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Trial and errors of Musharraf: Trying a former army chief marks the beginning of a new chapter in Pakistan

Here’s something I wrote on Musharraf for The Economic Times


Pakistan’s former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf has been indicted by court in the Benazir Bhutto murder case on three charges of murder, conspiracy to murder and facilitation of murder.

Predictably, Musharraf has denied all these charges. This is a major shift in Pakistani politics, which has been dominated by generals, their invincibility and utter lack of accountability.

Earlier dictators such as Field Marshal Ayub Khan, General Yahya Khan and General Zia ul Haq, who arguably did much more damage to the country, enjoyed an unstated immunity.

Zia died in a plane crash but Ayub and Yahya were never questioned or summoned by the courts.

It is to the credit of Pakistan’s democratisation, its relatively free media and an assertive judiciary that an otherwise untouchable army chief is being held accountable for not just Benazir’s murder.


August 23rd, 2013|Extremism, governance, Pakistan, Politics|1 Comment

Save Rimsha Now

My piece which was published a fortnight ago. Today Rimsha was released on bail by a judge. Thank God sanity prevailed. But Rimsha and her family face grave dangers even now. We need to save Rimsha as well as protect the Christian community of Pakistan. Their rights as Pakistani citizens are inviolable.


As I write these lines, Rimsha Masih, a minor, languishes in an overcrowded jail on charges of blasphemy. Media reports suggest that she is unwell and suffers from Down Syndrome. For a week this case made the headlines with appeals for mercy and justice flowing in from all quarters of the world. But justice and compassion are in short supply for Islamabad’s zealots who got the girl booked in the first place allegedly for burning a “Noorani Qaeda” (a basic introduction to the Holy Quran for children). This is not the only case where someone has been prosecuted for blasphemy. Sadly, nor will this be the last one, given the open-ended and vague law which cannot be questioned.

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Christians mourn after the 2009 killings in Gojra
Christians mourn after the 2009 killings in Gojra
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A man-made colonial law has acquired a ‘holy’ status as if it were Divinely ordained. The British regime had enacted the original law in its own interest to maintain peace in a multi-faith India where religious tensions were rising in the early twentieth century. Instead of reviewing it once we achieved and fortified an Islamic Republic, Zia ul Haq and his followers made it even more stringent.

Human rights groups have been pointing out how this law is open to abuse to settle personal scores, grab land and entitlements of the poor and the marginalized irrespective of their faith. This is why dozens of such cases of blasphemy have been registered against Muslims than non-Muslims in Pakistan. In the 1990s, activist Asma Jahangir’s efforts to protect another young boy led to attacks on her and she had to remain under police protection for a long time. Also in the 1990s, a progressive High Court judge lost his life after he released those accused of blasphemy. […]

September 7th, 2012|human rights, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times|5 Comments

Another blow to Pakistan: Salmaan Taseer killed by extremism

Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer’s brutal murder at the hands of a security personnel is a cruel reminder of where we have landed ourselves: in a dark morass of irrationality lorded over by pernicious ideologies.

He was a brave man and stood for a liberal, tolerant and progressive Pakistan where economic […]

January 4th, 2011|Uncategorized|11 Comments

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

Asma Jahangir – A formidable fighter

Fearless and a formidable fighter, Asma Jahangir personifies the struggles Pakistanis have initiated against shameful cultural practices, discriminatory legislation and executive excess. A frail woman has kept the torch of public liberties, freedom and democracy alive for decades. Born on January 27, 1952, in Karachi, Asma Jahangir during the last forty years has become a champion of women, child and minority rights and in many ways the conscience of Pakistan.

A leading Pakistani lawyer and an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Jahangir is most renowned for her role as a human rights activist, a role which has made her confront military dictatorships of General Zia-ul-Haq and General Pervez Musharraf and the civilian autocrats. In 1972, Asma Jahangir was only 18 when she filed her first petition to have her father — who had been arrested for denouncing the genocide in Bangladesh — released from prison. In a landmark judgment ten years later, she won the case. In fact, the earliest and perhaps the only judgment against a military coup is now attributed to her name. Her resistance to army’s role in politics […]

November 8th, 2010|governance, human rights, Published in the NEWS|4 Comments

Saving the Capital

My piece for The News:
The recent decision of the Supreme Court to order closure of a multinational food chain restaurant in Islamabad is path-breaking
It has become a cliché to praise the Supreme Court of Pakistan these days. Clichéd, because many partisan agendas find resonance within the all-embracing spectrum of judicial activism. Those who have been critical of judges turning into activists must rethink their misgivings. While the dangers of such blanket approval of the workings of a state institution are apparent, it is still a welcome change in a country known for its culture of impunity. This is why the recent decision of the mighty Supreme Court to have ordered the closure of a multinational food chain restaurant in Islamabad’s ill-designed public park is path-breaking.
First of all, the fact that a municipal matter reached an overburdened superior court speaks much about the dysfunctional executive that manages our lives. That the court had the wisdom to uphold the rights of ordinary Islamabadites marks a new beginning which, if taken to its logical end, would mean that all public spaces in Pakistan should come under intense judicial scrutiny. Lastly, the court’s effort to enforce accountability could very well turn out to be a new beginning in our murky public affairs.
Effective municipal management requires that we revisit the urban governance frameworks that are now outdated to handle the population growth, changed needs of the population and dwindling state capacity to enforce regulations. Notwithstanding that Islamabad is fifteen kilometres away from the real Pakistan, the management practices are no different from the rest of the country. Essentially, the Islamabad saga reveals a case of serious governance failure. […]
July 5th, 2010|Culture, development, Pakistan, Politics, Published in the NEWS|1 Comment

Lahore blasts fail to terrorise Lahoris

Posted by Raza Rumi

Having lived two days in Lahore as a ‘resident’, the three low intensity blasts are a rude reminder that there is a war all over the country..It does not matter whose war it is; what matters is that it is real and not a fantasy and that it continues to harm ordinary, unarmed citizens who perhaps have no hand in formulating policies in Pakistan.

The fodder of terrorism – home grown and external – are innocent victims, children and more often than not, the poor..

What can be done, is the issue. And, the answers to this ostensibly simple question are in short supply. […]

October 8th, 2008|Lahore, Personal|7 Comments