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By Anjum Altaf Veena Malik has provided Indians and Pakistanis something to talk about – to, at, and across each other. There is much that can be ignored but a few strands strike me as promising and worth pursuing. Most of the outpouring, at least on the blogs, is a voicing of individual personal opinions for and against Ms. Malik’s act. That, to me at least, is the least interesting aspect of the fallout. Why should my personal opinion carry significance for anyone besides myself? If the objective were to run an opinion poll, people could vote yes or no anonymously and be done with it. It would be different if the person offering the opinion were a public figure. Take Imran Khan, for example: his opinion on the incident could provide a clue where he might lead the nation if given the opportunity.
By Kabir Altaf The incident last week at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in which NATO air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers has brought Pakistan-US relations to their lowest ebb since the OBL raid. The public reaction in both countries has revealed the extent of the mistrust between the supposed allies. The American public feels that since the US government gives Pakistan so much aid, it is ungrateful of the Pakistani government to block NATO's supplies or ask the US to vacate airbases in the country.  Americans are also angered by reports of Pakistan's alleged double-dealing and at best grudging cooperation with Washington.  The Pakistani public, on the other hand, is angered by what they see as violations of their country's sovereignty. They also feel that fighting "America's war" has caused a lot of blowback in their country, leading to the deaths of thousands of innocents at the hand of insurgents. Reading the newspapers from both sides, one gets a sense of how different the narrative is in each country. The articles in The New York Times are accompanied by images of groups of bearded men burning the American flag or effigies of President Obama. 
By Anjum Altaf ‘Urdu has changed from the Urdu of Mir and Ghalib but that simply proves it is a living language.’ That was one of the comments I received on earlier posts (here and here) about the past and future of the language. At one level, it is a statement of the obvious – nothing ever stays the same. At another, it invites a host of questions: What is the nature of the change? Who owns the language now? What functions is it serving? Such questions could be answered by survey of Urdu speakers. A canvassing of urban centers would suffice in Pakistan since Urdu is not a regional language and hence not spoken widely in rural areas. (The situation might differ in India.) An organization like the National Language Authority could design the exercise but is unlikely to do so for any number of reasons. The best we can do for the moment is to rely on personal knowledge to generate longitudinal case studies going back almost a hundred years.
By Anjum Altaf Reflecting on the official pronouncements of poverty in South Asia reminds me of the Marx Brothers saying: ‘Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes.’ There are two kinds of poverty: monetary poverty and intellectual poverty. Together, I will argue, they make for a lethal combination. The monetary and physical poverty in South Asia is undeniable; the controversies relate only to the few percentage points it might be above or below what is clearly an unacceptably high base level. The intellectual poverty is a more subtle phenomenon that, in my view, comes in the way of appropriately addressing the physical poverty.
By Sakuntala Narasimhan The World Health Organisation (WHO) notes in a publication released earlier this month that a “huge amount of new financial commitment, worth over $40 billion,” has been pledged by a collective of global agencies, towards maternal and child health projects in developing countries. The strategies that these projects will focus on include “innovative approaches” like the use of mobile phones “to create awareness and promote health” so that individuals and communities can have the information they need to make decisions about their health. Although the publication mentions the need to “address structural barriers to health,” the assumption is that lack of information and knowledge is the limiting factor. This assumption shows a woeful ignorance of the socio-cultural complexities that make up the local matrices within which “development” work has to be undertaken, which is why in spite of the hundreds of billions of dollars that have been poured into developing countries as aid in the last five decades, there has been no commensurate improvement in the social sector parameters in terms of adequate food, shelter, access to healthcare and education.
By Urvashi Butalia Imagine a large hall in a major city in Punjab. It’s packed with people, mostly women, from Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka. On the stage are two men, one a long-haired bearded, hairy-chested sardar, the other a clean shaven smooth-chested younger man. They’re engaged in a languorous, erotic, sometimes passionate, sometimes tender, rendering of the story of Heer Ranjha. In the background Madan Gopal’s wonderfully resonant voice sings the story. Tragedy hangs in the air, for most of the people in the hall are familiar with this beautiful story of star- crossed lovers, and after the initial hesitation at seeing two men, they now ‘believe’ that the bearded Navtej Johar is actually Heer, and the supple Anil is Ranjha. Such is the power of their dance. We’re in Islamabad, attending a dance performance that marks the end of a day of conferencing, and of an award ceremony in the memory of a young woman, Meeto Bhasin Malik, whose untimely death remains one of the great losses of the women’s movement in India.

Too Much Secularism is a Dangerous Thing

By Dipankar Gupta Is the Congress afraid of winning in Gujarat? Nothing else explains why it lets Narendra Modi tom-tom development when it should have been the Congress banging the drums. The economic achievements of governments before Modi’s read like an award citation, but too much secularism has since led the Congress astray. Instead of showcasing its past performance to regain Gujarat, it is obsessed with nailing Modi as a communalist-in-chief. Naturally, it is not getting anywhere fast. Look also at the good memories the Congress is erasing away. In 1991, a full ten years before Modi arrived, as many as 17,940 out of 18,028 villages were already electrified.
By Anjum Altaf  [I am concerned about the perspective of proponents of economic development in India regarding people considered to be in the way of development, be they tribals living on mineral resources or farmers occupying land needed for industry. This concern has made me revisit the question of priorities: does development take precedence over people or should people determine the kind of development that ought to be pursued? I addressed this question in 1992 when I was at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a visiting faculty member. The paper was written for an Expert Meeting on the Role of Families in Development organized by the Committee on Population of the National Research Council in Washington, DC. It was published in 1993 in the proceedings of the meeting (Family and Development: Summary of an Expert Meeting, K. Foote and L. Martins, Eds. National Academy of Sciences Press, Washington, DC).] The key issue addressed in the paper, which should be sufficient to motivate a discussion on this forum, is excerpted below.

By Anjum Altaf The response to 9/11 has been challenged along two lines: that it imposed a huge cost on the world without making it much safer; and that a legal-political approach would have yielded better outcomes. Both arguments, implicitly or explicitly, presume that an alternative...