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A Young Pakistani Physicist Who Loves Nuclear Reactors

Last week, I was in Dallas, Texas to speak on a panel regarding the elusive peace between India and Pakistan – two neighbors that have yet to acquire the ability of living as responsible adults. The event was organized by Project Pakistan – a budding network, which aims to work on peace-building between communities and nations. It was during this hullabaloo that I met a young Pakistani student Ahmad Shabbar who is currently studying Mechanical and Energy Engineering at the University of North Texas.


Shabbar is a mild-mannered young man of immense talents. As a student of Physics at Reed College, Portland, Oregon he became an ardent student of the science behind nuclear reactors. By a stroke of luck, and obviously academic performance, he worked at the Reed Research Reactor. It is a small reactor facility that caters to various thesis needs of science students, and can tell what a substance is made up of by using a technique called Neutron Activation Analysis. This facility is run entirely by undergraduate students, and it trains young scientists on how to move forward with their careers. […]

October 26th, 2015|Published in The Huffington Post, science|0 Comments

Pakistan’s beleaguered Hazaras

The attack on the Hazara community in Quetta last month, which left 10 dead and many injured, comes amidst the recent spate of violence against an intensely vulnerable and ghettoised community. Pakistan’s new theatre of sectarian killings, the troubled province of Balochistan, is turning into a parable of disastrous policies that are being pursued ostensibly to bolster Pakistan’s national security. Since 2009, such attacks have become the norm and the worse impunity of attackers underlines state complicity.

In early 2013, two bombings targeting Hazaras in Quetta killed over 180 people. The community sat in freezing cold for days with the dead bodies of their loved ones, waiting for effective action by the state. Nothing came out of that except assurances, token arrests and high-sounding platitudes by opportunistic political parties. The truth is that the infrastructure for sectarian hatred has grown right under the nose of security agencies. This terrorist infrastructure is inextricably linked to militant bases in Punjab, patronised by a spineless provincial government and a fast radicalising state apparatus that has accepted the power of those who preach hatred and execute their brazen agenda through target killings. No judge or prosecutor has the courage — and why should they put themselves in the line of fire — to curb and punish these networks. The political class, eager to appease rabid clerics and right wing business lobbies, continues to build metro buses or hold rallies while graveyards fill up with lesser citizens of the Shia, Ahmadi or Christian variety.


Freedom to broadcast hate

This report by the BBC is extremely insightful. How broadcast media are fanning sectarian passions across Middle East – on all sides. With dubious financiers, power interests, it becomes even more relevant for us in Pakistan.

Listen to the podcast by clicking here 

Comments and views welcome

March 27th, 2014|Middle East|0 Comments

Killing Shias is not jihad – stop this carnage in Pakistan

This is an old article – When the state kills – authored by Pakistan’s eminent intellectual Khaled Ahmed. It remains relevant for what is happening today – the carnage in Karachi and targetted killing of the Shia minority is a cause for concern for  Pakistanis who want the country to become a plural, tolerant and progressive society for all its citizens irrespective of their faith, caste or creed.
Many of us – who identify themselves as neither Sunni nor Shia (only Muslims) – strongly condemn the Karachi incidents and will continue to raise voice against extremism and sectarianism. […]
February 18th, 2010|Extremism, Islam, Pakistan, terrorism|10 Comments

Muslimness – shifting boundaries

Muslimness is an elusive state of being. There are watertight strictures of the theological identity defined by men, interpreted as the Sharia, on the one hand; and the broad political and cultural sense of the self, on the other. Identity, in any case, is a messy affair: shifty, shifting and eventually, imagined. While 9/11 placed Muslims at the centre stage of global politics, the broth had already been simmering in the cauldrons of biased academe and pop reality mirrored through the blood-thirsty lens of corporate media.

So what is it to be a Muslim? An inflexible bag of rituals? Or a cultural sense of belonging or a deeper dogma ingrained in young minds? I have never considered myself anything but a believer, a ‘practicing Muslim’. This has never been at variance with my secular and inclusive pretensions, despite the fact that the clergy in my country considers secularism akin to atheism, a sort of mirror image of the Pakistani political foundation. The clerics translate secular as la-deen , at best irreligious, and at worst, godless.

Ironical that this business of religious identity is articulated in a land that was the crucible of the secular Indus Valley civilization, non-militant Buddhism and a peculiar version of South Asian Islam that spread via the Sufi khanqahs and was a sort of amalgam of the Central Asian with the ancient South Asian. Even more ironical is the reality, neglected and veiled, that lived Islam is located around dargahs , tribal codes and customs which are irreligious in their own way. But who cares? Referred to as the world’s most dangerous country, Pakistan, according to the pundits of global opinion, is a haven for Islamic terrorists. Collateral damage, therefore, is kosher and a necessity to undo the unstated part of the ‘axis of evil’.

Labels and more labels. On the global shelves such products sell well and work in favour of a war machine hungry for energy resources, territory and blood. […]

Casteism: alive and well in Pakistan

Published in The Friday Times, Pakistan (current issue)

It is a cliché now to say that Pakistan is a country in transition – on a highway to somewhere. The direction remains unclear but the speed of transformation is visibly defying its traditionally overbearing, and now cracking postcolonial state. Globalisation, the communications revolution and a growing middle class have altered the contours of a society beset by the baggage and layers of confusing history.
What has however emerged despite the affinity with jeans, FM radios and McDonalds is the visible trumpeting of caste-based identities. In Lahore, one finds hundreds of cars with the owner’s caste or tribe displayed as a marker of pride and distinctiveness. As an urbanite, I always found it difficult to comprehend the relevance of zaat-paat (casteism) until I experienced living in the peri-urban and sometimes rural areas of the Punjab as a public servant.
I recall the days when in a central Punjab district, I was mistaken for a Kakayzai (a Punjabi caste that claims to have originated from the Caucasus) so I started getting correspondence from the Anjuman-i-Kakayzai professionals who were supposed to hold each other’s hands in the manner of the Free Masons. I enjoyed the game and pretended that I was one of them for a while, until it became unbearable for its sheer silliness and mercenary objectives. […]

February 16th, 2009|Published in HT, Published in The Friday Times|14 Comments

Bulleh Shah – a few poems

Bulleh Shah ‘s poetry addresses most maladies that we face in this day and age.

Recently, I was asked to help a friend with the original text of Bulleh Shah ‘s Hindu na Na heen Musalmaan. I found the original Punjabi and also found two other pieces that I am posting here.


HiNdu na naheeN musalmaan,
Baheeye tiranjan taj abhimaan.
Sunni na naheeN ham sheeya
Sulha kuhl ka maarag leeya.
Bhookhe na naheeN ham rahje,
NaNge na naheeN ham kahje.
RoNde na naheeN ham hasde
UjaRe na naheeN ham vasde.
Paapi na sudharmi na,
Paap pun ki raah na jaanaaN.
Bulhe Shah jo hari chit laage,
Hindu turak doojan tiyaage

Neither Hindu nor Muslim,
Sacrificing pride, let us sit together.
Neither Sunni nor Shia,
Let us walk the road of peace.
We are neither hungry nor replete,
Neither naked nor covered up.
Neither weeping nor laughing,
Neither ruined nor settled,
We are not sinners or pure and virtuous,
What is sin and what is virtue, this I do not know.
Says Bulhe Shah, one who attaches his self with the lord.
Gives up both hindu and muslim.

January 29th, 2008|Poetry, Sufi poetry, Sufism, World Literature|264 Comments