Why Raza Rumi left Pakistan

The outspoken liberal will stay in exile and wait for a miracle

Why Raza Rumi left Pakistan
It was exactly a week after he had been ambushed by motorbike riding assailants armed with automatic guns in a posh, built up neighbourhood of Lahore. A few minutes after I had been ushered by a bearer into the living room of his first floor apartment, Rumi walked in, attired in casual clothes showing outward calm while visibly disturbed from inside. He hadn’t shaved for a week, his face resembled that of a cerebral scholar with a salt and pepper stubble.

Over tea and cookies he showed me on his Macbook an exchange of direct messages with someone claiming to have inside information. According to the source, he had been attacked by Jundullah, one of the many banned extremist organisations, the message screamed and that he should expect another attempt on his after a month. The exchange had looked all the more chilling when Rumi’s pleas to speak to the higher-up had seemed to hit a dead end. His source was not willing to go any further.

[quote]His face resembled that of a cerebral scholar with a salt and pepper stubble [/quote]

As I listened to the hair raising and disturbing details of the attack on Raza Rumi’s life in stony silence, my mind kept racing to the possibilities of further future attempts on his life and how easy could it potentially have been for an assassin to target him considering his easy going and open lifestyle with little emphasis on personal security.

Raza Rumi had emerged as an outspoken critic of the policy of nurturing and protecting militant organizations. Fearlessly – although in the opinion of some people, foolishly – airing his views on the pernicious effects of a few hopelessly outdated, cold war era doctrines. ‘Strategic depth’, another self-destructive, divisive and discredited doctrine, seldom escaped his often scathing criticism. His book Delhi by Heart, a well written scholarly work mainly on the common cultural heritage of Pakistan and India, proved to be the last nail in the coffin (ironically but thankfully not in reality, although his driver was not so lucky). As a barrage of bullets let loose by his attackers were piercing into his vehicle, Rumi managed to slump between the seats of his car and lay motionless for seven minutes giving his assassins enough reason to leave the scene satisfied that they had accomplished their task.

With the advent of a conspicuously wrong season of rallies and ubiquitous shipping containers seen literally on every road in the capital, a few pretenders to the throne have set about dismantling the whole democratic structure. With contrived romanticism gaining ascendancy sentimental personality cults are being manufactured courtesy our rampant media, no matter how infantile a message blaring out of the sound system showing palpably adolescent impetuosity by both the rabble rousers. In the case of Imran Khan some unintended consequences may have been occurring akin to those triggered by the Mazdakiite movement when communal intercourse in Sasanian Persia was enforced and thereafter no one knew one’s lineage anymore. PTI, at least for a few nocturnal hours, can boast of offering its young and energetic supporters an opportunity to make use of the darkened woods and have their own patch of hedonistic Persia.

The script laid threadbare, beans spilled courtesy Javed Hashmi, a pall of gloom descends on the nation not so much because of the ingenuity of the plan which in the end turned out to be even more pathetic than the previous ones, but due to shock waves generated by the audacity and impunity of the perpetrators. The forces of darkness, history tells us, do retreat upon defeat but are ready and willing to return at the tiniest of excuses months or even weeks later.

The wise guys had a cunning plan; coerce, subdue, intimidate and silence voices like Raza Rumi and Hamid Mir. As we know now, rest of the media ‘personalities’ fell in line automatically putting to shame a well drilled military battalion.

The oft-mutated virus of creating a state within a state by triggering medieval palace intrigues at the drop of a hat regularly renders long festering wounds of the country to a stage of malignancy. One does not need to be an astro palmist to predict impending demise if the cycle continues.

The wretched nation seems beholden to the establishment, not so much in terms of staging a coup, but awaiting an unlikely Enlightenment of its rank and file. Will it always be a case of a few individuals, retired or soon to retire intermittently unleashing their dogs of war to ‘cleanse’ the country of corrupt politicians? Talk of stretching the constitutional right to form groups and associations to perfidious levels! But, amidst all the contrived chaos, certain constants will never change; for example, civilians (read, politicians) will never be allowed to create rifts between the military top brass.

As we enter another winter of discontent, a new era of unprecedented continuation of parliamentary democracy and economic growth may be made possible by none other than the COAS himself. Its let bygones be bygones era, as proposed in Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West by Benazir Bhutto. Never mind the truth and reconciliation commission, the Army Chief can take a step in the right direction by addressing his officers and jawans in the garrison towns stressing the need to honour the oath of allegiance to the Constitution. It is time to break away from the past after all, although there may be opprobrium in the cantonment halls but a vote of no confidence is out of the question.

Raza Rumi, in the meanwhile, can stay put outside Pakistan and pray for such a miracle to happen.

Tariq Bashir is a Lahore based lawyer. Follow him on twitter @Tariq_Bashir