On Sir Syed Ahmad Khan

C.M. Naim’s, A Professor Emiretus had shared this some months ago:

“What an extraordinary man he was. Iftikhar Alam Sahib has been publishing books about him — about his little known aspects, the kind of things […]

The party line

My exclusive interview for the Friday Times with Kamran Asdar Ali about his book and the history of the Pakistani left

kamran1 Kamran Asdar Ali

Your book employs an interdisciplinary approach with literary texts playing a major part. What were the key reasons for adopting such a hybrid approach?

As I am trained as an anthropologist, my impulse has been that of an ethnographer while involving myself in history writing (looking for cultural patterns, the silences, the private sphere, the everyday). In the text I try to pay close attention to people’s lives, their writings and practices, I show the entanglement of their experiences in multiple and cross-cutting processes and political motivations. To capture these layers of Pakistan’s history, the book is based on oral testimonies, ethnographic fieldwork, memoirs, and archival research. Yet to excavate the nuances of people’s everyday existence during a particular era I also relied on fiction and literary texts. This provided me, as it does to numerous scholars who are trying to understand the cultural specificity of an era, a window into the life and times of the period I was trying to capture in the book. Reports, journalistic accounts, sociological descriptions and historical sources do provide an understanding of the past (as part of the formal archives), yet many historians use diaries and personal letters to enter the private and intimate domain. In these terms fiction also helps us understand the mood, sentiment and the affective experience of a particular moment in history. The bringing together of various genres of writing helps me to strive toward a more complete understanding of my subject matter.

The acceptance of Pakistan by the Communist Party of India remains a contested issue. Did the Communists foresee that they would soon face intense repression by the new state? 

The Communist Party of India (CPI) since 1942 onwards did seek to work with the Muslim League and also propagate Congress-League alliance. In pursuing this argument, CPI cadres worked closely with the Muslim League, at times joining the party in the 1945-46 elections. However, the CPI changed its position on Pakistan in 1946 and emphasised that the unity of India was the progressive point of view and partition would be a reactionary step. Later still in August 1946, the CPI issued a resolution asserting that surely the Muslim League represented the bulk of the Muslim masses, yet declared that the demand reflected the feudal and Muslim elite interests that sought to compromise with imperialism for a share in administering a divided India. Indeed, CPI finally did accept the creation of Pakistan by arguing for the division of the party itself during the Party Congress in 1948. But a deep suspicion of Muslim League politics and the agony over British India’s division was the overwhelming sentiment that was shared by a majority of party workers of all religions and ethnicities. Pakistan’s creation was, according to the CPI, non-progressive and hence reactionary.


Media in the Cross Hairs: Militants continue to Target Journalists in Pakistan



Despite the commitments of the Pakistan government to protect journalists, media freedoms remain endangered in the country. Pakistani journalists continue to struggle with the threats posed by violent extremists who consider media to be a legitimate target. In fact, extremists often target the media because it ensures that they will get publicity in the form of coverage. Thus, journalists remain quite vulnerable as the government has yet to find workable mechanisms to ensure their safety in the country.

On March 27, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban carried out a deadly attack on a busy park in Lahore that killed more than 72 and injured 300. In a message claiming responsibility on Twitter, the spokesman for the group was quick to warn, “Everyone will get their turn in this war, especially the slave Pakistani media.” He also ominously added that the group was “waiting for the appropriate time,” presumably referring to an attack. The threat is not new. In 2014 the Pakistani Taliban issued a detailed fatwa that justified attacking the media and killing journalists.

The Ongoing Threat and the Emergence of an ISIS-branch in Pakistan

This new threat comes in the wake of earlier incidents that have made media workers anxious. On January 14, ISIS claimed that it launched an attack on a Pakistan TV station. Two assailants riding a motorbike threw an explosive device and fired gunshots at the ARY television network offices in Islamabad. The shooters ran away when the guards fired at them. In December 2015, another television channel, Din News, was also attacked in Lahore injuring a staffer and two police constables. A militant group claiming itself to be an affiliate of ISIS, the Khorasan Group (Daulat-i-Islamia Khorasan), claimed responsibility for the attack. The Khorasan Group had also carried out an attack a month earlier. In November 2015 a hand grenade was thrown at the bureau office of Dunya News television in Faisalabad, the third largest Pakistani city. Two employees of the channel were injured.

The extent of ISIS presence in Pakistan is unclear, and its appeal is not widespread. Yet, reports have suggested that the group is attempting to make inroads in Pakistan. Its presence in Afghanistan has already been confirmed as splintering groups of the Taliban have been professing allegiance to the ISIS leadership. ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack on a Pakistani consulate in eastern Afghanistan on January 13 that killed seven members of the Afghan security forces. […]

My interview with Ithaca Times, U.S.

Recently I was interviewed by Ithaca Times, USA. Here is the text:

The Ithaca Times sat down with Rumi to talk about his work—in past, present, and future—the state of Pakistan, and his impressions of the United States so far.
Ithaca Times:You took an unorthodox path into journalism. Tell us a little bit about your background and how that informs your work now.
Raza Rumi: I was a civil servant in Pakistan, and then got into international development. I was with the Asian Development Bank for nearly a decade, during which time I began to write for Pakistani papers. I was enjoying it so much, getting so much feedback, that I said, ‘Let’s give it a try and make it into a kind of career.’ In 2008 I took a leave from the Asian Development Bank and started editing the Friday Times, a liberal weekly newspaper in Lahore … My background gives me an immense edge in terms of commentaries and analysis. I write with that experience; I know which parts of government talk to each other, how transactions come into effect. […]

April 4th, 2016|Arts & Culture, Pakistan, terrorism|6 Comments

My interview with Interfaith Radio, DC

April 4th, 2016|Extremism, Islam, Pakistan, Peace, Personal|0 Comments

Even as Lahore limps to normalcy

A splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for killing at least 72 people in a heinous attack in Lahore at a popular park where scores of families had gone to spend their Sunday. Images of wailing mothers and a bloodstained park continue to haunt the people of Lahore, Pakistan and the global community at large.

Growing up in Lahore entails a relationship with its parks. Historically known as the city of gardens, it offers public parks like no other metropolis in Pakistan. The tradition is older, as before the merciless encroachments even the famed Walled City had gardens around it, remnants of which can still be found today. From the British-created Lawrence Gardens, now rechristened after the country’s founder, to the new ones, these parks are where most of Lahore’s population across class, faith and creed finds recreation, refuge and peace.

A personal story

Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, which was attacked on Sunday, is one such public space in Lahore. I was a child when the park was created amid a large housing development known as Allama Iqbal Town, named after the national poet Muhammad Iqbal. (Iqbal’s tarana is still a second anthem in India. Such are the contradictions of our nationalist frameworks.) The scheme was called sola sau acre (1,600 acres) and catered to the galloping housing needs of the middle class. One of my aunts found her abode there, and each time we visited her, a trip to Gulshan-e-Iqbal was mandatory for our entertainment. I still have some faded Polaraid photographs taken by the vendors there. The attack on my city is more than a news detail for me. It is intimately violent. A disquieting personal calamity.

Exactly two years ago I was also attacked in my own city. I survived that attack, but my companion did not and died on the spot. Another was injured. The list of victims is long and dreadful. I suffer from the burden of privilege that allowed me to escape the context to reclaim sanity, but the hapless families whose children died may not be that fortunate. As is the case that there are little or no trauma counselling services in Pakistan, and more often than not the perpetrators of such attacks remain outside the ambit of the justice system. More importantly, they are victims of a state that has not been too responsible towards its citizens, especially those surviving on the margins such as the poor, the minority groups (both Muslim and non-Muslim) and the ones who live in regions such as tribal areas where full citizenship is still denied through colonial instruments we conveniently forgot to reform.

The attack on Gulshan-e-Iqbal is the second in the area. In 2009, close to the park, a busy trading centre called Moon Market was also attacked. The bombing resulted in at least 60 deaths, and dozens were injured. Who knows what happened to them? Once again most of the victims were women, children and random passers-by. A spiritual healer, Dr Ahmad, who was a guru to a close friend, died in that attack. That was the day when Pakistan’s terrorism problem actually reached into my inner circle. And within years, it reached my own doorstep. […]

March 30th, 2016|Extremism, Pakistan, Published in The Hindu, terrorism|0 Comments

Pakistan Needs Deradicalization Programs. Force Alone Won’t Cure Intolerance

LAHORE, PAKISTAN - MARCH 28: Pakistani commando stand guard at the suicide blast site in Lahore on March 28, 2016.  At least 70 people, mostly women and children, have been killed at a crowded park in Pakistan in a suicide blast that also wounded more than 300 people. (Photo by Rana Irfan Ali /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Even by Pakistan’s warped standards, recent turmoil in the country is extraordinary. On Sunday, a suicide bombing in a public park in Lahore killed more than 70 people and injured at least 300. Most were women and children. A Taliban splinter group that treats non-Muslims as inferior claimed the Lahore attack was an assault on Pakistan’s small and marginalized Christian community, taking advantage of the tradition of celebrating religious festivals in public spaces.

While Lahore was still grappling with the immense tragedy, a rally in Islamabad turned violent. Thousands of demonstrators had turned out to protest the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, a former policeman who murdered a governor who had dared to criticize Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws.

The demonstration was organized by groups that follow relatively peaceful branches of Islam in South Asia. The protestors burned vehicles and reached the Parliament building in a high security zone. Their demands — other than declaring the executed policeman an official martyr — include the imposition of an Islamic system in Pakistan.

Military action and executions are no substitute for structural reforms of schools and seminaries that breed intolerance.

Together, these events represent many of the various shades of religious extremism found in Pakistan. From the country’s inception, disparate groups have continually contested Pakistan’s identity. The founder of the country, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, mobilized Indian Muslims using religion as a marker of a distinct identity. When the idea of a Muslim homeland became reality, Jinnah quickly declared the need for religious tolerance. But he died soon after, and his successors — both civil and military — exploited religious imagination as a useful political lever to both maximize power and also build a new “nation” composed of diverse ethnicities and linguistic groups.

The slide continued as the country acquiesced more space to religious extremists. Over the decades, Sunni clerics, representing the majority, pushed the state to adopt numerous laws and constitutional provisions that are semi-theocratic in nature. For instance, a non-Muslim cannot be the head of the state in Pakistan (and many other majority-Muslim countries).