"Pakistan" Archive

Illiteracy meets high finance

In Shikarpur today, the govt handed out prepaid visa cards to ppl who don't understand them in places where they can't spend them.

Yes, really. They gave them out. Riots ensued. UBL regional chief clutched his head in despair. Some interesting numbers jumped up out of the whole affair, though not the numbers the card holders wanted:

Number of ppl who managed to get money out: Zero.

Number of shops or anything for that matter in a 45km district accepting cards, or even having telephone lines to connect card machines to: Zero
(46km to the nearest store accepting visa cards in Sukkur. It's a seperate issue that their machine doesn't work and they sell chocolates and pastries, not atta.)

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September 21, 2010 | Pakistan | Comments

Fatima Bhutto: Songs of Blood and Swords

I gave this book a huge margin for the fact that it's not a work of history, as the author states right in the beginning, rather it's her attempt to make sense of and come to terms with her own family history. So the following is my attempt to be less critical and hold the book to a different benchmark than my norm...

The book conveniently cherry picks a bunch of facts, true though some are, made up as others might be, to present a lopsided and sometimes made up view of history. The book is about Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his family, but switches over to dry facts and lots of omissions when convenient - in this case, Zulfi's large role in instigating and supporting the civil war in East Pakistan, and his sheer meglomania throughout in not willing to accept a party which had won more seats and more votes than his own.

There is much history written about this era, some good, many bad, and having read much of it the gloss and spin in this spin makes for painful reading.

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September 18, 2010 | Books , Pakistan | Comments

The twin countries of Greece and Pakistan

While Micheal Lewis's most recent article is on Greece, it has many parallels for Pakistan. Some excerpts below which could have been written about Pakistan as well:

After systematically looting their own treasury, in a breathtaking binge of tax evasion, bribery, and creative accounting spurred on by Goldman Sachs, Greeks are sure of one thing: they can't trust their fellow Greeks.

Just replace Goldman Sach's with the local big shots...

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September 16, 2010 | Pakistan | Comments

Benazirabad and beggars

The Karachi Relief Trust has 10 camps managed from a central location in Sakhrand. So my team got here today, liasoned with the old team we're replacing, the people on the ground, than made our way around all the 10 camps distrubuting food and here we are in Benazirabad waiting for some food ourselves now.

Nawabshah is now called SBAG - Shaheed Benazirabad Abad District something. The benefit of naming your town after her, and all other towns should follow this great idea is that everyone you can imagine a sign you have a sign. This is a great relief for people like me who can't find places without signs.

The only problem is that every place is called SBAG now and depending on the photoshop skills of the signmaker there are pics of Benazir in all sizes, ranging from Madame Tussad wax quality pictures to horrendous pale faced caricatures the likes of which are only seen in horror movies.

There has been some hue and cry in the twitterati, facebooking and bloggy circles about a billion rupee monument being build to Benazir somewhere or the other, but they missed out on the multi-billion signage being put up everywhere else!

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September 9, 2010 | Pakistan | Comments

Of flood, duds and places in between

The newest saga in the ongoing tragedy which is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is much better reported elsewhere, but within that reportage, a few things which stood out:

Burqas, chadors, hijabs and baggy shalwars aren't conducive to survival in a flood or while wading through the aftermath of a mudslide.

The common citizen has spent his or her entire life with no help from the government, yet for some reason expect the government to morph into a all beneveloent government during crisis and behave effectively. There is tragedy all around, but so many people seem to be just waiting for someone else to do something. Which isn't to bellittle the many heroes all around, but their seems to be a sense of entitlement which has no basis in reality or recent history.

The moving image is so much more powerful than print to convey the unfolding tragedy yet the majority of the talking heads, the editorial people and a bunch of others working for the TV media need to be fired, right away. Journalism isn't entertainment, though it might entertain at times, and it certainly isn't about vaccous half formed opinions. The print media, though not much better at least isn't standing around mouths agape trying to cover up the silence within with a machine gun rapid fire of drivel.

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August 11, 2010 | Pakistan | Comments

Getting from A to B

Zegras observes that fundamentally, people do not desire travel .... they wish to have accessibility. Travel is a derived demand, prompted by our activities. If we could make better use of telecommunications, or, if our cities were more compact, perhaps we would find less need for vehicle trips.

Chris Zegras on transportation in urban areas:

It's interesting, especially in light of the choices most Pakistani cities have opted regarding transport infrastructure - which in light of just about all recent academic research looks horribly wrong.

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June 7, 2010 | Pakistan | Comments

The CIA and the ISI sitting in a tree

The CIA and the ISI have a long history, but it seems they're once again sharing the same playhouse:

The C.I.A. and its Pakistani counterpart, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, have a long and often tormented relationship. [...] Yet interviews in recent days show how they are working together on tactical operations, and how far the C.I.A. has extended its extraordinary secret war beyond the mountainous tribal belt and deep into Pakistan's sprawling cities. [...] Successful missions sometimes end with American and Pakistani spies toasting one another with Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky, a gift from the C.I.A.
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March 31, 2010 | America , Pakistan | Comments

Killing your own, by Poison

A common topic in urban drawing rooms around Pakistan is how far behind the country is from the developed world. Now, that will take a whole another blog post, but one interesting metric to look at is how many people the Pakistani state deliberately kills each year by poisoning them.

So the US govt. killed at least 10,000 of it's own in a few years:
Frustrated that people continued to consume so much alcohol even after it was banned, federal officials had decided to try a different kind of enforcement. They ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States, products regularly stolen by bootleggers and resold as drinkable spirits. The idea was to scare people into giving up illicit drinking. Instead, by the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people.
They had the good sense to stop, officially in 1933, but unofficially by 1930. Over here in Pakistan, the government continues poisoning industrial alcohol, and it doesn't seem like they're going to stop any time soon. Continue reading "Killing your own, by Poison"
March 15, 2010 | America , Pakistan | Comments

America, Nukes and Pakistan

In an article on nuclear weapons in Pakistan, the New Yorker explores Pakistan's relationship with America and comes to a pretty grim conclusion:
bq. In an interview the next afternoon, an Indian official who has dealt diplomatically with Pakistan for years said, "Pakistan is in trouble, and it's worrisome to us because an unstable Pakistan is the worst thing we can have." But he wasn't sure what America could do. "They like us better in Pakistan than you Americans," he said. "I can tell you that in a public-opinion poll we, India, will beat you."

That's probably true.. the only real relationship with America is dependant on the crates of arms they send to the Army and the bribes they give people like Zardari. Some other tidbits from Musharraf:

Musharraf, who was forced out of office in August, 2008, under threat of impeachment, did not spare his successor. "Asif Zardari is a criminal and a fraud," Musharraf told me. "He'll do anything to save himself. He's not a patriot and he's got no love for Pakistan. He's a third-rater."

It's good that 2 years after his retirement Musharraf finally grew some balls and spoke about the idiot savant leader of Pakistan, Zardari.

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November 11, 2009 | America , Pakistan | Comments

A criminal gang masquerading as a pious religious movement

On TV screens across Pakistan empty heads discuss Taliban this, Taliban that, ranging from calling them soft cuddly creatures who need to be protected from the evil American's to pretty bad stuff. Somehow, though, the popular opinion seems to place them somewhere in the "bad, but misguided" bracket, or as Fox News would say, "our boys".

While there is a lot of reporting about the people the Taliban blow up, and the even more people the US and Pakistan Army have blown up in their 8 year old on and off again fight against the Taliban, there hasn't been much real reporting about the actual Taliban.

A NYTimes reporter was captured by the Taliban held for almost 8 months in captivity:

I had written about the ties between Pakistan's intelligence services and the Taliban while covering the region for The New York Times. I knew Pakistan turned a blind eye to many of their activities. But I was astonished by what I encountered firsthand: a Taliban mini-state that flourished openly and with impunity.

Everyone knows this in Pakistan, but here's the key part:

I saw the Haqqanis as a criminal gang masquerading as a pious religious movement. They described themselves as the true followers of Islam but displayed an astounding capacity for dishonesty and greed.

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October 18, 2009 | Pakistan | Comments

Milestones in the devolution of Pakistan: Death Penalty now mandatory for blasphemy

The News reports:

The death penalty is now mandatory for blasphemy, under Article 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code.

The government has been making some noise recently about how they don't support the ongoing takeover of Pakistan by the Taliban, but their actions clearly speak otherwise. The terrorists had pulled 2 steps ahead of the Pakistan government by introducing a mandatory death penalty a few years ago, but the Pakistan govt. finally woke up and is now closing the "killing it's own citizens" gap.

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April 27, 2009 | Pakistan | Comments

A short doc on the impact of Aghanistan on Pakistan, and vice versa

The video is a bit alarmist - this is a good article with a more balanced view: Our skewed world view won't let us see the real Pakistan

First for the good news: Pakistan is not about to explode. The Islamic militants are not going to take power tomorrow; the nuclear weapons are not about to be trafficked to al-Qaida; the army is not about to send the Afghan Taliban to invade India; a civil war is unlikely.

The bad news is that Pakistan poses us questions that are much more profound than those we would face if this nation of 170m, the world's second biggest Muslim state, were simply a failed state.

March 21, 2009 | Pakistan | Comments

Return of Justice, Pakistan edition, as Zardari exits backstage

A number of people asked to me about whats happening in Pakistan, so to answer some of their questions - and also because today is a momentous day in Pakistan's history - here is what happened this weekend, March 12-16, 2009. In my opinion, the most important (good) event In Pakistan's history!

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March 16, 2009 | Pakistan | Comments

A short history of Asif Ali Zardari

Asif Ali Zardari hails from a feudal background - what that means is his father owned land, probably around a few thousand acres somewhere in rural Sindh. The locals who live and farm on the land pay the landlord a rent, or often times rent + half the produce from the land. Generally, this is the only legal source of income for most landlords.

Asif's family didn't have much land as compared to the larger Sindhi landlords, and like every other Pakistani landlord, their farming practices were backwards and highly inefficient, making them in essence relatively poor, as compared to the other much larger land owning families in Sindh. While always immensely rich compared to the average Pakistani, Asif grew up with a chip on his shoulder as the class he measured himeself against was much wealthier. Perhaps thats where his innate desire to go overboard on the pursuit of wealth grew from.

Feudal landholders in Pakistan are generally not very rich, despite impressions to the contrary. Their landholdings don't generate much income. With the spread of industry and urbanization, a number of landlords have become much richer as their lands were near growing cities, hence increasing their value many fold - which enables them to sell off bits and pieces to add to their income.

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February 18, 2009 | Pakistan | Comments

The deadweight loss of Bakra Eid

The gift giving season which is Christmas is just around the corner, and once again billions of dollars are going to waste:

in general, people spend a lot more on presents than they're worth to those who receive them, a phenomenon called "the deadweight loss of Christmas." A deadweight loss is created when you spend eighty dollars to give me a sweater that I would spend only sixty-five dollars to buy myself.

The full paper The deadweight loss of Christmas - is a short, and interesting read.

While economists estimate that up to a third of the value of gifts exchanged at Christmas is lost, as the receivers value the gifts lower than what the giver bought them for, Bakra Eid is a bit like Christmas where everyone buys and receives the same gift - meat!

While there are other, non-economic benefits to the production and giving of the traditional Bakra Eid gifts, as an economic activity Bakra Eid is more akin to the Titanic, with all the hard work and effort required to save up a 100 billion rupees wrecked, with a few hardy survivors gobbling down their gifts, and the vast majority seeing all their hard earned cash slaughtered, with a few choice pieces of meat left at the end.

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December 7, 2008 | Pakistan | Comments

Zardari: We don't need no Education

Atanu Dey has been writing about the importance of education in the third world - it's basically the only way to to rise out of poverty, a point which Nicholas Kristof made recently:

Quick, what's the source of America's greatness?

Is it a tradition of market-friendly capitalism? The diligence of its people? The cornucopia of natural resources? Great presidents?

No, a fair amount of evidence suggests that the crucial factor is our school system -- which, for most of our history, was the best in the world but has foundered over the last few decades.

Pakistan just turned it's back on this whole education thing by appointing Senator Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani as Minister for Education. This is someone for who an arrest warrant was issued by the Supreme court of Pakistan, for ordering a family to hand over five minor girls for marriage to a family to compensate for a murder in Jacobabad.

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November 20, 2008 | Pakistan | Comments

The great Pakistani stock broker bailout

The Karachi stock exchange crashed all the way from 16000 to 9000 - and in the process bankrupted a lot of stockbrokers and other large players. Taking note of this severe crisis, the govt. rushed in to save the day, for stock brokers don't loose money in this country! First, the govt. changed the rules of the game - not once, not twice but thrice!

In Pakistan, stock brokers make money by borrowing from banks and using that borrowed money to play with the stock market. By law, they have to return that money along with interest in X days, while retaining all the profit. This being Pakistan, now that the value of the stocks bought on borrowed money has fallen below the amount of their loans, the stock brokers have conveniently changed the time they need to pay it back to a full year - and arm twisted the govt. to throw money at the stock market by buying shares at higher than market prices so the stock brokers can cash out and let the govt. bear the losses.

Depending on how you add up the various billions the govt. has already thrown at the stockbrokers, the total amount has already reached 150 to 200 billion rupees. The law changes alone are worth many billions - without them the entire stockbroker industry was effectively bankrupt.

In a surprise twist to the tale, a few govt. organizations have grown a backbone, and refused to just hand over govt. money over:

Four of the federal organizations have expressed their reservations on provision of a fund amounting to Rs20 billion to Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE) for pulling the share market out of the prevailing crisis.

According to sources, the Federal Government directed the State Life, National Bank, National Investment Trust and Employees Old Age Benefit Institution to extend Rs20 billion to KSE.

The federal bodies are of the view that the fund created with the money of the poor, pensioners, insurance holders and others should not be provided to KSE.

These bodies have already extended Rs5 billion to KSE in a bid to support the market.

Kudos to the above for resisting this blatant transfer of money. In the long run, the stocks might even make money, but pension money should never be gambled, even if there is a good chance of winning.

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October 27, 2008 | Pakistan | Comments

Information poverty

Google: The right information at the right time in the hands of people has enormous power.

Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent each year on providing basic public services like primary education, health, water, and sanitation to poor communities, poverty in much of Sub-Saharan Africa persists. Where does this money go, who gets it, and what are the results of the resources invested? That's where we find a big black hole of information and a lack of basic accountability. How do inputs (dollars spent) turn into outputs (schools, clinics, and wells), and, more importantly, how do outputs translate into results (literate and healthy children, clean water, etc.)?

We simply don't know the answers to most of these basic questions. But what if we could? What if a mother could find out how much money was budgeted for her daughter's school each year and how much of it was received? What if she and other parents could report how often teachers are absent from school or whether health clinics have the medicines they are supposed to carry? What if citizens could access and report on basic information to determine value for money as tax payers?

The work of The Social Development Network (SODNET) in Kenya is illustrative. They are developing a simple budget-tracking tool that allows citizens to track the allocation, use, and ultimate result of government funds earmarked for infrastructure projects in their districts. The tool is intended to create transparency in the use of tax revenues and answer the simple question: Are resources reaching their intended beneficiaries? Using tools like maps, they are able to overlay information that begins to tell a compelling story.

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October 18, 2008 | Pakistan , Technology | Comments

While the rest of the world is poised on a cliff, the Pakistan economy has already fallen off

Rumors stalk the crumbling land, each one trying to lay claim to a bigger piece of the explanation as to what's happening in the country.

From the rumors it looks like the country has had it. Shaukat Tareen and the State bank governor has flown off to foreign lands to beg for money, a govt. spokesman is on TV claiming that Pakistan is not bankrupt - meaning it is, striking fear left right and center. Some of the rumors stories floating around:

  • The country is bankrupt. This is not a rumor, as the govt. has confirmed it.
  • The rupee is over valued, and despite crashing, the govt. says it's still overvalued.
  • A number of large corporate groups are near bankruptcy
  • A few of the large stockbrokers are bankrupt
  • Exports are falling, and thus unemployment is increasing
  • Foreign capital is flying out of Pakistan
  • You can't remit money officially from Pakistan
  • Mutual funds aren't letting investors take out money

What's going to happen? Will the usual bailout show up in time? Of course it will, but in the meantime the country is just about economically dead.

Continue reading "While the rest of the world is poised on a cliff, the Pakistan economy has already fallen off"
October 10, 2008 | Pakistan | Comments

You know your country is fucked when....

The BBC reports that Pakistanis flee into Afghanistan:

The UN says 20,000 people have fled Pakistan's tribal area of Bajaur for Afghanistan amid fighting between troops and militants in recent months.

The UN's refugee agency says almost 4,000 families have crossed north-west into Afghanistan's Kunar province.

The army began a sustained campaign against militants in Bajaur nearly two months ago.

Some 300,000 others have fled east within Pakistan in recent weeks with many of them living in temporary camps.

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September 30, 2008 | Pakistan | Comments

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