A year after Raza Rumi attack, little change for Pakistan’s beleaguered press

Raza Rumi11

Raza Rumi, pictured in Washington, D.C. in March at a rally for a murdered Bangladeshi blogger, has been living in the U.S. since gunman attacked him last year. (Raza Rumi)

One year ago Raza Rumi, a TV anchor and widely-respected analyst in Pakistan, narrowly escaped death when gunmen opened fire on his car in an attack that killed his driver, Mustafa. When I wrote about the March 28 attack, the fourth on the Express Group in eight months that had left four people dead, I highlighted the lack of a police investigation.

I went on to repeat a recommendation the Committee to Protect Journalists has made many times:

First and foremost, Friday’s attack on Rumi and his driver were crimes: murder and attempted murder. They must be investigated as such. It does not require a special commission, as came after the killing of Saleem Shazhad in 2011, or Hayatullah Khan in 2006, or after the sadistic attack on Umar Cheema in 2010. Practice has shown that those commissions achieve little or nothing, and the perpetrators go unprosecuted.

It’s not like the government took my advice, but there was no special commission named to look into the attack on Rumi and his driver. The police did investigate and there has been some movement, but little conclusive. In the past week, Rumi and I have been communicating about last year’s events. He moved to the U.S. soon after the attack, stringing together fellowships and think tank appointments, writing for papers in Pakistan and online, but no longer hosting his TV show. He filled me in on the status of the case:

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Calling Us Dollar Hungry and Fake Liberals

March 30th, 2014

Pak Tea House

Raza Habib Raja

Raza Rumi, whom I consider a good friend, elder brother  and a mentor, was attacked two days ago. He survived whereas his young driver, Mustafa could not make it. When it happens to a person known well to you and to whom you owe a lot, the incident becomes personal at many levels.

Suddenly, you realize that words which are being written and spoken are not just a harmless exercise but entail life threatening consequences. And it also makes you realize that in this country- where ironically you are mocked at by titles like “Pseudo Liberal”, “Fake Liberal”, “Dollar Khor”, “Indian and US Agents”- you are always risking your life and despite the risk, continue to be mocked by our sick urban middleclass. Continue reading

No surprises


March is usually an interesting month for the whole world. Julius Caesar’s least favourite time of year, this month also brings with it untold change on a mass level. Take Putin’s march into Crimea, for example. The impression that I had from my International Politics syllabus was that following the end of the Cold War, the world had wisened up to dictators and their smartass tactics. But its safe to say Vladimir and Co. caught the White House with its collective pants down. Now, as the United Nations scrambles to respond, Putin is sitting pretty, back at the Kremlin watching his hordes sweep into the peninsula that is so vital to Russian interests. The ball is now firmly in America’s court, let’s see what Obama decides to do (or not do, whatever the case may be).
Speaking of Russian misadventures, Afghanistan, our neighbor to the West, is going to the polls next week to finally choose a new president. These elections mark a new beginning for the war-torn country. With an impending US troop withdrawal on the cards, everybody in the region is holding their breath to see who the Afghan voters will put into office. But obviously, the Taliban are having none of this democratic monkey business. Ever since the Afghan New Year a couple of weeks ago, the ruffians have been staging audacious, suicide squad-style incursions into the heart of Kabul. So far, they’ve managed to cause carnage at the Serena on Nauroze, the Independent Election Commission, a US-government building, a guest house and a day-care facility, all in the last few days. These attacks have been complimented by daily mayhem in the provinces as well, but you don’t get to hear about that much on CNN.
Turkey, the only brother ‘elder’ to Punjab, has taken a leaf out of the N League playbook and blocked both Twitter and YouTube, despite court orders to the contrary. This marks the culmination of tensions that had been simmering in Turkey for a while now. Journalists were attacked and/or prevented from doing their duties, citizens’ access to online content was limited and has now been completely throttled. This, of course, means that the government of Punjab (read Pakistan) can now afford to censor and keep censoring. Because Big Brother is doing it and it’s all the rage. Looking at it another way, we are now members of a very exclusive club of states who aren’t shy about blocking out the voices of dissent. China, Turkey and Iran all have experience in turning off the social media valve and it has borne great results for them so far. #sarcastic
Finally, Friday’s attack on Raza Rumi left the whole journalistic community in shock. The senseless killing of his young driver, Ghulam Mustafa, sounds a death-knell for freedom of press in this country. The Express group has been consistently in the crosshairs of terror mongers and miscreants. This latest chapter though, coming as it does in the form of an audacious attack in the heart of Lahore- a city that has been relatively calmer in terms of terrorist attacks- is additionally worrying. Can it be that Shahbaz Sharif’s anti-terror force-field has finally worn out? Has the All-Weather Shield of Mandate Paints lost its luster?
Online though, it’s business as usual. Hate-mongers who peddle their wares on the TV screen and call themselves journalists are, predictably, silent on this horrific incident. These wolves-in-journalists’-clothing wanted to make a quick buck and figured what better way to “shake things up” than to incite some violence and bubble up some good old fashioned hatred. While spearheading a misguided witch-hunt against innocent people and calling them names such as “dollar khor” and “fake liberal” will get you TRPs, it will also get blood on your hands. Maybe our TV show hosts can demonstrate a little more class and actually sympathize with their colleague in his hour of need. But then, if you really thought the country that branded a teenage girl ‘a Western spy’ after she was shot in the head by the Taliban, would ever learn, you’re even more delusional than I am.
Whatever you say about Pakistan, at least there are no surprises here. We know that the people are myopic, we know that they are easily swept into a frenzy. Instead of trying to reason with them, we need to find the loudest loudmouth who can go toe-to-toe with these madmen/women. We don’t need heroes, we need ordinary people, like you and me, to stand up and be counted. It’s time we stopped just talking about this menace and started doing something about it.
The writer is a former journalist currently working in the development sector.

This article was published in The Nation