Politics / 06.03.2019

By Anjum Altaf Pakistan should be a welfare state. With millions of people straddling the poverty line, there is no other way forward. Those who believe the market will offer a solution are driven by ideology, blind fundamentalists in the same category as religious fundamentalists. Only the state can cater for such destitution and the fact that a state has no interest or ability to do so does not mean that the task should be turned over to the market. The plain truth is that the market cares nothing for those without the ability to pay and there are many more in that category than should be acceptable. Not just that, without a strong state the market doesn’t trickle wealth down it siphons it up. The only viable alternative is to force the state to deliver on its responsibility and in the long run the only...

Terrorism / 12.10.2017

By Anjum Altaf Could it be argued that there are good and bad extremists just as there are good and bad Muslims? If so, the proposal to identify extremists in universities might be misplaced. Extremism has become conflated with violence and terrorism which is a partial interpretation. The dictionary defines extremism as “belief in and support for ideas that are very far from what most people consider correct or reasonable” which widens the scope for a more nuanced understanding. Put that neutral definition together with the observation of Bertrand Russell that “the tyranny of the majority is a very real danger” and that “it is mistake to think that the majority is necessarily right” and one can argue that almost all human progress has been due to extremists who have challenged the moribund ideas of majorities. Think of Galileo  or of the injunction to learn even if...

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...

Terrorism / 09.03.2017

By Anjum Altaf I speak as a layperson not as an expert on the subject and so may be missing a lot but I have a strong feeling something is very wrong with the way terrorism is being combated in the country. If I am mistaken, and I fervently wish I am, I would really appreciate someone explaining what might be going on. Ever since the recent spate of suicide bombings a feverish campaign has been launched against terrorists and if reports are to be believed over a hundred have been eliminated just in a couple of days. What puzzles me is how the terrorists who have been eliminated have been identified and located so quickly. Did we always know where they were but were letting them be for some reason? If we were letting them be was it because we did not have enough evidence they...

Reflections / 24.02.2017

By Anjum Altaf   For Sheema Kermani - because she went   Go(After Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Aaj Bazaar meiN Pa ba JaullaN Chalo) Unwept tears, inner tormentsEnoughHidden desires, silent accusationsEnough GoFlaunt your fetters in the streetArms aloft, enraptured, intoxicatedDisheveled, blood stainedGoLovers are yearning for your loveGo Tyrant and crowdAwaitSlings and stonesAwaitSorrows and failuresAwait Who else is left to loveBut youWho else is left to fightBut youWho else is left to dieBut you Arise and goFor love’s honorGo   Note Sehwan is home to the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a major sufi saint in Sindh, where a suicide bombing killed 88 devotees on February 16, 2017. Sheema Kermani is a symbol of defiance in Pakistan as a dancer who has continued to perform in public all through the rise of fundamentalism and suppression. She went to the shrine to join the devotees on February 20. The news story is here. This poem appeared first on 3 Quarks Daily  on February 23,...

Cities/Urban / 21.11.2015

By Anjum Altaf Let me explain. Imagine a number of you are in a boat out at sea and a hole opens up in the bottom. If everyone waits for another to do something, everyone will drown. Someone will have to do something for a chance of survival. Right? Now extend the metaphor to your community or your country where a number of big holes have opened up in the bottom. And there is no one plugging the holes. In fact, there are a lot of people enlarging them instead. All of you are intelligent. What do you see as the likely outcome? The point I am making is the following. Most societies have their share of activists motivated by all sorts of reasons. Their presence makes it possible for the majority to go on with their day to day engagements confident that even if they do nothing the...

Terrorism / 04.08.2014

By Anjum Altaf Here are two disappointing questions with which Amos Oz, the grandfather of Israeli peaceniks, began a recent interview: QUESTION 1: What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap, and starts shooting machine-gun fire into your nursery? QUESTION 2: What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family? The way this comes across is as if everything was going along swimmingly, we were the greatest of friends, and suddenly I discover you are sitting in your balcony pointing a machine-gun or digging a tunnel into my nursery. Clearly that’s not the way it is. Leave aside the contentious history stretching back decades about who's sitting in whose balcony at the end...

Politics / 11.09.2011

By Anjum Altaf The response to 9/11 has been challenged along two lines: that it imposed a huge cost on the world without making it much safer; and that a legal-political approach would have yielded better outcomes. Both arguments, implicitly or explicitly, presume that an alternative response was possible. A reassessment of this presumption can help highlight some less discussed aspects of our world before and after 9/11. Prima facie it is plausible to assert that it was not necessary to frame the 9/11 provocation as an act of war. It could have been classified as a crime, albeit a spectacular one, and prosecuted using political leverage as needed. Given the near universal condemnation of the act and the swell of support for the US from nation-states, concerted political pressure on a weak Afghan state would in all likelihood have delivered the masterminds of the crime to...

Cities/Urban / 16.07.2011

By Anjum Altaf There are incidents in the lives of big cities that call for sorrow, but once the dust clears, no lamentation and no expression of sorrow can really do a city justice. A place that is home to millions deserves better. I aim to explore the meaning of Mumbai and then return to the salience of this latest incidence of violence in the frame of that larger context. The meaning of a city like Mumbai is mirrored in a million stories. Take one, that of the renowned music director Naushad. Born in Lucknow and obsessed with music, he was given the choice between his home and his passion by his father. Naushad ran away to Bombay; the rest is history. That, however, is not the point. Even if the rest had not been history, the fact remains that Bombay was a place one could run away to,...

Aid / 09.06.2011

By Anjum Altaf Beyond Bullets and Bombs is the title of the latest report on aid to Pakistan from the Center for Global Development in Washington, DC. In light of the increasingly anti-Pakistan sentiment in the U.S., the report, addressed to decision and policy makers in Washington, takes on the brief to make the best possible case for the continuation of aid. Hence the subtitle: Fixing the U.S. Approach to Development in Pakistan. The report is a revealing illustration of advocacy over analysis; a more open examination would have begun by questioning the impacts of U.S. aid to Pakistan, before deciding if the total benefits of “fixing” it exceeded the total cost to both sides. It is to the report’s credit that it is forthright and includes all the relevant pieces of information, but the way it uses that information is determined by the choice it makes.What...