Miscellaneous / 07.01.2018

By Ibn-e Eusuf The front door having been left ajar, the breakfast table was buzzing with flies. Instinctively my hand reached for the swatter (makhii maar) strategically parked for just such an occasion. I was right on target the first couple of times and smugly congratulating myself on the amazing ability to outwit a fly when my hand froze in mid-air. It struck me like a bolt: Was I in compliance with the sharia? Putting the swatter aside I began to wonder why God had created something whose very sight made one think of murder. I asked a few friends without being satisfied and then put it to my staff who had much deeper convictions on such matters. I proposed I would reluctantly continue swatting flies till such time as one of them came up with a convincing injunction for doing otherwise. This literally set the staff abuzz...

Development / 30.07.2017

By Anjum Altaf Every so often someone promises to turn Pakistan into an Asian tiger. It is not a bad ambition but it hasn’t happened yet. Not just that, we don’t seem to be moving forward much. All the more reason for an honest examination because knowing where one is starting from is just as important as knowing where one wants to go. With help of some illustrative numbers one can establish three points. The Pakistani economy is existing at a low level; it is in relative decline; and too many of its citizens are struggling at or below subsistence level. Getting from here to Asian tiger status would require something beyond more of the same. First, the state of the economy. The Federal Bureau of Statistics website shows that in 2015 per capita income in current prices was Rs. 153,620 per year or about Rs....

Development / 19.05.2017

By Anjum Altaf I am now less interested in CPEC, which is unstoppable, and more fascinated by how people think. Conventional wisdom has individuals using reason to objectively weigh the costs and benefits of an option and then choosing it if benefits exceed costs. More and more evidence on actual behavior suggests that individuals start with their minds already made up and then pick and choose arguments to support their positions. At this time PML supporters are convinced CPEC is a game-changer while those opposed to the party believe it is a recipe for disaster. The former claim Nawaz Sharif is an astute industrialist and China a trusted friend. The latter argue Nawaz Sharif is corrupt and is using hype to distract attention from his troubles. Supporters are not willing to consider that their party can make bad decisions; opponents are unwilling to concede the the PML...

Development / 20.03.2017

By Anjum Altaf Is there a fruitful line of inquiry regarding the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)? That depends on the questions with which one initiates the inquiry. Would CPEC be a game-changer for Pakistan? This drawing-room question is particularly useless to begin with. With so much uncertainty and so many variables beyond human control no one except a clairvoyant can predict with any confidence. It is just as pointless, if not actually silly, to take sides. Enough hard information is not available for one side to convince the other on the basis of analysis - believers will continue to believe and doubters will continue to doubt for reasons having little to do with the intricacies of the initiative. The following questions pertaining to details of the deal are more useful: Under what conditions are the various components of the initiative being negotiated? What are the financial...

Development / 18.01.2017

By Anjum Altaf How does one get a grip on the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and its associated investments without any hard information except for the hype? In the absence of any mechanism for credible evaluation I suggest we hold it up against a historical parallel and see what emerges by way of tentative conclusions. Some discussion grounded in real experience may be better than taking sides in the dark. Around the turn of the twentieth century the British invested vast sums of money in the part of the subcontinent that now comprises Pakistan. Amongst these investments were the network of canals and barrages, the post and telegraph, and roads and railways. All included it would have likely added up in real terms to be bigger than the $56 billion associated with the CPEC. What came of all that investment and what economic transformations did it sustain?...

Politics / 31.07.2013

By Anjum Altaf It would be hard to find citizens in Pakistan or India who believe their governments really care for the people. The Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen, has repeatedly termed India a disaster zone in which pockets of California exist amidst a sea of sub-Saharan Africa; where millions of lives are crushed by lack of food, health, education and justice. Sen wants India to “hang its head in shame” contrasting its performance with China where massive investments in health and education in the 1970s laid the foundation for sustained economic growth. Sen points out that even within South Asia, barring Pakistan, India is at the bottom in terms of social indicators. Bangladesh is doing better with half the per capita income of India. This juxtaposition of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China allows some myths to be laid to rest in explaining this outrageous neglect of people. First, Pakistan’s social...

History / 22.09.2012

By Kabir Altaf Pankaj Mishra's new book From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia (FSG 2012) describes the Asian response to the colonial encounter.  The book covers the decades from the mid-nineteenth century to the beginning of World War II.   Mishra argues that the West "has seen Asia through the narrow perspective of its own strategic and economic interests, leaving unexamined--and unimagined--the collective experiences and subjectivities of Asian peoples." His book does not attempt to replace this Eurocentric perspective with an Asia-centric one, but "seeks to open up multiple perspectives on the past and the present, convinced that the assumptions of Western power--increasingly untenable--are no longer a reliable vantage point and may even be dangerously misleading" (8).
Analysis / 17.04.2011

By Anjum Altaf We have the opportunity to improve our understanding of corruption, democracy and the relationship between them by examining critically the views of Professor Neera Chandhoke outlined recently in connection with the Anna Hazare campaign. In The Seeds of Authoritarianism, Chandhoke articulates two fundamental positions. First, the establishment of a Jan Lokpal is not democratic and carries within it the seeds of authoritarianism. Although Singapore has controlled corruption, it is not a preferred model because it ‘does not respect the two prime fundamentals of democracy as India does: popular sovereignty and the equal moral status of citizens.’ Therefore, corruption in India needs to be addressed within the procedures and norms mandated in the Constitution. Second, Anna Hazare’s political beliefs are questionable because he has expressed a low opinion of the voter by saying that some sell their votes; contempt for the voter defies the ‘very rationale...

China / 20.02.2011

Many years ago there was a movie in which the stereotypical semi-pathetic, semi-comic character was assigned a stock phrase (takia kalaam) that he repeated with regularity – kaash maiN Hong Kong meN paida hota (I wish I were born in Hong Kong). Hong Kong was a success story and thus attractive to an impecunious South Asian dropout. It was also not part of China then; no right-minded person even in the sluggish South Asia of the times would have wished to be born in the China of those days. How times have changed. Hong Kong has been reclaimed by China and China itself is a place that dazzles most visitors. The Chinese model of authoritarian politics and market economics has begun to draw admiring attention in many quarters.
Development / 25.12.2010

By Anjum Altaf There are two ways to make the point that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will not be met in Pakistan. One can offer analytical reasons in support or place a large bet on the outcome. Given that Pakistanis are presently swayed more by spot bets than appeals to reason, I am willing to wager Rupees 10 lakhs on the MDGs remaining unmet by their designated end date of 2015. I hope there are some who will wonder why I am willing to risk my money on this bet. To them I will present some very obvious and some not so obvious reasons for my pessimism as a Pakistani and optimism as a bettor. The very obvious reason is easy to get out of the way. I doubt if there is anyone who believes that our governors are serious about MDGs or have time to spare...