Development / 17.09.2019

By Anjum Altaf I don’t believe there can be a way forward on our taxation problem unless taxpayers are given a fair and patient hearing and their concerns are allayed in a convincing manner. Let us consider the period from 1988, when the PPP came into power under Benazir Bhutto, to 2018, when the PML-N lost power under Nawaz Sharif. These two parties shared power during this entire period of 30 years except for the ten-year takeover by Pervez Musharraf from 1999 to 2008. Now consider the fact that no less than the Supreme Court of the country characterised the rule of the PML-N as that of a mafia and that Nawaz Sharif, currently in prison, was accused of siphoning money abroad and buying properties there with unaccountable funds. Consider also the fact that since 2018, the new government has spared no effort to tar the PPP rule...

Education / 15.09.2019

By Anjum Altaf We will not figure out education if we continue to use it as a catch-all term without distinguishing its different aspects -- knowledge (‘ilm’), skills (‘hunar’), and credentials (‘sanad’). These distinctions are best elucidated with an example. I take my car for repairs to a ‘Chota’ who was apprenticed early to an ‘Ustad’ and acquired exceptional expertise. Chota is also street-smart and wise. Yet no one would consider him educated. Why not? The notion of being an ‘educated’ person has become imprecise today with much variance in its perception. The traditional view equated being educated with being knowledgeable which manifested itself in the ability to engage in intelligent conversations on subjects unrelated to professional expertise or occupation. To do that a person had to be well-read and fluent in at least one language in which to compose and express his/her thoughts coherently. The fact that...

Miscellaneous / 12.09.2019

By Anjum Altaf How much do we lose when we lose literature. We confuse ideas, reinvent things that have existed for centuries and claim credit for them, yield ownership to others for what is really ours, fail to recognize what is happening in front of our eyes, lose track of the founts of knowledge and make fools of ourselves. That, and so much more, has happened since schools dropped the teaching of literature in Pakistan. Let me illustrate the point with two examples. What a wonderful idea it was to end poverty in Pakistan once and for all by distributing a cock and four* hens to every household. For no good reason of logic but simply political angst, the idea was ridiculed across the board and various chicken memes proliferated across the screens. Valiant attempts by the Ministry of Truth to link the idea to the great...

Reflections / 31.08.2019

By Anjum Altaf It is undeniable that the entire conversation about Kashmir has been marked, from the very beginning, by calculation instead of reflection. Between ‘Kashmir will become Pakistan’ and ‘Kashmir is an integral part of India’ there has been a shameful scramble for real estate without any care for the inhabitants of the land. No one has even bothered to ask what they might have wanted for themselves. Salman Rushdie’s brilliant new novel, Quichotte, is set primarily in America but is also a telling reflection on the tenor of our times. Consider these three dialogues (the first in the form of question and answer) and apply them to Kashmir to get a sense of their scope and relevance. -- “I’ve only been around for a short time...

Behavior / 29.08.2019

By Anjum Altaf Position yourself at a traffic light or a roundabout in a Pakistani city today and you will witness every possible violation of the traffic code quite independent of the status of the violator and the presence of one or more policemen. The free-for-all encompasses the entire range from glitzy cars to rundown bicycles. Reflect a little on this seeming chaos and you might be able to infer that it all follows from one simple rule -- the desire of every individual to find the shortest route from here to there unimpeded by any constraints in the way.     Such a rule is called a shortcut and although I have reflected on this particular shortcut for some time and deem it important, I refrained from raising the issue out of a sense of its ranking in the list of catastrophes enveloping our country. It seemed akin...

Behavior / 09.08.2019

By Anjum Altaf Here is a question of pricing for you to consider. Imagine the following scenario: You are getting ready to travel from Lahore to Islamabad when by chance X stops by at your house. X is also making the same journey driving his own car. X offers to give you a ride and you accept. Consider X to be one of the following in different versions of this encounter: 1. Your student 2. Your good friend 3. Your brother-in-law with whom you are on speaking terms 4. A distant relative 5. A colleague at work 6. A neighbor whom you know but are not close to 7. A stranger who stopped at your house by mistake If you had traveled on your own as planned, the trip would have cost you Rs. 2,000. For every case of X (from 1 to 7) answer the following questions. You can combine the categories of X who, in your...

Analysis / 09.08.2019

By Anjum Altaf Almost everyone with more than a passing acquaintance of Naipaul has written about their interaction with him, deservedly so, since Naipaul was, without doubt, a great writer. The accounts range from the banal to the truly insightful. Among those of particular interest to Pakistanis, the one by Hanif Kureishi, himself a writer of repute, stands out for two reasons. First, it is one of the few that doesn’t display a knee-jerk reaction to Naipaul’s non-fiction, in particular his observations about Islamic countries. And second, because of Hanif Kureishi’s oblique relationship with Pakistan, the reflection has dispassionate things to say about the country as refracted through Naipaul’s lens. Hanif’s connection to Pakistan, for those who know, is through his father’s brother, the iconic Omar Kureishi -- legendary cricket commentator, popular manager of the test team, the person with whom PIA became the airline to fly with,...

Law / 06.08.2019

By Anjum Altaf I have lived in the US for long periods but earlier this year was the first time in over two decades that I stayed in the UK. I noticed immediately that the quality of edible products was much better in the latter although my purchases were from a corner store as compared to the US where I used to shop at a high-end organic market. This intrigued me no end since both are advanced countries with consumers conscious of what they eat. What might account for this noticeable difference in quality at least as far as taste was concerned? I decided on some amateur sleuthing and the findings revealed much of interest. While these may not account for the actual explanation, the conclusions are of enough general interest to merit discussion in Pakistan. The key to the puzzle may lie in the overarching principles governing...

Education / 31.07.2019

By Anjum Altaf People often insist that Pakistan’s lack of development requires investing in education. They should reconsider this relationship.  Consider the following arguments: In countries we consider developed today, mass education followed development not the other way around. Countries did not wait till they were fully educated before they began to develop. Rather, they began to develop which created the need for the spread of education. Great Britain became a global empire when there was relatively little mass education. Today, with universal education, it is a minor player in the global system. There is no linear relationship between education and development and certainly the former does not cause the latter. Apply this framework to British India. There was little mass education when the British took over but because there were so few they needed local intermediaries to help administer the colony in ways familiar to them. That was...