Monday, November 30, 2009

Bhopal Victims of the Worst Industrial Accident

The year 1984 is remembered as a tragic year in India's history. Not only did the nation lose Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to the assasins' bullets, the nation also lost thousands of Sikhs in the riots that followed the political assassination, and thousands of Muslims and hundreds of Hindus in Bhopal's deadly gas leak of December 3, 1984. The Bhopal disaster is still believed to be the world's worst industrial accident that instantaneously claimed the lives of at least 2,500 people, and injured about 400,000, with the toll still rising to this day.

Media reports indicate that a leak of the toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) occurred that night when it reacted with a large volume of water that seeped into the MIC storage tanks. Detection and subsequent action by Union Carbide employees was too late to contain the leak, and forty tons of MIC flowed out of the tanks over two hours. And even if they had reacted immediately, the safety standards accepted at the plant would not have allowed them to do anything about it. Thus the MIC gas escaped into the atmosphere and drifted five miles downwind over the city of Bhopal, population 900,000, poisoning all in its path. The cause of the gas leak remains in dispute. Union Carbide says it was an act of sabotage, the malicious work of a disgruntled employee who added water to a storage tank, which caused a reaction that built up heat and pressure. However, no one has been charged.

The most seriously affected areas are those nearest the plant, the absolutely poorest sector of the population, mostly Muslims. Prior to the tragedy, the city evoked the splendor of its Muslim past. It was here that princes and princesses rode elephants draped in gold. It is the home of the Taj-ul-Masjid, one of the largest mosques in the country. The "City of Lakes" lies along a sandstone ridge.

There is a continuing stalemate on the clean up of the plant site and its vicinity of hundreds of tons of toxic waste, which remains untouched. Environmentalists have warned that the toxic waste could result in contamination causing decades of slow poisoning, and diseases affecting the nervous system, liver and kidneys in humans. According to activists, there are studies showing that the rates of cancer and other ailments are high in the region. Activists have demanded that Dow clean up this toxic dump, and have pressed the government of India to demand more money from Dow.

Indian officials claim that most of the $470 million in compensation received from Union Carbide has been distributed, but there are lingering suspicions that a large part the funds have been lost to corruption. Another $40 million has been used to build the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Center, which opened in 2000.

Governmemnt officials have dismissed claims that the pesticide plant at Bhopal is still leaking dangerous toxins into drinking water. However, a report published by the British-based charity the Bhopal Medical Appeal (BMA) and the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal says there is evidence that "there are still high levels of toxic chemicals in the drinking water supply in 15 communities near the old Union Carbide pesticide plant".

The report says the water "in and around the Union Carbide factory site in Bhopal still contains extremely unsafe levels of carbon tetrachloride and other persistent organic pollutants, solvents, nickel and other heavy metals". "Not surprisingly," the report claims, "the populations in the areas surveyed have high rates of birth defects, rapidly rising cancer rates, neurological damage, chaotic menstrual cycles and mental illness." The scientists at Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)have announced plans to investigate the long-term health effects of the disaster, including studies to see if the toxic gases caused genetic disorders, low birth weight, growth and development disorders, congenital malformation and biological markers of MIC/toxic gas exposure.

Many of the survivors of this tragedy still live in crowded slums near the abandoned factory walls. In addition to continuing high rates of various ailments in the surviving population and their children, the effects of the accident twenty five years ago this month have also set the city's economic development back by decades, causing widespread and long-lasting poverty well beyond the areas affected by the initial gas cloud.

The economy of the state of Madhya Pradesh, of which Bhopal is the capital, is growing at a rate of about 4% per year, much slower than the national average for India. There are more hungry people in India than anywhere else in the world, though Madhya Pradesh is the only state in the country where the level of hunger is "extremely alarming", according to the India State Hunger Index.

Six in 10 children in the state are undernourished, and more people suffer from hunger here than in Ethiopia or Sudan, according to the index, which was published in October 2008.

Dow Chemicals, which now owns Union Carbide, is facing corruption allegations in India. India's Central Bureau of Investigation raided offices of a Dow subsidiary in 2007. The raids followed allegations of bribes being paid to Indian regulatory officials to facilitate licenses for Dow pesticide products. In 2007, Dow paid a $325,000 penalty to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to settle an S.E.C. investigation into those same payments.

Dow has also enlisted some strong allies here, including big corporate names like Tata and Reliance conglomerates, and some top government officials including Commerce Minister Kamal Nath.

As India, Pakistan and other developing nations vie for foreign direct investments by multi-national companies seeking to set up industries to lower their production costs and increase their profits, the lessons of Bhopal must not be forgotten. It is the responsibility of the governments of the developing countries to insist on legislating and enforcing strict environmental and safety standards to protect their people to avoid another Bhopal. Public interest groups, NGOs and environmental and labor activists must press the politicians and the bureaucrats to protect the people against the growing safety hazards stemming from increasing global footprint of large industrial conglomerates.

Related Links:

Grinding Poverty in Resurgent India

Health Risks Rise as Bunge Jumps in Pakistan

Merchants of Death Eye Pakistan Market

Pakistan Chemical Industry Overview

Horrors of Bhopal 1984

Sikh Victims of 1984 Massacre in India

Ending Corruption Not a Priority in South Asia

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pakistan's NRO and Corrupt Democracies of South Asia

Indian and Pakistani democracies have a lot in common. Both systems of governance are a legacy of the British Raj; both have failed to deliver basic necessities, good governance, rule of law and speedy justice to the vast majority of their people; both have been marred by a close nexus between crime and politics; both have many criminals, including violent felons, as members of the legislature and the executive. But the big difference is in the top leadership; the Indian democracy is led by Dr. Manmohan Singh, also known as Mr. Clean; Pakistani democracy has Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, often labeled as Mr. Ten Percent, as its top leader.

The culture of rampant political corruption has come in sharp focus for Pakistanis with the recent release of the names of the beneficiaries of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), a euphemism for the 2007 US-sponsored amnesty decree by former President Musharraf. There are 34 prominent politicians, including President Asif Ali Zardari and his close associates, topping the NRO beneficiaries list of about 8000 people accused of corruption.

This is by no means a complete list of all the corrupt politicians in Pakistan; it's mainly a list of politicians and bureaucrats included in the "NRO" deal struck between President Musharraf and late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto under pressure from Washington. The PML politicians have been explicitly excluded from the pardon under the deal. For example, it does not include the Sharif brothers, who have had serious charges of crime and corruption leveled against them, as recently brought out by the affidavits of the PML leader Ishaq Dar, that implicated both of the Sharif brothers in money laundering. The NRO list is probably just the tip of a much larger iceberg threatening Pakistan's national security, current stability and future prospects.

Of the 278 current Indian MPs for whom records are obtainable, 63 have criminal backgrounds. Of those, 11 have been charged with murder and two stand accused of dacoity (banditry). Other alleged misdemeanors range from fraud to kidnapping, according to data collected by National Election Watch, the campaign group that has put together the data. Fortunately for India, none of these criminal politicians occupy the top leadership positions in New Delhi. The honest leaders at the top, leaders like Dr. Manmohan Singh, set a good example of honest, selfless public service for the rest of Indian society.

Unfortunately, the criminal justice system in South Asia is incapable of speedy resolution when the rich and powerful are accused of crimes. “The speed of the Indian judicial system means it can take 30 years to complete a case – easily long enough to live out a full political career,” Mr Himanshu Jha, of India's National Social Watch Coalition, told the Times Online recently. If the NRO were to be allowed to lapse on November 28 as expected, the politicians in Pakistan can easily avoid accountability by filing appeals after appeals in a slow-moving justice system, where it's easy to pay the lawyers and the judges to push out the trial dates, or to make deals to get the charges dismissed altogether.

Predictably, the PML party members led by Nawaz Sharif, who are waiting in the wings to grab power, are playing up the PPP corruption issue for their own benefit. At the same time, many pro-PPP advocates for democracy in Pakistan are counseling patience in the interest of "national security" and "political stability".

The fact is that these “democratic" leaders are so thoroughly corrupt that they can be bought for a fistful of dollars by any body, including the sworn enemies of Pakistan. The kind of stability that will come from these people will only encourage more crime by politicians and growing cynicism among the suffering people of Pakistan, as born out by a recent British Council survey that shows 80% of Pakistani youth are pessimistic about their future.

Rampant corruption by the top leaders is highly corrosive for the entire society. Ignoring the crimes and corruption of top leaders will neither boost national security nor political stability. In fact, it will do just the opposite, by eating away at Pakistan's guts from within. It will make Pakistan more vulnerable to complete failure and ultimate collapse without help from of any external enemies.

To pave the way for a more responsive, better governed, and modern industrialized democracy, the model that is most likely to deliver what Pakistanis need now in terms of political stability and economic opportunity is the ASEAN model, adopted by Suharto of Indonesia, Mahathir of Malaysia and Lee Kuan Yu of Singapore. These three benevolent, relatively honest and competent dictators of ASEAN, who were repressive and ruthless at times, transformed their nations from poor and backward agrarian societies to powerful, industrialized and democratic Asian tigers.

Given its large size, the Indonesian development model under Suharto should be of particular interest to Pakistanis. During Suharto’s three decades in power, Indonesia’s economy grew an average of 7 percent annually, and living standards rose substantially for the bulk of the population. Education and mass literacy programs were used to promote the national language, Bahasa Indonesia, and to unify the country’s disparate ethnic groups and scattered islands. While Suharto used unfettered dictatorial powers and his own family benefited greatly from Indonesia's crony capitalism and its rapid economic growth, the nation reaped huge benefits as well, and eventually, the significantly enlarged, educated and prosperous Indonesian middle class asserted itself and brought democracy to Indonesia after forcing Suharto out in 1998.

Here is an interesting video clip of a Pakistani minister's frank admission of the PPP involvement in bribery. Listen to Mr. Abdul Qayyum Khan Jatoi, Federal Minister for Defense Production, proclaiming that it is the “political right” of every politician to do corruption: “yaar, karrapshun pay humara haq nahiN hai, aur unn ka hai!”:

Here's a video report about the arrest of the same PPP minister Abdul Qayyum Khan Jatoi in 2008 by Islamabad Police at a Islamabad brothel called Cat Club before he was sworn in as a Federal Minister in the current cabinet:

Related Links:

Musharraf's Legacy


Challenges For Indian Democracy

Zardari Corruption Probe

Pakistan's Feudal Democracy

Blackwater Bribing in Pakistan

The Politics of NRO

ASEAN Architect Suharto Passes On

Suharto's New Order

Money Laundering Charges Against Sharifs

The NRO Beneficiaries List

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Chinese Strategy in South Asia

China is beginning to act more like a global superpower by playing an increasingly important role in its South Asian neighborhood, with growing interest in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

The United States, as the reigning superpower deeply involved in South Asia, essentially acknowledged China's stature in the region when the following paragraph found its way into the joint communique issued by President Barak Obama and President Hu Jintao at the end their recent summit in Beijing:

"The two sides welcomed all efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia. They support the efforts of Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight terrorism, maintain domestic stability and achieve sustainable economic and social development, and support the improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan. The two sides are ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region."

Coming a week before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Washinton, these developments have already caused consternation in New Delhi, prompting Times of India to complain in the following words:

"China , Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Pakistan... US president Barack Obama ran through the gamut of nations as he articulated another elegant Asia policy speech in Tokyo this week. Conspicuous by its absence was India. Was India not on his radar? Or was it such a close ally that he skipped naming it at a public function? It left New Delhi wondering. Just two days later, bam! He did something even more astonishing by acquiescing in a Chinese demand to let Beijing assume the role of a monitor in South Asia, an area where China is seen by India as part of the problem, not the solution."

China's rapidly growing gigantic economy is hungry for natural resources from around the world, and the neighboring Afghanistan's potential for mining such resources is not lost on China. In addition to helping bail out the ailing US economy, China is using some of its vast cash reserves of $2 trillion to offer supplier financing as well as insurance for the non-Chinese partners to cover political and credit risk in the emerging markets. With bilateral trade volume of about $7 billion, Pakistan is only one example of Chinese interest. Others include politically-risky Afghanistan, and many nations of Sub-Saharan Africa where the Chinese are financing and building major infrastructure projects. In Afghanistan, China has committed nearly $2.9 billion to develop the Aynak copper field, including the infrastructure that must be built with it such as a power station to run the operation and a railroad to haul the tons of copper it hopes to extract. The Aynak project is the biggest foreign investment in Afghanistan to date, according to Reuters. The trade between Africa and China has grown an average of 30% in the past decade, topping $106 billion last year. China has already become Latin America's second largest trading partner after the United States.

Clearly, Afghanistan is very important to China as well as Pakistan. And it is in the interest of both nations to try and counter the rising Indian influence in Afghanistan, facilitated by the regional US presence, that poses political and economic risks to both China and Pakistan. The following excerpt from US General Stanley McChrystal’s recent assessment of the war in Afghanistan has got the attention of Pakistan and China:

“Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan, including significant development efforts and financial investment. In addition, the current Afghan government is perceived by Islamabad to be pro-Indian. While Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people, increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani counter-measures in Afghanistan or India.”

It will be interesting to watch how the competing interests and alliances play out in Afghanistan, especially after the eventual American exit from the region.

China's growing role in Kashmir can be gauged from the fact that the top Kashmiri separatist leader in the Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the Chairman of Hurriyat Conference in Indian-occupied Kashmir, has been invited to visit Beijing. He said he accepted the invitation and hoped to give Chinese diplomats and other officials a "perspective" on the situation in Kashmir. This is the first time ever that Beijing has invited any Kashmiri separatist leader to visit China.

Media reports indicate that India and Pakistan have had two rounds of meetings in Bangkok in the past three weeks as part of the back-channel diplomacy on Kashmir. The dialogue was held between former Pakistan High Commissioner Aziz Ahmed Khan and former RAW chief A S Dullat.

Mirwaiz confirmed to the Indian Express in a recent interview that the four-point formula proposed by former Pakistani President Musharraf is being revived to try and settle the Kashmir issues. The Musharraf formula envisions soft or porous borders in Kashmir with freedom of movement for the Kashmiris; exceptional autonomy or "self-governance" within each region of Kashmir; phased demilitarization of all regions; and finally, a "joint supervisory mechanism," with representatives from India, Pakistan and all parts of Kashmir, to oversee the plan’s implementation.

“India is not ready for the joint-management part of the proposals which talk about joint control of foreign affairs, currency and communications in Kashmir,” Mirwaiz told the Indian Express. “There’s a broader agreement on the other aspects of this settlement model”.

The Hurriyat chairman said the new momentum in back-channel engagements among India, Pakistan and Hurriyat is because the US is pushing for movement in Kashmir to address Pakistani concerns. “There are several geo-political factors that are in play and persuading New Delhi to act,” Mirwaiz said. Apparently, the engagement has the blessing of China as well.

On contacts with New Delhi, Mirwaiz said that he would wait for back channels to produce something tangible before entering into a public dialogue with the India government. Mirwaiz met with Pakistani High Commissioner Shahid Malik last week. Meanwhile, former Hurriyat chairman Abdul Gani Bhat has been in Delhi for the past 10 days. He, Mirwaiz said, has maintained “communication” with “people from the government.” Bhat has also met twice with the Pakistani High Commissioner.

If the ongoing efforts on Kashmir make significant progress, the results of improved India-Pakistan ties will have a salutary effect on the entire region, raising the US hopes to see light at the end of the tunnel in Afghanistan.

Related Links:

Obama's Afghan Exit Strategy

Kashmir Erupts Again

Chinese Do Good and Do Well

China's Checkbook Diplomacy

US Dalliance With Beijing

Obama's Retreat on Mid East and South Asia

Kashmir Holds Key to Peace in South Asia

President Musharraf's Legacy

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Online Maps---Petaluma to Peshawar and Kashmir

After painfully watching the heartbreaking scenes of carnage in Pakistani provincial capital of NWFP on TV screens, it came as a pleasant surprise to see the New York Times mention Peshawar in a different context; volunteer cartographers contributing to digital maps "from Petaluma to Peshawar". It particularly caught my attention because I have had the pleasure of visiting both of these fine cities, and I currently live not too far from the one in California.

"From Petaluma to Peshawar, these amateurs are arming themselves with GPS devices and easy-to-use software to create digital maps where none were available before, or fixing mistakes and adding information to existing ones", said the NY Times, referring to the volunteer mapmakers contributing to digital maps offered by Google, OpenStreetMaps and others. While both Google and OpenStreetMaps are community created, the main difference between the two is that OpenStreetMap provides its map data under a Creative Commons license and the maps created by users of Google Map Maker are the intellectual property of Google.

Open Street Map (OSM) is a geo project that lets anyone update it. Volunteers donate time and energy uploading GPS tracks, building supporting software, and editing the core data. OSM is growing quickly. As an open data project, OSM makes its data freely available to anyone. This enables custom mapping applications like the OSM Cycle Map. It is also being used commercially by a real estate site Nestoria and by VC-funded startup Cloudmade.

Google Maps has varying levels of coverage of the entire globe (as do its competitors like Microsoft Bing Maps and Yahoo! Maps). Most of the data that is used by Google Maps and displayed comes from Tele Atlas (owned by TomTom) and NAVTEQ (a wholly owned subsidiary of Nokia). More than year ago Google released the ability to move addresses or add a new place. With this feature any logged in user can make an edit; you can even watch the edits in a realtime viewer. If your change is accepted it will show up in Google Maps. Road geometry and address changes derived from Tele Atlas data will be sent back to Tele Atlas to help improve its information. The updated data will eventually make it into new-owner Tomtom's GPSs and potentially Google's competitors who also use Tele Atlas. The data collected via MapMaker will not be shared with Tele Atlas.

Google is gradually dropping its dependence on the traditional commercial map vendors like TeleAtlas and Navteq. Instead, it is relying on unpaid volunteers to create digital maps of 140 countries, including India, Pakistan and the Philippines, that are more complete than many maps created professionally. One such volunteer mentioned in the NY Times story is Faraz Ahmad, a 26-year-old programmer from Pakistan who now lives in Glasgow, Scotland. He took one look at the map of India and decided he did not want to see his native Pakistan left behind by its traditional rival. So he began mapping Pakistan in his free time, using information from friends, family and existing maps. Faraz Ahmad is now the top contributor to Google Map Maker, logging more than 41,000 changes.

India-Pakistan rivalry took on a new dimension when Faraz tried to work on Azad Kashmir, and he found that Map Maker wouldn’t allow it. He said his contributions were finally accepted by the Map Maker team, which is led by engineers based in India, but only after a long e-mail exchange.

At his request, Google is now preventing further changes to the disputed region, after people in India tried to make it part of their country, Faraz told the NY Times. “Whenever you have a Pakistani and an Indian doing something together, there is a political discussion or dispute.”

In addition to Faraz, there is a whole community of Pakistani volunteer programmers and mapmakers currently adding roads, streets, businesses, crossings and various points of interest (POIs) for areas for which there are no maps defined yet. Then other users approve or disapprove the additions and changes. Eventually, the maps are posted to Google maps and Google maps mobile. Fairly detailed Google maps for mobile are available today for Pakistan. Such searchable, navigable and routable digital maps are expected to help grow real estate, travel, transportation, retail, financial services, healthcare and emergency services and other service sectors.

The reason why mobile maps have come first is because of the large user base of about 80-90 million mobile phone subscribers. Pakistan has a vast data network over GSM/GPRS/EDGE and EVDO and there are no alternative street navigation systems, with the exception of fairly expensive car navigation systems costing tens of thousands of rupees. Google has a database of cell Towers in Pakistan, and with the help of these towers it identifies the location of the user in real time, within about 10 to 20 meters and sometimes up to 3000 to 4000 meters, depending upon the density of cell towers in a given area. If the mobile phone has data service enabled, the user can download the Google mobile map application from After downloading the application and installing it, it is available in the applications folder of the mobile phone.

A number of GPS enthusiasts have also developed Garmin compatible navigation maps for Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and a few other cities in Pakistan. But it's rare to see car navigation systems in Pakistan.

As painful as it is to watch the constant media coverage of blood and terror in the streets of Pakistan, the NY Times story of volunteer cartographers and the recent Karachi Fashion Week illustrate that there is more to Pakistan than meets the eyes or reaches the ears of the passive consumers of the western and Pakistani news media.

I am glad that there are enough volunteer programmers and amateur cartographers in Pakistan to attempt to build detailed digital maps and maintain them in their spare time--without the assistance of commercial vendors like Tele Atlas and Navteq who did the same for North America and Europe at huge costs. The main contribution of the government under President Musharraf was to invest in the growth of the telecommunications, higher education, and the Internet infrastructure, a pre-requisite for online volunteer collaboration in projects such as map making. It shows what the Pakistani people are capable of doing with just a little help, in spite of the continuing institutional failures in Pakistan. As I have said before, and I repeat here again, it is better to light a candle than curse darkness.

Here's a video clip explaining Google Maps for mobile:

Related Links:

Life Goes On in Pakistan

Pakistan's Multi-billion Dollar IT Industry

Routable Maps of Karachi, Pakistan

Online Maps: Everyman Offers New Directions

Mapping Pakistan

Digitizing Pakistan

Google Maps Come to Pakistan

EVDO Pakistan

GPS Automotive Navigation in Pakistan

SatNav in Pakistan

Pakistan Cartography Wiki Project

Light a Candle, Do Not Curse Darkness

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Sane Indian Cautions Against "Unconcealed Delight"

Shekhar Gupta of Indian Express argues that India has "a stake in Pakistan’s survival and moderation as a democratic state" and warns against "utterly unconcealed sense of delight" about the daily carnage in Pakistan. Gupta cautions against the prevailing "smugness" in his country and adds, "This is not just the mood of the mobs here. Even the “intelligentsia”, the TV talking heads, opinion page columnists, government spokespersons, all have the same smug air of “I-told-you-so” and “so-what-else-did-they-expect” satisfaction. And they ask the same patronizing question: hell, can Pakistan be saved?"

Gupta concludes his piece by saying, "Time has therefore come to nuance our policy as well as national mood and psychology, to not merely reopen communication with Pakistan but to also make moves, offers, anything that will enhance the power and credibility of its government which, with all its faults, is still the most moderate of all forces in that region. Finally, time has also come to set in place some kind of diplomatic standard operating procedures in case more terror attacks take place because a third round of coercive diplomacy may spin out of control. We have to now demonstrate a stake in Pakistan’s survival and moderation as a democratic state. Just bombing somebody there in anger won’t work, because people who are targeting us are also targeting the rest of the modern world, from Chicago to Copenhagen."

Here is the complete text of Gupta's column published by the Indian Express:

My alma mater of 12 wonderful years in journalism, India Today, just came out with a provocative idea on its cover: Can Pakistan Be Saved? I, however, dare to suggest that in India we need to ask that question a little differently: Should Pakistan Be Saved? Then you can proceed with follow-on questions and corollaries: is it good or bad for us if Pakistan is saved/ not saved? And if we conclude that it is good for us, in fact of vital interest to us, that Pakistan is not only “saved” but emerges a stronger, stabler, moderate, modernizing and democratic nation through its current crisis, then we need to think what we can do to help that process.

For too long now both India and Pakistan have had their judgment clouded by contemptuous distrust of each other. The Pakistanis refer to us as their enemies rather more freely. We are a bit more cautious, hypocritical, and non-Punjabi about the use of such direct language. But let’s be honest. Can we deny the fact that every new terror attack on the Pakistani establishment, every development that marks a further decline in the authority of its government is greeted with an utterly unconcealed sense of delight? This is not just the mood of the mobs here. Even the “intelligentsia”, the TV talking heads, opinion page columnists, government spokespersons, all have the same smug air of “I-told-you-so” and “so-what-else-did-they-expect” satisfaction. And they ask the same patronising question: hell, can Pakistan be saved?

One has to be brave, even foolhardy, to go against a flood of such national unanimity. But you have to now debate if it will be good for India that Pakistan continues to slide. Or, do we have the wherewithal to deal with whatever is left behind, if Pakistan does not survive? Can we deal with five anarchic, angry “stans” instead of one next door to us, with no central authority to share a hotline with? Would we prefer to live with a nuclear-armed anarchy that listens to nobody? What use will coercive diplomacy be then? Who will we bomb?

It is time therefore to stop jubilating at the unfolding tragedy in Pakistan. India has to think of becoming a part of the solution. And that solution lies in not merely saving Pakistan — Pakistan will survive. It has evolved a strong nationalism that does bind its people even if that does not reflect in its current internal dissensions. It is slowly building a democratic system, howsoever imperfect. But it has a very robust media and a functional higher judiciary. Also, in its army, it has at least one national institution that provides stability and continuity. The question for us is, what kind of Pakistan do we want to see emerging from this bloodshed? What if fundamentalists of some kind, either religious or military or a combination of both, were to take control of Islamabad? The Americans will always have the option of cutting their losses and leaving. They have a long history of doing that successfully, from Vietnam to Iraq and maybe Afghanistan next. What will be our Plan-B then?

Smugness breeds intellectual laziness. Maybe that is why we feel so comforted with the idea of outsourcing the responsibility of stabilizing and moderating the Pakistani state and society to the Americans. We talk of their Af-Pak strategy as if it is some funny superpower game being played some place far, far away. We laugh at their failures just as we smile the cynical “didn’t-I-know-it-was-coming” smile each time Islamabad receives a knock from its own terrorists. This is delusional. As the Americans would say, the sooner we get off this kerb, the better.

Both, as a responsible and important regional power, as well as a permanent resident in this very nasty neighborhood, we cannot leave our future to the Americans and sit back. We have to be constructively pro-active now. We may not like this government of Pakistan, or we may not think they have as much power as a government should have, but we have to talk to it. It’s now been a year since communication broke down after 26/11 and the prime minister’s effort to break out at Sharm el-Sheikh ran into the wall of accumulated prejudice and anger. That process has to be resumed now. We can sacrifice another two or more generations waiting and that perfect moment to make one more peace move to Pakistan may never come. So look at this as a reasonably good moment to do so.

As the Headley-Rana revelations show, nothing can guarantee another terror attack will not happen in India. It also shows that what we now face is not just the ISI or groups controlled by it. They may still play footsie with some limbs of this monster but essentially it is now out of their control. Our supreme national interest lies in Islamabad winning its own war on terror. It can be nobody’s case that the terrorists should win this war. Your enemy’s enemy being your friend is an unquestionable truism. But in this case, the enemy’s enemy will in fact be a larger threat so we must hope that the “enemy” wins and do what we can to help it in that war.

Time has therefore come to nuance our policy as well as national mood and psychology, to not merely reopen communication with Pakistan but to also make moves, offers, anything that will enhance the power and credibility of its government which, with all its faults, is still the most moderate of all forces in that region. Finally, time has also come to set in place some kind of diplomatic standard operating procedures in case more terror attacks take place because a third round of coercive diplomacy may spin out of control. We have to now demonstrate a stake in Pakistan’s survival and moderation as a democratic state. Just bombing somebody there in anger won’t work, because people who are targeting us are also targeting the rest of the modern world, from Chicago to Copenhagen.

Here's how I understand Shekhar Gupta's arguments:

If terrorism continues to grow in Pakistan and the terrorists, who are a very small minority in a nation of 170 million, score any significant victories, more frequent and bigger attacks in India will become inevitable. Some of these attacks will precipitate a much more deadly conflict between India and Pakistan that will destroy both nations. The gung-ho urban middle class in India which seems to be enjoying the death and destruction in Pakistan will become the biggest losers of India-Pak conflict. A strong Pakistani democratic and moderate state that delivers economic well-being is the only hope for India to prevent this from happening.

I think Gupta's analysis is spot on.

Related Links:

Is Pakistan Too Big to Fail?

Our faff-Pak Policy

Obama's Retreat in Mid East and South Asia

Pakistan is Not Falling

Can India Do a Lebanon in Pakistan?

Gaza Killings---Spectator Sport in Israel

Indians' Old Obsession With Pakistan

Pakistan On the Brink

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Domestic Politics Dominate US South Asia Policy

"America is not - and never will be - at war with Islam," declared Barak Hussein Obama in a June, 2009 speech in Cairo that was billed as his administration's attempt to mend fences with the Muslim world. The speech was received enthusiastically by many Muslims, and it raised hopes of fundamental changes in US policies in the Middle East and South Asia.

Just a few months later, however, considerable doubts are growing in the Muslim world about President Obama's resolve to effectively and evenhandedly address the long-standing territorial disputes confronting the peoples of the Middle East and South Asia. The hopes for course correction in US policy on Kashmir and Palestine are fading fast with the Obama administration's dramatic retreat on both fronts.

After repeatedly emphasizing that Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan is inextricably linked to Afghanistan crisis, President Barack Obama backtracked on the need for resolving Kashmir when the issue was dropped from special envoy Richard Holbrooke's mandate under pressure from Indian lobby in Washington. According to Washington Post, India managed to "prune the portfolio of the Obama administration's top envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard C. Holbrooke -- basically eliminating the contested region of Kashmir from his job description".

In run-up to the last US presidential elections, it was widely known that Obama believes the situation in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. “The most important thing we’re going to have to do with respect to Afghanistan, is actually deal with Pakistan,” candidate Obama said in an interview on October 30, 2008 with MSNBC. “And we’ve got work with the newly elected government there in a coherent way that says, terrorism is now a threat to you. Extremism is a threat to you. We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants.”

Obama reiterated his emphasis on Kashmir in a December 7, 2008 interview on NBC's Meet The Press. He said, " I've said before, we can't continue to look at Afghanistan in isolation. We have to see it as a part of a regional problem that includes Pakistan, includes India, includes Kashmir, includes Iran. And part of the kind of foreign policy I want to shape is one in which we have tough, direct diplomacy combined with more effective military operations, focused on what is the number one threat against U.S. interests and U.S. lives. And that's al-Qaeda and, and, and their various affiliates, and we are going to go after them fiercely in the years to come."

The story of betrayal is not much different in the Middle East where the Obama administration first insisted on total freeze on Israeli settlements only to retreat after tremendous pressure from the powerful Israel lobby in Washington. In fact, Hillary Clinton not only gave in to the Israel lobby, but described as "unprecedented" Bibi Netanyahu's hollow assurance to "restrain" settlement growth. The immediate effect of this about-face in US policy has been the decision by President Mahmoud Abbas of Palestinian Authority to not seek re-election, a clear signal that the Mr. Abbas, considered a "reliable partner" for peace, feels betrayed by the Americans. This betrayal will only serve the strengthen the extremists on both sides of the Israel-Palestine divide.

Unfortunately, the domestic politics in Washington have trumped good, well-thought policies and plans by the well-meaning Obama team in both of the extremely dangerous regions of the world.

It is well known that the India caucus, consisting of pro-India members who receive campaign contributions from the Indian lobby, is one of the largest and most active in the US Congress. To ensure their loyalty, the Indian lobby is using both carrots and sticks. Following the Israel lobby's hardball methods, USINPAC helps raise funds for those who support pro-India policies, and threatens to unseat legislators such as Indiana Rep. Dan Burton who are sometimes critical of India. Since its inception, USINPAC has launched campaigns to neutralize Rep. Burton and others who do not do the bidding of the Indian lobby in US Congress. In 2005, USINPAC organized support in Congress to successfully prevent Rep. Burton from becoming the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee. In 2003, USINPAC organized a similar campaign to successfully prevent Rep. Burton from becoming the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee that had jurisdiction over India.

Pakistani Ambassador Hussain Haqqani recently told a US publication that the Indo-U.S. relationship is robust and multifaceted. He mentioned that 26 members of the Obama administration are Indian-Americans. Some of them, such as Sonal Shah, have had known ties with the extremist Hindu Sangh Parivar. An Indian-American Rajiv Shah has been named by Obama as the head of US Agency for International Development (US AID). When confirmed, Mr. Shah will be deeply involved in handling aid to Pakistan under Kerry-Lugar bill.

Taha Gaya of Pakistan's nascent Washington lobby PAL-C explained to the BBC recently that on some issues the Indian and Pakistani lobbies had sometimes cooperated. But the Mumbai attacks last year changed all that.

"When Mumbai happened," Gaya told the BBC, "we saw a resurgence of participation from the older generation of Indian-Americans - those who had grown up in India" - who, he claimed, reverted to what he described as "the old more negative dynamic".

There is inevitable conflict between the two lobbies. The recent Kerry-Lugar aid bill for Pakistan is a good example of this conflict. Pro-India groups lobbied hard for all sorts of conditions to be included in the bill.

Sanjay Puri of USINPAC, the India Lobby, was part of this campaign. This was not about supporting India's interests, he claims, and neither was it motivated by hostility towards Pakistan.

It's clear that Indian-Americans have taken a page from the successful Jewish-American playbook. Not only are they active in the executive branch and on Capitol Hill, they are also being increasingly seen in the powerful financial services sector, high profile US media, major US universities, Washington think-tanks and other places which shape US public opinion and policies. And they are exercising rising influence on South Asia policy in the same way that the Jewish-Americans have on the US position in the Middle East conflict. The rising Indian influence in Washington and close multi-faceted collaboration between India and US are seen as a big threat by Pakistanis.

Indian lobby is collaborating with the American corporate interests and the pro-Israel Jewish-American lobby to gain power in the United States, and influence policies and legislation in Washington. On US policies toward Pakistan, the Indian lobby has already proved its power twice recently: the passage of US-India nukes deal and Kerry-Lugar aid strings. And the Indian lobby's strength is only growing.

Given the growing strength of both Indian and Israeli lobbies in Washington, the lack of progress on Palestine and Kashmir is going to significantly hurt all three nations in the India-Israel-US axis. The Americans will not be able to play the role of an honest broker in either region, unless the Israelis and Indians themselves recognize the consequences of their misguided and self-destructive policies in the Middle East and South Asia. At the same time, the growing Mid-East like US pre-occupation with the major unresolved and festering issues in two regions of the world is going to hurt America's interests abroad, with China seizing the initiative in a rapidly changing world.

Related Links:

Haqqani on US-India Ties

Holbrook "AfPak" Mission

India Lobby's Success in Holbrook Mandate

Obama Ignores Sonal Shah's VHP Ties

Obama on Kashmir

India Washington Lobby Emulates AIPAC

China's Checkbook Diplomacy

Pakistanis See US as Biggest Threat

US-India Nuclear Deal

India-Israel-US Axis

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

T20 Cricket Wins----A Metaphor For Life in Pakistan

Pakistanis are often characterized by stories of "individual excellence" and "collective failures" on the world stage. And there is some evidence to support such a characterization in Pakistan and abroad. However, the recent string of seven T20 international cricket wins, including the 2020 world championship, by Shahid Afridi's boys demonstrates the potential for collective success under competent and spirited leadership.

Cricket in Pakistan is more than a national obsession; it is a metaphor for life. Pakistani cricket is endowed with tremendous raw talent. But the national team captains have often failed in translating it into significant success in major international events. The last time Pakistan won the Cricket World Cup was in 1992. The T20 cricket has been marked by much improved quality of Pakistani leadership recently. After the seventh straight 2020 win against New Zealand today in Dubai, the energized Pakistani captain Shahid Afridi gave credit to the good teamwork among the T20 squad. Unlike Pakistan's rulers, Afridi is not a feudal prince. He has not inherited the cricket leadership position. He has earned it by working hard and by showing the ability to lead people to success.

Speaking from my own experience, I have seen some of the brightest and most successful individuals from Pakistan in Silicon Valley. They are top business executives, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, researchers and professionals contributing to the success of Silicon Valley. Most came from Pakistan's middle class with good education but little or no money. They attended some of the best universities in America and joined some of the top companies before starting out on their own to become professionally and financially successful. Many have also demonstrated their leadership skills in an environment that promotes meritocracy.

Unfortunately, meritocracy in politics has never thrived in Pakistan, at least in part because landowning remains almost the only social base from which national leadership can emerge. In general, the educated middle class in Pakistan and the talented leaders from urban areas are largely excluded from competing for the top positions in government, and denied a chance to provide the badly needed leadership to achieve collective national success.

In spite of the current and past failures of national political leadership, I am optimistic about the future of Pakistan. With the robust economic growth averaging 7 percent and availability of millions of new jobs created between 2000 and 2008, there has been increased rural to urban migration in Pakistan to fill the jobs in growing manufacturing and service sectors. The level of urbanization in Pakistan is now the highest in South Asia, and its urban population is likely to equal its rural population by 2030, according to a report titled ‘Life in the City: Pakistan in Focus’, released by the United Nations Population Fund. Pakistan ranks 163 and India at 174 on a list of over 200 countries compiled by Nationmaster. The urban population now contributes about three quarters of Pakistan's gross domestic product and almost all of the government revenue. The industrial sector contributes over 27% of the GDP, higher than the 19% contributed by agriculture, with services accounting for the rest of the GDP.

With the shifting demographics over this decade and the next, the center of political power is expected to move from rural to urban Pakistan, opening up the opportunities for more competent national leaders to emerge from the educated urban middle class. Combining the considerable individual talent in Pakistan with improved leadership should pave the way for turning Pakistan's collective failure into collective national success.

Related Link:

Pakistan Crowned 2020 World Champions

Pakistani Entrepreneurs' Silicon Valley Summit

Urbanization in Pakistan Highest in Asia

Ode to Feudal Prince of Pakistan

Is Pakistan Too Big to Fail?

NEDUET Alumni in Silicon Valley

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Pakistani-American Shares His Success Story

Tariq Farid is the founder and CEO of Edible Arrangements, a successful international franchise business that specializes in delivering gifts of beautifully arranged bouquets of edibles like fruits and candy on holidays and various other special occasions.

Currently in its 11th year of operation, the company boasts 883 franchise locations in the United States, the United Kingdom and Kuwait. The company earned $300 million in revenue last year, according to published reports.

Born near Sahiwal in Pakistan, Tariq Farid has founded several other companies. One is Frutation by Edible Arrangements, which includes salads and fruit drinks. They’re sold in Edible Arrangements stores and stand-alone stores. He also created Netsolace, which provides software for the franchise industry. Another, BerryDirect, offers containers, vases and other products to our Edible Arrangements franchisees and other companies. His latest start-up is Farid Capital Corporation, a financing company that helps franchisees buy equipment.

The key to Farid's success, he says, has come from paying attention to often overlooked details such as the website, order tracking and follow-up customer service, the logo and branding, and employee training.

The economy may need more entrepreneurs like Farid - according to the International Franchise Association, every $1 million lent to franchise small businesses creates 34 jobs and $3.6 million in annual economic output, cited Reuters.

Here is Farid in his own words describing his journey:

I WAS born in Pakistan and came to the United States in 1981, when I was 11. My grandfather owned a farm in Pakistan and we had been fairly well-to-do. We started at the bottom when we came here. My father found a job as a machinist during the day and worked at McDonald’s and Burger King at night.

All five of my siblings pitched in. I delivered newspapers to 300 houses. Instead of putting the paper into the mailbox, I’d deliver it to the door. I got great tips. When I was 13, a flower shop hired me to water the flowers. Soon I was taking care of orders. By 16, I had learned a lot.

One day my father found a flower shop for sale in the paper. The owner wanted $6,000. My dad asked me if I could run the shop, and I said sure. We got a cash advance and a loan from a friend. I thought I’d negotiate, and asked the owner what terms he was offering. He looked at me as if to say, “What can this kid possibly know?”

We opened a week before Easter and earned about $50 a day. I stayed open until 7 p.m., seven days a week, because few other flower shops did. I thought $350 a week was wonderful. Soon, sales doubled, and I was shocked. Five years later, we had three shops and were making close to $1 million a year. I said we needed to make more, about $5,000 a day. My mother asked me if I remembered when I was making $50 a day and she suggested that I relax. I told her that it never really ends, and that I could achieve that goal.

It was a lot of work. I didn’t really have a social life. We stayed open on holidays. On my way to high school, I’d drop off my mother at the shop. She spoke no English, so I told her what to do to supervise the two employees. After school I’d make flower arrangements and deliver them myself until I could hire a driver.

I attended college part-time, but I started weighing the benefit against what I was making. I decided to put off school, and I never finished. I was so young when I started a career that I blindly jumped into it.

Edible Arrangements, which I started in 1999 with my brother, Kamran, goes back to our roots. In Pakistan, my father always brought home tons of fruit for us. When we started the company, we created basic fruit arrangements that included fresh pineapple, strawberries, cantaloupe and more, and later added extras like chocolate and cinnamon toppings.

We got 30 orders the first day. We had learned from our flower stores, so this time did everything right. A stranger asked about opening a store, which gave us the idea to franchise them. I knew nothing about the franchise industry, so I contacted an association for the names of experts and found Michael Seid. He gave great advice.

I’ve started several other companies. One is Frutation by Edible Arrangements, which includes salads and fruit drinks. They’re sold in Edible Arrangements stores and stand-alone stores. I also started Netsolace, which provides software for the franchise industry. Another, BerryDirect, offers containers, vases and other products to our Edible Arrangements franchisees and other companies. I just started the Farid Capital Corporation, a financing company that helps franchisees buy equipment.

When I was starting out, I used to give my mother $50 a week. When I wanted to buy a building for our second Edible Arrangements location, I needed $40,000 more than I had. My mother had saved the money I gave her over the years and handed it back to me. She asked only that I do something in her name someday and give her $20,000 for my sister’s wedding.

When my mother passed away in 2000, I started a foundation in her memory. The organization built a hospital in Pakistan for needy people and an Islamic school in the United States.

Published in New York Times as told to Patricia R. Olsen.

Here's a video clip of Edible's media coverage:

Related Links:

Pakistani Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley

Entrepreneurs Survive Turmoil in Pakistan

Pakistan's Foreign Visitors Pleasantly Surprised

Start-ups Drive a Boom in Pakistan

Pakistan's Multi-billion Dollar IT Industry

Pakistan's Telecom Boom

Musharraf's Economic Legacy

Pakistan's International Rankings

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Facts and Myths in Globalization Debate

It is becoming increasingly important for nations to build knowledge-based economies to effectively compete and win in a globalized world. Here is a presentation by Vivek Wadhwa, a Duke professor, discussing facts and myths in the globalization debate:

Related Links:

Dr. Ataur Rehman Defends Higher Education Reforms

Higher Education Transformation in Pakistan

Pakistan's Choice: Globalization or Talibanization

Pakistan's $2.8 Billion IT Industry

President Musharraf's Legacy

Education in Pakistan

Reforms? What Reforms? by Pervez Hoodbhoy

India's New Millennium in Science

Higher Education Transformation in Pakistan

Nature's Coverage of Higher Education Reform

Asia Gains in World's Top Universities

Poor Quality of Higher Education in South Asia

Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy's Letter to Nature

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Big Gender Gap Persists in South Asia

Gender gaps are among the widest in South Asia. Pakistan is ranked at 132, third from the bottom on a list of 134 nations compiled by the World Economic Forum for 2009. The 2009 ranking represents a slip of five places in the Global Gender Gap Index 2009 from 127th spot to 132nd from among 134 countries, showing an "absolute decline relative to its performance in 2008."

The Global Gender Gap Report measures the size of the gender inequality gap in four critical areas:

1. Economic participation and opportunity: Outcomes on salaries, participation levels and access to high-skilled employment

2. Educational attainment: Outcomes on access to basic and higher level education

3. Political empowerment: Outcomes on representation in decision-making structures

4. Health and survival: Outcomes on life expectancy and sex ratio

The country profile of Pakistan shows that it is ranked 132 in economic participation and opportunity, 128 in education attainment and health and survival and 55 in political empowerment. Pakistan’s position was 112 in the year 2006 that declined to 126 in 2007 and then 128 in 2008.

Only Chad and Yemen rank worse than Pakistan this year. This is not a surprise considering one of the lowest female literacy rates in Pakistan. Pakistan's gender gap of 27% in literacy is worse than India's 22%. At overall literacy rate of only 52%, and with more than 50 million people illiterate, Pakistan has one of the lowest overall literacy rates in Asia. The literacy rate for males over 15 years is 63% while that for females is 36% in Pakistan. Only Yemen's literacy gender gap is worse than South Asia's.

In spite of the grim picture painted by the WEF, the status of women in Pakistan, and the rest of South Asia, continues to vary considerably across different classes, regions, and the rural/urban divide due to uneven socioeconomic development and the impact of tribal, feudal, and urban social customs on women's lives. While some women are soaring in the skies as pilots of passenger jets and supersonic fighter planes, others are being buried or burned alive for defying traditions.

Sri Lanka, ranked at 16 ahead of the United States at 31, is the shining exception to the rest of South Asia in terms of gender parity.

Ranked 114, India has fared better than Pakistan. But the WEF survey indicates that India is behind Bangladesh (94) and Nepal (110) - affirming that women in these countries share resources with men more equally than in India. Echoing concerns of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen over female infanticide and 25 million "missing women" in India, the WEF rankings bring out the gender gap on health and survival issues. India's gender gap of 22% in literacy is also among the worst in the world.

India ranks 24 for women's political participation. It stands at 121st position in education gap and 127th place on economic participation gap. On its health gender gap, India ranks dead last at 134th.

"While India, Iran and Pakistan perform very poorly on the economic, education and health subindexes, their overall scores are partially bolstered by relatively good performances on political empowerment," the WEF said.

WEF said close to 300 Indian women die every day during childbirth or of pregnancy-related causes, and the country has the worst sex ratios at birth in the world, ranking 131st on this variable. India holds last place among the BRIC countries on the the WEF gender Index, behind Russia (51), China (60) and Brazil (82).

Of the 25 Muslim nations included in the survey, fourteen rank above India and eleven rank below. Most of the Islamic countries ranking higher than India are located in Central and East Asia.

Overall, Nordic nations offer women the most equal treatment compared to men, with Iceland ranking number one, followed by Finland, Norway and Sweden. Ranked ninth, the Philippines is the only Asian country in the top 10. It has “closed the gender gap on both education and health”, according to the WEF. The UK ranks 15 and the United States at 31.

Clearly, South Asians in general, and Pakistanis in particular, have a long way to go toward achieving any semblance of gender parity. They can definitely look to Sri Lanka for inspiration to close the gender gap.

Here's a video about women literacy in South Asia:

Related Link:

WEF Gender Gap Rankings 2009

Dalit Victims of Indian Apartheid

Global Gender Gap Rankings 2008

India at Bottom in Gender Equality

Sex Ratios at Birth

Female Literacy Lags Far Behind in India and Pakistan

Female Genocide Unfolding in India

Status of Women in Pakistan

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Pakistanis Defy Taliban Terror

The world media are focusing on scores of deadly terrorist attacks in the last four weeks claiming over 300 innocent lives in Pakistani cities, and tracking the military's counterinsurgency campaign unfolding in South Waziristan. However, the Pakistani blogosphere is buzzing with the news and pictures of the Fashion Week in Karachi.

A series of fashion shows ended Saturday in which 30 Pakistani designers presented their creations. Karachi's Marriott hotel was the scene of the glamorous event.

And there is a lot more that is happening in Pakistan.

In October, a painstakingly detailed production of Chekov's "The Seagull" had a successful run in Karachi.

Karachi's local actors put on a female version of The Odd Couple and the Abba musical Mamma Mia drew large crowds.

An art exhibit opened recently in Islamabad to portray the effects of recent events on Pakistani psyche. Using the snake skin as a symbol of ongoing terror in the country, artist Haleem Khan has used the metaphor of a venomous snake to portray the violence that confronts people.

There were dozens of other events across the country, such as the 25th anniversary of a street theater group, a film festival for children, scores of music concerts, thousands of weddings and endless games of street cricket.

Clearly, many Pakistanis are defying the campaign of intimidation unleashed by the Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan. Despite the failed political leadership and extremely poor governance, the country’s saving grace is arguably its people. As the consequences sink in among Pakistan’s secular elite of the rising Taliban, there are signs that the country’s educated middle class – in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, cities rocked recently by continuing terrorist attacks – is losing its patience with radicalism. The urban middle class has more clout than many analysts think. It constitutes the backbone of the army, the business and professional classes and the opinion makers in the media. And the middle class is getting serious about its responsibility. They have now compelled the government into taking more decisive action. There appears to be visible light at the end of the tunnel. Let's hope it's not an oncoming train.

Here are two video clips of Karachi Fashion Week 2009:

Related Links:

Karachi Fashion Week

Is Pakistan Too Big to Fail?

Karachi Fashion Week Goes Bolder

Pakistan's Foreign Visitors Pleasantly Surprised

Start-ups Drive a Boom in Pakistan

Pakistan Conducting Research in Antarctica

Pakistan's Multi-billion Dollar IT Industry

Pakistan's Telecom Boom

More Pictures From Karachi Fashion Week 2009

ITU Internet Data

Eleven Days in Karachi

Pakistani Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley

Musharraf's Economic Legacy

Pakistan's International Rankings

Assessing Pakistan Army Capabilities

Pakistan is not Falling

Jinnah's Pakistan Booms Amidst Doom and Gloom

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Slavery in India and Pakistan

The return of democracy in Pakistan last year has once again put feudal politicians firmly in charge of the nation's affairs. Both major parties, the PPP and the PML, are heavily dominated by the country's biggest landowners, who are reliability voted into power by their poor landless peasants making up the majority of the electorate in Pakistan.

British writer William Dalrymple has accurately described the politics in Pakistan as follows: "There is a fundamental flaw in Pakistan's political system. Democracy has never thrived here, at least in part because landowning remains almost the only social base from which politicians can emerge. In general, the educated middle class - which in India seized control in 1947, emasculating the power of its landowners - is in Pakistan still largely excluded from the political process. As a result, in many of the more backward parts of Pakistan the local feudal zamindar can expect his people to vote for his chosen candidate. Such loyalty can be enforced. Many of the biggest zamindars have private prisons and most have private armies."

The Pakistani landlord's "private prisons" came in sharp focus recently with the news of 170 peasants being held against their will by Sindhi landowners, in violation of the court orders.

Responding to questions about the situation during US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's recent visit, Luis CdeBaca, President Obama's ambassador-at-large to monitor and combat trafficking in persons, told Time magazine, "we are exploring ways we can help Pakistan to confront the scourge of captive workers, to deliver freedom for these workers and realize the promise of Pakistan's 1992 emancipation law."

In his recent column in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristoff argued that the feudal systems remains the biggest obstacle to reform in Pakistan. Addressing those who have not been to Pakistan, Kristoff explains that they "should know that in remote areas you periodically run into vast estates — comparable to medieval Europe — in which the landowner runs the town, perhaps operates a private prison in which enemies are placed, and sometimes pretty much enslaves local people through debt bondage, generation after generation. This feudal elite has migrated into politics, where it exerts huge influence. And just as the heartlessness of feudal and capitalist barons in the 19th century created space for Communists, so in Pakistan this same lack of compassion for ordinary people seems to create space for Islamic extremists. There are other answers, of course, such as education, civil society, and the lawyers’ movement. But I wonder if land reform wouldn’t be a big help."

There have been rare instances when media attention and public pressure have compelled the government to free haaris from private prisons. In April this year, a private TV channel GeoTV reported that police freed 14 people including 8 children and 4 women from the private prison of a landlord in Faiz Muhammad Brohi Goth in Gadap Town near Karachi.

Though Pakistan has been in the news lately for its continuing practice of slavery, it is not alone. Bonded labor in South Asia is considered the problem in modern slavery affecting millions of people. The UN believes 20 million people are enslaved worldwide, the majority of whom are in South Asia, according to a BBC report.

A recent report by US State Department for 2009 said that “India is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation.”

India is listed with 52 countries on the watch list of nations that have failed to meet the minimum standards against human trafficking but are making efforts to do so. The blacklisted countries are subject to US sanctions if they don’t make greater efforts to fight trafficking.

The Philippines, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Pakistan have recently been added to the U.S. “watch list” because of what the report calls a worsening trafficking record in those countries.

“This is modern slavery. A crime that spans the globe, providing ruthless employers with endless supply of people to abuse for financial gain,” Secretary Clinton said as she released the report.

For the first time, India, China, Russia, Sri Lanka and Egypt and other countries that have been on the on Tier 2 watch list for two years, face the prospect of being automatically moved to the Tier 3 blacklist next year without a presidential waiver if they fail improve their trafficking record, the State Department said.

A 2004 study by the International Labor Office (ILO) estimated that there are up to a million haari families in Sindh alone, the majority living in conditions of debt bondage, which the U.N. defines as modern-day slavery. Last fall, Pakistan's Daily Times newspaper quoted the labor minister of neighboring Punjab province as saying that landlords hold millions of forced laborers in "private prisons" across the country.

Amidst all the cries for democracy, independent judiciary, human rights and social justice in Pakistan, nothing has fundamentally changed during the last year under "democracy", except the worsening economy, much longer power outages and a growing sense of insecurity. Regardless of the party labels and promises, the feudal power continues to endure in the name of democracy. The choices remain narrow for Pakistanis: Choose between the military and the feudal class. There is no third choice as long as the middle class remains small and unable and unwilling to exert strong influence to bring about much-needed reforms. The only hope for real democracy and necessary social, political and economic reforms lies in continued robust growth of the middle class over an extended period of time of another decade or two. There are no guarantees that the current feudal rulers will permit that.

Here is a video about global slavery:

Related Links:

India Not Combating Slavery

Bonded Labor in India, Nepal and Pakistan

Feudalism in Pakistan

Is Democracy Right For Pakistan?

Slavery in Pakistan

US State Department Report on Human Trafficking 2009

Feudal Power Dominates Pakistani Democracy

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