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...

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.
Aid / 21.09.2012

By Anjum Altaf I am happy to engage in a debate with the Center for Global Development on US aid to Pakistan. However, for me the issue is not aid to Pakistan or aid in general but the analytical validity of CGD’s recent reports. I argued that CGD’s 2011 report was advocacy, not analysis and based on a reading of a summary of the 2012 report I concluded it seemed no different. CGD has responded to my criticism of the latter but has, in what I consider a handwaving style, ignored my central concern and resorted to diversionary arguments to mount a defense. Here, I aim to show why CGD’s case remains a weak one. CGD’s first point is that their report has been criticized both in Pakistan and in Washington and “perhaps this is a sign we have done something right?” But could it not be equally...

Analysis / 26.06.2011

By Anjum Altaf Pakistan is like the spouse who makes one froth at the mouth and take leave of one’s senses. In the ensuing rant, it is possible to get almost all the facts right while getting the big picture almost entirely wrong, leaving one feeling, the next day, sheepish and deeply embarrassed – the real damage done, in any such fight, being to oneself. Pakistan’s latest enraged ex is Christopher Hitchens, who could not have done himself any worse damage than what he has accomplished with his ironically titled Vanity Fair blowup, “From Abbottabad to Worse.” Hitchens delivers his verdict right off the bat: Here is a society where rape is not a crime. It is a punishment. Women can be sentenced to be raped, by tribal and religious kangaroo courts, if even a rumor of their immodesty brings shame on their menfolk. In such an obscenely...

Behavior / 07.04.2011

There are two aspects of an argument: its content and its construction. On this blog our focus is almost entirely on the latter; the only reason we have content is that we cannot do without it to construct an argument – an argument has to be about something. However, we have no material or emotional stake in the content; it is just a means to an end. In this post we explore in more detail the specifics of the end we have in mind. There are at least three attributes of the construction of an argument that are critical: Credibility (whether the argument is supported by evidence); Coherence (whether the argument meets the tests of logic); and Consistency (whether the argument is free of contradictions). In order to illustrate these attributes we will resort to content provided by a participant in an earlier discussion. The argument offered...

Analysis / 17.09.2010

By Anjum Altaf I received the following announcement from the Pakistan Solidarity Network in connection with a teach-in planned in New York on Friday, September 17, 2010. The Urgent Need for Solidarity With Pakistan’s Flood Victims Even as Americans revisit the lingering destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina, half a world away Pakistan is experiencing one of the most calamitous disasters in recent memory. Nearly 20 million people have been directly affected. More than 8 million need urgent aid. 800,000 people are stranded. A full 14 million people across the country are now homeless. The country's infrastructure, already in disrepair, has been simply washed away. As with so many natural disasters we've seen in recent years, this tragedy too is carved out of a history of unsustainable policies. Years of neoliberal economic policies and militarism have stripped the Pakistani State of its capacity to meet the people's needs. Pakistan's elites, both civilian...

South Asia / 13.04.2010

'Imaginings' constitutes our most ambitious initiative to date. With this initiative we invite our readers to participate in imagining our national and regional futures ten years from now. What do we think our country, a neighboring country in the region, or the region as a whole would be like in 2020? And why? Readers can submit as many essays as they wish but each essay should deal with one country only (any country in South Asia, not necessarily the writer’s own) or with South Asia as a region. The essay could cover any or all of a number of dimensions – politics, economics, culture, etc. At the heart of the essay would be the identification of the major forces and trends that would yield the future that the writer chooses to describe. What gave rise to these trends, why would they dominate, and what might cause to change their direction or intensity? The credibility of the prediction would rest on the depth of this analysis.
India / 18.03.2009

By Dipankar Gupta [Note from The South Asian Idea: This article forms part of the series (Governance in Pakistan) on this blog that deals with issues of analysis. The preamble to this piece by Professor Dipankar Gupta is an article on Narendra Modi by Robert Kaplan in the April 2009 issue of Atlantic Monthly (India’s New Face). The bottom line of Kaplan’s article is that “Under Modi, Gujarat has become an economic dynamo.” Professor Gupta’s op-ed originally appeared in the Times of India on January 31, 2009 under the caption Credit Misplaced. Note how much difference it makes when all the evidence is taken into account and the starting point is not chosen arbitrarily. Note also the varying explanations for the same set of events. Readers are invited to join this discussion and give their opinion on which of these two analyses is more robust.] Gujarat grew...

Pakistan / 15.03.2009

In the three preceding posts (Here, Here and Here) we have pointed out pitfalls in analytical reasoning using the situation in Pakistan as case material. Readers are entitled to ask: What is good analysis? What follows is my perspective on what makes for good analysis. It is not original but something I was taught by a teacher I feel I was lucky to encounter. I enrolled for a course in Decision Analysis and this is what the teacher talked about in the first class: The most important concept to understand is that a Decision and an Outcome are two separate things. A Good Outcome is not necessarily the result of a Good Decision. A Bad Outcome is not necessarily the result of a Bad Decision. How can this be so? Because between the Decision and the Outcome there is something called Uncertainty or Randomness, something that you can never know fully in advance...

Pakistan / 14.03.2009

The previous two posts in this series have described what we think are poor analyses of the situation in Pakistan by William Dalrymple and Moni Mohsin, respectively. Now the venerable New York Times has entered the fray with another bad analysis (Closer to the Cliff, March 12, 2009). Let us dissect it: We are especially alarmed to see President Asif Ali Zardari repeating the excesses of his predecessor, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Why alarmed, one may ask? What was the basis for the expectation that Asif Ali Zardari would act any differently? Is this a case, once again, of wishful thinking leading the analysis? Mr. Zardari is dishonoring his late wife’s memory by following that same path. So, the expectation is that Mr. Zardari’s prime loyalty should be to his late wife’s memory and not to his self-interest, as he perceives it. Is this a realistic expectation? Or is it a...