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Publish At Your Peril

South Asia remains one of the most repressed regions for journalists and by governments muzzling the freedoms of the press, the region’s democratic gains are in jeopardy.


South Asia, home to one-fifth of the world’s population and growing fast, has undergone major democratic transitions in the past decade. Today, all the countries in the region are governed by democratic systems. With Nepal’s successful toppling of its monarchy a decade ago and Pakistan’s transition to democracy from military rule, the portents have never been so encouraging. Similarly, Afghanistan, the victim of perennial conflict, is also moving towards democratic governance and reform. These developments are ground-breaking given the turbulent history of the region.

Yet, on one vital test of democracy — freedom of the press — the region is lagging. Between 2013 and 2015, South Asia remained one of the most repressed regions for journalists. According to Reporters without Borders, which publishes a press freedom annual index ranking 180 countries based on the freedom granted to members of the press, countries in South Asia rank discouragingly low.

Most of the countries in South Asia have scores in the bottom two tiers on the press freedom index. In the 2015 index, South Asian countries remained fairly stagnant from previous years: Pakistan ranked at 159th place; Bangladesh was ranked 146th; Sri Lanka was ranked 165th; and the Maldives was ranked at 112th place. […]

Islam and its more dangerous variants: interview with Raza Rumi, a survivor of religious extremism

By Daniele Grassi

Following the recent events in Paris, Europe has had to face its own fear and vulnerability. Europe’s own identity has been called into question, more importantly, so has its commitment to shaping an open and tolerant society. Above all, the attacks are putting a strain on relations with Islam, a religion that is becoming increasingly associated with terrorism and other forms of extremism.

“Is Islam compatible with democratic values?”. “To what extent is terrorism affecting Islam’s evolution?”
These are some of the issues debated with Raza Ahmad Rumi, a leading voice in Pakistan against extremism and human rights violations. In March 2014, he survived an assassination attempt in which his driver lost his life. Within weeks, he left Pakistan and has since been working with the New America Foundation and the United States Institute of Peace.

Raza Rumi10
The attacks carried out in Paris have reinforced, amongst large sectors of the Western population, the idea that Islam is incompatible with the traditional values of democracy. What’s your view on this?
“In recent times the gap between those practicing the Islamic faith and liberal Europe has never been as wide as it is currently. Muslims feel alienated within the value system of Europe, but they also want to reap the benefits and the opportunities provided by the European democracies and economies. Europeans, while welcoming Muslims into their homeland, always expected them to follow their laws while practicing the Muslim faith. However, the recent attacks in Paris have jolted the Europeans and have triggered a new debate about the nature and future of relations between Muslims and Liberal Europe. There is a need for open dialogue between Muslims and liberal Europe in order to determine the future shape of Western society and Muslims’ roles within it. However, more importantly the Muslims need to take an introspective look at themselves and take responsibility for allowing hardliners to preach radical messages, from minority schools of thought such as the Salafi and Hanbali, which justify violence”. […]

January 22nd, 2015|Extremism, Journalism, Published in East Magazine|0 Comments

Will a new power-sharing arrangement emerge from this crisis?

Since early August, Pakistan has been battling itself, once again. Two opposition groups have paralysed the federal government and the capital for weeks through street protests that eventually turned violent. Imran Khan without an independent verification believes that last year’s election was rigged and that he was unfairly deprived of power. Imran’s unlikely ally, Dr Tahirul Qadri, returned from his home in Canada to bring about a ‘revolution’. Qadri’s definition of a revolution resonates with Pakistan’s middle class tired of corruption but promises no structural change except decimating the parliamentary institutions and rubbishing the country’s constitution.

Pakistan’s beleaguered prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, dealt with calls for his resignation with some fortitude. On occasions, he lost nerve by ordering crackdowns that left hundreds injured and at least three dead. Earlier, his brother — and yes, family rule also irks the middle class — who rules the country’s largest province, mishandled a mob of Mr Qadri’s supporters and a police action in June left at least 14 dead. All this while, the elected government at the helm remained deeply suspicious of the country’s powerful military that still holds the ultimate veto power on national and foreign policies. PM Nawaz has a terrible history of getting into a confrontation with the army and in 1993 and 1999 he had to step down without completing the constitutionally mandated term of five years. In 1999, he suffered additional humiliation by being ousted through a coup led by General Musharraf, faced imprisonment and remained in exile for seven years. […]

September 8th, 2014|Pakistan, Politics, Published in the Express Tribune|0 Comments

Pakistan’s perilous democratic transition


Pakistan’s perilous democratic transition has been rocked by the ongoing anti-government protests.

The standoff between the government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and opposition parties continues to accelerate the political uncertainty and damage the fragile economy.

Sharif was elected 14 months ago in an election that witnessed unprecedented voter turnout.

While most opposition parties accepted the results, Imran Khan — the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek I Insaf (PTI) party — claimed there was widespread rigging. There’s not much evidence, however, beyond the usual irregularities of Pakistan’s outmoded electoral system, to back this up.

But a successful campaign, aided by sections of Pakistani media, to de-legitimize last year’s vote has convinced a large number of people that somehow Khan’s mandate was “stolen” in 2013.

Another opposition group, Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), led by a Pakistani Canadian cleric, Tahir ul Qadri wants a systemic change and has a list of undeliverable promises to the electorate. His immediate grievance is the brutal police action against his supporters that left 14 dead in June of this year. […]

September 3rd, 2014|governance, Journalism, media, Politics, Published in CNN|1 Comment

After the Army’s public statement, the crisis deepens

My storified tweets on the deepening Political crisis in Pakistan.


August 31st, 2014|governance, History, Pakistan, Politics, Storify|0 Comments

Pakistan: Will instability topple democracy?

Even if PM Nawaz Sharif survives the current crisis, his government will be permanently weakened.

Imran Khan's 'freedom march' entered Pakistan's capital on April 15 [Reuters] Imran Khan’s ‘freedom march’ entered Pakistan’s capital on April 15 [Reuters]  

Pakistan is in a state of crisis and the continuing deadlock between the government and opposition parties threatens to derail the constitutional order. Since the beginning of August, the two leading opposition groups – Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) led by a Canadian-Pakistani cleric Dr Tahir ul Qadri – have been mobilising their supporters for a regime change.

Both have different objectives but are joined forces in the moment to oust the incumbent Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. On August 15, the two groups entered the capital and a few days later marched into the high security Red Zone where all the diplomatic missions and key state buildings such the parliament, supreme court and presidency are located.

The crowds were smaller than expected but they are charged, parked in the capital and willing to storm into the PM House. The army which has been entrusted with the role to protect the state institution buildings has prevented this from happening and it has demonstrated that it will avoid a situation where it may have to intervene by force. […]

August 29th, 2014|Extremism, media, Pakistan, Politics, Published in Al-Jazeera|0 Comments

Watching the watchdog

“Democracy is like an infertile woman that cannot produce anything”, thundered a popular columnist (a real opinion-maker) at the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent in North America (APPNA) convention held in Washington, DC. A few women participants objected, but overall, the trashing of ‘democracy’ back home in Pakistan was applauded by many a successful professionals present in the audience. Later, at another event I heard the view by a speaker that Muslims and democracy are incompatible. These are not isolated sentences. A worldview that Pakistan’s Urdu media has cultivated considers democracy a colonial legacy that the British left. A few go to the extent of arguing that in an Islamic Republic a Caliphate is the only option.

Another columnist recently wrote how our democratic and constitutional system is the “rotten dress which protects certain segments of society” and now the time had come to decide if we could live with an ‘itchy’ body [politic]. Considering that half of Pakistan’s existence has been under the rule of a narrow group of civil-military bureaucracy, it is difficult to argue how can even a most imperfect democracy not be more inclusive? […]