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Reflections / 10.05.2019

This collection of poems was published in hardback by Aakar Books, Delhi in 2019 with strong endorsement from Professor Harbans Mukhia, Professor Emeritus of History, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. December 23, 2018 · Some superb poetry of protest by Anjum Altaf who identifies himself as a South Asian living in Lahore. Poems inspired by Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Anjum Altaf was Professor of Sociology in Lahore and Karachi. First published in India by LG Publishers, a subsidiary of Aakar Books, Delhi. January 15, 2019 ·      A great poem inspired by Faiz Ahmad Faiz and triggered by "attacks on JNU students and faculty in 2016 and dedicated to them" by Anjum Altaf, Professor of Sociology and "A South Asian residing in Lahore." From his collection Transgressions, published by Aakar Books, Delhi, 2019. The collection is now available online from North America, India, and Pakistan. North America: https://www.amazon.com/Transgression-Poems-Ins…/…/938372336X India: https://www.ibpbooks.com/transgressions-poems-inspired-by-faiz-ahmed-faiz/p/37995 https://www.amazon.in/TRANSGRESSIONS-Poems-Ins…/…/938372336X Pakistan: https://www.libertybooks.com/TRANSGRESSIONS-Poems-Inspired-by-Faiz-Ahmed-Faiz Feedback and comments would be very welcome. Back...

Miscellaneous / 04.05.2019

By Ibn-e Eusuf The political scenario in Pakistan is so surreal that only a seemingly far-fetched analogy can highlight its unreal realities. Imagine the MI5 in the UK, fed up with the incompetence of Conservative and Labour politicians over Brexit, conspiring to install Sir Ian Botham as Prime Minister and selling him as the Great White Hope because he had been a hugely successful and popular cricketer. Now imagine a lady, from deep in the Yorkshire moors, emerging to declare Sir Ian Botham not only great and popular but specially sent by the Almighty to save the British nation from itself and lead it from hell to heaven. Sir Ian Botham weds the miracle-bearing lady, the union accompanied by a huge resurgence of otherwise agnostic people praying in churches for the health of the couple and the nation. A delighted Archbishop of Canterbury declares it the...

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...

Democracy/Governance / 14.02.2019

By Anjum Altaf The lessons from Brexit for democracy and the democratic process are significant and general enough to repay attention even for those whose interest in British politics might be quite limited. First, it should be quite clear that meta-issues involving complex economic and political dimensions with uncertain outcomes are not suitable for referenda offering binary YES or NO choices. Representative democracy exists for the sensible exercise of judgement on such issues by those elected by the voters to act in their interest. If the latter conclude that their interests are being ignored for any reason, they can change their representatives rather than take decisionmaking into their own hands. Consider also how unstable the outcome of such a referendum can be with just a slight alteration. Suppose the choices to be voted on in the case of the UK had been, instead of a straightforward YES or...

Cities/Urban / 31.01.2019

By Anjum Altaf The more I read about sustainability the more I am puzzled by what it reveals and what it hides. At one level, this is a new buzzword in the global discourse that all sorts of shysters are milking for what it is worth while distracting the gullible into futile avenues and dubious career paths. Take the endless refrain about sustainable cities. Every day one reads a scare-laden screed about how our major cities are unsustainable. But what exactly does that mean? Lahore has been around for many centuries -- Al-Biruni referred to it in the 11th Century and Xuangzang identified it in 630 CE. Delhi is even older -- its history goes back to 50 BCE. Despite their survival through all sorts of calamities and troubled times, we are being told that they are not sustainable anymore. What exactly has changed? Many of the writers...

Development / 22.01.2019

By Anjum Altaf Oxfam presented its new report at Davos whose main takeaway for India is that: "Indian billionaires saw their fortunes swell by Rs 2,200 crore a day last year, with the top 1 per cent of the country’s richest getting richer by 39 per cent as against just 3 per cent increase in wealth for the bottom-half of the population." https://theprint.in/economy/richest-indians-got-wealthier-by-39-worlds-poorest-saw-their-fortunes-dip-by-11-in-2018-says-oxfam-study/180630/ Shekhar Gupta at The Print has castigated this report in very strong terms as methodologically flawed and politically motivated. Please read the news item and watch Gupta's critique then write a comment with your own analysis. Where do you come out on this issue? [I wish he would stay still while speaking -- it is tortuous to watch] https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=10&v=eBvdW4rfMYo Here is a set of expert opinions solicited by The Print: https://theprint.in/talk-point/oxfam-inequality-study-skewed-parameters-to-assess-wealth-or-disbalanced-economic-growth/181348/ Consider the three in conjunction with the following argument which inserts some much needed theory into the debate. https://thebulwark.com/is-all-economic-growth-created-equal/ Read this as...

Law / 14.12.2018

By Anjum Altaf Education is a big-ticket item. Clarity is needed about its relationship to economic growth and development before betting the house on it. Otherwise a lot of resources would end up being misallocated. It is in this context that I respond to Mr. Miftah Ismail’s diagnosis and prescription presented in his opinion in this newspaper (‘Educating Pakistan,’ December 5, 2018). Mr. Ismail begins by asking why any country is richer than another and answers with the assertion that “education is probably the most important factor in determining the wealth of nations.” From this follows the prescription that the path to richness is education. I offer some cross-country evidence using literacy rates as a proxy for education and GDP per capita as a proxy for wealth -- for each country the data that follows in parentheses shows percent of adult population that is literate and GDP per...

Development / 09.12.2018

[Editor's Note: Imran Khan's suggestion to alleviate rural poverty by giving chickens to women was greeted with much ridicule but is there the germ of an idea there that public policy wanks can shape into a viable scheme? On the contrary, is there a convincing enough critique that can show how and why the idea might be infeasible. Myrah Nerine Butt took the first step in a blog published in Dawn on December 5, 2018 and I requested Faizaan Qayyum to comment on her article. Myrah and Faizaan were Teaching Assistants for a course (ECON 100: Principles of Economics) I taught at LUMS in 2013 and it is gratifying to see them both emerge as articulate public policy practitioners.  Myrah completed a MA in Poverty and Development from the University of Sussex and Faizaan a MA in Urban Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he...