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A Citizens' Initiative By Anjum Altaf The presence of international borders that are closed is unfortunate in many ways. However, to a social scientist they present the possibility of fascinating natural experiments in which locations close to each other but separated by the border can be studied...

By Anjum Altaf The politics of urbanization could be less or more important than its economics. It depends on the context. In relatively stable societies, economics shapes politics – these are places where one can meaningfully say “it’s the economy, stupid.” Even seemingly bizarre foreign policies can be related to economics as one might infer from the title of Lenin’s classic text Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. In less stable societies, the economy is hostage to politics. Think of Pakistan’s quixotic foreign policy adventures that have no conceivable relationship to national considerations and have driven the economy into the ground. The politics, in turn, is orchestrated by narrow, parochial and privileged economic interests as those who can discern can readily make out. It is in this framework that the politics of urbanization in Pakistan is more fascinating than its economics.
The South Asian Idea is opening up this space for your comments, thoughts, and reflections on the elections. Please use the Comments space below to voice your opinions and join the conversation on the future of Pakistan and of the region. Thanks, Editors The factual information appended below on the 2013 elections in Pakistan is courtesy of the British Pakistan Foundation who have further acknowledged their sources. On Saturday, May 11th Pakistan will be voting its new parliament at its general elections 2013. For this reason we have compiled some relevant information to understand how the General Elections will influence the country's political landscape. Please find below an infographic of AlJazeera on the Pakistan Elections 2013 (click on the link below the picture to view a larger image) as well as some information on the major political parties.
By Anjum Altaf We ought to care about urbanization because it will shape our lives, for better or for worse, and often in surprising ways. An obvious starter is that all developed countries are predominantly urban. Of course one can ask whether it was development that led to urbanization or the other way around. The historical evidence is clear: cities produced jobs that pulled less productive labor from rural areas. That, in a nutshell, was the story of the Industrial Revolution. The most unremarked replication in recent times has been in South Korea, going from 5 percent urban in 1925 to 80 percent by 2000. At the same time the country transitioned from an aid recipient to a member of the industrialized world, a donor in its own right.
There is a huge difference between policy prescription and policy analysis and the first without the second is a waste. I come across this gulf everyday in discussions of issues like health or environment or urbanization but let me illustrate with an example from education. So, I am reading this op-ed in a leading newspaper of the country and I am presented with the usual litany of woes: declining standards, lowest per capita spending in the world, ignorant teachers, ghost schools, different systems for rich and poor, medium of instruction, blah, blah, blah. There follows a dire warning: this would destroy the country.
By Anjum Altaf Elections are due in a few months and one of the questions being asked is whether they would be an exercise in futility. I think not even though nothing much is likely to change in the short term – for that, one can look across the border where six decades of uninterrupted democratic governance has not made a major difference in the lives of the marginalized. It is the long-term implications that ought to be the focus of our attention. For better or for worse, and I feel it is for the better, we inherited representative government from the departing rulers. Better, because the precursor to representative governance, monarchy, no matter how benevolent at times, offered no mechanism for holding the aristocracy accountable or of institutionalizing orderly transfers of power. Those were huge negatives irrespective of how one looks at them.
By Hasan Altaf in The Millions: ScreenHunter_150 Mar. 26 15.40 From the beginning, there was a hint of the surreal to the recent Lahore Literary Festival, but it was difficult to put my finger on the root of that unsettling emotion, especially given the overall aura of triumph. A response to similar events elsewhere in the region – the most famous in Jaipur; the most rivalry-inducing, for the last four years, in Karachi – the festival seemed its own victory party, a massive and successful gambit in Lahore’s bid to reclaim its title as the “cultural capital” of Pakistan. The excitement had Lahore full of visitors, Mall Road festooned with banners, the Alhamra Arts Council packed with people, and in the middle of all that buzz it seemed almost churlish to have the suspicion that something odd was at work.
By Hasan Altaf Interviewing Chinua Achebe - the author of Things Fall Apart, who has become, through the usual process of reduction, a one-man stand-in for Nigerian when not for African literature - for The Paris Review, in 1994, Jerome Brooks noted that the majority of Achebe's work was in English. He asked about the existence or importance of Igbo translations, and Achebe responded with a story about an Anglican missionary's attempt to standardize his language's many dialects: The way [Archdeacon Dennis] did it was to invite six people from six different dialectal areas. They sat round a table and they took a sentence from the Bible: In the beginning, God created… or whatever. In. What is it in your dialect? And they would take that. The. Yours? Beginning. Yours? And in this way… they created what is called Standard Igbo.
By Vijay Vikram From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia, Pankaj Mishra, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 356 pages Pankaj Mishra is a fascinating creature. He was born to a family of pauperized Brahmins in Jhansi, a small town in the north of India in 1969. By the age of 20, he had spent “three idle, bookish years at a provincial university in a decaying old provincial town.” Like many young men of a bookish disposition, he had little idea of what to do with himself. He harbored literary ambitions, but was uncertain how to fulfill them. Add to this an aversion to “the modern world of work and achievement … careers and jobs” and we find ourselves in the company of a distinctly brooding, melancholy character who would either beat the odds and rise to make a mark on the world of English literature or die in obscurity. He succeeded. By 2012, Mishra had completed the journey from periphery to metropole in a most spectacular manner.