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

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Pro-Poor Budget

There is nothing more unequal than treating unequal people equally. Pro-poor budget have a clear bias towards the poor, in the sense that it work seeks to benefit the marginalized, rather than better-off sectors of the society. As such, there is often a commonly endorsed reference to pro-poor budgeting.

Raising pro-poor budget requires a strategy that is deliberately biased in favor of the poor so that the poor benefit proportionally more than the affluent.

Pro-poor budget wades into the needs of the poor. It looks for making a difference in the lives of the poor. It wedges in ex cathedra on the poor empowering them to have a hand in full tilt and to do them a wealth of good from the process of development. Pro-poor budget facilitates the poor to have enlarged opportunities for changing into healthy, educated, productive and shouldering responsibility. A pro-poor budget has a thought through partiality in favour of the poor so that he avails each to each more from government expenditure than the affluent.

The first and foremost move in getting through a pro-poor budget is the earmarking who the poor are. Understanding and measurement of poverty has evolved over time. It is now by and large recognized that poverty is not just a money related deprivation. It is an amalgamation of diverse losses of rights borrowing from the deficient welfare. Through thick and thin, budget must acknowledge to such structure of poverty. Through and through this exercise is indeed labyrinthine. That’s like pulling teeth. In crafting a pro-poor budget requires latest data about the degrees, magnitude and kinds of deprivations that make up poverty.

Owing to both practical and strategic reasons, it is important to establish a conceptual linkage between gender and poverty for promoting gender-sensitive budgets. It would be a mistake to simply equate the two categories. Gender imbalances and inequalities should run across every social, economic and political classification. The exclusion and deprivation experienced by the poor is not the same, and tends to be even more acute for women than for men. Gender allows us to stop envisioning the poor as a homogeneous category of people, whose needs can be addressed with the same recipe.

Pro-poor growth should direct resources disproportionately to the sectors in which the poor work (e.g. agriculture), areas in which they live (underdeveloped regions), factors of production which they posses (such as unskilled labor), outputs, which they consume (such as food), translated into strategy of pro-poor growth - employment generation combined with price stability of goods and services which are essential items. Policies need to be designed to reflect concerns of poverty.

In order to address poverty effectively the budget will need to have more direct rather than indirect means of taxation. This would help reduce prevailing high-income inequalities and help spread the benefits of economic growth.

Pro-poor budget means that the poor benefit disproportionately from economic growth. This is to say the proportional income growth (rate) of the poor must exceed the average income growth rate. The per-capita income growth rate of the poor must exceed growth rate.

This spurs three crystal clear policy messages. First, policies to promote growth should help the poor although they could do so more if they made growth pro-poor rather than neutral as it currently is. Second, reducing initial inequality, particularly asset inequality, should receive highest priority, due to its triple effect on poverty. Third, reducing gender inequality should equally be of highest concern to policy makers that want to achieve pro-poor growth.

It is clear that pro-poor growth that directly reduces poverty must be in sectors where the poor are and use the factors of production they possess. The vast majority of the poor is in rural areas, a majority depends directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihood, and the factor of production the poor possess and use most is labor, sometimes land, and even more rarely human capital. Thus pro-poor growth must be focused on rural areas, improve incomes and productivity in agriculture, and must make intensive use of labor. These things are nearly tautological, but often forgotten and are clearly not reflected in public policies or in the allocation of public funds by national governments or donors.

Heavy investment in the human capital of the poor will yield two benefits on poverty reduction. It will increase economic growth and it will make growth more pro-poor. The record of East Asia is a good illustration where high human capital accumulation promoted growth and poverty reduction.

Beyond a concern for increasing average incomes and reducing poverty, there is a greater appreciation for a need to enhance the security for the population if one is to ensure sustainable pro-poor growth. The security of the poor is threatened by physical threats. Thus, the poor are forced to avoid risks that may carry high rewards, can get trapped in cycles of poverty and insecurity, and are regularly pummeled by shocks that militate against sustainable reductions in poverty.

A pro-poor orientation to both the analytical framework and the policy-making processes desperately needs to put into practice. This entails significant governance innovations to guarantee, among others, peoples’ participation in the decision-making processes of the government, as a norm. The direct engagement between the citizens and the government through a process of engaged governance has the potential to achieve the objectives of good governance including bringing people to the government and government to the people.

The budget-makers need to remember that real enemy is poverty and deprivation, that their key weapon is their skill and professionalism and that their modus operandi is their humility. They are the custodians of a value system that defines the objective as demonstrating every single day that they are a caring democracy.

Attaining a pro-poor budget is a big challenge. It requires a bottom-up approach; that ensures that poverty eradication is a central issue and not a donor driven requirement. (

Nanotechnology: Preparing to live 100, 200 and even 300 years

Human aging is being controlled and researchers have proven that human cells can be created and in this century people will begin to live 100, 200 or even 300 years. Mice are already living 50% longer with the help of genetic inventions. Thanks to the human genome project, scientists are closer to identifying ways to decelerate human aging. Contrarily, with incompetent, insufficient, and laughable healthcare system in place, Pakistan seems to continue grappling with policy lapses. Due to factors related to high fertility rates, high illiteracy, high mortality, and above all uncreative methods of policy planning, Pakistan stands as a stranger to such a milieu. Its policymakers don’t even sense the world passing through a profound transformation. They lack their understanding for making decisions to understand forthcoming breakthroughs and strategically plan for new environs.

The rapid pace of technology and medicine are quickly posing the prospect of banishing aging and disease, and yes even most causes of death. Some of the most extreme but very possible aspects of technologies such as molecular manufacturing and nanomedicine promise continual cellular maintenance that will alleviate aging altogether and make it impossible for disease or toxins to injure one's body or take one's life. Present anti-aging treatments do not slow aging and do not extend life span more than quitting smoking, exercising, eating vegetables, or heeding ordinary medical advice does. While all over the world we have seen improvements in health and life spans, Pakistan has large gaps and much effort needs to be spent in narrowing that gap.

Although vainly wrestling with high female mortality at younger ages and during the reproductive years, Pakistan claims a life span of 65. This predominantly seems farce when almost one-half of women receive no antenatal care during their pregnancy and 72 percent receive no postnatal care at all.

The advancements in longevity can be generally attributed to improvements in sanitation, the discovery of antibiotics, and medical care. Despite tall claims, Pakistan’s record on these areas is hopeless. Now, as scientists make headway against chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease to extend anti-aging even further, such diseases in Pakistan are greater than ever and basic healthcare service is inaccessible to a vast majority.

There are theories on aging. The programmed theories hold that aging follows a biological timetable, perhaps a continuation of the one that regulates childhood growth and development. The damage or error theories emphasize environmental assaults to our systems that gradually cause things to go wrong.

Lengthening life expectancies in the industrialized nations are bringing about substantial changes including large increases in the number of elderly and in their proportion in the population. Such changes have occurred, for example, in the type of economic activity, housing, social services, and population make-up of the communities. With growth in the health care system and changes in the service mix provided, the elderly continue to consume more health care per capita and need different services.

Health care institutions, including hospitals, which are widely expected to experience increasing demand as the elderly population grows; organizations will provide home-based medical care and other types of assistance, allowing the individual to remain in their own residence; and a variety of assisted living facilities, ranging from adult day care to residential care to nursing homes.

Of greater concern, the already awful health care industry of Pakistan finds itself ill prepared to handle significant increases in the number of the very elderly. Today, there are almost 9.7 million senior citizens. When it has no policy in place for this population today, it has no concern for tomorrow. Neither public nor private sectors are equipped financially to deal with the problems caused by aging population. When a society starts aging, its economic vitality becomes inferior to that of young societies and sluggish economic growth reduces its opportunities to become well heeled. Thus, in Pakistan an aging population will become a heavy public burden, forcing its people to bring down the cost by establishing large institutions so that, by virtue of economies of scale, they could manage to provide the elderly with the most basic care and medical needs.

The health sector of Pakistan offers an inadequate remedy for the serious problems of an outdated and basically unsound system and hence needs an offensive. People must be offered a vision of a revitalized health care system that provides incentives for increased quality and technological innovation, while at the same time, reducing costs. Pakistanis need a system that gives them control over healthcare decisions, while encouraging them to set aside the resources they need to purchase this care.

The policy makers of Pakistan should keep themselves abreast of technological advances and management strategies by constantly scanning the literature and media, interviewing authorities, and drawing on other sources to identify emerging trends. These trends then need to be analyzed to select those that are most significant.

It needs to begin to prepare now for what will be a very different future. The key questions it needs to think about include: What is it that we should be asking? What is it that its policymakers need but do not get in their human development courses? People should be asking about connections -- connections between existing mindsets and human development. These connections simply are not made in most textbooks available for use in human development courses. In fact, effective change requires more than knowledge of human development. Effective change also requires the ability to devise strategies that take advantage of that knowledge … strategies for connecting research and practice. (

Monday, July 28, 2008

Poverty, Development and Democracy

In my last column I discussed about the anti-poor development in Pakistan. I have the reason to believe that my dissertation shall be falling short if I failed to explicate the parameters for pro-poor policy framework, hence this subject matter.

It is widely recognized that development is about much more than growth of GDP. Equally, everyone appreciates that democracy is more than simply a matter of universal suffrage and the holding of regular multiparty elections, essential though these are. So we need to understand exactly what is meant by development and democracy today, in the twenty-first century.

There is a need to recognize the links between democracy and good governance on the one hand, and poverty, development and conflict on the other.

A strong, effective, accountable state is the first pillar of democracy and development. International institutions alone cannot and should not take responsibility for eradicating poverty, authoritarianism and conflict. Pakistan’s government should take the initiative by ensuring that its own core institutions of democracy are fully accountable, and by adopting pro-poor development strategies and promoting democratic reforms and human rights at all levels.

The foundations of a democratic state are worth recalling: a freely and fairly elected parliament that is broadly representative of the people; an executive (government) that is answerable to parliament; an independent judiciary; a police force that responds to the law for its operations and the government for its administration; and armed forces that are answerable to government and parliament.

The financial affairs of any democratic government should be monitored by parliament through a public accounts committee, and by an auditor-general answerable to parliament.

Civil society is the third pillar of pro-poor development and democratization. Building the capacity of citizens’ organizations and a free and well-informed media are critical for promoting citizen participation, holding government to account and empowering poor communities. Poor people and poor communities, for example, are in the best position to understand and articulate their own needs, and their voices should be heard directly within government. But they are not and here political rights and opportunities can be bolstered through community action.

The media plays an important role both in giving voice to citizens and in holding government and the private sector to account on their behalf.

Where international economic organizations such as the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO set down conditionalities or constraints on policy, it must be in the pursuit of pro-poor development, and must work in ways that do not erode democratic institutions and human rights at the national and sub-national levels.

There is a need for responsibility, partnership and concrete actions – from the government, private sector, civil society and international community. Without responsibility on all these levels, development and democracy will remain rhetoric rather than become reality.

The principal aim of development no longer focuses on maximizing marketable production of goods. The emphasis now is on expanding opportunities and strengthening human capacities to lead long, healthy, creative and fulfilling lives. Development is about enabling people to have the ‘capabilities’ to do and be the things that they have reason to value. Poverty is the deprivation of basic capabilities and development as the process of ensuring that the most basic capabilities are achieved by all.

Basic capabilities include: being adequately nourished, avoiding preventable morbidity and premature mortality, being effectively sheltered, having a basic education, being able to ensure security of the person, having equitable access to justice, being able to appear in public without shame, being able to earn a livelihood and being able to take part in the life of a community.

Pakistan has a weak administrative capacity. Public officials are poorly trained or lack experience in public expenditure management. State institutions, such as ministries and judiciaries lack sufficient resources or are plagued by entrenched systems of corruption. Inadequate numbers of women at decision-making levels in the civil service and judiciary means that women’s interests are not represented in policy formulation and implementation.

Ill-health is also a cause of poverty. A single experience of sickness in a family can divert energy and resources, leaving the household in deep poverty. Diseases such as malaria, and tuberculosis are not only personal tragedies; a high prevalence of such diseases is associated with significant reductions in economic growth.

Many anti-poverty plans are no more than vaguely formulated strategies. Pakistan needs a genuine action plans - with explicit targets, adequate budgets and effective organizations. Pakistan does not have explicit poverty plans but incorporates poverty into national planning. And many of these then appear to forget the topic.

The government has difficulty in reporting how much funding goes to poverty reduction - unable to distinguish between activities that are related to poverty and those that are not. It confuses social spending with poverty-related spending. But much government spending could be considered pro-poor if it disproportionately benefits the poor. Under these conditions it is probably best to set up a special poverty reduction fund - to give a better financial accounting and to allow government departments and ministries to apply to the fund for financing for their poverty-focused programs.

The scope of development policy has become broader, making ‘pro-poor development’ a vital additional analytical category that orients attention towards those people most in need. Recognizing that ‘development’ is still used loosely in the policy world to refer to development strategies for Pakistan, rather than particularly for poor people, it is important to distinguish and promote ‘pro-poor development’. Development policies aimed at the general population may have a more limited positive impact on particularly disadvantaged groups. Pro-poor development concerns those policies that are specifically
designed to enhance the quality of the lives of the poor.

Pakistan must start out inventing pro-poor developmental policies. This can be a hat in the ring for Yousaf Raza Gillani government. Quite the other way, the climbing poverty will snuff out all his claims for transforming economy for emancipation of the poor lot. (

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Poverty: Life near the Bone

Future trends show that the world poverty is decreasing and we are nearing the era when the poor of today will live the standard of the average rich of today. Contrary to this trend, in Pakistan poverty levels are going further up. Although many Pakistanis have greatly improved their standard of living since 1947, yet over 30 percent of them—around 50 million people—still live below the poverty line. The gap between the rich and poor has widened with some gaining financial comfort while others are finding it impossible to permanently escape from destitution.

Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not being able to go to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is fearing the future, living one day at a time. Poverty is losing a child to illness brought about by unclean water. Poverty is powerlessness, lack of representation, and freedom.

Poverty has many faces, changing from place to place and across time, and has been described in many ways. Most often, poverty is a situation people want to escape. So poverty is a call to action—for the poor and the wealthy alike—a call to change the world so that many more may have enough to eat, adequate shelter, access to education and health, protection from violence, and a voice in what happens in their lives.

For many, lack of access to income-generating activities, coupled with lack of basic services in education and health, is the determining factors behind acute poverty. In Pakistan, lack of access to credit, training in income-generating activities, basic social services, and infrastructure are critical factors behind the persistence of substantial poverty, especially in underserved rural and urban areas. Poverty levels also differ depending on where people live. The metropolitan poverty rate differs greatly between suburbs and the central city.

At the Millennium Summit in 2002, major development organizations looked at development goals, which had been agreed at international conferences and world summits during the 1990s, and distilled them into eight goals with eradication of extreme poverty and hunger at top. The Goals were formed in response to what was seen as uneven development progress, where globalization benefits millions, but poverty and suffering still exist.

This is scarcely surprising considering that those who live below the poverty line and that any supplementary income from working children becomes unavoidable for their families to make ends meet. We have to understand as why children go to work. If parents don't send their children to work I am sure factories will not be able to consume them. No mother likes her child to go for work. It is financial crisis, which forces. Our understanding should be little more practical as no parents want their children work at the age when children are to study and play.

The stress on a gradual approach towards eliminating child labor is the correct one. At the same time, poverty alleviation efforts must be stepped up, so that the loss of an earning member of the family is not felt, so actually and over an indefinite period of time.

Poverty is no longer just a matter of calories or of pricing a consumption bundle. It has to do with the poor defining and achieving their well being themselves and living a life in a participative society where the State is an enabling rather than a hindering institution. It is not that income or consumption level is unimportant. It remains at the core of any definition of poverty. But we must view it as an input as much as an outcome. It is an input which contributes towards well being. But just as important are public goods – health care, clean water, literacy, and healthy environment.

Pakistan's rural sector accounts for more than 70 percent of employment, and roughly two thirds of rural employment is in agriculture. Less than a third of rural households get loans, only 10 percent of which are from institutional sources. Pakistan's credit institutions are not helping the country accelerate agricultural growth and reduce poverty.
To improve performance in the rural economy and efficiency in financial institutions, rural credit markets must be liberalized.

Produce and price controls must be replaced by prudent regulation and supervision, combined with policies to stabilize the economy. Commercial banks must operate in a competitive environment. They must be allowed to set interest rates for rural lending that cover their transaction costs. Credit must be made available to support productivity growth for agricultural smallholders and small producers of the rural non farm sector, where Pakistan's growth potential lies. Credit must be made available to women and to the rural poor for consumption smoothing and for sustainable income generating activities.

Policy should be directed at developing a market based financial system for rural finance, but because of market failures to support disadvantaged groups, a special priority program may be needed to get credit to women, smallholders, and the rural non-farm sector.

Subsidizing interest rates is not the way to help marginal borrowers. Instead, they can be helped through fixed cost subsidies and self-selected targeting. NGOs should be encouraged to help, keeping in mind such success stories as the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and Badan Kredit Kecaratan (BKK) in Indonesia.

Pakistan needs to make the policy choices to help it translate economic gains into real poverty alleviation for its citizens. It needs social protection, human development, and a well-coordinated rural strategy. Issues of governance are at the heart of many of the difficulties encountered in mitigating poverty and broadening access to social services for the poor. (

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The need for Political Reengineering

Pakistan is a country that runs politics without politicians. And this has remained a major, if not the sole, obstacle against political stability in the country. The conviction of the people suffers from a serious scarcity of politicians with the capacity of perceiving, exploring and exploiting political-democratic opportunities for their necessitous citizens. This scarcity has left Pakistan with the option of practicing politics without politicians. And the result has remained the same: despair, pessimism, cynicism, and neglected pile of problems such as unemployment, poverty and a broken society.

Politics in Pakistan is a ghastly pursuit—what helps one group is thought inevitably to harm another; what benefits one must hurt the other. It is a politics of despondency. In the name of advancing the interests of one's own group, it rejects attempts to educate, pressure, or change the society as a whole, thus accepting the status quo and revealing its essentially conservative nature. It is a politics of defeat and demoralization, of pessimism and narcissism. By seizing as much as possible for one's self and group, it exposes its complete disregard for the whole from which it has separated—the rest of the society. It thus rejects the search for a just and comprehensive solution to social problems. It is fundamentally conservative, working against progressive change and supporting the status quo.

In politics of Pakistan the intent is acquisition of power, and a culture prevails where people as well as the nation have become insensitive to human values and feel no hesitation in trampling over the rights of others. The ambition for power has thus turned out to be the tumbling block for establishing peace, equality and a true sense of fellowship. Such exhortation to goodness and moral superiority will remain in a pious ideal if our political leadership failed to translate it in social and political policies.

As ill luck would have it, the name of the game in Pakistan has become winning the elections and not incessant development and prosperity for all. Consequentially, problems such as unemployment, inflation and rule of law are bumping up and no political entity in Pakistan seems concerned. The only implicit, overt and covert concern is for power.

The manifestos of all political parties are no more than points of etiquette. They lack the power to foster commitment, motivation and clarity of vision and purpose. They do not surround certain principles and processes, which are properly observed in their development and deployment. They fail to connote the manifesto of political parties forming the basis for strategic direction and daily action. They are not developed in ways that they become powerful tools. Our political parties do not adopt the new philosophy, institute leadership, and eliminate slogans and exhortations. They fall short of doing away with personal goals and putting everyone to work to accomplish transformation. This requires leadership and commitment to a common mission, which all political parties lack.

Perhaps Z. A. Bhutto was the first (and the last) to offer a program that ignited the spirits of people. Today’s political organizations, including the party he left behind, lack agenda, harmony with values, inspiration, motivation and the ability to capture the heart and soul of the people. Consequently, whatever deficient programs these parties offer are identical, monotonous and ambiguous. They only differ in phraseology and verbosity.

Manifestos of most major political organizations are substance deficient. Even during Feb 18 elections, I could not determine the main thrusts of political agendas of the contestant political groups (one candidate supported by a coalition of PPP, PML-N, while the other represented PML-Q). The entire campaign pivoted around attacks and counter-attacks. I could not even grasp the vision of PML-Q. Different leaders had different interpretations. Regrettably, no political party in Pakistan has a stated vision.

For all our political groups are without the vision people are locked in their past and present and incapable of imagining a future that will be better, they’ve lost hope. Politics has thus become mere “business,” horse-trading, squabbling about power with little sense of the ends to which power is the means. Gaining and holding on to power has become the purpose. For vision is what generates purpose for a society, without vision public life in Pakistan has become a battle of interests, unconstrained by a larger horizon of meaning. By and large, the losers are the powerless and the vulnerable—the luckless people.

By having a manifesto with people’s soul in it, a political party can have continuity. This is one of the major benefits of managing and leading by a manifesto developed by a participative process. It provides a long-term continuity and help leadership to maintain a long-term competitive advantage because it has direction and purpose. And when individual values are harmonized with those of the political enterprise, people work together for common purpose that is deeply felt. They contribute more as a team than individually. Thus the productivity not just gets better it gets dramatically excellent.

Today Pakistan is in dire need of people-service engineers, political-democratic entrepreneurs, and change agents who can dedicate their careers to the job of serving their people in solving their micro and macro-societal needs.

Pakistan needs those political leaders who can yield their personal interests to national interests and have the need of maintaining public accountability; who can keep the political machinery going for the future growth of their political career which is needed by the society; and who can discern that the military is right there seeking and watching out to grab power and impose dictatorship.

The new challenge lays ahead—the challenge to enable society to operate in dynamic balance with the threatening external environment. The nation yearns for leadership capable of providing direction and inspiration needed to survive and prosper into the 21st century. Pakistan desperately needs political re-engineering for driving the nation toward survival and prosperous future. (

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Nanotechnology: The Thrilling Breakthrough of 21st Century

Nanotechnology is all about examining the world at a millionth of meter and utilizing the ability to manipulate universe at a molecular perspective. The projected uses of nanotechnology are exciting and potentially life altering. All scientific disciplines are now meeting at a common level, the nanoscale, and their discoveries will more than likely change our world in a profound way.

The idea of nanotechnology begins with the idea of a molecular assembler, a device resembling an industrial robot arm but built on a microscopic scale. A general-purpose molecular assembler will be a jointed mechanism built from rigid molecular parts, driven by motors, controlled by computers, and able to grasp and apply molecular-scale tools. Molecular assemblers can be used to build other molecular machines–they can even build more molecular assemblers. Assemblers and other machines in molecular manufacturing systems will be able to make almost anything. In effect, molecular assemblers will provide the microscopic hands. To bridge all scales from atoms to material properties, mathematics is the language and the tool to orchestrate the principles of physics and chemistry.

Humanity will be faced with a powerful, accelerated social revolution as a result of nanotechnology. Within a few short years, and five billion trillion nano-robots later, virtually all present industrial processes will be obsolete as well as our contemporary concept of labor. Consumer goods will become plentiful, inexpensive, smart, and durable. Medicine will take a quantum leap forward. Space travel and colonization will become safe and affordable. For these and other reasons, global life styles will change radically and human behavior drastically impacted. What the computer revolution did for manipulating data, the nanotechnology revolution will do for manipulating matter, juggling atoms like bits.

Given the scope of the enterprise, it is not surprising that estimates of its eventual financial impact are large. Starting soon molecular engineering will emerge as a multi-trillion dollar industry that will dominate the economic and ecological fabric of our lives. Scientists agree that nanotechnology is likely to dominate 21st century.

At least 30 countries have initiated national activities in this field. The worldwide annual industrial production in the nanotech sectors is estimated to exceed $1 trillion in 10 to 15 years from now. America is leading the field. The total world research effort can be imagined as split in roughly equal parts between US, Japan, and Europe. They are investing billions of dollars in nanotechnology research, examining how and where nano-scale science can improve defense capabilities.

The military aspects of nanotechnology have gotten more attention: In a recent speech President Bush emphasized the role of technology in American military success, and noted that the USA was seeing weapons that are simultaneously more effective and less lethal. Some people wondered if this was entirely a good thing: weapons that are enormously powerful, but nonlethal, might tend to be used a lot. There seems to be a lot of military interest in nanotechnology, and for obvious reasons: mastery of nanotechnology could lead to the kind of military supremacy that mastery of steam power and repeating firearms gave the West in the 19th Century. On a sunny day, an area just a few paces on a side would generate a kilowatt of electrical power. With good batteries (and enough repaved roads and solar-cell roofing), present demands for electrical power could be met with no coal burning, no oil imports, no nuclear power, no hydroelectric dams, and no land taken over for solar power generation plants.

The story of nanotechnology in medicine will be the story of extending surgical control to the molecular level. The easiest applications will be aids to the immune system, which selectively attack invaders outside tissues. Immune machines will have no difficulty identifying cancer cells, and ultimately be able to track them down and destroy them wherever they may be growing. Destroying every cancer cell will cure the cancer.

Devices working in the bloodstream could nibble away at atherosclerotic deposits, widening the affected blood vessels. Cell herding devices could restore artery walls and artery linings to health, by ensuring that the right cells and supporting structures are in the right places. This would prevent most heart attacks.

Cell-herding capabilities should also be able to deal with the various forms of arthritis. Where this is due to attacks from the body's own immune system, the cells producing the damaging antibodies can be identified and eliminated. Then a cell-herding system would work inside the joint where it would remove diseased tissues, calcified spurs, and so forth, then rework patterns of cells and intercellular material to form a healthy, smoothly working, and pain-free joint. A similar process—but again, specially adapted to the circumstances at hand—could be used to strengthen and reshape bone, correcting osteoporosis.

When nanotechnology emerges from the world of ideas to the world of physical reality, we will need to be prepared. For now, drafting of new regulations seems premature. The government departments in medicine, economy, environment, and other issues of public policy to put nanotechnology on their agendas, join in debating and ultimately implementing sensible development policies.

Pakistan already has suffered for responding late to the Information Technology and consequently lost to India. The development of nanotechnology will seriously challenge the ability of our preparedness to respond quickly and to maintain the critical balance between dangers and benefits.

In the 1960s, the New Math that was introduced into American grade schools and junior high schools included extensive study of arithmetic using numbers written in something other than the familiar base 10. This was to prepare the Adults of Tomorrow for The Computer Age. Can Pakistan induct nanotechnology at campuses to prepare the Adults of tomorrow for nano-age? Or else, very soon Pakistan’s industry is going to find itself in a squeeze for nano know-how. (

Monday, July 21, 2008

Lahore: A Frustrating Relic

Pakistan has already entered into the 21st century with the nefarious bag and baggage containing nauseating political environment and the stomach-churning poverty. While we read about great strides the Asian Tigers are making in economic development and prosperity, Pakistan continues to lurch around with moral degeneration and lust for guzzling the vitals of nationhood. As we hear that China and India are going to emerge as economic giants in this century, the up-and-coming trends illustrate the murky future of Pakistan.

Having toured more than forty countries, I can rightfully claim to be a globe trotter. And I have traveled to China so repeatedly that I should be eligible to call it my second home. In one of the trips with wife, an incident made me embarrassed quite a bit. The story runs thus: While in Shanghai, before having a nap my wife cursorily glanced a tourism magazine provided by the hotel where we were staying. A story attracted her attention, which was about Lahore that happened to be our birthplace and the heart of Pakistan. Although it did not fall short of truth in any way, reading in a foreign magazine about our eroding national character really saddened us. Indeed it was morally wrong my wife ripped off the article penned by Josephine Bow that unfortunately reflected the dominating way of life in Pakistan. I am sharing some of its excerpts as follows:

“ . . . . Languishing on the sidelines instead of jostling in the mainstream, Lahore is a gracious but frustrating relic of an era long gone. The economic boom and accompanying quickening of pace that has swept over Asia—from Delhi to Seoul—like a giant tidal wave during the past two decades seems to have stopped short at the gates of Pakistan.

Beset by corrupt politicians and businessmen—often one and the same—government policies seesaw wildly depending upon which interest group squawks the loudest. Recent years have seen revolving door of governments, resulting in a sense of helplessness and inertia at the individual level. The oft-heard lament is what can one man do against the system?

Lahore looks as if it’s becoming a sleepy town. Don’t expect to get anything done in a hurry. For one thing, nobody of responsibility gets to their offices before 11 AM and secretaries never know where their bosses are. Punctuality is not a widespread practice—arriving within an hour either side of the appointed time seems to be considered acceptable.

For local businessmen, the inability of government to formulate stable policies has generated an ‘every man for himself and the rest be damned’ attitude. Young professionals educated abroad despair that their hard-earned degrees and legitimate career choices are looked upon with disdain. Instead it’s those who can make money in the quickest and often most illegal manner who are admired.

What is probably more difficult to adjust is the lack of a developed work ethic or observance of basic business practices. Here everyone’s a director or manager giving orders, but there’s little follow-up. Be prepared to insist if you want to get anything done.

In the sluggishness to embrace the global economy, ironically even the country’s strengths can become weaknesses. Take, for example, the fact that Pakistan is self-sufficient in cotton. Lahore, in the heart of the rich Punjab cotton-growing region, is considered by many to be the country’s future textile capital. Yet despite occasional pockets of progress, overall export growth in value-added items has been disappointing.

Bangladesh, on the other hand, registered tremendous growth in garment exports. The analysis is that, with its weak local raw-materials base, manufacturers were exposed early to overseas business practices as they learned to deal with fabric suppliers in Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Rich from the earnings and experience amassed over the past 15 years, large Bangladeshi garment groups are now opening carefully thought-out textile units.

As Pakistan enters yet another period of political uncertainty, it’s difficult to say whether conditions will improve in the near future.

Lahoreans are considered to be great talkers. Indeed residents of nearby Sialkot, the world’s manufacturing capital for soccer balls and martial-arts uniforms, explain their city became globally competitive because it hosts no other extracurricular activities—not the case with Lahore, which boasts theatre, art galleries and other cultural pastimes.

Horse drawn carts, motorcycles, trucks and every other imaginable form of vehicular transport make their way in a confused shambles on often unpaved and potholed roads—a nightmare during the rainy season.

Driving is very much local style and no one respects lanes or direction, for that matter. Watch out for three-wheel scooters crossing lane dividers and careening wildly in the wrong direction. . . . . ”

Baba Bulleh Shah has truthfully said: truth inflames. Initially the critique about our national attitude caused us noticeable irritation. Just the same, when we recuperated rationalism we recognized that the writer put across the harsh facts quite rightly.

Past civilizations, nations and peoples perished due to lack of purpose, nationhood and when self-centered attitude dominated the national purpose. Today Pakistan also stands face-to-face with such erosion. The value system is under serious attack—not by someone from outside, but internally at individual level. This is simply contrary to norms of freedom.

Pakistan must learn from past and future. It must change its ways to shun disaster. It must recreate itself. The confronting challenge calls for a leadership capable of eliciting the best out of the people. Traditional top down notions of leadership are giving way to concepts of attitudinal reforms, social transformation, and collective restructuring. Pakistani society desperately needs to look into the future and see the nation not as it is … but as it can become. A choice nevertheless lies ahead: either to change or become a French song once sung by swan. (

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Learning journeys and Future

Learning journeys are customized field trips. They give an adaptive edge. But they tend to be much more than that. The highest impact learning journeys are designed to surface, test, and shift key assumptions about the future of the business.

Learning journeys educate, inspire, catalyze, and transform individuals and teams. They can illuminate new strategic directions, jumpstart innovation processes, contextualize risk, test brand positioning, gain better alignment within a team or connect different parts of the business, or open the minds of top talent.

No learning journey is identical because the best ones are customized to the organizational context. And while many companies have field trips and other fact-finding missions, few apply the kind of process design that ensures the maximum return on learning, not to mention the return on investment it takes to pull top managers out of their daily routines.

The tricks and techniques for successful learning journeys are many. In terms of the basics, a learning journey requires a good facilitator and a support team of one or more people. Learning journeys include a dynamic mixture of carefully chosen field trips to people, places, prototypes, entrepreneurs, events, experiences, and so on. These visits are usually structured around key themes and hypotheses about the future business. They are sometimes complemented with virtual tours and other kinds of simulations and experiences. Some of the cites are specifically selected to challenge people’s mental models, particularly key assumptions that may be shifting or in decline.

Learning journeys almost always generate tangible products and deliverables. Not to be overlooked, however, are the many intangible benefits they generate—while hard to measure, equally as important.

The future is already here; it’s just unevenly distributed. Learning journeys, then, aspire to find those laboratories of the future, those dense nodes of activity and experimentation where the future is peaking through into the present. While the future is hard to predict, not yet codified in books or visible in current events, it is concentrated in people and places. Indeed, these expeditions are designed to seek out and learn from the future-makers (the pioneers and innovators) and future-seers (thinkers, artists, elders, and heretics)— those rare individuals who can look further ahead than the rest of us, or enable us to think differently. These thinkers and doers are frequently not the usual suspects because when it comes to future-oriented problems traditional experts are often more hindrance than help.

Learning journeys can unpack an uncertainty or reframe the rules of the game before the competition does. Onassis, the late shipping tycoon, had it right when he said, “the secret of business is to know something that nobody else knows.”

By contrast, most strategies are formed by gathering best practices, industry analyses, market research, and general intelligence. Since much of this is public knowledge, and since experts and insiders tend to herd around the conventional wisdom—especially during times of uncertainty—it’s not surprisingly that we see a great deal of strategy convergence and homogeneity in most industries, rather than divergence. As is often said to executives: if you read it in The Economist, it’s too late!

Unilever recently used a bold and broad-based learning journey process to revitalize its overall strategic positioning. The company did this by asking its top 200 emerging young leaders to scour the world for leading-edge insights about how the world was changing, and what customers would want, need, and desire in the future. Each group was given a discretionary budget with some general guidelines and support. After 18 months, the insights from all the groups were pooled, distilled and analyzed, the synthesis of which became the foundation for Unilever’s new strategic direction.

Learning journeys also help overcome the innovator’s dilemma. Many great companies fail to anticipate and respond to disruptive innovations. Key processes and metrics within companies are to blame. For instance, traditional market research tools, while useful for mainstream customers, give misleading information about the potential of future markets.

Time and time again, we discover that the signals were there all along—we just didn't recognize them until it was too late. Current risk assessment tools, like our market research methods, are being eclipsed by how the world is changing. Managers need to be prepared for a range of risks that were unthinkable not long ago. The existing tools for risk management are flawed—that perhaps the biggest problem of all is the illusion of certainty that
Value at Risk creates. A better way to manage uncertainty is through some of the techniques we have already mentioned, scenario thinking and assumption-based planning.

High performers are not necessarily the smartest, but rather, they succeed because of their emotional intelligence. Moreover, we now know that intuition, creativity and innovative thinking spring from the “non-rational” parts of our brain, thus challenging the primacy placed on just analytical reasoning. Because they are so experiential, learning journeys engage and amplify all of these intelligences, and thus help participants tap more readily into their creative resource—resources which are often underdeveloped in most corporate settings.

Adaptive problem solving, and overcoming the innovator’s dilemma requires a different set of skills and capabilities. Learning journeys are an excellent vehicle for teaching these skills because the process models what adaptive leaders must do when uncertain problems confront them.

Learning journeys are clearly neither a panacea nor a quick fix to many of the pressing problems facing companies today. They are an investment in time and money that many business executives have trouble justifying.

The learning journey methodology is still young. While organizations have had a community of practice focused on these techniques for a number of years, mainstream organizations are just now starting to experiment with these pedagogical tools. The enduring benefit of learning journeys is the adaptive advantage they instill in the processes and people of an organization.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Killing the innocent

The sagacious thoughts of my mother continue to reverberate even after eleven years of her death. She would say, “The red storm used to be the cause of alarm and we would know some murder took place in town.” Today, people are being killed like gnats and no one bothers for the human loss. This causes me enormous pain as a human being, and as a father. I still believe in the value of life without discrimination—Muslim, Christian, Hindu or Jew. I daily continue to witness red clouds hovering above my head signaling a sequence of murders.

I saw such clouds on May 31. A mob of hate criminals put a match to a KFC outlet in Karachi and thus incinerated six innocent Muslim workers. I was genuinely troubled for heavy police force and rangers deployed in Karachi, failed to protect life and property of the innocent. When the police will be engaged in knocking the socks off of the political opponents, anarchic situation is bound to dominate. My wretchedness grew larger when I learnt about the paltry details I could gather about the harmless victims.

Three of them got the job only three days ago. Two were students and working part time to bear the high cost of education. All victims were in their bloom of youth—twenties. Even if they were Americans, Britishers or Israelis, they were weaponless and not engaged in war. Killing such harmless human beings should be deplored and must be disapproved forcefully.

How would the fanatics who killed the innocent differentiate themselves from the killings occurring in Gujrat, Ghaza Strip or Kashmir? Indeed there’s a difference. There the non-Muslims are killers. Here Muslims are killing the Muslims.

Such acts of violence signify the deficient knowledge and hence the misinterpretation of Islam. The hate criminals fail to have a nodding acquaintance with the true spirit of Islam.

Anyone who studies Islam from its direct sources will be influenced by the truth that Islam is a religion of peace. When you open the Qur’an, the very first verse reads: Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim meaning “In the name of God, the most Merciful, the most Compassionate.” The crystallization of the concept and precept is that Allah is God of Mercy and Compassion, and the Holy Qur’an is the book of mercy. If you go through the Qur’an, you will find that most verses, directly or indirectly, express the spirit of peace. For instance, there is a verse in the Qur’an: ‘And God calls to the home of peace’ (10:25). This signifies the eventual purpose of Islam is peace. Implicitly and explicitly Islam insists Muslims to be merciful and compassionate to their fellow citizens.

The principal to my dissertation is the idea based on pluralism in Islam. The Holy Qur’an says: "To each among you, have We prescribed a Law and an Open Way. And if God had enforced His Will, He would have made of you all one people" (5:48). This implies that hostile and biased attitude with other citizens is totally against Islamic behavior.

Once a man came to the Prophet (pbuh) and said, ‘O Prophet, give me a masterly piece of advice enabling me to manage all the affairs of my life.’ The Prophet replied: ‘Don’t be angry.’ According to another tradition, the Prophet (pbuh) once observed: ‘Don’t wish for confrontation with your enemy, instead always ask for peace from God.’ This indicates that peace is central to Islam.

In Islam, peaceful coexistence among citizens of the state is simply by dealing with them as citizens with no discrimination in any form. In the early days of the Islamic state, the Jews were recognized for their extreme hate and machinations against Islam. The Prophet (pbuh) nevertheless sustained immense compassion for them. Once a funeral passed by the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions. Muhammad (pbuh) immediately stood up in respect. The companions of the Prophet (pbuh) said, "It is a bier of a Jew." Muhammad (pbuh) replied, "Is it not a soul?" This illustrates that respect even your enemies. This is the fundamental norm in Islam.

Islam does not in anyway allow for the killing of any innocent soul. Verse 45:14 says: "Tell those who believe, to forgive those who do not look forward to the days of Allah: It is for Him to recompense (for good or ill) each people according to what they have earned."

Muslims are even encouraged to be kind to animals and are forbidden to hurt them. Once Muhammad (pbuh) said: A woman was punished because she imprisoned a cat until it died. On account of this, she was doomed to Hell. While she imprisoned it, she did not give the cat food or drink, nor did she free it to eat the insects of the earth (Muslim and Bukhari).

In light of these and other Islamic texts, the act of inciting terror in the hearts of defenseless civilians, the wholesale destruction of buildings and properties, the bombing and maiming of innocent men, women, and children are all forbidden and detestable acts in Islam. Muslims follow a religion of peace, mercy, and forgiveness, and the vast majority has nothing to do with the violent events some have associated with Muslims. If an individual Muslim were to commit an act of terrorism, this person would be guilty of violating the laws of Islam.

Those with malevolent intentions, have internal problem. Instead of chastising others, they should have a gaze into their own self-conscious and kill the enemy of mankind deep in.

And finally a word about franchise. It is defined by three factors: the grant of trademark or rights, a prescribed marketing plan and payment of a franchise fee for the rights. Although franchise outlets signify US brands, they are developed with national investment. The brand owners only get their share for giving the right to use brands. (

Friday, July 18, 2008

Imposing the American Way

Nature shows us that dissonance is a means of restoring stability to natural systems. The caterpillar’s residue gives rise to the butterfly. Natural forest fires clear the way for life of many varieties to regenerate. The founder of the martial art of aikido believed that the goal of all conflict is to restore harmony. Systems seek stability and they may create what we humans call conflict or chaos in order to do so.

General Systems Theory tell us that systems are always trying to correct themselves – using their own innate form of immune system to ward off any infections that threaten their stability. We see this in natural systems, like plants, animals and the human body, as well as in human-made systems such as the complex web of institutions we’ve created.

Looking at America one might see a system attempting to make adjustments that it sees as necessary for its own survival. Any system will try to make corrections when it perceives that it is under threat – when its stability is being undermined. These adjustments will tend to get more and more severe, until stability or harmony begins to return.

Was the 9/11 terrorist act not one sign that, maybe, just maybe, things weren’t quite right? If a person has a heart attack, it is a pretty clear sign that he should change his lifestyle – that things are not going well anyway. Usually, people get lots of warnings before they suffer a coronary arrest but many are oblivious to the early-warning signs and sometimes die as a result of their first heart attack – the most severe signal the body can muster to say slow down and change your ways.

Nearly all Americans look at the events of 9/11 from the personal or national levels, rationalizing that the terrorists were motivated by perverse religious beliefs and fanaticism, coupled with economic suppression that is so rampant in the third world that people take it for granted. On the level of all humanity, however, it was a wake up call for them to change their ways.

It is easy for Americans to ignore the impact their way of life has in other parts of the world. After all, they rarely hear much about it from their corporate-owned media and only a few take the time to see themselves, as other countries perceive them. So, the Americans may have been shocked to learn that they are resented by so many other cultures that have been victimized and exploited by the American Way. But that naïveté was popped on 9/11 as millions of Americans started to realize that they weren’t as well liked as they may have thought.

There is little awareness in the US that the American Way has become a curse for much of the world which is seeing cultures ruined, traditions abandoned, people exploited, environments scavenged and local values ignored. The American Dream has become the world’s worst nightmare.

American chauvinism is being confronted right now. Its swagger and arrogance is out of control. People in other parts of the world, even Americans living abroad, have seen this coming for years. But the Americans didn’t want to hear anything that could possibly suggest that the American Way was flawed – that their way wasn’t the best and the Americans weren’t better than any other people. National egoism breeds arrogance for Americans and hatred in them. The noise will not be stilled as the rest of the world cries out for equality, respect and justice. It will simply get louder and louder.

The most positive change the Americans can make is to stop thinking so chauvinistically – as chief exporters of the American Way. As Senator John McCain wrote recently, "We are an unfinished nation." Americans still have lots to learn, despite their great strengths and achievements. America is a very young country, barely pubescent compared to most other cultures. But like the talented teenager who has yet to taste defeat, America’s adolescent arrogance can be its biggest blind spot and its ultimate undoing.

The Americans share a planet with billions of other people. Acting as if it is invincible and singing God Bless America aren’t the actions of a nation with any real appreciation for other people’s cultures. Making the loss of American lives a huge issue while simultaneously denying the value of the lives of others is incredibly chauvinistic. How would Americans feel if its World Trade Center civilian casualties were classified as collateral damage as they do when they kill tens of thousands of non-combatants in other countries? Nationalism is great until it gets perverse and hierarchical.

The Americans need to think not only as Americans who are proud of their country and the incredible strides they have made in creating one of the first and most powerful democracies in history but as responsible global citizens. Responsibility goes with power and responsibility for the whole goes with responsible leadership.

The US can engage in dialogue with other cultures – people who value different things than Americans do, people who do not subscribe to consumerism, eroticized music videos, Christianity, violent movies and television. It can listen to them as if their point-of-view matters. It can pick people to engage in dialogue who are different – VERY different from them – and really listen to them.

Why can’t Americans learn from South Africa, which invoked truth and reconciliation project so the previously warring factions could get on with living together in harmony through forgiveness and honoring their shared humanity? Are Americans too arrogant to learn lessons from other nations? Is their chauvinism so strong that they cannot acknowledge that another country might have something of value, perhaps even an answer that they didn’t invent themselves? (

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Future of Genomics

Molecular biology has long held out the promise of transforming medicine from a matter of serendipity to a rational pursuit grounded in a fundamental understanding of the mechanisms of life. Molecular biology has begun to infiltrate the practice of medicine; genomics will hasten the advance. Within 50 years, we expect comprehensive genomics-based health care to be the norm. We will understand the molecular foundation of diseases, be able to prevent them in many cases and design accurate, individualized therapies for illnesses.

In the next decade, genetic tests will routinely predict individual susceptibility to disease. When the genome is completely open to us, such studies will reveal the roles of genes that individually contribute weakly to diseases but interact with other genes and with environmental influences, like diet, infection and prenatal exposures to affect health.

By 2010 to 2020, gene therapy should also become a common treatment, at least for a small set of conditions. Within 20 years, novel drugs will be available that derive from a detailed molecular understanding of common illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure. The drugs will be designer therapies that target molecules logically and are therefore potent without significant side effects. Drugs like those for cancer will routinely be matched to a patient’s likely response, as predicted by molecular fingerprinting. Diagnoses of many conditions will be much more thorough and specific than now. For example, a patient who learns that he has high cholesterol will also know which genes are responsible, what effect the high cholesterol is likely to have, and what diet and pharmacologic measures will work best for him.

By 2050, many potential diseases will be cured at the molecular level before they arise, though large inequities worldwide in access to these advances will continue to stir tensions. When people become sick, gene therapies and drug therapies will home in on individual genes, as they exist in individual people, making for precise and customized medical treatment. The average life span will reach 90 to 95 years, and a detailed understanding of human aging genes will spur efforts to expand the maximum span of human life.

In Future, the complete DNA sequencing of more and more organisms, including humans, will revolutionize biology and medicine. It is predicted that genomics will answer many important questions, such as how organisms evolved, whether synthetic life will ever be possible, and how to treat a wide range of medical disorders.

If, within a few years, scientists can expect to amass a tidy directory of the gene products—RNA as well as proteins—essential for life, they may well be able to make a new organism from scratch by stringing DNA bases together into an invented genome coding for invented products. If this invented genome crafts a cell around itself and the cell reproduces reliably, the exercise would be the ultimate proof that we understand the basic mechanisms of life.

In the last 50 years, a single gene or a single protein often dominated a biologist’s research. In the next 50 years, researchers will shift to studying integrated functions among many genes, the web of interactions among gene pathways, and how outside influences affect the whole system.

Within 50 years, with all genes identified and all possible cellular interactions and reactions charted, pharmacologists are developing a drug or toxicologists trying to predict whether a substance is poisonous may well turn to computer models of cells to answer their questions.

Being able to model a single cell will be impressive, but to fully understand the life forms we are most familiar with, we’ll plainly have to consider additional levels of complexity. We will have to consider how genes and their products behave in place and time—that is, in different parts of the body and in a body that changes over a lifespan.

So far, developmental biologists have striven to find signals that are universally important in establishing an animal's body plan, the arrangement of its limbs and organs. In time, they will also describe the variations—in gene sequence, perhaps in gene regulation—that generate the striking diversity of forms among different species. By comparing species, we’ll learn how genetic circuits have been modified to carry out distinct programs, so that almost equivalent networks of genes fashion, for example, small furry legs in mice and arms with opposable digits in humans.

In 50 years, we will fill in many details about the history of life, though we may still not understand how the first self-replicating organism came about; we will learn when and how – by inventing, adopting, or adapting genes – various lineages acquired, for example, new sets of biochemical reactions and different body plans. The gene-based perspective of life will have taken hold so deeply among scientists that the basic unit they consider will likely no longer be an organism or a species, but a gene. They will chart which genes have traveled together for how long in which genomes.

Scientists will also address the question that has dogged people since Darwin’s day: What makes us human? What distinguishes us as a species? Undoubtedly, many other questions will arise over the next 50 years. As in any fertile scientific field, the data will fuel new hypotheses. Paradoxically, as it grows in importance, genomics may not even be a common concept in 50 years, as it radiates into many other fields and ultimately becomes absorbed as part of the infrastructure of all biomedicine.

Genetic information and technology will afford great opportunities to improve health and alleviate suffering. But any powerful technology comes with risks, and the more powerful the technology, the greater the risks. In the case of genetics, people of ill will today use genetic arguments to try to justify bigoted views about different racial and ethnic groups. How we will come to terms with the explosion of genetic information remains an open question.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

GM Food -- A Boon or Doom

New technologies play an increasing role in food production, and genetically modified foods (GMF) are at the forefront of the changing nature of our food culture. The promise of GMFs seems almost too good to be true. With a human population of more 6 billion, producing higher yielding foods may be more crucial than ever. Genetically modified (GM) crops are now grown in more than 16 countries. In 2002, farmers around the world planted 60 million hectares of land with dozens of varieties of GM crops. The appearance of GMFs in the marketplace of the West has resulted in a firestorm of public debate, scientific discussion, and media coverage. A variety of ecological and human health concerns come with the new advances made possible by GM.
GM is the technique of changing or inserting genes. Genes carry the instructions for all the characteristics that an organism – a living thing – inherits. They are made up of DNA. GM is done either by altering DNA or by introducing genetic material from one organism into another, which can be either a different variety of the same or a different species. For example, genes can be introduced from one plant to another plant, from a plant to an animal, or from an animal to a plant. Transferring genes between plants and animals is a particular area of controversy. Developing countries have special interests, but fairer trade rules would do more to eliminate hunger than GM crops.

GM foods offer a way to quickly improve crop characteristics such as yield, pest resistance, or herbicide tolerance, often to a degree not possible with traditional methods. Further, GM crops can be manipulated to produce completely artificial substances, from the precursors to plastics to consumable vaccines.

By manipulating the genetic code of organisms that provide food sources, they have created new strains of plants and animals capable of growing larger in less time on less suitable soil. From an ecological perspective, adding more food to a starving population promotes reproduction, exacerbating the very condition scientists are trying to solve.

The policymakers of Pakistan ought to see how GM technology can help produce more food and offer medical, social and economic benefits but without attached threats. Some of the many health advantages of GMF include the edible vaccines, which can help curb various diseases in Pakistan. Nutritionally improved crops with a higher content of proteins and vitamins can supplement the nutritional requirements of the lower strata of the population, who cannot afford a non-vegetarian diet. Pulses constitute a major source of protein in Pakistan. However, the presence of raffinose-like sugars can cause digestive problems. The genetically tailored pulses that contain reduced amounts of raffinose and similar sugars can result in enhanced digestibility. GMF that contain sweet proteins like thaumatin will be good for people with diabetes. And GMFs that have greater iron content can be especially beneficial for Pakistani women, as they are susceptible to anemia.

GM crops can result in enhanced agricultural productivity with lower inputs in terms of plant protection strategies and fertilizer applications, raise the per capita income and, hence, the living standard. Further, the availability of better quality nutrition at affordable costs can also improve the general health of the population, which in turn will raise national productivity.
Contrary to the natty payback, many leading scientists admit that GM is unpredictable, unstable, and potentially dangerous because of the consequences. GMF raises the possibility of human health, environmental, and economic problems, including unanticipated allergic responses to novel substances in foods, the spread of pest resistance or herbicide tolerance to wild plants, inadvertent toxicity to benign wildlife, and increasing control of agriculture by biotechnology corporations.

In Pakistan it will be a tragedy if the multinational corporations pushing genetically engineered crops gain control over crops and seeds. Although the corporations claim biotechnology is needed to feed the world, this is a myth. There is already more than enough food to feed everyone; poverty and inadequate allocation of resources are the major hurdles. According to a FAO report, the world can produce enough food to meet global demand in the year 2030 without the use of GM crops.

Meanwhile, organic farmers are among those most threatened by GMF. One reason is because cultivation of genetically engineered crops on neighboring farms can contaminate their crops via pollen drift. No genetically engineered materials should be used in organic products. Thus, a grower may be unable to sell his or her crop as organic if it has been contaminated
Ultimately, it is the consumer--and all Earth's inhabitants--who have the most to lose in the long run. Because little thought is being given to the consequences of what GM crops will do to the environment and to biodiversity, Earth's ecosystem could be turned upside down. There will be no way to undo the damage or recall new organisms that have been unleashed.
Large seed companies are likely to make large profits from GM crop seeds. This will be exacerbated if they make crops that produce sterile seeds, which cannot be replanted the following year. Consumers and small farmers who are forced to buy seed year after year will lose.

Pakistan needs to adopt a harmonized, uniform and transparent procedure for safety assessment of GMF. Coordinated and comprehensive labeling requirements for GMF should also be prepared with the aim of providing the consumer with a real choice.

Pakistan has a national food poverty rate of 33% and 40% of children under the age of five are underweight, 50% are stunted, and 9% are wasted. The GMF has the capability of overcoming these problems. Its dubious impact, nevertheless, compels us to seriously consider all pros and cons before the risks involved in GMF take the nation by surprise. (

Monday, July 14, 2008

Save Mother Earth

It is true to say that we live on a planet that is undergoing rapid changes due to the increases in population and industrial development. It is easy to feel environmental concerns, but they must be taken into account when considering our future.

It is now a proven fact that since the industrial revolution the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased significantly. As levels of this gas and other greenhouse gases also recently building up effect the way heat is distributed, it is predicted that there will be an increase in global temperature. It is certain that global population growth will continue for some considerable time to come. A larger global population will put expanding demands on global resources of food, water and energy and will accelerate climate and environmental deterioration.

The level of air pollution in Pakistan's two largest cities, Karachi and Lahore, is estimated to be 20 times higher than World Health Organization standards, and continuing to rise. The situation is depressing by reason of futile preparation and inept execution. Good and not so good regulations have never been enforced forcefully. In addition, enforcement does not imply effectiveness, and even if regulations were strictly enforced, many industries would be unable to comply. In 1996, only 3% of industries were able to pass the test for compliance.

For lacking combined effluent treatment facility, the wastewater is being allowed to flow into the nearest streams and causing pollution. The sub-soil waters of textile centers are highly saline and as such are unsuitable for producing high quality finished textile products. The saline or brackish sub-soil water is unfit for human consumption and also unsuitable for most of the industrial uses.

Air pollution has also become a major problem in most cities. There are no controls on vehicular emissions, which account for 90 percent of pollutants. The average Pakistani vehicle emits twenty-five times as much carbon monoxide, twenty times as many hydrocarbons, and more than three and one-half times as much nitrous oxide in grams per kilometer as the average vehicle in the United States.

Pakistan’s Perspective Plan (1988-2003) and previous five-year plans do not mention sustainable development strategies. There have also been no overarching policies focused on sustainable development and conservation. All our programs focus on reaching self-reliance in food production, meeting energy demands, and containing the high rate of population growth. Sorry to say, no priority has been accorded for curtailing pollution or other environmental hazards.

Consequently, deforestation has contributed directly to the severity of the flooding problem faced by the nation in the early 1990s. No solution has been found for the solid and liquid excreta that are the major source of water pollution in the country and the cause of widespread waterborne diseases. Because only just over half of urban residents have access to sanitation, the remaining urban excreta continue to be deposited in farms or on roadsides, into waterways, or incorporated into solid waste. Thus the vegetables grown from such wastewater have serious bacteriological contamination. Gastroenteritis, widely considered in medical circles to be the leading cause of death in Pakistan, is transmitted through waterborne pollutants.

Transportation contributes to four of the six criteria pollutants: ozone, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and nitrogen dioxide. Pakistan’s transportation planning (if it all there is any) must take into account the impacts on both the natural and human environments. Transportation projects should closely see how they might impact the community, the natural environment, and our health and welfare.

In crowded streets filled with buses, trucks, automobiles, and motorcycles, often honk senselessly. Traffic noise should be reduced through a program of shared responsibility. Thus, provincial and local governments should practice compatible land use planning and control in the vicinity of roads. Local governments should use their power to regulate land development in such a way that noise-sensitive land uses are either prohibited from being located adjacent to a road, or that the developments are planned, designed, and constructed in such a way that noise impacts are minimized.

The EPA should also promote bicycle and pedestrian transportation accessibility, use, and safety. A long-range plan is needed to provide the development and integrated management and operation of transportation systems and facilities, including pedestrian walkways and bicycle transportation facilities.

Protecting public health, as well as preserving Pakistan's natural wonders, has made environmental protection increasingly important. Environmental issues attach more significance because under provisions of a World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement, Pakistan will have difficulty after 2005 exporting products from industries without adequate environmental safeguards.

Because Pakistan, along with other developing countries, has argued that it needs to be free of emission ceilings in order to develop its economy, the country has not taken on any emission reduction commitments under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, nor is Pakistan a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol.

There are many things we can do to help reduce damage to our local, and therefore global, environment. An obvious one is attempting to reduce unnecessary consumption of products and power. Good insulation, lower heating thermostat settings, turning off appliances, solar heating and so on, as well as sensible use of water could be considered. Care can be taken to try to purchase goods which use less packaging waste and if possible less transportation. Where meat eaters should of course be concerned about animal welfare, vegetarians should be careful about the total amount of energy used in the production and transport of their food, which in some cases can threaten the effective environmental benefit of such a lifestyle.

The only course of action for us must surely be to make our individual effort to care for our world and encourage others, especially the young, to do the same. By working together at a local, national and international level it should be possible for our Mother-earth to have a viable future. (

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Education: Changing the Tunes

The state of education in Pakistan is depressing. Today we cannot compete even with third-rate countries in standard indicators of academic achievement. Weak curricula and discipline have guaranteed educational failure for tens of millions of our children. The nation should therefore look to itself and conclude that something must be done.

We are perhaps after increasing the number of educational institutions and ignoring the future of education, which is about the demise of the classroom-based teacher, and an information technology lead revolution in schools, colleges and universities.

For meeting our future economic needs, we must not lose sight of the fact that education is a process, not a commodity. It benefits the individual, and society as a whole, in all sorts of ways that are not necessarily quantifiable in terms of our national balance sheet.

Developed societies use teachers not as objects, but engines of education reform. Contrarily, our policymakers use them not as engines but tail cabins. Thus teachers are not involved in policy process for education. We need to see teachers as custodians of intellectual and cultural tradition, not servants of a government mission.

The report of the Pakistan Task Force on Improvement of Higher Education estimates that 18 million people are in the age between 17 to 23 years, eligible for tertiary education. Out of them, only 475,000 (or about 2.6%) are actually enrolled in higher education institutions. This proportion is among the lowest in the world: India (in 1990) had a tertiary enrolment ratio of 6.2%, while Iran (in 1994) had 12.7%. This is pathetic. It asks for direction and relevancy of higher education research.

Higher education in Turkey is worth talking about. The average annual growth rate of students in higher education in Turkey during the period 1980-85 was one of the highest in the world: 14.1% as compared to 7.8%in Canada, 5.0% in the UK, 1.4% in Italy, 0.2% in the US, -0.2% in Hungary, and -5.3% in Poland. The number of students enrolled in engineering is high: 18.33 %of the total enrollment as compared to 8.20 %in Italy, 7.90 %in Austria, and 3.29 %in France. In the area of higher education, can we seek some route from Turkey’s experience?

People need more education than ever before, and distance learning—connecting cable and classroom—offers a way to meet that need. Internet delivers course material to homes or offices. Discussions, assignments and exams are being done online. Some of these are courses offered by traditional universities, of which the University of Phoenix is the largest, some by accredited virtual universities with no on-campus instruction and some by unaccredited institutions. For many students, however, especially those with full-time jobs or those far from campuses, the savings in commuting and the flexibility to make their own schedules make the total cost less than that of alternatives.

The concept of virtual university is not a bad idea, which Pakistan must adopt at a large scale. It can distribute cheap Internet access and classroom content to modular learning kiosks in several thousand villages. Distributing several thousand simple, mass-produced kiosks might be less expensive than creating even one old-style university campus.

Pakistan has recently allocated resources greater than ever before. Nonetheless, it didn’t fully utilize even what paltry had been allocated earlier. Owing to intricate bureaucratic labyrinth drawing money is like pulling teeth. Consequently, the trend of spending in Pakistan is far less than the allocated money in all eight plans. There are around twenty-two steps to draw the allocated money. For survival in the new world, Pakistan has got to adopt new ways of governance.

South Korea offers an interesting paradigm in modern history. Most observers agree that it's spectacular progress in modernization and economic growth since the Korean War is largely attributed to the willingness of individuals to invest a large amount of resources in education.

Korea's liberation from Japan marked a turning point in the history of education. As the country underwent a transition from totalitarian rule to democracy, a primary concern was to provide everybody with equal educational opportunities. The period from 1945 to 1970 witnessed a dramatic expansion of education. In spite of the widespread destruction and economic suffering brought about by the Korean War (1950-1953), Korea succeeded in virtually eliminating illiteracy. Such a rapid expansion was naturally accompanied by problems, the most serious being deterioration in the quality of education. As the 1960s drew to a close, Korea's educators turned their attention to these problems and several projects were launched to improve the curricula and the methods of instruction

Although only primary school was compulsory in Korea, proportion of age-groups of children and young people enrolled in primary, secondary, and tertiary level schools were equivalent to those found in industrialized countries, including Japan. The percentage of students going on to optional middle school the same year was more than 99 percent. Approximately 34 percent, one of the world's highest rates of secondary-school graduates attended institutions of higher education in 1987, a rate similar to Japan's (about 30 percent) and exceeding Britain's (20 percent). The number of students in higher education had risen from 100,000 in 1960 to 1.3 million in 1987, and the proportion of college-age students in higher education institutions was second only to the United States.

Can Pakistan learn from the South Korean experience that explains the important role of education in its evolution from one of the world's poorest countries 50 years ago eating dogs to fuel the stomach, into a major economic success today?

A serious look at the state of the world raises a question regarding the thought process of Pakistan’s decision makers. Years of traditional education are no guarantee of a mature intellect. Entrenched mentalities need to change or institutions will continue to play the same old games and repeat the same old tunes. Schools of the future have an opportunity and responsibility to change the tune. (

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Demographic Coop up

As we approach the future, new demographic criteria are needed. The world is dividing largely into countries where population growth is slow or nonexistent and where living conditions are improving and those where population growth is rapid and living conditions are deteriorating or in imminent danger of doing so. Pakistan is in second group in its fifth decade of rapid population growth. Not only has it failed to complete the demographic transition, but the deteriorating relationship between people and ecological support systems is lowering living standards.

Pakistan’s population now just around 150 million is projected to reach 330 million before it stops growing toward the middle of this century. It is more than double before stabilizing. This means combination of soil erosion and ill-conceived agricultural policies will lead to poverty increase. Population projections in Pakistan where life support systems are already trifling can only be described as projections of disaster.

The wide variations in projected population growth suggest that a demographically divided world is likely to become more deeply divided along economic lines as well. Unless this relationship between rapidly multiplying populations and their life-support systems can be stabilized, development policies, however imaginative, are likely to fail.

Throughout most of human history, the general increase in human numbers was accompanied by a slow expansion of the cropland area. As populations grew, land pressures built, the landless migrated to big cities. This is the cause of urbanization in Karachi, Lahore and other big cities. The cropland area might have grown but not nearly as fast as population. Thus the result is growing rural landlessness—lack of access to land either through ownership or tenancy. Though fueled by population growth, rural landlessness is exacerbated by the concentration of land ownership.

The growth in landlessness can be curbed or even reversed by initiating land reform. To check the growth in landlessness is to slow population growth through effective family planning. Land reform can reduce landlessness in the short run, but in the long run only population stabilization will work.

Numerous linkages exist between population growth and conflict, both within and among societies. Conflict arises when growing populations compete for a static or shrinking resource base. Inequitable distribution of resources—whether of income, land or water—complicates the relationship. Increased competition and conflict fray the social fabric that helps maintain social harmony.

For Pakistan, the global economic slowdown has come just as record numbers of young people are entering the job market. The specter of growing numbers of restless unemployed youngsters in the street does not convey an image of social tranquility. Unemployed youths roaming the streets of Pakistan where half the population under 18 years of age, with no prospect of job formation, hungry, and looking to irregular leaders to lead them in new and as yet unpredictable movements—there is little question that even more political explosions are on the immediate horizon.

In Pakistan the demographic trap is becoming the grim alternative to completing the demographic transition. The high fertility, low mortality stage cannot continue for long. By now Pakistan should have put together a combination of economic policies and family planning programs that reduce birth rates and sustain gains in living standards. If it failed further, continuing rapid population growth eventually overwhelm natural support systems, and environmental deterioration starts to reduce per capita food production and income.

Pakistan perhaps does not know when it is crossing the various biological thresholds that eventually lead to economic decline. One of the first economic indications that pressure on the land is becoming excessive is declining grain production per person. In earlier agricultural societies, population increases were simply matched by those in cultivated area. Grain output per person was stable. When population growth is rapid and there is no new land to plow, expanding the use of modern inputs fast enough to offset the effects of land degradation and to raise land productivity in tandem with population growth is not easy. It comes as no surprise that per capita grain production is declining.

When this happens it is a matter of time until the government translates into a decline in per capita income, and into the need for food imports. Rising food imports contribute to growing external debt. If external debt rises fast enough, it will eventually cross a debt-servicing threshold, beyond which Pakistan can no longer pay all the interest. At this point lenders insist that the unpaid interest be added to the principal, expanding the debt further.

The demographic trap is not easily recognized because it involves the interaction of population, environmental, and economic trends, which are monitored by various ministries and departments. And managers frequently fail to distinguish between triggering events and underlying instability in the population-environment relationship.

Lacking a ground in ecology and an understanding of carrying capacity, all too many economic planners and population policymakers have failed to distinguish between the need to slow population growth and the need to halt it. If societal demands are far below the sustainable yield of natural systems, then slowing population growth is sufficient. But when they have passed these thresholds, the failure to halt population growth leads to deterioration of support systems.

Other countries are moving into uncharted territory in the population-environment-resources relationship. Pakistan cannot remain much longer in the middle stage of the demographic transition. Either it must forge ahead with all the energies at its disposal, perhaps even on an emergency basis, to slow and halt population growth, or it will slide into the demographic trap. At present the government is faced with the monumental task of trying to reduce birth rates as living conditions deteriorate a challenge that may require some new approaches. If it failed, economic deterioration could eventually lead to social disintegration of the sort that undermined earlier civilizations when population demands became unsustainable. (

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Water: A Dehydrated Future

Water resources are declining and different UN reports confirm that serious shortages are occurring soon. Thus we see a future when there will be no or less drinking water.

Access to water is a human right. Current declarations on human rights include basic water needs sufficiently. Basic water rights focus only on water for domestic use, and speak only of amounts of the order of 30-50 liters per person per day. Nonetheless, for many poor people, access to water for productive purposes is a crucial basic need as well. This is because water is a key factor of production in agriculture and for most other forms of economic activity that are vital to the livelihoods and opportunities of the poor.

Some question the wisdom of providing water of drinking quality at great expense, only to have a large share flushed down toilets, to carry waste, where after it is cleaned again for the few that can afford this costly practice. Opinions differ: some water experts advocate ecological sanitation, others dry toilets, some people argue that only bottled water should be of drinking quality and piped water quality should be limited to fit all other use made of it. All these alternative approaches deserve more attention.

Water infrastructure of Pakistan is turning into archaic. Reservoirs are silting up irrigation networks and turning disrepair. Groundwater levels are falling in important aquifers that have contributed substantially to food security in recent years by providing water-on-demand to millions of farmers that tapped them using tube-wells to grow their crops. This situation has impacted adversely causing a serious scarcity of water resources. This scarcity has hit the poor and vulnerable-first and hardest.

Pakistan’s per capita water availability in 1951 was 5,650 which has fallen to around 1,200 cubic meters 1,200 and with current population growth rate, it will be reduced to 1,000 cubic meters by the year 2012. So the hard reality that we as people faced today is that Pakistan in the past fifty years has turned into a water-scarce from a water-sufficient country and the situation continues to go downhill. This is the specimen of a mismanaged case.

Pakistan is the victim of repeated wrong planning of its land and water resources to produce food. All this is due to the pathetic and inert attitude of the technocrats, bureaucrats, politicians and the government as no national policy on water development was framed.

Large-scale development of river and groundwater resources is less acceptable today, for environmental reasons. It is also less cost effective than it was in the 1960-1990 period, when the large majority of the world's 45,000 large dams were built.

Water can be distributed through government institutions or the market. Privatization of water service provision, however, does not imply privatization of water resources. Water is a public good, which should be treated as an economic good where it is used for economic purposes. The public-private sector role nevertheless does not imply the role of multinational companies but the role and significance of the small-scale private sector.

In agriculture, private farmers have been largely responsible for the major investments in groundwater development. This groundwater use has contributed significantly to food production and the creation of wealth in rural areas. But government has failed to elaborate rules and mechanism ensuring that groundwater is used in a way that minimizes the risks of over-use and protects groundwater quality.

Increasing the efficiency in irrigated agriculture can result in large water savings. The UN Secretary General once rightly uttered: We need a Blue Revolution in agriculture that focuses on increasing productivity per unit of water. Indeed, at the farm level, the focus on water productivity in physical terms, crop output per unit of water, is a necessary and useful framework. Likewise, appropriate soil fertility and plant nutrition management can be a way to achieve more crops per unit of water. Water productivity at the basin level must be defined to include crop, livestock and fishery yields, wider ecosystem services and social impacts such as health, together with the systems of resource governance that ensure equitable distribution of these benefits.

For sustainable development, it is clear that better water management should be a means to reduce poverty. Strategies to address water-poverty relationships need to improve the different capabilities of the poor in their battle against poverty. These strategies also need to address the pervasive gender issues in water. Those affected by water problems are too often women, while those deciding on solutions tend to be men. Building gender-equitable capabilities of the poor to manage their water resources should also be at the heart of capacity building in the water sector.

The Provinces should formulate a water supply master plan and continuous planning process to estimate demand for drinking water and identify alternative ways of meeting that demand.

They should also establish and allocate resources to local governments for the preparation of provincial-mandated water supply plans. The Provinces should also enact legislation requiring local governments to formulate and administer comprehensive watershed protection programs in designated future water supply watersheds.

A system needs also to be evolved to promote the adoption of best management practices to minimize agricultural erosion in designated future water supply watersheds by funding and extending existing state cost-sharing programs to those watersheds and by targeting federal, state, and local technical assistance programs to them. A framework also has to be in place to increase technical assistance to local governments to help them prepare and administer watershed protection programs for designated future drinking water sources.

In evaluating alternatives for conjunctive use, water managers should also view ground water as more than a supplement to surface supplies. In particular, managers should assess the value of ground water in optimizing storage capacity, enhancing transmission capabilities, and improving water quality of the system. (