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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 […]

Sabeen Mahmud, Martyr for Free Speech

My op-ed for The New York Times
The appalling murder in Karachi last week of Sabeen Mahmud is a stark reminder of challenges that human rights defenders face in Pakistan. Ms. Mahmud, 39, had devoted her life to creating an alternative to the religious nationalism promoted by the Pakistani state over recent decades, which has led to a proliferation of violent jihadist organizations. She was gunned down on Friday night as she left the arts center she had founded.

In the country’s largest city, troubled by violence and crumbling institutions, Ms. Mahmud created a hub to promote the arts, harness creative talent and foster democratic dialogue. Since 2007, The Second Floor, commonly known as T2F, had evolved as a small but significant arena for pluralist and secular movements in the Islamic Republic. In Pakistan’s deeply conservative, repressive society, this was a kind of liberation theology.

Hours before she was shot, Ms. Mahmud, a tech entrepreneur as well as a social activist, hosted human rights advocates who were campaigning against enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in insurgency-hit Balochistan Province. After the government ordered the cancellation of the event, which was called “Unsilencing Balochistan” and was to be held at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, Ms. Mahmud offered T2F as a venue.

The government is deeply worried about the insurgency in Balochistan. The commonly held — and vigorously promoted — view is that Pakistan’s great rival, India, is supporting the insurgency. Thus advocating for the rights of the Baloch people is regarded as treasonous.

[…]

Don’t expect a miracle to happen

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. […]

Peshawar attack: Pakistan’s 9/11 moment?

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Pakistan faces a challenge largely of its own creation and only political processes can correct it, argues Raza Rumi.

The attack on Peshawar’s Army Public School and the killing of more than 130 children creates a new watershed in Pakistan’s battle against terrorism.

Maligned globally as a ‘hub’ of terror, Pakistan has suffered immensely in the past decade. More than 50,000 of its civilians have been killed and over 15,000 security personnel have laid down their lives.

Pakistan’s policy choices of the past have been far from sagacious and its purported self confessed identity as an Islamic State has not helped matters. More than that it is the curse of geography that has haunted the nation.

For 30 years, it has been an active participant in Afghan wars directly and indirectly and the perceived threat from the larger neighbour India is almost an article of faith.

December 16 also marks the anniversary of the humiliation that Pakistan suffered when in 1971 East Pakistan with India’s support became independent.

In 1947 the country’s founder called the country he created s ‘moth eaten’ and ‘truncated’ and since 1971 the insecurity has only grown.

How far is that an imagined construct, how much of it is to continue to run it as a martial State has been subject of unresolved debate — yet to be resolved.

The Afghan policy of the 1980s and patronage to the Taliban movement in the 1990s is part of that insecure worldview. National security has been defined in limited terms and the reliance on non State actors to work as support system for the formal security apparatus remains a policy tenet. Yet there are signs of change.

One such shift was the decisive operation against the militants launched in June. Thus far the operation was cited as successful with the regaining of territory and eliminating militant hideouts. […]

December 18th, 2014|Extremism, Pakistan, Published in Rediff, terrorism|1 Comment

Karachi airport attack a sign of wider security challenges

The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack on Karachi airport, that’s killed at least 28 people, including the ten suicide terrorists.

The militant group says the attack was in revenge for the killing of their leader Hakimullah Mehsud, who died in a US drone strike last year.

The United States has offered to help Pakistan in investigations, but it’s not clear if the offer will be taken up.

So what has led to this huge security lapse in Pakistan’s biggest and most violent city?

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Raza Rumi, Pakistani journalist, columnist, blogger and consulting editor for the Friday Times

RUMI: Karachi is Pakistan’s largest urban centre, where the writ of the state has been withering over time. And you have, as a result, nearly one-third of the city functioning as a stateless zone where private militias, extremist organisations rule the roost and control affairs. So in such a situation, it is easy for sleeper cells or other terrorist networks to breed and exist. And this is what’s happened, that they perhaps were there for some time and had local intelligence, and they managed to breach the security of an otherwise well guarded airport.

[…]

June 10th, 2014|Extremism, Pakistan, terrorism|0 Comments

Strategic Blunders

Raza Rumi

tft-51-p-2-bRecent events and statements by the civilian leadership indicate that there is a move towards undertaking a military operation in North Waziristan Agency (NWA). This has been a much delayed option that haunts the state of Pakistan especially the power military which has lost thousands of personnel, officials and five generals in the past few years. If one adds the civilian casualties and the climate of fear that grips Pakistan. Earlier, media reports suggested that in a briefing the army was not too optimistic about the success of an operation. The Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf, whose simplistic position on war, terrorism and domestic anarchy has been informing the discourse, had quoted 40% chances of success in a media interaction.

Admittedly, with a large number of civilians residing in NWA, air strikes and ground operations can be lethal as the recent bombings in Mir Ali demonstrated. The armed forces were successful in hitting valuable targets but it came with a cost. This was a route that ought to have been adopted years ago but Pakistan’s strategic calculations prevented such clarity. In large measure, high tolerance for the existence of a mini-Emirate within Pakistan’s territory was perhaps a means to allow the functioning of Afghan Taliban factions in NWA. This was an opportune moment for the Pakistani militants to increase their strength, enter into alliances with sectarian groups countrywide and enhance their ‘soft power’ through media interactions, and gain the sympathies of political parties such as Imran Khan’s PTI. The results have been disastrous for the country. Pakistanis while condemning acts of terror against civilians are willing to give leeway to the militants terming acts as an expression of resistance to Pakistan’s partnership with the US. […]

February 14th, 2014|Published in The Friday Times|0 Comments

Karachi Literature Festival: The great divide

Author with Izzeldin Abuelaish Photo by Sara Faruqi/Dawn.com Author with Izzeldin Abuelaish Photo by Sara Faruqi/Dawn.com The third Karachi Literature Festival concluded recently. I am posting a short piece of mine which was published by the News on Sunday. Another report that I wrote for TFT can be found here. Faiza S Khan’s review is most interesting. Another review by Umair found it sterile and comments on the technocratic discussions that took place on ‘national’ issues. And a comprehensive round up at DAWN’s Books & Authors magazine here.

“When our lives are written about in the English language, the books become best sellers,” thundered Pakistan’s rebel poet Kishwar Naheed at the Karachi Literature Festival. This was a session where I had the rather undeserved honour of introducing and talking to Naheed and the other master poet, Iftikhar Arif. She added that there was little emphasis on quality as the books you were supposed to buy at the airports for light reading were now ‘high’ literature. This was an oblique, yet unambiguous reference to the Pakistani writing in English. The two worlds — “native” and English — remain quite separate in a manner that Kipling had envisioned. English writing from Pakistan has received global attention and is celebrated at festivals across the globe. Yet how many Pakistanis have an idea of what it is all about? This is an uncomfortable question that we need to ask and perhaps keep on asking.

The Karachi Literature Festival has now evolved into a serious annual festival where writers gather and interact with thousands of readers each year. To be fair to the organisers, they have been mindful of the principle of inclusiveness from the very start. Asif Farrukhi, an eminent writer (who is my actual role model for his supernatural powers to write, edit and think with a full time job) has been organising the “regional” side of the literary ramblings at the festivals. Big names such as Fahmida Riaz and others are given due acknowledgment by holding sessions with them. Yet, the emphasis, for obvious reasons, is on the universe of English writings — both by Pakistanis and foreigners. This year, Vikram Seth, William Dalrymple, Hanif Kureishi, Shobha De, Anatol Lieven and several others attracted much attention by their readers, fans and critics. There were a few sessions on Urdu and regional languages’ literature but it was obvious that the attendees were not always the same.

As a young woman confessed at the festival, “I hardly read Urdu, but do you consider Initizar Husain a great writer?” Despite the shocking nature of this statement, I was hardly surprised. The apartheid that exists in Pakistan’s education system marginalises the local and the vernacular compared to the more market-oriented, global English. Aside from its potential “benefits,” English language, for some, remains an odious status symbol. A colonial legacy, a preserve of the postcolonial elites, and a stepping-stone for entry into the deliberately constructed, globalised monoculture. […]

February 20th, 2012|Arts & Culture, Published in the NEWS, Urdu Literature|1 Comment