet a visitor on nearly every street, as does a tremendous volume of rickshaws. Then there is the Shaheed Minar, the monument marking Bengali resistance founded on linguistic identity. The physical monument is modern, and by itself is not particularly exciting. However, its significance is truly monumental, marking as it does Bengali nationalism from 1948 to 1971 under the misrule of West Pakistan elites. Given movements for ethnic, linguistic and provincial identities ongoing in today’s Pakistan, the Shaheed Minar is a powerful reminder of how centralised rule and marginalisation of cultural identities lead to festering problems. A colleague who took me to see these sites was most polite with me. He was fervently nationalistic but chose his words carefully – at least until I asked him to drop the formalities and just say what he wanted. Then the floodgates opened, and out came his personal memories and renditions from Bengali oral histories. I even found myself apologising, though I then laughed at myself for such a delusional gesture – my few words of apology meant nothing against the horrors of Bengali suffering. Luckily, the charms of the place and the krishnachura trees came to my rescue. And so, I brushed the dark side of our shared histories under the proverbial carpet, just the way that Pakistan has done. For many people in Pakistan, 1971 is today an invisible event, a deliberately ignored footnote in our collective memory, despite being one that should remain understood as a moment of reckoning for the entire country. After all, majority provinces seldom secede; it is usually the other way around. […]

Travelogue (Part II) – Yeh hai Bombay meri jaan

September 14th, 2010|India, Indo Pak peace, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times, Travel|

Things had changed. Bombay has metamorphosed into Mumbai (shining India is also more parochial); Sahar airport had been renamed (as Chatrapathi Shivaji International Airport) after the great Maratha leader Shivaji, who happens to be a villain in our textbooks for having defied the Mughals.

Muslimness – shifting boundaries

February 9th, 2010|Islam, Islamophobia, Pakistan, Personal, Politics, Published in The Friday Times, terrorism, Travel|

Muslimness is an elusive state of being. There are watertight strictures of the theological identity defined by men, interpreted as the Sharia, on the one hand; and the broad political and cultural sense of the self, on the other. Identity, in any case, is a messy affair: shifty, shifting and eventually, imagined. While 9/11 placed Muslims at the centre stage of global politics, the broth had already been simmering in the cauldrons of biased academe and pop reality mirrored through the blood-thirsty lens of corporate media. So what is it to be a Muslim? An inflexible bag of rituals? Or a cultural sense of belonging or a deeper dogma ingrained in young minds? I have never considered myself anything but a believer, a ‘practicing Muslim’. This has never been at variance with my secular and inclusive pretensions, despite the fact that the clergy in my country considers secularism akin to atheism, a sort of mirror image of the Pakistani political foundation. The clerics translate secular as la-deen , at best irreligious, and at worst, godless. Ironical that this business of religious identity is articulated in a land that was the crucible of the secular Indus Valley civilization, non-militant Buddhism and a peculiar version of South Asian Islam that spread via the Sufi khanqahs and was a sort of amalgam of the Central Asian with the ancient South Asian. Even more ironical is the reality, neglected and veiled, that lived Islam is located around dargahs , tribal codes and customs which are irreligious in their own way. But who cares? Referred to as the world’s most dangerous country, Pakistan, according to the pundits of global opinion, is a haven for Islamic terrorists. Collateral damage, therefore, is kosher and a necessity to undo the unstated part of the ‘axis of evil’. Labels and more labels. On the global shelves such products sell well and work in favour of a war machine hungry for energy resources, territory and blood. […]

Fatehpur Sikri

March 25th, 2009|Personal, Photo stories, Travel|

Fatehpur Sikri - March 16, 2009, originally uploaded by Jahane Rumi. I was in Fatehpur Sikri a week ago. I love going there again and again. The place is calm and represents architecture that can [...]

Planning a holiday?

March 23rd, 2009|Travel|

Looking for Dubai Holidays? I know many people are fond of Dubai for all it offers. Though I am not always keen but I would like my friends to check this resource on a great Dubai Holiday. Letsgo2 provides a comprehensive resource to help plan and book your next holiday or city break. For Holidays Dubai a high level of personal service is now offered to leisure travellers to destinations worldwide by Letsgo2. Each of their destinations has its own dedicated web site allowing you to thoroughly research information and view up-to-date prices and availability. Letsgo2 is the tour operating division of Ickenham Travel PLC who have been offering personal business travel services to small and medium sized companies for over 30 years. […]

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A twist in the tale

By | March 10th, 2016|books, Delhi By Heart, governance, Journalism, Pakistan, Published by Earthen Lamp Journal|

My Interview conducted by Abdullah Khan for Earthen Lamp Journal: ELJ: Tell us something about your journey from being a civil servant to a journalist and then to a writer of non-fiction books. RR: It [...]

Badge of honour

By | March 3rd, 2016|Arts & Culture, Cinema, Pakistan, Pakistani Art, Published in India Today, South Asian Art, SouthAsia, women, World Artists|

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s incisive documentary helps reignite the debate on honour killings in Pakistan. Second success: Sharmeen with her Oscar. Photo: Reuters Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has won the second Oscar for a short documentary that brings international attention to an endemic evil in Pakistan (and India for that matter) known as honour killings. Officially, there are a thousand victims of honour killings every year but the actual number may be much higher. Aside from Sharmeen’s recognition by Hollywood, which by itself is a big win, the Oscar for A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness is a victory for Pakistan’s long list of activists who have been advocating to end this heinous practice. Days before the Oscars ceremony, a special screening of the movie was held at Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s house. The Pakistan PM issued a statement saying he would bring changes to the legislation to end the curse of honour killings. Sharif’s recent overtures to causes such as minority rights and talking about a liberal Pakistan have come as a surprise, given his conservative politics, and his party’s attempts to prevent progressive legislation during the 1990s. Or it is a sign of Pakistan’s drift into extremism that even centrist politicians like Sharif are worried about the future of the country. A Girl in the River narrates the heart-wrenching story of Saba Qaiser who survived an attempt to kill her and lived to tell her tale. Saba was lucky to survive. Most victims are not. The issue of honour killings is cultural as a woman’s conduct is seen as an instrument of honour of the family. That such tribal and feudal customs continue in the 21st century is a shame indeed. As if the customs were not enough, General Zia-ul-Haq and his successors worked on a law that compounds murder and also enables the murderer to seek forgiveness under an interpretation of Islamic law. In short, honour killings rarely, or never, get punished. Worse, the parliamentarians, who in any democratic society are required to enact legislation that ends brutal customs, have been divided and complicit. In 1999, a young woman, Samia Sarwar, was killed outside the offices of Pakistan’s renowned human rights lawyers, Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani. A resolution moved by a liberal senator in Parliament could not be carried through as a Pakhtun member of the Awami National Party objected to the attempt to interfere with the ‘honour’ culture. In the Musharraf era, a weak law was enacted but when a woman member of parliament presented a resolution, it was shot down. Sherry Rehman’s earlier efforts to table a reform bill were also rejected by the then ruling party closely allied to Gen Musharraf. The Islamists who were in the opposition supported the government on that front. […]

“Remembering Intizar Husain”

By | February 19th, 2016|Arts & Culture, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times, Urdu, Urdu Literature|

Raza Rumi remembers Intizar Husain as a colossus of letters, but also as a formative influence for himself (L-R) Jamila Hashmi, Intizar Husain, Masood Ashar and Kishwar Naheed I remember the languid afternoon in Lahore when I met Intizar Husain surrounded by his friends and admirers. This formal introduction happened as poet-writer Fahmida Riaz was visiting Lahore and wanted to see Intizar Sahib – as we all called him. This was nearly a decade ago and my memory of that meeting is a bit hazy. All I remember is that Intizar Sahib showed extraordinary enthusiasm when he heard my name. “Arrey I have been reading you in The Friday Times”, he said. Bewildered, I thought that he was trying to humour a young novice with literary pretensions. Noticing my maladroit attempt to hide my expression, he added in chaste, homely Urdu: “I had thought that this guy Rumi was some old man writing about the shared cultures of the subcontinent…Aap tau naujawan nikle (you turned out to be a youth).” In those days, I was regular feature writer at TFT and had penned many a rant on the civilisational ethos of the Indian Subcontinent that has fast eroded in the past few decades. Little did I know that it would be noted by – of all the readers – Urdu’s master fiction writer and columnist, essayist and a critic! Intizar Sahib had resisted the temptations of turning into a cult figure, a pop star or a pir This was a moment of reckoning for me. I was but a pygmy in front of this literary giant and man of all proverbial seasons. Hearing his acknowledgment was a kind of homecoming – a process that continues, distracted by the necessities of garnering jobs and nurturing pretenses of a ‘career’. Among other reasons to change direction in my life, perhaps Intizar Sahib was a major reason. His encouragement – to an utterly unimaginative person like me – acted as an elixir. […]

WATCH: Raza Rumi Speaks Out on Countering Violent Extremism

By | February 18th, 2016|Blasphemy, Extremism, Islam, Pakistan, Published in Islamic Commentary, Religion, terrorism|

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 memoriam: Writers like Intizar Husain never die, they live on in their words and ideas

By | February 4th, 2016|Arts & Culture, books, Culture, Pakistan, published in DAWN, South Asian Literature|

In celebrating his pluralistic literary roots, Intizar Husain was a truly contemporary writer Intizar Husain, the last of great Urdu writers, passed away yesterday at the age of 92. He’d been hospitalized for some time in Lahore. His ardent followers had been worried that the worst was likely to happen. But the truth is that writers of Husain’s stature never die. They live in their words and the corpus of ideas that they bequeath to future generations. Husain was definitely one such figure. He leaves behind some of the finest specimens of fiction, journalism, travel writing and critical essays. The sheer volume of Husain’s literary output is mind boggling as it indicates a life that was lived in a deep love of letters; engaged in an eternal search for meaning. Intizar Sahib spent his early years at his birthplace Dibai in the Bulandshahr district of Uttar Pradesh (UP), India. In one of his interviews, he said that the partition of India in 1947 made him a fiction writer. Nothing could be truer as the shadow of his migration to a new country became perennial. For much of his life, this event and the sense of displacement informed his creative musings.   Intizar Husain was a sought after presence at literary festivals, where his vast body of work was discussed […]

Some thoughts on indigenous peoples

By | February 2nd, 2016|Culture, Pakistan|

Last week, I visited the National Museum of American Indian, New York. Thereafter, I posted a few tweets. Sharing them here. Grateful to @historianess for introducing the @SmithsonianNMAI #NewYork -a gateway to forgotten histories of the #US pic.twitter.com/7Fmg9KgwQ9 — Raza Ahmad Rumi (@Razarumi) January 31, 2016 Found intriguing commonalities between #IndusValley motifs& aesthetic of ancient #NativeAmerican cultures. pic.twitter.com/rOTUb5WsgD — Raza Ahmad Rumi (@Razarumi) January 31, 2016 On shared motifs of #Indusvalley Civzn& #nativeamerican cultures @historianess summed it up as:”..common human fascination with #geometry” — Raza Ahmad Rumi (@Razarumi) January 31, 2016 The gorgeous ceiling of @SmithsonianNMAI in #NYC ( the building was formerly Customs House) pic.twitter.com/0kJuek9isb — Raza Ahmad Rumi (@Razarumi) January 31, 2016 Xipe Totec – displayed in this meaningfully #entitled #exhibit called The Infinity of Nations at @SmithsonianNMAI pic.twitter.com/SHsWo7zQHs — Raza Ahmad Rumi (@Razarumi) January 31, 2016 […]

miniature painting goes global

By | January 10th, 2016|Arts & Culture, India, Pakistan, Pakistani Art, published in DAWN, South Asian Art|

Steeped in the past, and yet, modernist in its application, neo miniature is the new face of Pakistani miniature painting and art. Having evolved as a genre that is entirely indigenous in its expressions, it has also globalized Pakistani cultural idiom and has inspired a generation of artists within and outside the country Pakistani miniature painting and art. The survival of a revival Raza Rumi believes the neo-miniature movement is located within the resilience of Pakistani society as well as its struggle to reinvent aesthetic and cultural parameters of identity. My detailed report for DAWN: Nearly two generations of Pakistani artists have experimented with the traditional genre of miniature painting and art; some have even gone on to expand its scope and vocabulary. It is on the shoulders of such artistic endeavor and innovation that Pakistan’s neo-miniature movement has now turned global. Neo-miniatures retain traditional techniques while incorporating contemporary themes, and some have even deconstructed the format and articulated sensibilities that otherwise would be identified with post-modernism. Its entry into Western markets — galleries and private collections — is are recognition of the rigorous technique and innovative thematic inferences employed by Pakistani artists. Undoubtedly, Pakistani art has found a discernible niche in the global art market. […]

2015: The year in words

By | January 4th, 2016|Personal|

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 [...]

From terror to trade: Eight reasons Pakistanis now want a peace process from Modi and Sharif

By | December 26th, 2015|India, India-Pakistan History, Indo Pak peace, Pakistan, Published by Quartz India|

The carefully staged “surprise diplomacy” by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and his warm reception by his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif break a logjam in bilateral relations. Modi’s short visit to Lahore on Dec. 25 was welcomed by almost all the mainstream political parties in Pakistan. That betrays a consensus within the political elites there, unlike in India where the opposition parties are playing politics over bilateral diplomacy. The truth is that it was Modi who took the initiative, even if driven by the need for good optics. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh, for all his goodwill, could not take the decision to visit Pakistan. Pakistan’s foreign policy, however, is not the sole domain of its civilian governments. They have to take the security establishment on board. No one knows this better than Sharif. Given this home truth, the diplomatic efforts are not likely to proceed without a nod from the powerful military. The key to this is largely related to Afghanistan. In sync with the US and other Western powers as well as China, Pakistan is engaged in a tough effort to help facilitate a settlement between the Afghan Taliban and the Ashraf Ghani administration. The process has been far from smooth. It broke down many times. Infighting within the Afghan Taliban also impinges upon the peace efforts. […]

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