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A twist in the tale


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 has been a mad, chaotic yet edifying journey. I have been a civil servant in Pakistan and then with the Asian Development […]

The terrorism challenge

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 […]

The politics of Imran Khan and Dr Tahir ul Qadri

My latest column for Express Tribune published under the heading: “Imran Khan, Tahirul Qadri & a dharma”

Pakistan’s electoral system is far from perfect. Like most other state functions, electoral laws and practices need to be reformed. In a democracy, this is to be undertaken by the legislature and through a multiparty consensus. The allegations of rigging since May 2013 are all too familiar. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which garnered 19 per cent of the total votes(and fewer seats in the National Assembly) has been crying foul of ‘massive rigging’. Now exactly after a year of elections, and quite cynically exercising power in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), the party is launching a protest through a sit-in in Islamabad. Concurrently, another self-styled reformer, Dr Tahirul Qadri, is also launching a protest against the ‘system’. We all have serious reservations about the ‘system’ but the alternative provided by Dr Qadri is vague as well as populist.

These two protests come in the wake of recent tensions between the civilians and the military. Given Pakistan’s history, the PTI’s protest and the return of Dr Qadri from the safe environs of Canada are termed being ‘sponsored’. It is difficult to ascertain the veracity of this perception. However, the timing of these protests against the credibility of a parliament — of which the PTI and its leader, Imran Khan, are part of — is somewhat problematic. This time the responsibility of rigging is being termed a collusive project of the ruling PML-N, the judiciary and the largest television network, ie, Geo Tv. […]

Pakistan Floods: Making the same mistakes?

Rarely have countries been so incapable of responding to challenges, as is the case with Pakistan. Last year, the worst flood in our historyhit millions of poor Pakistanis, wiping away their livelihoods and depriving them of their dwellings and, in many cases, land entitlement. It was due to the resilience of the Pakistani people thatsome post-flood rehabilitation took place. Like much else in the country, people took their lives into their own hands and the state, at best, was a secondary player. Media focus remained on the politicisation of the response to the natural disaster and making heroes out of army battalions which, at least on paper, are subordinate to the elected executive.

What has happened since then? I was intrigued to note an advert a month ago in the national newspapers wherein a multilateral agency was hiring a programme manager for ‘early recovery’ after floods! Multilaterals reflect the speed and bureaucratic labyrinths of the government and, therefore, this little notice seemed farcical at best. Forget early recovery, we are now back in the monsoon season. And the federal and provincial governments appear to be as ill-equippedas before.

I was part of a team that undertook post-flood assessment and had a chance to interact with key stakeholders last year. The attitudes of some high level public officials are a subject of a satirical book rather than this short piece. In summary, their assumption was that the poor were resilient and knew how to deal with disasters and that life goes on. Several of the recommendations that we offered remain unimplemented, chiefly those relating to local governments. […]

July 9th, 2011|Pakistan, Published in the Express Tribune|2 Comments

Our textbooks and the lies they teach

By Raza Rumi

Due to the 18th Amendment, a momentous shift in Pakistan’s governance arrangements is taking place through a politically mediated and largely consensual manner. The federal government is being trimmed and 10 ministries have already been devolved to the provinces. A key development pertains to the devolution of education — lock, stock and barrel — to the provinces. Most notably, the odious era of setting poisonous, centralised curricula in the name of a ‘martial’ nationalism is finally over. Whether the past practices of turning Pakistan into a jihad project will end is uncertain, unless the provinces take the initiative and reverse the regrettable trajectory of the past.

Pakistani textbooks have preached falsehoods, hatred and bigotry. They have constructed most non-Muslims, especially Hindus, as evil and primordial enemies, glorified military dictatorships and omitted references to our great betrayal of the Bengali brothers and sisters who were the founders and owners of the Pakistan movement. It is time to correct these wrongs. […]

Pakistan: “It is time for the judiciary to address incompetence and prejudice within its own ranks”

Ali Dayan Hasan, Senior South Asia Researcher for Human Rights Watch, spoke to Raza Rumi about the blasphemy law.

What is your position on the blasphemy law and how is it viewed internationally?

The blasphemy law is a blot on Pakistan and brings disrepute to Islam. It is precisely the kind of law that reinforces, with good reason, negative stereotypes of Pakistan and Muslims. Because it is justified in the name of religion, it is difficult to explain to the world that this is a law imposed by a military dictatorship in the ‘80s for cynical political purposes and does not enjoy any “divine” sanction. It is our view that Sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which include the blasphemy law, should be repealed forthwith. The obscene consequences of these laws have been evident for decades through the continued criminalization and persecution of those the state ought to actually be protecting and failure to repeal makes successive governments, and the state itself, complicit in heinous discrimination and egregious human rights abuse.

But a substantial body of religious scholars argues that the blasphemy law is in keeping with Islamic jurisprudence…

It is interesting that political actors operating in the name of Islam, such as the Sunni Tehreek, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the JUI, take this position. They are cynically exploiting religion and encouraging social persecution and legal discrimination to seek political mileage. No serious religious scholar without a political axe to grind has spoken out in favor of these appalling laws. In fact, scholars such as Dr Javed Ghaamdi and Prof Khalid Masood oppose it vehemently. It is important to bear in mind that the imposition of these laws was a political not religious act, as is their defence. […]

December 4th, 2010|Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times|3 Comments

Unpacking the governance debate

If the intent of the unregulated media and a recalcitrant establishment is to dismiss the government to achieve better governance then this is at best a delusional goal

Recent weeks have witnessed a supercilious debate on how the current government’s misgovernance is a potent reason to boot it out. Governance is about decisions, resources and management of public affairs. The sad reality is that Pakistan’s media now controls and spins the public discourse on these issues. The popular media never wanted this government to begin with. Since 2007, it sided with the ‘clean’ and morally correct lawyers’ movement that presented an alternative to the corrupt politicians and shunned the 2008 election. First, it vilified Benazir Bhutto for making a deal with the Generals on initiating a transition towards a power-sharing arrangement. This was a classic worldview of the urban middle class, which has never been a keen participant of the messy electoral politics that brings rural politicians with fake degrees at the helm of affairs.
The second critical moment was the election of the President, which sparked an unprecedented media trial with stories (mostly unsubstantiated) of Zardari’s corruption. There was a strong alliance between the local and the global media churning out a thousand stories highlighting his insanity, fallibility and venality. This happened despite the full confidence expressed by Zardari’s party and its allies. A rare federal consensus over the election of a President was undermined and the media perception intensified how all the crooks stand together to rob the country once again.
October 4th, 2010|governance, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times|1 Comment