Analysis / 29.04.2020

By Anjum Altaf A number of congratulatory articles have lauded the containment of the Covid epidemic in Pakistan based on the relatively smaller number of deaths to date (222) compared to those in the USA (47,973) and Italy (25,085). The authors have also offered a number of explanations for this difference ranging from outstanding management to contextual variations.  I would love these people to be right but would urge caution. The conclusion could be premature owing to a lack appreciation of the nature of exponential growth. Take a look at the number of Covid-related deaths in Pakistan. The first two were reported on March 18. Since then, the cumulative numbers at weekly intervals up to April 21 are as follows: 7, 26, 55, 96, 192. Ignoring the initial turbulence, the number of deaths are doubling roughly every seven days. The lockdown along with its associated measures went into...

Leadership / 16.04.2020

By Anjum Altaf How one wishes there was a team competent modellers in Pakistan who could present the worst-case (do-nothing) scenario, the most likely response given the existing state of affairs, and the best-case outcome if appropriate measures were put in place.  I say this after the model run by London’s Imperial College became decisive in drastically changing public policy in the UK. Unfortunately, it is not the case, one to which we are addicted, that a foreign model can be imported and run here to determine our choice of public policies. Too many parameters are different and would need to be normalized to our circumstances. Take the most obvious one first. The degree of compliance with directives is much lower than in the UK -- I walked past a padlocked park where the ground staff were huddled together under one canopy sharing a cigarette. Citizens don’t trust...

Leadership / 11.04.2020

By Anjum Altaf Every single person is at risk -- Prince Charles and Boris Johnson have tested positive -- which makes this a crisis unprecedented in living memory and a supreme test of leadership. No one will get everything right but no one can afford to get everything wrong. Where leaders come out on the spectrum will determine how many live or die in each country. And the number of days it takes to arrive at the right decisions will determine the quantum of avoidable deaths. Regimes can be characterised by a set of attributes -- integrity, transparency, competence, legitimacy, authority. An ideal regime would possess all -- it would be honest, transparent and competent, trusted by citizens and with the authority to get things done. In the real world we have to make do with some mix that allows countries to muddle through for better or...

South Asia / 30.03.2020

By Anjum Altaf Many South Asian men have been unable to come to terms with this slogan which is too bad for them. They are fighting a rearguard action because the arc of history has been bending towards equality. In the West, slaves have gained equality as have Jews while people of colour and women have made significant gains. In South Asia, Dalits continue to advance their rights. Contrary cases of infringement of minority rights invite universal condemnation. So, it is only a matter of time before women effectively obtain the rights that are guaranteed to them under most constitutions. Objections against the slogan raise interesting issues. Consider the men who protest their support for women but suggest more appropriate slogans. The irony in doing so is lost on them. This is precisely the suffocating embrace of patriarchy the women are contesting. By subjecting the modalities of...

Miscellaneous / 18.03.2020

By Kabir Altaf William Dalrymple is one of the foremost historians of colonial India, known for works such as White Mughals, The Last Mughal, and Return of a King.  His latest work -- The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of The East India Company (Bloomsbury 2019) -- continues in the tradition of popular history, telling the story of the East India Company’s conquest of India following  Lord Clive’s 1757 victory over Siraj ud-Daula, the Nawab of Bengal, at the Battle of Plassey. The book ends with the Company’s conquest of Delhi in 1803 and the defeat of the Marathas -- the last Indian power capable of resisting the British. The Company would rule India until the aftermath of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, when governance was transferred directly to the British Crown.  While we commonly speak of the “British conquest of India,” Dalrymple notes that it was not...

Language/Meaning / 23.02.2020

By Sayed Amjad Hussain in The Friday Times, February 7, 2020 The Urdu poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz has been translated by many writers including Khalid Hasan, Victor Kiernan, Shiv Kumar and Daud Kamal, among others. The small volume under review, while coming under the rubric of translation, is much more than literal translation of the original. Each poem is identified by its original Urdu title, making it easier to find the poem in Faiz’s published poetic works. In addition the author, in the footnotes, gives the names of others who have translated the particular poem and mentions the trigger that prompted him to translate the poem. Title: Transgressions Poems Inspired by Faiz Ahmed Faiz Author: Anjum Altaf Pages: 80 pp Published by: LG Publishers Distributors, Delhi Price: Rs. 660.25 Anjum Altaf is a well-known Pakistani academic. He has served as Professor of Economics and Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences...

Democracy/Governance / 16.02.2020

By Anjum Altaf Democracy has been knocked down from the lofty pedestal on which it was ensconced not so long ago as the endpoint of humankind’s search for the ideal form of governance. This has followed on Trump’s election in the most powerful democracy on earth, Modi’s in the largest democracy in the world, and Boris Johnson’s in the birthplace of democracy. How should one reassess democracy in the light of these choices by electorates, choices that would have been considered inconceivable just a decade ago? Keep in mind that one is talking of democracies that pass almost all the tests of qualification -- fair elections, rule of law, independent institutions, and civil liberties -- although India under Modi is heading in the wrong direction. Authoritarian regimes and illiberal democracies that cloak their rule in democratic garb are excluded from the analysis.  Also to be kept in mind...

Language/Meaning / 04.02.2020

By Muneeza Shamsie in Dawn, Books and Authors, Sunday, February 1, 2020. Urdu poetry is celebrated for its multi-layered resonances which transcend time and age. Whether written in the 18th century or the 21st, it can be quoted in political meetings, debates and daily conversations to make an apt comment on current events, public or personal. In recent weeks, Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s famous poem Hum Dekhein Gey [We Too Will See] — which was written as a critique of the Zia regime and rings out with its universal message of protest against tyranny, repression and injustice — has been chanted by huge crowds in India against the brutal attacks at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi. The power of Faiz’s poetry and its ability to reach out across languages, cultures and nations is central to Anjum Altaf’s unusual collection of English-language verses, titled Transgressions: Poems Inspired by Faiz Ahmed...

Analysis / 17.01.2020

By Anjum Altaf What should be the allowance for discretion in the application of rules? This ought to be a contextual determination and one can use recent events in the worlds of cricket and politics to argue where the line ought to be drawn in Pakistan. Healthy institutions rely on discretion to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities when changing rules would consume valuable time causing opportunities to be lost. But there is a huge caveat in this simple formulation: that discretion is to be employed for a higher purpose and not self-interest. The more upright the office-bearers of an institution, the more the availability of discretion can lead to gains in efficiency and achievement. But what happens when office-bearers cannot be trusted to place institutional gains over self-interest? The damage from the abuse of discretion can result in losses far outweighing any possible gains from their legitimate use....