Development / 20.03.2018

By Samia Altaf Two recent reports about Pakistan’s health system tell of deficiencies of far reaching significance. The first, from UNICEF, confers on Pakistan the dubious distinction of registering the highest number of deaths in newborns (neonatal mortality) in the past decade. It is now number one in the world, climbing from number three, and ahead of Afghanistan and the Central African Republic. The second, a National Nutrition Survey, informs that 45% of Pakistan’s children are stunted, suffering from chronic, extreme, and irreversible malnourishment that causes permanent physical and cognitive deficiencies. What would this half of future generations be capable of with its severely limited capacity to learn even if the opportunity for education is available? It would fall sick much quicker and get better a lot slower creating a permanent burden on the already constrained health service delivery system. The situation in other areas of...

Analysis / 08.09.2017

By Anjum Altaf Much as many are finding it hard to say anything good about Donald Trump, it cannot be denied that he has delivered the world a much needed wake-up call. Gone is the complacency about a whole host of topics that had seemed firmly settled - democracy, capitalism, globalization, trade, to name a few. Fresh thinking has been unleashed on a number of other issues - climate change, identity, immigration, terrorism, among them. There was dire need to rethink many of these and if the world required Trump to revitalize the debates, it has only itself to blame. In large measure, Trump is an outcome of not paying heed to what was going on under our noses but escaped attention because of the ideological biases of prosperous and uncaring ruling elites. The ‘boiling frog’ analogy comes to mind: a frog dropped in boiling water will...

Cities/Urban / 04.09.2015

By Anjum Altaf Anyone wanting to understand urbanization needs to get past two major misunderstandings. First, urbanization is not about individual cities – neither solving their problems nor enhancing their potential for growth. The end result of urbanization is indeed an increase in the population of cities but the term itself refers to the movement of people from rural to urban locations. But which urban locations do (or should) people move to? That is a more important question.  What are the choices that exist and what determines the attractiveness of one location over another? Should public policy attempt to influence the spatial distribution of population by altering the attractiveness of different types of locations? Second, the pattern of urbanization is not predetermined. People move primarily to seek work and therefore any change in the distribution of employment opportunities should alter the pattern of migration. Different industrial or economic policies...

Analysis / 24.04.2013

There is a huge difference between policy prescription and policy analysis and the first without the second is a waste. I come across this gulf everyday in discussions of issues like health or environment or urbanization but let me illustrate with an example from education. So, I am reading this op-ed in a leading newspaper of the country and I am presented with the usual litany of woes: declining standards, lowest per capita spending in the world, ignorant teachers, ghost schools, different systems for rich and poor, medium of instruction, blah, blah, blah. There follows a dire warning: this would destroy the country.
Development / 05.08.2010

By Anjum Altaf A polemical piece needs to be very finely tuned if it is to generate more light than heat. Against Research came up short for although the response exceeded expectations in terms of volume, the heat far surpassed the light. On the positive side, the knowledge that there is a constituency engaged with the issue gives me the motivation to try and explain myself with more care. Despite the provocative title I should not have come across as being against all research per se. In the very first paragraph I stated that “I shall argue the case [against research] because I feel many of our problems stem not from a lack of new knowledge but from an inability to translate existing knowledge into action.”
Development / 29.07.2010

By Anjum Altaf I write this article to question the value of research, a seemingly contradictory position for one trained as a researcher. Nevertheless, I shall argue the case because I feel many of our problems stem not from a lack of new knowledge but from an inability to translate existing knowledge into action. We are unable to convince decision-makers to act or voters to mobilise on the basis of available knowledge. To put my training to some use I shall explore the reasons for this failure which is both important and imperfectly understood. Take poverty as an example. If we pile up all the reports that have been compiled on the causes of poverty in the country we would be well on the way to reaching the top of Minar-e-Pakistan. Yet agencies continue commissioning new studies year after year. I heard recently of a planned study on...

Analysis / 10.07.2009

As a follow up to our brief debate on the Kashmir issue, I wish to propose an exercise that evaluates the Kashmir policies of the governments of India and Pakistan and also puts our own objectivity to the test. Such an exercise could yield an awareness that might enable us to move the discussion forward. What I propose is the following: For the first part of the exercise stop thinking of yourself as a citizen of your country. Consider yourself an external examiner (ideally from Mars) who has been invited to evaluate the Kashmir policies of the governments of India and Pakistan, respectively.