Umair Rasheed

Works at the Lahore desk of The Express Tribune and tweets @umairrasheed1

Baba Jan’s detention may be lawful but it is not right

One should read the story of Baba Jan Hunzai, if they’re still wary of claims that public administration in Pakistan, particularly away from Punjab and urban Sindh, is colonial in nature. Baba Jan is a rights activist and leader of the Progressive Youth Front (PYF). He and two more youth activists are detained in Gilgit-Baltistan jail for almost a year now; two others were only recently released on bail. Their crime is agitation against the police for killings of a man and his son at a demonstration in August 2011. This was to demand due compensation for the affected families of ...

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Punjab’s dislike for polls on party lines

It is understandable for dictatorial regimes to hold elections on non-party basis. Political parties are platforms that nurture aspiring politicians and hence strengthen democratic politics. A dictator is averse to the latter and, therefore, denies political parties any opportunity for organising themselves. He prefers picking and choosing his own people for elected offices, so the likes of Amir Mahmood and Shujaur Rahman get elected to municipal councils. They may pretend to represent their cities, but their eligibility for the office is mostly derived from support for the dictator and the socioeconomic muscle that they are capable of wielding because of their ...

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A ‘Russian spy’ in Lahore — not quite

A Russian walking past a crowd of Punjabis will hardly qualify as news in societies open to exchange of ideas and people. But television channels in Pakistan are used to treating foreigners’ presence in the country as breaking news. On the afternoon of September 9, most channels reported the arrest of a Russian “spy” in Lahore with an undertone that a disaster had been averted. With hundreds of thousands of dollars having moved around in ad revenues and blood money following an American spy’s presence in the city, the September 9 report was all set to occupy prime time slots for several ...

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Pakistan Railways and class

If financial statements were Pakistan Railways’ (PR) only problem, a recent Rs11.5 billion bailout package would have been an encouraging omen for its future. The Railways’ predicament, however, like that of the entire Pakistani state, concerns [lack of] ideas and self-interested policies. By definition, it is public transport; in practice, it serves first its bureaucracy and then the passengers. Originally rail networks were built in India to link up inland economic centres to port cities for efficient transportation of raw materials for onward shipment to Britain. Profitability, then, was central to its business model and transportation of goods. A factsheet available ...

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With or without Bin Laden

Osama bin Laden may have died on May 2, 2011, but his relevance to global jihad and war against terror had ceased the day al Qaeda got its first recruits. Today, not only the graduates of religious seminaries, but also the urban middle class youth in Pakistan and most Middle Eastern countries is steeped in radical ideas and us-against-them thinking. This, more than the hunt for Osama, should have been the cause of concern for the Coalition of the willing. With Osama gone, they’ll have Ayman al Zawahiri and after him, someone else. The top slots on their list of most-wanted men ...

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Protesting peasants don’t make good TV

On April 6, 2009, three tenant farmers were killed in Kulyana Estate of Okara for raising their voice against unequal distribution of farmland and demanding ownership rights to the land they had been tilling for generations. These three were members of Anjuman Mazareen of Punjab (Association of Punjab Peasants). A lot has been reported and commented upon about the likes of the Young Doctors Association (YDA) or the Provincial Management Services Association (PMSA). The AMP, like the latter two, has also been protesting in support of certain demands for some time now. However, the similarities between the three end here. Unlike the ...

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February 13, 2011

Nationalising culture: A broader perspective

Historically, February is a month of kite-flying in the cultural capital of Pakistan. Basant supporters mark the event as a hallmark of Punjabi culture. By playing up the Punjabi culture aspect, their motivation has been to circumvent the religious connotation attached to it by those who see it, among many things, as a ‘yalgar’ of Hindu values meant to corrupt Muslims. Another thing February is known for is Valentine’s Day. That too has supporters who see it as a manifestation of love and festivity. For the rest, it’s a part of the ‘devil’s plan’ to lead as many souls to ...

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Secular or theocratic: State needs to deliver

The discourse on the secular versus religious state in Pakistan is almost always based on the personal alignments of the debaters. Routinely missed out though are the hard facts about the actual actors – people and institutions. If the average citizen is asked to describe in one word those who form this state, one can rest be assured that it wouldn’t be pious, modest, honest or trustworthy – the presumable attributes of momins and true Muslims. The state structure has its roots in the Delhi sultanate and then the Mughal Empire, which was established by Muslims from Central Asia. The true ...

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In defence of the Baloch sardar

The unrest in Balochistan is fast becoming taboo in our public discourse. While the issue is granted much less than its due airtime in electronic media, even whatever lately has been written in print also often tends to conform to the national security narrative. Considering how large an impact media can have in forming opinions, it’s a pity that prime time pundits have failed to break free of the establishment’s shackles. A prime example is Mr Ejaz Haider’s op-ed piece on Balochistan published in The Express Tribune on November 6. When I read e piece I disagreed with his reasoning ...

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Slumdogs in Pakistan: A new social contract

Military cantonments and government officers’ residences are a familiar site across the length and breadth of Pakistan. Well-planned, organised, serene and secure are some qualities that come to mind when they are mentioned. Equally familiar are squatter settlements, housing millions across the country. Their presence does not only highlight serious flaws in (neo-liberal) development practices followed by successive governments, it also signifies a disconnect between the state and the people. The two major expenditures in the budget, after accounting for debt servicing, are military and development funding. While the former is inherently non-productive, the latter too is futile for the millions ...

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