Send your ads to Awab, the happy new year edition

My friend Awab is running a free advertisment campaign to highlight stuff needing highlighting, so here’s my pitch for all the issues hiding in obscure dark corners all over Pakistan, and much deserving of recognition:
How about an ad for all those lonely groups of brigadiers and colonels toiling away in obscurity hatching plan after plan, I mean only the lucky few like Benazir’s plotters end up on the front page of the Tribune, I’m sure the rest could do with publicity too!

Other countries just like Pakistan, but with extra oil

Russia steps up to the plate, but being somewhat more literate it’s descent into a mafia state is done way much better than Pakistan’s ongoing slide…

Russia is a corrupt, autocratic kleptocracy centred on the leadership of Vladimir Putin, in which officials, oligarchs and organised crime are bound together to create a “virtual mafia state”, according to leaked secret diplomatic cables that provide a damning American assessment of its erstwhile rival superpower.

Arms trafficking, money laundering, personal enrichment, protection for gangsters, extortion and kickbacks, suitcases full of money and secret offshore bank accounts in Cyprus: the cables paint a bleak picture of a political system in which bribery alone totals an estimated $300bn a year, and in which it is often hard to distinguish between the activities of the government and organised crime.

Instead of Cyprus, read Dubai and London, and of course, there is no way 300 billion dollars of bribery exchanges hands – even the biggest briber of them all only admits to about 5-6 billion dollars a year, so adding up all the rest we’re probably looking at a figure well south of a 100 billion dollars.

Read moreOther countries just like Pakistan, but with extra oil

Playing Ostrich with the Taliban

The more I read about the western world’s adventure in Afghanistan and Pakistan, bombing villages here and there to bits and occupying a country, the more surreal it gets. The latest news is a doozy – the taliban leader the US have been negotiating with for a peace deal turns out to be a fake – an enterprising Pakistani or Afghani out to make a quick buck for himself. Full props to the guy… as to the US Army and what not, no suprise they got fooled yet again:

For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement. But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all.

This guy strung around NATO for over a year! The suprising, and very interesting thing about the US involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan is that they get every single thing wrong, over and over again.

Read morePlaying Ostrich with the Taliban

The effect of Colonial rule in India

A paper on the effect of colonial rule in India, comparing areas ruled directly by the British against the indirectly ruled ones:

This paper compares economic outcomes across areas in India which were under di- rect British colonial rule with areas which were under indirect colonial rule. Controlling for selective annexation using a specific policy rule, I find that areas which experienced direct rule have significantly lower levels of access to schools, health centers and roads in the post-colonial period. I find evidence that the quality of governance in the colonial period has a significant persistent effect on post-colonial outcomes.

A recent book on Colonial India had pointed out that the gdp per capita for the average Indian fell by over 50% during the colonial period, which also suggests that Colonial rule was not quite peaches and cream for the toiling masses. Of course, the Mughal era before colonial rule wasn’t particularly better. The Mughal’s spent their empire building huge tombs and palaces, and the British did practically the same, except on an island far away with their Indian wealth.

Read moreThe effect of Colonial rule in India

No Ayaz and other morons, civil society isn’t going to take a rest

A lot of stuff written in Pakistan english newspapers is written in a language which is not exactly english, so here’s my translation into simple english of Ayaz Amir’s latest, in which he first accuses people clamoring for a change for the better for being powerless fools than asks than to stop speaking as the government, courts and army can’t function faced with all that noise. Onwards to the ill-logic which passes for opinion pieces these days:

The lawyers’ movement fostered many illusions, none more powerful than the myth that there was something called civil society in Pakistan, good people out to do good and inspired by the best of intentions. Retired bureaucrats, professors of academia in search of a cause, society girls and begums, and frustrated politicians – a politician who fails to get elected or who has nowhere to get elected from is a study in frustration – became the standard bearers of civil society.

Ayaz here says that tis no civil society in Pakistan, and only self serving washed up has-beens try to achieve any good. The cynical worldview and lack of ethics is disgusting – Ayaz says here that all of the many people involved in Pakistani society who tried to make a difference either didn’t exist and throws a bucketful of scorn on them anyways.

At the end of the day, whoever fights for a good cause, in whatever fashion, is more worthy than people like like Ayaz who make fun of them.

Read moreNo Ayaz and other morons, civil society isn’t going to take a rest

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.)

Read moreIlliteracy meets high finance

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.

Read moreFatima Bhutto: Songs of Blood and Swords

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:

bq. 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…

Read moreThe twin countries of Greece and Pakistan

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!

Read moreBenazirabad and beggars

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.

Read moreOf flood, duds and places in between