Loader
About me
shah
About me
About me
shah

Blog Categories

Check out my latest posts. I post every day.

Education / 26.08.2008

It would be obvious to readers that in this series of posts we have been challenging the validity of single-cause explanations of the relative lack of economic and social development in South Asia. Thus, while we agree that overpopulation, illiteracy, and corruption can have negative implications, we have tried to convince readers with evidence that neither of them can be considered the root cause of all our problems. In this post we address another such single-cause explanation that one comes across fairly often in Pakistan – that loss of religious faith (or deviation from the true path) is the primary reason for the continued problems in the country. Let us examine this proposition and test it against the arguments of reason and the weight of empirical evidence. There are two components to the proposition: faith and development. Taken separately, they are relatively unproblematic. Most people consider development...

Education, Religion / 22.08.2008

Unacceptable levels of poverty continue to prevail in South Asia. In order to understand the nature of this poverty we have to first challenge the popularly held beliefs about its causes. Just as there are people who believe that illiteracy or overpopulation are the major causes of poverty, there are others who attribute it to corruption and argue that nothing can be done till corruption is eliminated. There is no doubt that corruption is a pervasive and aggravating phenomenon but even a cursory look at hard data and a comparative analysis should make one skeptical of the assertion that it is a major cause of underdevelopment in South Asia. China provides one contrary example. The issue of corruption is very high on the political agenda of the Chinese government and people holding very high offices have been executed for related crimes. But despite the corruption the economy has...

Ghalib / 21.08.2008

This week’s shai’r is the following: bachte nahiiN mu’aakhazah-e roz-e hashr se qatil agar raqiib hai to tum gavaah ho there is no escape from the reckoning of the Day of Judgment if the rival is the murderer, you are a witness too The shai’r illustrates nicely why Ghalib remains relevant to us today and how he is able to look beyond the partial view to bring the broader context to our attention. The conventional interpretation is in the context of the lover and the beloved. The rival has murdered the lover in connivance with the beloved. Ghalib addresses the beloved to say that you may escape punishment in this world but since you knew about the crime and remained silent you will be charged whenever there is a fuller accounting as on the Day of Judgment. (A detailed interpretation is posted on Mehr-e-Niimroz.) We can lean on this shai’r to reflect...

Education / 21.08.2008

There are many people who argue that the biggest problem in South Asia is overpopulation. This assertion has been repeated so often over the years that it has almost become common wisdom. Its adherents include a lot of well-educated individuals and one often hears the argument from government officials as an explanation for the inability to reduce poverty. There are a number of problems with this simple proposition. First of all, population is not a very useful measure by itself simply because it fails to account for the size of the land in which the population resides. Some countries like Russia have a very large area while others like Singapore have a very small one. Therefore the appropriate indicator to use in order to make valid comparisons is population density (i.e., population per unit of land area).
 Using this indicator one would find, for example, that Belgium...

Democracy/Governance, Education, Governance, South Asia / 18.08.2008

It is often argued that illiteracy is the biggest problem in South Asia and also that illiteracy is the reason for poverty. What is the evidence for such assertions? Let us start with a couple of concrete examples: Over the past fifteen years, the proportion of the population living under extreme poverty in Pakistan has risen from 13 to 33 percent but illiteracy has declined during this period. Therefore, the explanation for the increase in poverty in Pakistan cannot be attributed to illiteracy. India has a considerably higher literacy rate than Pakistan but the incidence of poverty in India was comparable to that in Pakistan for many years.  The recent trend in poverty reduction in India cannot be attributed to a sudden increase in literacy. This is not to argue that illiteracy does not matter. Clearly a literate work force can be much more productive than an illiterate one...

Education / 11.08.2008

This post addresses four questions: 1. What is diversity? 2. Is diversity important? 3. How can diversity be promoted? 4. How can an individual deal with diversity? What is diversity? At the simplest level diversity pertains to difference. If we restrict the discussion to cultural diversity we are referring to people who differ along any of the following dimensions: language, religion, moral code, social values, custom, tradition, dress, etc. Thus we can make the statement that before 1947 Lahore was a much more culturally diverse city than it is today. The presence of Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Zoroastrians made it multi-lingual and multi-religious city. After 1947 it was transformed into a uni-lingual and uni-religious one. Is diversity important? This is not a simple question to answer. We can take a contemporary perspective to address it. In the globalizing economy it is increasingly believed that innovation and creativity are critical to success. Economies and...

Ghalib / 07.08.2008

This week’s she’r is the following: shar'a-o-aaiin par madaar sahii aise qaatil kaa kyaa kare koii Even on the basis of religious law and secular law What can anyone do with such a killer? An earlier she’r in this series on the subject of faith and faithfulness (Ghalib Says – 2) prompted a reader to refer to the Shah Bano case – was it right to be unjust while claiming to be faithful to a set of beliefs? We referred the issue to the scholar Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer who pointed out the distinction between Diin and Sharia’h – faith and law. In secular matters, it is law that should govern and the law should be in harmony with the changing times (see comments on Ghalib Says – 2). This exchange led us quite naturally to the she’r under discussion this week which refers to religious and secular law – shar’a-o-aaiin....

Education, Religion / 04.08.2008

By Anjum Altaf Is there a need to search for truth? Most people would say ‘Yes’ but with different perspectives in mind. There is one perspective that the truth about any proposition is already available, pre-packaged in words of wisdom, written down somewhere, or known to some sage. Our task is to find the source and we shall be informed. The other perspective is that we ourselves have to reason our way to the truth, finding a bit here and a bit there, separating the truth from the untruth when they come packaged together, and questioning it when it goes against our common sense. This is a personal choice of which the second one is intellectually more interesting. Take a simple proposition as an example: ‘Economic interest has a major influence on what we do; culture, nationality and religion are just impediments in the way.’ What is the truth...

Education, Ghalib / 30.07.2008

In our collaborative blogoshpere project with Mehr-e-Niimroz on Ghalib, we have selected the following she’r this week: baske dushvaar hai har kaam ka aasaaN hona aadmii ko bhii muyassar nahiiN insaaN hona 1a) it's difficult to such an extent for every task to be easy 1b) although it's difficult for every task to be easy 2) even/also for a descendant of Adam, it's not attainable/attained/easy to become human/humane The detailed interpretation is presented on Mehr-e-Niimroz. The straightforward meaning is that just as it is difficult for every task to be easy, it is difficult for a descendant of Adam to reach the status of a human being. Let us first address the gender issue raised in the commentary pertaining to the interpretation of aadmi as man. Phyllis Trible, a Professor of Scared Literature, became prominent in the 1970s for her analyses of the stories of the Creation. In Trible’s view it...