Education / 15.02.2014

I was surprised to hear how our leading educationists propose to produce a new Nobel Laureate. It was at a ceremony to celebrate the achievements of one and the encomiums were laced with the inevitable laments on how few there had been from South Asia. This brought us naturally to the ‘What-Is-To-Be-Done’ question. And, here, in a nutshell, was the answer: Surely, there must be, in our beautiful countries with their huge populations, somewhere, some uncut diamonds lying undiscovered obscured by grime. All we would have to do is search hard enough, with sufficient honesty and dedication, and we would locate a gem. Presto, we will have our next Nobel Laureate. Call it the Needle-In-The-Haystack theory of locating genius. On to the modalities: How exactly would we go about this find-and-polish routine in our beautiful countries with their huge populations wracked by poverty? Here was the answer to that question: We...

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.
Identity / 09.04.2011

By Anjum Altaf Shahid Afridi’s perceptions of Indians and India are now common knowledge. On the way out of the airport returning from Mohali, he said: "I can’t understand the approach of people, why we are against India? Why there is so much hate for India when we have Indian dramas played in every home, our marriage celebrations are done in Indian style, we watch all Indian movies then why to hate them?” A couple of days later, he said: “In my opinion, if I have to tell the truth, they will never have hearts like Muslims and Pakistanis. I don’t think they have the large and clean hearts that Allah has given us.” Given the short half-life of such episodes much of the hullabaloo has disappeared. It is time now to move beyond scoring points and to see if some more interesting aspects can be uncovered....

Aid / 22.02.2011

By Anjum Altaf Between the idea and the reality, Eliot wrote, falls the shadow. The phrase is so well known as to be almost cliché, but as with many clichés, there is truth to it. There is universality, too – the metaphor could extend to many areas; there are shadows everywhere. Foreign aid, for example: there is the idea and the reality, the theory and the practice, the intent and the execution. The theory of foreign aid is simple enough: If those lacking capital and technology and ideas were provided with such, they could be launched on the path of progress. In practice it has rarely ever worked like that – there is more to the equation than capital and technology and ideas. There is the shadow that falls between the theory and the results, a shadow full of objectives stated and unstated, incentives of this party and...

Cities/Urban / 26.01.2010

By Anjum Altaf In two earlier posts I had made the point that there are evidence-based methods to resolve the conflict over the proposed construction of an expressway along the Lahore Canal to reduce traffic congestion. In this post I suggest two specific approaches to achieve this objective. Before proceeding to the concrete suggestions one should note that the judiciary, having intervened in the controversy, has given both sides time to resolve the dispute through mutual discussions. I feel this approach would prove inconclusive because this is not the kind of market transaction that is conducive to negotiations that are aimed at striking a deal, e.g., an agreement to sacrifice a number of trees that lies somewhere in the middle of the range mentioned by the two sides. In fact, this kind of a negotiated solution might be worse than either alternative – as second-best solutions often are...

South Asia / 26.12.2008

In this post we present some basic facts about our region so that readers are aware of the challenges that are to be addressed. South Asia is home to 25 percent of the world’s population. Yet, it contains: 50 percent of the world’s poor people 66 percent of the world’s malnourished children 33 percent of the world’s child deaths every year 50 percent of the world’s adult illiterates (over the age of 15) 40 percent of the world’s out-of-school children (ages 6 to 14) Of South Asia’s population of 1.3 billion, approximately 1 billion (85 percent) are classified as poor surviving on less than $2 per day. Half of the region’s adults are illiterates, half of its children between the ages of 6 and 14 attend no school at all, 40 percent of its primary school children drop out before reaching the 5th grade. It is no wonder that...

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....