Rolling out the Red Carpet

I welcome you to my blog and hope that you will like the tour. Please leave your footmarks with comments and feedback. This will through and through enhance my knowledge and profundity of thought. Enjoy! Asif J. Mir

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Future of Poetry

The future of poetry is immense? One is not so sure in these days, since it has felt the fatal irritant of Modernism. Too much is demanded by the critic, attempted by the poet. For just as long as poetry means accommodation between the inner thought and the objective pattern to which the poet has committed himself, it will be impossible to conduct that thought as freely as though there were no other end in view; and on the basis of thought alone, between poetry and prose as two rival exhibitions of free cerebration, the palm must invariably go to prose. And if the critics will insist on drawing the comparison, they will have to seek profit for their souls from the real excitement of prose, while they reduce poetry to the role of a harmless inducer of sleep; and the poets will have to content themselves with an office that is useful but, as measured by their expectations, ignominious.

Poetry, form of literature, spoken or written, that emphasizes rhythm, other intricate patterns of sound and imagery, and the many possible ways that words can suggest meaning. Poetry in its simplest definition is organized in units called lines as well as in sentences, and often in stanzas, which are the paragraphs of poetry. The way a line of poetry is structured can be considered a kind of garment that shapes and clothes the thought within it. The oldest and most longstanding genres for classifying poetry are epic, a long narrative poem centered around a national hero, and lyric, a short poem expressing intense emotion.

Poets throughout the ages have defined their art, devised rules for its creation, and written manifestos announcing their radical changes, only to have another poet alter their definition, if not declare just the opposite.

One characteristic that makes poetry different from ordinary language is that it uses many kinds of repetition. One kind, called poetic meter, is essentially the repetition of a regular pattern of beats. In poems organized by lines of syllabic meters—in which each syllable has a beat—the number of beats and the number of syllables are both repeated. Accentual poetry refers to poems organized by the recurrence of a set number of accents or stronger beats per line. In poetry written in accentual-syllabic meters, both the number of beats and number of syllables recur in a set pattern. The most commonly used accentual-syllabic meter in English language poetry is iambic pentameter, in which unaccented and accented syllables alternate in lines of ten syllables. Other kinds of repetition in poetry include rhyme, the recurrence of sound clusters; assonance, the echoing of vowels; and consonance, the echoing of consonants.

The ghazal, a popular form of poetry dominating South Asia, has its origins in 12th-century Persia. It evolved from a longer, more complicated verse-form, the qasida. The qasida, which came to Persia from Arabia, was a poem of praise for performance at public festivals and functions. Similar to the movement from hokku to haiku in Japanese literature, the opening portion of the qasida, a kind of introductory love note, eventually achieved an independent form as the ghazal. Unlike the public-oriented qasida, the ghazal is for intimate communications. The word translates from the Arabic as “talking to women,” and not surprisingly the common subject matters are love, longing, and unrequited passion.

Ghazals are written in couplets (two-line stanzas) bound by a recurrent sound pattern that is part rhyme and part refrain. While there is no prescribed length for ghazals, they tend to be brief, rarely exceeding ten stanzas. The opening couplet introduces a rhyme that is repeated in the second line of the following stanzas, aa ba ca da ea, through to the end of the poem. Following the rhyme comes a brief refrain of one to three words. In the poem's final line, the poet “signs” the poem by including his name. Unlike most Western couplets, the couplets of the ghazal do not follow the same line of thought. Each couplet is a self-contained moment, and could almost stand as a short poem in itself. Some critics assert that this aspect of the form, declaring that the ghazal resembled the unstrung beads of a necklace. In fact, this disconnected quality, because it allows gaps and jumps in thought and experience.

Ghazal was spread to India along with Islamic influences in the 13th century. One of the first Indian practitioners was Amir Khosrow, who wrote in both Persian and Urdu. Mirza Ghalib was one of the most outstanding practitioners whose ghazals reflected the upheavals and uncertainty of a culture threatened by encroaching colonialism. In the 20th century, Faiz Ahmed Faiz added a new strain of longing in poems written during a long imprisonment as a political dissident.

The poets of the present and the future must re-define, through their work, the true function of poetry. For, though it has become partly, and will become wholly, intellectualized; in spite of innumerable experiments in subject, rhythm and form, straining of meter, novelties in cadence, in spite of fluency, technique, originality, it still must be said that modern poetry is devoid of any real function or aim.

In the future, when poetry has become natural and keen, life will become greater than literature, and days than verses. In its final majestic simplicity, memorable poetry will be passed from man to man, like the song of primitive peoples, and there will be rhapsodists to speak it without declamation or mannerism. Sentimentalism will be understood no more, realism will not be tolerated; and poetry, springing from the roots of life, will flower into natural and perfect language, bright with dreams and tense with meaning. Meter will serve substance; form will be one with expression, metaphor with thought; poetry will be the call of spirit to spirit, the very throb of the heart of Nature, as expressed in her ultimate manifestation — man.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Slumdog Paupers

With a single child, I keep on Chinese style family. Even though he is up and over eleven, I consider boys in all age clusters as my own sons. Not just that, as a concerned citizen, and what I have demonstrated in my writing work, I pin great hopes on the younger generation that will steer Pakistan out of the turmoil. Although in the post 9/11 era, religious fanatics have made human life worth nothing, I weep tears of bereavement on every death that any blast causes.

Many a time my son, Muaaz, feels lonely perhaps owing to being single. To counter this, every weekend either we drop him at his friend’s place or his friend spends the whole day with him at our place.

Only two weeks ago, after the dinner we (my wife and I) left Muaaz at his friend’s place and both of us decided to have after-dinner walk. We had hardly crossed over a busy road junction, that we heard a sound of a big bag flung by a high-geared Hi-ace van. Initially we thought that it was a vegetable bag but soon heard loud cries of a child. I leapt into the hustling traffic and picked the poor soul up. It was about a ten year old boy shrieking with pain. I laid him down on the side walk to have a random assessment of his injuries and found capacious scratches on his body and obviously their pain was unbearable. Being a sensitive person and an emotional father myself, I started crying too. We made a brief investigation about the boy and the van driver that threw him amid heavy traffic and opted for his one year older brother. To my dismay, the van driver was a child abuser and the boy was being sexually abused. Full of rage we decided to visit the parents of the boy and go at it tooth and nail. Carrying the boy in my arms and following his directions, I started walking towards his home. The boy seemed thin but was heavy. After some half a kilometer, we eventually reached boy’s home.

We entered through the door straight into a small open space of the house. The boy went into his 2 ft x 4 ft room—perhaps an abandoned bathroom turned bedroom. We later discovered that the boy and his elder brother (around 11 years of age) lived in that room. An old lady looked at us queerly. “Where are the parents of this boy?” I asked. Without waiting for the reply, I shouted with my dander up and vociferated, “Why the hell they raised this child and junked him in streets?” “Where are they?” Scared of my shouting, perhaps, the boy stopped crying, but his tears continued rolling down his skinny face.

The old lady was visibly upset. She assumed that the boy must have done some deviltry and we were hence visiting their place with some complaint. Trembling with mixed feelings of rage and fear, looking up the sky she said, “Liberate me of this miserable life, O God!” “These two boys have made this world hell for me. I am his luckless granny – has he once again done any mischief?”

I repeated, “Where are his stony-hearted parents?” Rubbing her eyes welled up with tears, she said, “His father succumbed to cancer and died a premature death at thirty, and—and his mother abandoned these two kids and married another man.”

The old woman later led us to the room that had a low quality and tottered sofa, a clock with wrong side out, a crumbling cot and, and damaged split A/C. This room depicted the underprivileged class of the slumdog paupers.

The old woman called her married daughters from the rooms on the right, left and top so that they might also listen what the new complaint I had brought about those slumdogs. Possibly most fashionable in their social class one girl spoke broken English. When I told them about the accident and the serious injuries that the little boy had succumbed, instead of demonstrating any concern they started scolding him. They did not even allow me to take him for the first aid. While the old woman was talking to us unceasing streams of tears were flowing over our cheeks.

The old woman, backed up by her daughters, asked us to help her grandsons admitted at some hostel or asylum.

During our stay at that wretched home, like any suffering dog the ill-fated boy kept on licking his wounds and imbibing his blood.

While I investigated about the probable asylum, I could not find any that could satisfy me to admit sons. Little or much all asylums have some sort of corruption. As social responsibility and for safeguarding and promoting welfare I am only ensuring child protection. This implies activity that is undertaken to protect specific children who are suffering, or are at risk of suffering, and significant harm. I hope to succeed in this epic cause.

This incident pushed us into depression and insomnia for a few days thinking that when these two boys would have born, their parents must have been very happy. The father of the boys must have dreamt high about their future. With the death of the father all such dreams smoked off. The mother found a new man to give birth to other children of darkness . . . . .

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The False Bottom

Today, Iraq is a nation on fire, a conflagration of America's making that threatens to consume everything the nation stands for. How did USA get there? How do they get out? Can they get out? A drama is taking place in total silence in Iraq. Poor Iraqis—the innocent, armless citizens are being killed like gnats. Today noncombatants are being killed. Tomorrow's going to be worse, and the day after that's going to be even worse.

The threat allegedly posed by Saddam's WMD was the prime reason cited for going to war. But not a single item of banned weaponry had been found. In more than 700 inspections prior to the US-led invasion, UN investigators found no evidence of these alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Since USA went to war to eradicate WMD, sanity asks, did they confine their attacks to alleged weapons factories or storehouses in Iraq? Or were the attacks motivated by a desire to ensure regime change, rather than destroy Iraq's alleged WMD capability? The American government agreed to the bombing of a whole range of targets, which had nothing to do with alleged weapons facilities. USA has to explain how these were linked to the weapons program. It needs to be asked why cluster bombs and bunker-busters were dropped on Iraq, killing many thousand civilians. The US government needs to be accused of complicity in a “criminal enterprise.”

So far President Bush has failed to explain why no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, despite the fact that was the primary justification for invading that he pounded into the heads of the American people in the months leading up to the attack.

Actually, there was a tremendous pressure on the CIA to come up with information to support policies that had already been adopted. No information about WMD could be unearthed. Credible evidence was never presented linking Saddam Hussein to the September 11 attacks. This forced CIA to fabricate lies. Much of it was based on propaganda. Much of it was telling the Defense Department what they wanted to hear and willing to twist information in order to serve that interest.

The fact of the matter is that the USA was never interested in disarming Iraq. By 1995 there were no more weapons in Iraq, there were no more documents in Iraq, there was no more production capability in Iraq because the USA was monitoring the totality of Iraq's industrial infrastructure with the most technologically advanced, the most intrusive arms control regime in the history of arms control. And furthermore, the CIA knew this, the British intelligence knew this, Israeli intelligence knew this, German intelligence, the whole world knew this.

Indubitably, people who don’t understand war populate Bush Administration. They've never been in the military, they've never served in combat, and they don't know what it means to have a son die or to have a friend die or have a brother die or have a comrade die. They are a bunch of amateurs largely except for the engineers, and even they didn't have a professional means to interface with the Iraqis. What lessons have the Americans learned?

If all orders of Iraq’s interim government are taken together, the jigsaw puzzle will be solved. An overall legal framework for overriding foreign exploitation of Iraq’s domestic market has been set. It covers almost all facets of the economy, including Iraq’s trading regime, the mandate of the Central Bank, and regulations governing trade union activities. Collectively, they lay down the foundations for the real US objective in Iraq, apart from keeping control of the oil supply, namely the imposition of a neo-liberal capitalist economy controlled and run by US transnational corporations.

In the name of agricultural reconstruction, for example, Iraqi farmers have been deprived of their inherent right, exercised for the past 10,000 years in the fertile Mesopotamian arc, to save and replant seeds. It enables the penetration of Iraqi agriculture by Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow Chemical and other corporate giants that control the global seed trade. Food sovereignty for the Iraqi people has therefore already been made near impossible by the new regulations.

Their impact is largely concentrated in the near-monopolization by US corporations of the economic contracts awarded by the US-dominated Coalition Provisional Authority. Overwhelmingly they have been allocated to six big US companies, notably Bechtel and Halliburton. Vice President Dick Cheney headed the later for five years before becoming Bush's running mate in 2000. Lawrence Eagleburger, former US secretary of state under President George H. W. Bush (senior), sits on the company's board.

The Bush administration has no plans to bring the troops home from this misguided war, which has taken a fearful toll in lives and injuries while at the same time weakening the military, damaging the international reputation of the United States, serving as a world-class recruiting tool for terrorist groups and blowing a hole the size of Baghdad in Washington's budget.

Sadly, dreams of colonialism have turned into a nightmare. Americans are dug into Iraq, and the bases have been built for a long stay. The war may be going badly, but the primary consideration that there is still a tremendous amount of oil at stake, the second-largest reserves on the planet. And fantasies aside, the global competition for the planet's finite oil reserves intensifies by the hour.

There's a horrific problem that faces not only the people of Iraq but the US and the entire world. And the fuel that feeds that fire is the presence of American and British troops. This is widely acknowledged by the very generals that are in charge of the military action in Iraq. So the best way to put out the fire is to separate the fuel from the flame. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Saturday, April 4, 2009

We and Independence of Pakistan

Mr. President, Pakistanis, and Friends:
Thank you so much for inviting me to speak at this forum. Honestly, I am flattered to address a wonderful audience hailing from a cultured Pakistani community. I am here to talk on the subject relevant to Independence Day of Pakistan. Kindly take my frank comments and objective analysis as coming from a concerned Pakistani and not as official statement or government policy.

Mr. President, Brothers and Sisters, I have the reason to believe that the Movement for Freedom of Pakistan was kindled by Haider Sultan of Mysore (you may recognize him as father of Tipu Sultan). Allama Muhammad Iqbal provided a new impetus to this Movement and a thought through vision was thus set. This vision was no different from what was ordained in Qur’an al-Karim (Surah 109 – Al-Kafirun).

The spirit that culminated the movement for freedom sought a separate homeland for Muslims where its citizens would have freedom to live a way of life according to Islam—i.e., freedom to work, freedom to organize; and freedom of analogous choices. Under the vibrant leadership of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, this freedom was eventually accomplished exactly 57 years before on Aug 14, 1947. This was no small achievement. This freedom was not given; it was taken and at a considerably high price. The ticket to freedom was purchased with the blood of our brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers. The Hindu and Sikh carnage of our Muslim youth turned out to be a dark part of freedom movement. We witnessed train loads of dead bodies arriving at Lahore Railway Station as an authorization for the price we paid for freedom. We cannot and must not forget this price.

I am proud to be a member of the nation that paid high price. Just the same, I feel guilty for failing to remember what was sacrificed; what was conceded. Consciously or unconsciously, nevertheless, we forgot the sky-scraping price paid for freedom; we forgot for we didn’t bother to recognize the role and responsibilities this freedom brought along. We failed to remember that the freedom had to be refreshed by the manure of our blood to keep its flame alive. We successfully but wrongly exercised our right to freedom for freedom from responsibility. We started pillaging our own country. Instead of giving our blood to sustain freedom, we came out to eat the vitals of nationhood. The educated elite left the country to benefit Europe and America and thus the selfish leadership was let out for robbing its own land.

The word 'freedom' means for me not a point of departure but a genuine point of arrival. The point of departure is defined by the word 'order.' Freedom cannot exist without the concept of order. We lost the order, stability, and harmony and thus transformed into a crowd of individuals engaged in a race for loot and serving personal interests.

Freedom is not choosing, Mr. President, Brothers and Sisters, that is merely the move that we make when all is already lost. Freedom is knowing and understanding and respecting things quite other than ourselves. By attempting to avoid the responsibility for our own behavior, we gave away our power to selfishness, narcissism, and smugness. In this way, we escaped from freedom. And most tyrannically we started believing that the vision enshrined by the Pakistan Movement was accomplished and our mission completed.

We were supposed to integrate the vision of Pakistan into our life, making it hard to put off or drop our highest priorities. Such focusing could provide us a framework for all parts of our life. Unfortunately, it could not happen and consequently today we fall short of spirits analogous to an independent nation.

The most important role of vision in our national life was that it could give focus to human energy. To enable everyone concerned with Pakistan to see more clearly what’s ahead of him or her. For this purpose, our leadership could convey a vision. Implicitly and explicitly, this is not done.

Imagine watching a slide show when the projector is out of focus. How would you feel if you have to watch blurred, vague, and indistinct images for an entire presentation? Today we face a similar situation in Pakistan. We are unaware of our future. People are expressing frustration, impatience, confusion, anger, and even nausea. Undoubtedly, the leaders with the fingers on focus button had the responsibility to focus the projector. They have utterly failed in their responsibilities. Thus without any direction and without a roadmap, Pakistan continues to lurch around, getting off course and ending up in places it never wanted to go to. Had Pakistan maintained a vision, its distractions would have been minimal and our national life would have been spent in a meaningful way. Thus it would have regained control over our life and no longer felt like wasting time.

Even after 57 years we have failed to learn to make our motivating vision important. This would have helped us in carrying out the goals with passion and energy; giving a focused meaning to a solid foundation to work from.

Mr. President and honorable Friends: Brain drain from Pakistan caused dangerous holes in political, bureaucratic and corporate leadership. They were nevertheless filled by selfish, corrupt and false leadership. Thus this corrupt lot steered Pakistan to the destination which we all witness today with confusion and loss of nerve.

Those Pakistanis who can afford, send their children to Europe and America for higher studies. It is unfortunate that such Pakistanis after completing their studies do not return to Pakistan. Since one in three Pakistani professionals will like to live outside Pakistan, Pakistani universities are actually training one third of their graduates for export to the developed nations. We are thus operating one third of Pakistani universities to satisfy the manpower needs of Great Britain and the United States. Stated differently, the Pakistani education budget is nothing but a supplement to the American or British education budgets. In essence, Pakistan is giving developmental assistance to the wealthier western nations, which makes the rich nations richer and the poor Pakistan poorer.

It is the best and brightest that can emigrate, leaving behind the weak and less imaginative. We cannot achieve long-term economic growth by exporting our human resource. In the new world order, people with knowledge drive economic growth. We talk a lot of poverty alleviation in Pakistan. But who is going to alleviate the poverty? Or the uncreative bureaucracy that created poverty? Hypothetically, the most talented should lead the people, create wealth and eradicate poverty and corruption. You are highly educated lot. Your country, your roots needed you. You should have gone back to Pakistan and played a role in the reconstruction of Pakistan. You should have applied what you have learned, practiced or observed here. Alas! It could not happen and Pakistan could not benefit from your rare skill and exceptional expertise.

In theory, overseas Pakistanis are morally obliged to return back home. In truth, it is unrealistic thinking that that a Pakistani professional will resign from his $60,000 a year job to accept a $3,000 a year job in Pakistan. A more meaningful question will be to ask: What measures can be taken to entice Pakistanis leaving abroad to return home and what can be done to discourage those professionals in Pakistan to remain in Pakistan?

The brain-drain seriously affects the quality and delivery of public and private services there are two obvious solutions (a) make it worthwhile for highly-trained professionals to stay and (b) replace them with competent locals at a rate as fast or faster than their departure brain train.

Another solution is to devise strategies of brain gain. These can take the development of a brain gain network. Pakistan is not effectively encouraging the use of its diaspora in contributing to development at home (for example, 80 per cent of recent foreign investment in the People's Republic of China came from overseas Chinese). The brain gain network can help in the promotion of joint research and teaching posts, the use of medical specialists in periodic return visits, short-term training assignments and even systematic professional and research collaboration on electronic networks. These could be effective ways of harnessing the skills of some of the distinguished scientists, medics, artists and educators with Pakistani origins living abroad.

With good employers, attractive working conditions, improved telecommunications and the entrepreneurial climate in India today, young professionals are moving back and strengthening the economic sector. Then IT professionals in India are quite often paid in foreign currency at international rates to prevent brain drain and hence exports of Indian software industry is now in the range of $10 billion.

Pardon me on going off track.

After the death of Quaid-e-Azam, we have allowed corruption to creep into our society as a way of life. Thus, we have become desensitized to corruption and our moral judgment is impaired. Even worse, at each step along the way, we eliminated Islamic injunctions from our lives and culture.

I feel highly embarrassed to pronounce that even after 57 years of independence we could not eradicate corruption. It is today deeply embedded in the political culture and poverty of Pakistan. Regulatory bodies are particularly vulnerable to corruption as they have the power to make key decisions on profit-making activities. Corrupt regulatory bodies are thus dangerously impeding economic development.

Prevalence of corruption in various political regimes has been the main cause of their downfall.

New attitudes, better financial systems, prosecution of the guilty, better management of affairs and real accountability to the people … this should be the agenda for change. In taking it forward, the leading role must obviously be taken by the people and Government. But tackling corruption effectively requires a real focus, coordinated action and shared responsibility. Everyone’s energies must be thrown behind this anti-corruption strategy. It is the key to a better future for the people of Pakistan.

Mr. President and Friends: Allow me to take your attention for a peep into ancient history. As in the experience of all other civilizations it can be with us if we do not recognize the principles for survival. If we failed to learn from history and recognize the future trends, we will eventually go back into darkness from whence we came, and we the people who got freedom 57 years before will perish from the earth.

If you retrace your thoughts back to where there were those old civilizations, some five or six thousand years ago, the Egyptians, you will find that they were very intelligent, highly advanced but through corruption, selfishness, prejudice and moral degradation they went into the debris of ancient history. We, in this advanced civilization, are representing similar predilections, can also follow the same destiny and go back into the dark age from whence we came.

Egyptian civilization has been forgotten. It went down, not only mentally, scientifically, intellectually, but also physically, to let us see and know that those who go down mentally and do not alter their ways also go down physically.

After the Independence, we lost our vision and subsequently transformed into one of the corrupt nations worldwide, all the nasty crimes once akin to the West now dominate our national life, and last but not the least each individual of Pakistan seems to be on the looting binge. Instead of contributing our role in nation building, we started pillaging our own land. When we are nurturing the same traits that caused extinction of Egyptian Civilization, my mind agitates to ask why then our destiny would be any different?

The societies that sustain physically, mentally, and otherwise are those which undergo a series of divergences in development, much like the branching of a tree. The dynamic people are those who are responsive to issues, essentially open, fast paced, balanced, and tend to survive and prosper on a fairly reliable basis. Problems come to them, but they usually manage to work them out.

The struggling society of Pakistan, contrarily, outdoes the people in narrow areas of endeavor from time to time, and becomes generally more retarded in overall development as time goes by.

Outwardly, we are a developing society. But like a muscular athlete with a terminal cancer, a disease is eating away at us from the inside. A great nation cannot be destroyed from the outside until it falls first from the inside.

No matter how well we might arm ourselves against enemies outside our borders, the greatest enemy is none else but us, who place destructive devices inside our destructive minds, causing us to morally implode, like an imploding building.

Ever since independence in 1947, we have experienced a complete abandonment of our sense of good and evil. The true crisis of our time has nothing to do with monetary troubles, unemployment, or terrorism. The true crisis has to do with the fact that we have lost our way.

If you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, the frog will immediately jump out. But if you place the frog in a pot of lukewarm water and slowly turn up the heat, the relaxed frog will just swim around, growing accustomed to the increasing warmth until it eventually boils to death. This is what is happening to us and our cultural decay. It is a gradual process that slowly dulls our senses until what was once seen as unacceptable somehow becomes acceptable.

What will remain of civilization and history if the accumulated influence of Islam, both direct and indirect, is eradicated from literature, art, practical dealings, moral standards, and creativeness in the different activities of mind and spirit?

Consequently, a flood of immorality, corruption and violence has entered into our national life, and we have unfortunately been recognized as a culture of death from the womb to the streets. Many of our young people have no concept of the true spirit of Islam; and many are tragically engaged in dying or killing innocents. A sense of hopelessness prevails, a feeling of fear surrounds.

We have forgotten our true nature, divinity, because 'scientifically' it cannot be proved! We are ignorant of true purpose of life. Values like solidarity, natural love, forbearance, compassion, generosity, and altruism do not find any place independent of an 'individual'.

The culture shows signs of degeneration into lawlessness, disease, and want on one hand, and affluence and sense gratification of wanton degree on the other. With this decline in cultural values, ethical values are also eroded. Not one particular field is afflicted with this 'virus of corruption'; all departments of human interaction show the same trend. It is difficult to find an isolated island of purity in the sea of corruption all around.

Ethics is the reflection of cultural health of the society. In course of evolution of human societies, man creates progressive cultural and moral ethos. But then a stage comes when cultural growth slows down for want of fresh ideas. Consequently ethics also remains a mere shadow of its own previous glory. Now it is in search of fresh inputs to spring to new life again. Therefore, when matter is worshiped as supreme and privileges are sought after, ethical decline is not a surprise. The remedy lies in adding spiritual dimension to existing culture and in course evolving a new moral and ethical code for coming generations. Time is still not gone. We can learn lessons from Egyptian civilization or else face extinction. Choice is only ours.

Thank you for listening.
God bless you all.
God bless Pakistan
Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Doom and Gloom

In 1971, population biologist Paul Ehrlich estimated that if human numbers kept increasing at the high rates of the time, by around 2900 the planet would be teeming with sixty million billion people (that’s 60,000,000,000,000,000). But the rate of population rise actually peaked in the 1960s and demographers expect a leveling-off of human numbers this century.

No kidding. If the current growth rate continued, in 130 years Pakistan’s population will be equal to the population of world today.

The population of Pakistan in mid-2004 was 159.2 million, births per 1000 are 34 and deaths per 1000 are 10. Pakistan’s rate of natural increase in population growth is 2.4 percent, and projected population in the year 2025 and 2050 would be 228.8 and 295.0 million, respectively. The projected population change in 2004-2050 would be 85 percent.

In 1950 Pakistan had a population of about 40 million people. Since then it has grown many times. But the real population explosion in Pakistan will only come over the next few decades, because the country not only has a very young population, but also still an extremely high fertility - much higher. These large numbers of children and young adults will soon come into reproductive age and will produce a large number of offsprings.

The latest facts and figures state that future population prospects are shaped in large part by the age profile of its citizens. More than half of Pakistan's population is below the age of fifteen; nearly a third is below the age of nine. Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world with an inverse sex ratio: official sources claim there are 111 men for every 100 women. The discrepancy is particularly obvious among people over fifty: men account for 7.1 percent of the country's total population and women for less than 5 percent. This figure reflects the secondary status of females in Pakistani society, especially their lack of access to quality medical care.

In population Pakistan ranks sixth in the world and its land area stands at thirty-second position among nations. Thus Pakistan has about 2 percent of the world's population living on less than 0.7 percent of the world's land. In the year 2050, Pakistan would continue to gracefully stand elevated among top 5 population giants. Pakistan cannot be pulled out of the poverty trap with 3 million additional births every year.

Pakistan is poised to more than double its size by 2050 even as supplies of water, forests, and food crops are already showing signs of strain and other species are being squeezed into smaller and smaller ranges.

A huge consumption gap exists between industrialized and developing countries and Pakistan. The world's richest countries, with 20 per cent of global population, account for 86 per cent of total private consumption, whereas the poorest 20 per cent of the world's people account for just 1.3 per cent.

A newborn in the USA or Europe will put greater pressure on the Earth’s carrying capacity than a whole family of newborns in Pakistan. Numbers and the Earth’s ability to provide are increasingly framed by the realities of gender relations. It is now generally agreed that while enabling larger numbers of women and men to use modern methods of family planning is essential, it is not sufficient. By expanding the choices and capacities of women, a central thread can be formed in the population story. Consumption—what we need and what we want—is, too.

Pakistan's people are not evenly distributed throughout the country. There is an average of 146 persons per square kilometer, but the density varies dramatically, ranging from scarcely populated arid areas, especially in Balochistan, to some of the highest urban densities in the world, such as Karachi and Lahore.

Municipal governments in Pakistan are least able to muster the human and financial resources to contend with these problems, especially when the poorest, non-taxable segment of the urban population continues to grow rapidly.

The risks of instability among youth may increase when skilled members of elite classes are marginalized by a lack of opportunity. It isn’t difficult to find contemporary parallels. The collapse of the Communist regime in the Soviet Union in the early 1990s was partly due to the mobilization of large numbers of discontented young men who were unable to put their technical education to use due to party restrictions on entering the elite.

The greatest challenge before government hence is the need to tackle the underlying factors contributing to discontent among young people, including poverty and the lack of economic opportunity. It can address part of the risk associated with youth unemployment by investing in job creation and training, boosting access to credit, and promoting entrepreneurship.

Eventually, however, the only way to achieve the necessary long-term changes in age structure will be through declines in fertility. Government can facilitate fertility decline by supporting policies and programs that provide access to reproductive health services and by promoting policies that increase girls’ educational attainment and boost women’s opportunities for employment outside the home.

The stewardship of the planet and the well-being of its people are a collective responsibility. Everywhere we face critical decisions. Some are about how to protect and promote fundamental values such as the right to health and human dignity. Others reflect trade-offs between available options, or the desire to broaden the range of choice. We need to think carefully but urgently about what the choices are, and to take every action that will broaden choices and extend the time in which to understand their implications. We need a decision today not just to bring down the birth rate but also to attain a balance between resources and population. For a secure future this goal must be pursued vigorously through sound population management. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Day After

Millions of voices, moaning in pain
raking the rubble, shouting in vain

On Oct 8, catastrophic event hit with no warning. In an instant, homes, communities and sense of well-being destroyed into rubble. With earthquake so many people dead, displaced from their home area and everything that was familiar to them has been frittered away. For those victims that stayed behind—witnessing death, homes destroyed and the grief of friends and family—the affects are overwhelming.

As the nation opened its doors and hearts to the victims, it is face to face with a flood of emotions. How we deal with the emotional flood may affect how well the victims recover from this natural disaster. There’s a need to go out into the effected areas to offer comfort to victims, who want and need to talk about their feelings and experiences. The job is not easy— offering emotional support to those who have lost family members, stock farm, homes and all their personal belongings. Through programs, evacuees need to be offered psychological first aid.

Provincial and local emergency management personnel generally conduct hazard analyses to determine which disasters are likely to occur in particular jurisdictions. But such activities take place where people are reagrded as human beings. Pakistan where apart from hollow verbosity, people are reagrded nothing more than sumpter horses, emergency management planning is alien.

While the quake has created demand that exceeded the normal capacity of the government, it has changed the number and structure of responding organizations which have resulted in the creation of new organizations, new tasks and engaged participants who are not ordinarily disaster responders. It has also compounded the difficulty of understanding who does what in disaster response due to the incapacity of the government.

The private sector has proved to be very efficient in providing relief to the quake-affected areas. Most TNCs are failing to respond to established corporate social responsibility programs. Only a few have contributed significant resources in terms of donations for affected areas. Both TNCs and smaller enterprises need to be closely involved in disaster relief as this is in their own long-term interest.

Regional economic integration should also be advanced through consolidation, expanding and deepening existing regional trading arrangements. The establishment of regional special economic zones for disaster-affected areas needs to be considered which would grant duty-free imports of capital equipment and raw materials for production within the zone.

In the wake of the tragedy many number of public-spirited institutions, voluntary organizations and citizens' groups have sprung into action to collect money and relief items. There is an obvious need for measures to guard against the misuse and abuse of the bestowal and to plug systemic loopholes and enforce stringent supervision.

Misuse of aid money by the relief organizations themselves or by employees within the structures of the organizations is quite common in Pakistan. An army general, in charge of an operation during Soviet aggression in Afghanistan died in an air crash, offers a classic example of misappropriation of aid money. His family turned billionaire overnight without any accountability. No one in Pakistan raised questions. The nation now hopes that this time plundering of the money meant for mustahqeens (earthquake victims) does not create more billionaires. We expect that there would be a mechanism to ensure that the amounts, which the government will spend in time and for the purpose for which they are intended.

To avoid misuse of funds, the government should have a minimum role. Private sector should be involved. A transparent criterion needs to be adopted. Representatives from Chambers of Commerce & Industry should watch over the observance of the criteria. Information on each and every allocation made from the fund(s) should be periodically laid before the legislature and intimated to the public through the media. The receipts, disbursements, the nature and extent of utilization should be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General and his report should be scrutinized by the Public Accounts Committee and discussed in the legislatures. Contributions received in the context of earthquake should be put in a Fund specially constituted for that matter and administered as a distinct entity, instead of being mixed up with President’s general Relief Fund.

The operation has utterly failed in attending to the emergency measures of rescuing trapped survivors, treating the injured, and providing care and shelter for the needy. The government is focusing its attention on the long-term task of reconstruction and rehabilitation before even first reaching to the seriously injured. The prime minister has abruptly announced the $5 billion amount required for reconstruction. The criterion for his assessment at this stage is opaque. The rule: ‘first things first’ is being ignored.

Before planning there’s a need to first identify those who truly clamor for assistance and then provide them accordingly. A method for effective utilization of aggregate resources needs to be devised. Priority should be given to the employment of quake-area human resources in meeting the needs of reconstruction. Disaster victims also need to be encouraged to rely on their own efforts and strengths, and to join forces in rebuilding their home communities. Emphasis should be laid on assisting the psychological recovery of the survivors in disaster areas.

The media should play a role in providing adequate information to the public to inform them about recovery efforts, sources for relief assistance and how to cope during the recovery time.

The need has arisen to develop and enforce seismic safety codes for all new construction. An integrated approach should be used to design new facilities that consider all elements of the construction including structural and nonstructural elements, support systems, site improvements that contribute to seismic performance.

This disaster has demonstrated just one clean-cut feature of fraternal feeling that has made us realize how connected we are to the community. This social bond has enabled victims an opportunity to be supported but can lead to pain after social support is withdrawn. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Consumer Class

Our world is one of contrasts. While 1.7 billion people earn enough to be classified as members of the consumer class (users of items including televisions, telephones, and the Internet, along with the culture and ideals these products transmit), as many as 2.8 billion people including Pakistanis struggle to survive on less than $2 a day, and more than one billion lack reasonable access to safe drinking water. Yet providing adequate food, clean water, and basic education for the poorest could all be achieved for less than people spend annually on makeup, ice cream, and beverages.

Private consumption expenditures—the amount spent on goods and services at the household level—topped $20 trillion in 2000, up from $4.8 trillion in 1960. Some of this four-fold increase occurred because of population growth, but much of it was due to advancing prosperity in many parts of the globe. Production efficiencies of the 20th century have driven much of the consumption boom. Modern industrial workers now produce in a week what took their 18th century counterparts four years. In the semiconductor industry, production efficiencies helped drive the cost per megabit of computing power from roughly $20,000 in 1970 to about 2 cents in 2001. Global spending on advertising reached $446 billion in 2002, an almost nine-fold increase over 1950.

According to a survey on Consumer Spending and Population, by Region, in 2000 it is found that 5.2% of world population in United States and Canada has 31.5% share of world consumption expenditures. Out of 6.4% of world population in Western Europe has 28.7%, 32.9% in East Asia and Pacific has 21.4%, 8.5% in Latin America and the Caribbean has 8.5%, 7.9% in Eastern Europe and Central Asia has 3.3%, 22.4% in South Asia has 2.0%, 0.4% in Australia and New Zealand has1.5%, 4.1% in Middle East and North Africa has1.4%, and 10.9% Sub-Saharan Africa has1.2% share of world consumption expenditure.

The health status of women and children in Pakistan is awful—eight babies are born every minute, one mother dies every 20 minutes and about 15 of them suffer from morbidity every 20 minutes, about 50 percent women are suffering from malnutrition and anemia. Less than 20 percent of them are receiving help during delivery and about 25 percent of children are being born under weight. The vision of reproductive health in Pakistan is less costly than the amount spent on smoking.

Smoking contributes to around 5 million deaths worldwide each year. In 1999, tobacco-related medical expenditures and productivity losses cost the United States more than $150 billion—almost 1.5 times the revenue of the five largest multinational tobacco companies that year.

Time pressures are often linked to the need to work long hours to support consumption habits—and to upgrade, store, or otherwise maintain possessions.

In 2002, 1.12 billion households—about three quarters of the world's people—owned at least one television set—Pakistan had 4 million TV sets with only 2,823,800 registered. Some 41 million passengers vehicles rolled of the world's assembly lines in 2002, five times as many as in 1950. The global passenger car fleet now exceeds 531 million, growing by about 11 million vehicles annually. Consumers across the globe now spend an estimated $35 billion a year on bottled water and consumes 33 million liters (35 million quarts) a year in Pakistan.

In 1999, some 2.8 billion people—two in every five humans on the planet—lived on less than $2 a day (Pakistan falls within this category with Per Capita Income as $492). In 2000, one in five people (2 in 5 people in Pakistan) in the developing world—did not have reasonable access to safe drinking water. 2.4 billion people worldwide—two out of every five (and in Pakistan, 3.5 in every 5)—live without basic sanitation. Providing adequate food, clean water, and basic education for the world's poorest could all be achieved for less than people spend annually on makeup, ice cream, and pet beverages.

When the annual expenditure on luxury items in the world are compared with funding needed to meet selected basic needs we see that Annual Expenditure on products like makeup, perfumes, ice cream and beverages.

Consumer goods and services are often sold on the premise that they make life easier and more fulfilling. But too often, beneath the surface of these claims, lay hidden costs. Automobiles are often advertised as bringing freedom to their owners, yet in reality, the average adult urbanite now spends 50 minutes a day behind the wheel. As consumers upgrade, store, or maintain possessions, they are also likely to experience time pressures linked to the need to work long hours to support consumption habits.

If a person is very poor, there is no doubt that greater income can improve his or her life. But once the basics are secured, well being does not necessarily correlate with wealth. Most governments make ongoing growth in the gross domestic product (GDP) a leading priority, under the assumption that wealth secured is well-being delivered. Yet undue emphasis on generating wealth, particularly by encouraging heavy consumption, may be yielding disappointing returns. Overall quality of life is suffering in some of the world's richest countries as people experience greater stress and time pressures and less satisfying social relationships, and as the natural environment shows more and more signs of distress.

By redefining prosperity to emphasize a higher quality of life—rather than the mere accumulation of goods—individuals, communities, and governments can focus on delivering what people most desire. Indeed, a new understanding of the good life can be built not around wealth, but around well being: having basic needs met, along with freedom, health, security, and satisfying social roles. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation