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Politics / 23.11.2019

By Anjum Altaf For weeks we have not seen the sun in Lahore. There is light without sunshine, diffused as through a dull haze. And we are trudging along as if this is the norm, an inevitable part of our fate. In Lahore, nobody cares enough to even tell us what we are living through but we can get some sense from the news filtering out of Delhi -- so near and yet so far -- where the Chief Minister has labelled the city a ‘gas chamber.’ A public health emergency has been declared, five million masks are being distributed in schools which have been closed for two days, construction work has been halted for a week, an odd-even scheme imposed to cut traffic pollution, and many firms are advising their employees to stay home. The level of dangerous particulates in the air is about 20 times the...

Politics / 25.07.2019

By Anjum Altaf It is difficult to support any political party in Pakistan for an obvious reason. They are so full of corrupt, uncaring and incompetent leaders that associating with them comes across either as opportunism or stupidity. Those who manipulate political leaders are even less to be admired. The kings and kingmakers have now led the country into very dangerous territory. It is a fact that Pakistan entered a moral decline early on when its value system was buffeted by Partition. Only one dimension of this decline need be mentioned to make the point -- the land grab. It ensued at the outset, initiated by bureaucrats entrusted with the trust of abandoned properties, was followed by the rampaging era of land mafias, and continued by the legalized involvement of state institutions. This created a worldview in which the only way to get ahead was the  manipulation...

Politics / 11.06.2019

By Anjum Altaf The overwhelming triumph of the BJP in the recent elections is being interpreted by many as the death of a liberal, plural, and secular India. This is a misreading of history. Two distinctions are relevant. First, while post-1947 India was indeed characterised by the ideas of liberalism, pluralism, and secularism, these were ideals towards which Nehru wanted to move the country, not necessarily what India was actually like. Second, the long sweep of social history being unaffected by arbitrary dates on the calendar, there is no compelling reason to base our understanding of India solely on what transpired after 1947. Pakistanis should have no difficulty grasping the first point if they recall Jinnah’s much celebrated 1947 address in which he said: “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed, that has nothing to do with the business of the State.” Clearly, he wished...

Politics / 08.04.2019

By Faizaan Qayyum They claimed to have invaded the sovereign territory of an enemy country. They had dropped bombs, they said, and hit a terrorist camp that involved no military or civilian targets. In the days that followed, we retaliated: we intruded enemy-controlled territory, chose to strike near enemy targets, and took an enemy combatant prisoner after downing his fighter jet. No truth is more apparent than our enmity as modern nation states. Indeed, India and Pakistan have followed a largely cyclical process of escalation and de-escalation. Before nukes came into play, we went to full-scale war thrice. In the years since, we have had countless skirmishes. Most of these conflicts have stayed within areas internationally recognised as disputed, and therefore stopped short of the absolute destruction that all-out nuclear war can bring. The creation of the enemy is central to this story of hostilities and conflict. For...

Politics / 06.03.2019

By Anjum Altaf Pakistan should be a welfare state. With millions of people straddling the poverty line, there is no other way forward. Those who believe the market will offer a solution are driven by ideology, blind fundamentalists in the same category as religious fundamentalists. Only the state can cater for such destitution and the fact that a state has no interest or ability to do so does not mean that the task should be turned over to the market. The plain truth is that the market cares nothing for those without the ability to pay and there are many more in that category than should be acceptable. Not just that, without a strong state the market doesn’t trickle wealth down it siphons it up. The only viable alternative is to force the state to deliver on its responsibility and in the long run the only...

Politics / 21.11.2018

By Anjum Altaf Daniel Kahneman (2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics) has a lovely book called Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) in which he distinguishes between the two modes of thought. Fast thinking is instinctive and emotional and subject to many cognitive biases; slow thinking is deliberative and logical and much to be recommended when stakes are high and situations are unfamiliar. In Pakistan, we have succumbed over time to fast thinking and the graver the situation the more instinctive and emotional the thought process tends to become. It’s time to take a deep breath. Look at the current situation which offers a surreal scenario of a major country reduced to a farcical contest between Ali Baba and his forty thieves on one side and Robin Hood and his merry men on the other. Ali Baba’s gang purportedly looted the people and got phenomenally rich under the protection...

Politics / 29.09.2018

By Anjum Altaf It is a fact that no one outside Pakistan considers the most recent electoral exercise to have been even-handed -- some analysts have gone so far as calling it a ‘soft coup.’ This is no surprise. Most outsiders also insist that Pakistan sponsors terrorism. But while there are many Pakistanis who contest the latter, it is striking that the number believing in the fairness of the recent electoral exercise is relatively small. Even partisans benefiting from the outcome, while offering various justifications, do not really dispute the charge. It seems that in nudging the choice, the power elite (the segment of the elite that has the ability to affect other people’s lives) may have overplayed its hand. Does this, and the intervention itself, come at a price? Recall that negating the electoral mandate of 1971 resulted in dismemberment of the country. What kind...

Politics / 23.07.2017

By Anjum Altaf Pakistan wants to resume bilateral cricketing ties with India while India refuses to play ball. How would an alien from Mars, unaffected by nationalist biases, assess the situation? It would be hard to dismiss the Indian position outright. Think of it this way: If you live in a community and a neighbour throws his trash over your wall you would be justified in being annoyed. You might go over once for a friendly chat but if the dumping continues you would be well within your rights to protest and break off relations. The neighbour’s invitation to a friendly game of chess will clearly smack of hypocrisy in the circumstances. Extrapolate the analogy to India-Pakistan politics. There seems little doubt that Pakistan has been abetting incidents of terrorism in India - the 2008 attack in Mumbai was the most egregious and the most explicitly linked to...

Politics / 06.07.2017

By Anjum Altaf Look at the map of Pakistan. The overwhelming length of its land border (92% of a total of 6,774 kilometers) is shared with three countries - India (43%), Afghanistan (36%), and Iran (13%). Pakistan has poor relations with each of these three neighbours. Has anyone seriously asked the two obvious questions: Why? And, At what cost? Before we jump on the moral high-horse and go into paroxysms of indignant self-righteousness, could we consider the following: When George Bush asks ‘Why do they hate us?’ and answers ‘Because we are so good,’ we marvel at his intelligence. When we proclaim the same, we want to be taken seriously? Surely, some self-reflection is in order. Point number one: When nobody likes you, the problem could very well be with you. At the very least, intellectual honesty demands one should be open to the possibility. Alright, there is a ready-to-serve narrative for...

Politics / 06.03.2016

By Anjum Altaf Speak (After Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Bol) Now is the time to speak Lips not sealed Body unbroken Blood coursing still Through your veins Now is the time to speak Look The iron glows red Like your blood The chain lies open Like your lips Now is the time to speak Speak For the tide of life runs out Speak For truth and honor shall not wait Speak Say all that needs be said this day Faiz Ahmed Faiz's poem can be accessed in Urdu, Hindi and Roman here. Back to Main Page...