“Remembering Intizar Husain”

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!

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.

Continue reading

WATCH: Raza Rumi Speaks Out on Countering Violent Extremism


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) Continue reading

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

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

Continue reading

Some thoughts on indigenous peoples

Last week, I visited the National Museum of American Indian, New York. Thereafter, I posted a few tweets. Sharing them here.

Continue reading

miniature painting goes global

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.

Pakistani miniature painting art

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. Continue reading

2015: The year in words

Last year was long, unsettling and transitional. I have always welcomed change but being unsure about one’s future path is not too exciting.Have been a nomad for the past eighteen months. But I don’t want to start 2016 with complaints or regrets. During 2015, I finished two fellowships in Washington D.C. and then moved to Ithaca College in the Fall. A new beginning and perhaps a new direction.

The good thing is that amid all the transitions, my writing continued.

Here is a quick summary of all that I wrote in 2015. Three policy papers, one long essay and seventy-four commentaries, reviews, analyses and interviews. Most of them are also archived on this website.

Thanks to all those who gave me feedback, encouragement and ideas.

Policy/analytical papers & Essays:

  1. Charting Pakistan’s Internal Security Policy, Feb 2015. United States Institute of Peace
  2. The Prospects for Reform in Islam, March 2015. Hudson Institute
  3. Pakistan: Education, Religion and Conflict, May 2015, Tony Blair Foundation
  4. Long Essay: On the run, October, 2015, AEON Magazine

Commentaries, Op-eds, Reviews, Reports

  1. Op-ed: Countering the terror menace – January 1, 2015, Express Tribune
  2. Report: Protect minorities, says Pakistan Ulema Council – January 2, 2015, The Friday Times
  3. Taseer, an icon for sane, just Pakistan – January 4, 2015
  4. Book Review: A definitive history of Pakistan – January 13, 2015, Express Tribune
  5. Analysis: Islam Needs Reformation from Within – January, 16, 2015, Huffington Post
  6. Analysis: Back in the Driver’s Seat – January 16, 2015, Foreign Policy
  7. Commentary: No exit – January 16, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  8. Report: The Art Of U.S.-Pakistan Relations – January 26, 2015, Foreign Policy
  9. Art: Journey to change – January 30, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  10. Op-ed:The vicious cycle of hate and violence – February 2, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  11. Culture: The verse of freedom – February 6,2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  12. Literature: Manto’s women – February 13, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  13. Op-ed: Pakistan’s future — fraught with perilous possibilities – February 13, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  14. Art: Through the looking glass – February 20, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  15. Analysis: The terrorism challenge – February 27, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  16. Op-ed: Decisive action needed against militancy – March 3, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  17. Memoir: ‘About suffering they were never wrong’ – March 6, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  18. Op-ed: The need to review our India policy – March 11, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  19. Commentary: Brutal Murder in Bangladesh Highlights Growing Religious Intolerance  March 12, 2015, Fair Observer, USA
  20. Art: The City Speaks – March 20, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  21. Op-ed: Pakistan fails its Christians — again – March 21, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  22. Analysis: Bangladesh On The Brink – March 26, 2015, Foreign Policy
  23. Op-ed: A year ago, I was almost killed – March 28, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  24. Memoir: More than “Just” a footnote – April 3, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  25. Op-ed: Counterterrorism: rhetoric vs reality – April 16, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  26. Interview: ‘China wants to stabilize its entire western periphery’ – April 24, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  27. Op-ed: Sabeen Mahmud, Martyr for Free Speech – April, 29, 2015, New York Times
  28. Commentary: A Drone Killed My Friend, Warren Weinstein – April 30, 2015, Foreign Policy
  29. Analysis: Publish At Your Peril – May 12, 2015, Foreign Policy
  30. Commentary: An Era of Reporting Under Fear– May 12, 2015, Huffington Post
  31. Op-ed: Ideology, Impunity & Chaos –  May 15, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  32. News Analysis: The ghost of Osama May 15, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  33. Op-ed: Why India should not worry about China-Pakistan ties – June 9, 2015 DailyO, India
  34. Commentary: Enemies of The State – June 10, 2015, Foreign Policy
  35. Interview: Yazidi Youth Protests Through His Art – June 15, 2015, Huffington Post
  36. Op-ed: How Modi can ruin India and Pakistan relations – June 23, 2015 DailyO, India
  37. Op-ed: A crippling governance deficit – June 26, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  38. News Analysis: Save Palmyra From ISIS’s Rampage – June 26, 2015, Huffington Post
  39. Literature: Abdullah Hussein: alive in his vision – July 8, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  40. News Analysis: Hope & fear: how to read the renewed Modi-Sharif bonhomie – July 10, 2015, Catch News
  41. Book Review: Chronicles of our recent past – July 10, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  42. Op-ed: Why India, Pakistan treat their Nobel laureates shamefully – July 21, 2015, DailyO, India
  43. Commentary: Negotiating Freedom of Expression  -­–July 22, 2015, Center for International Media Assistance, USA
  44. Analysis: Rebuilding public narratives – July 31, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  45. Review Essay: Islam and the “Cold War baroque” – August 14, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  46. Op-ed: Our culture of silence and shame – August 16, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  47. News Analysis: Be mature guys; there’s a lot at stake in India, Pak – August 23, 2015, Catch News
  48. Review Essay: The mythological life and death of Benazir Bhutto – September 19, 2015, Express Tribune
  49. Commentary: Political Princes: Struggles of Rahul Gandhi and Bilawal Bhutto –September 24, 2015, The Quint
  50. Op-ed: Democracy in recession? – September 28, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  51. Culture: Why fanatics of today would not have spared Kabir – September 29, 2015, DailyO,
  52. News Analysis: Watching Kunduz Collapse From The Sidelines – October 2, 2015, Foreign Policy
  53. Art: Pakistani Artist Animates the Times Square – Oct 7, 2015, Huffington Post
  54. Art: Grace in hand – October 9, 2015, The Friday Times, Pakistan
  55. Review Essay: Bridging the Divides: Muslims in Europe – October 9, 2015, Huffington Post
  56. Op-ed: Sticky wicket: Why cricket is a lot like the world’s oldest game – October 20, 2015, DailyO
  57. Essay: Exile for me and others – October 25, 2015, The News on Sunday
  58. Report: A Young Pakistani Physicist Who Loves Nuclear Reactors – October 26, 2015, Huffington Post
  59. Essay: Blasphemy it was not – October 30, 2015, The Friday Times
  60. Commentary: Landscape for Journalists in Pakistan – From Bad to Worse  – June 11, 2015, Center for International Media Assistance, USA
  61. Art: Diaspora art: Maximalist miniatures – November 8, 2015, DAWN, Pakistan
  62. Culture: Faiz Ahmed Faiz: A window to what could have been – November 14, 2015, Express Tribune
  63. Op-ed: Nawaz Sharif’s shift to the centre – November 22, 2015, Express Tribune
  64. Essay: Climate of Intolerance: Down the well of religious bigotry – November 23, 2015, Hard News Media
  65. Interview: ‘Blasphemy laws have become an instrument of malicious motives’ – November 27, 2015, The Friday Times
  66. Commentary: Defeating ISIS a far cry without a settlement in Syria – November 29, 2015, DailyO, India
  67. Op-ed: Global terrorism — myth and reality – December 03, 2015, Express Tribune, Pakistan
  68. Commentary: ISIS, Muslims and the West – December 9, 2015, Huffington Post
  69. Blog: Islam, Islamism and Islamophobia: The Dilemma of Secular Muslims – December 9, 2015, The Quint,
  70. Commentary: Muslim clerics must reject notions of non-Muslim inferiority, December 16, 2015, Religion News Service, USA
  71. Review Essay: Midnight’s furies – December 18, 2015, The Friday Times
  72. Commentary: In Bangladesh the term Blogger has Become a Curse  – December 21, 2015, Center for International Media Assistance, USA
  73. News Analysis: From terror to trade: Eight reasons Pakistanis now want a peace process from Modi and Sharif, December 26, 2015, Quartz
  74. Interview: How perilous is the threat to Muslims in the US? – December 26, 2015, DAWN, Pakistan

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

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.

Continue reading