Development / 30.10.2010

By Anjum Altaf In dealing with a problem, or a phenomenon in general, three steps are essential: identification, explanation, and prediction. Central to all three are the facts or the data that are employed in the analysis. It is the data that often proves to be the most problematic part of the process and confounds identification, enables misdiagnosis, and generates poor prognosis. And that, I will explain later, is why I care about games. Identification is important because it specifies the issue one is interested in but personally I find explanations more fascinating. The same set of facts can yield multiple explanations – call them narratives or histories if you will – and it is an intellectual challenge to determine which of the histories is the most robust or the most impervious to criticism.Predictions don’t yield the same satisfaction if only because often one has to wait...

Development / 27.10.2010

By Vikram Garg Eviction and 'Notification' How do you subjugate a continent of humanity? For the British colonialists, the answer was ruthless aggression. Between 1774 and 1871, the British engaged the various Indian states in a sequence of brutal wars, known collectively as the Anglo-Indian wars [1]. These wars not only set the stage for the colonial occupation of India, but in many cases also resulted in vast, settled populations becoming nomads in their own land [2]. Displaced from the 'mainstream' of society, many of these nomads and tribes sought revenge. What was the British response? In 1871, the Criminal Tribes Act was passed. The Act notified certain tribes as being “addicted to the systematic commission of non-bailable offenses” [3]. Examples included, the Boyas and Dongas of Tamil Nadu, and the Bedras of Maharashtra, all of whom had risen up in rebellion against the occupation [2]. Two more...

Development / 07.10.2010

By Anjum Altaf At the conclusion of the 2006 Asian Games I had written an article (Pakistan: A Downward Spiral) using performance in sports as an objective indicator of the structural changes that could have been taking place over the years in China, India, and Pakistan, respectively. The indicator pointed to a stunning improvement in China, an upward trend in India after a period of stagnation, and a steep decline in Pakistan. Readers questioned the validity of the indicator but offered nothing better as an alternative. Given how cavalier people are in their comparisons between India and Pakistan, using broad generalizations of poverty and corruption to dismiss the diverging trends in the two countries, I continue to believe the indicator yields valuable insights to those who wish to face facts rather than deny reality. In order to push the discussion further, I am presenting here the medals tally...

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.”I highlighted the lack of relevant research: “there is not a single study on why all the knowledge accumulated through previous studies...

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...

Development / 30.05.2010

How does one characterize the Indian state and understand its actions? In three posts (here, here and here) we have used the interaction of the Indian state with its tribal population to try and find some answers. None have been fully convincing and in this post we try a different vantage point to push the analysis further. The facts at hand point to a situation of neglect at best, exploitation at worst. There has been undeniable injustice and the resulting problems are being addressed with force, not through politics. And yet, there are very few voices speaking up for a fair deal. How are these outcomes possible in a liberal, democratic state?
Development / 07.03.2010

The challenge of global warming has brought us face to face with a stark reality. Economic growth is exploitative of nature and unless we make some fundamental changes we could be headed for an environmental catastrophe from which there might be no recovery. Thinking about this issue has revived a concern that is even more problematic: Is economic growth exploitative only of nature or is it exploitative in general? In this post we will examine the historical record to seek some answers to this question. The relationship of economic growth to nature is fairly simple. Starting with the post-industrial era (which is not much more than a quarter of a millennium old at most) economic growth has relied upon the use of fossil fuels and the rate at which greenhouse gasses have been discharged into the atmosphere, we now find, is environmentally unsustainable.
Development / 28.11.2009

I will come back to what Michelle Obama has to do with this topic after I present the facts that are pertinent to the story. These facts are fairly well known but it was nice to find them described succinctly in Jared Diamond’s book (Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed) that I started to read again at the urging of Vinod. Here is the essential statistic: on average, each citizen of the US, Western Europe, and Japan consumes about 32 times more resources and puts out 32 times more waste than do inhabitants of developing countries. The leaders of all developing countries aspire to lift the living standard of their citizens to match those of the developed ones – the elites are already living at that level shaping the aspirations of the rest of the citizens. The East Asian countries have been growing rapidly over...

Development / 18.11.2009

Who is Going to Bail it Out? By Anjum Altaf We have all read the stories about very big entities failing and being bailed out – these include cities like New York, countries like Mexico and Pakistan, and corporations like General Motors and Bank of America whose businesses were bigger than the economies of many countries. All of them defaulted on their debts – went bankrupt – and were bailed out by an entity that was bigger than them, the US Government alone or in concert with other developed countries. The combination of size and of the existence of a savior, the protector of last resort, gives rise to a dilemma that is known as ‘moral hazard.’ When an entity believes its failure would damage the rest of the system and that there is someone who will not allow that to happen, then it loses the incentive to...

Development / 15.10.2009

I wish to begin today a conversation about the possibility of a social movement in South Asia – not, for the moment, a social movement, just a conversation about a possible social movement. This social movement, if we agree to it and it gets off the ground, would go by a simple name – UNACCEPTABLE.  It would identify the ten things that we agree are unambiguously morally unacceptable in South Asia today and it would start a public conversation about them. It would signal our commitment to strive and eliminate them from our societies. Let me start with an example that illustrates the kinds of things I have in mind and what I mean by unambiguous. Take the practice of slavery in the West. There came a point in time when the first few voices began to declare it morally unacceptable, an affront to human dignity. From these few voices arose the discourse that transformed the issue first into a public debate and then into a political struggle that finally put an end to the practice.