Rolling out the Red Carpet

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

Friday, September 26, 2008

Toll-tax of Large Dams

A huge dam construction project is under way in China in the Three Gorges area on the upper Yangtze River. Apart from the expected benefits of the project, it will nevertheless cause problems, such as flooding upstream, possibly an earthquake, displacing people, eliminating tourist trade to the area, and destroying important archaeological artifacts.

After completion Three Gorges will become world’s largest dam, sinking 13 cities, 140 towns, and 1,352 villages and requiring the resettlement of 2 million people. The dam will also bury hundreds of archeological sites, put several highly endangered species in jeopardy, and infinitely deface the magnificent beauty of the Three Gorges Region. This is the classic example of the devastation that all large dams cause.

In the same category, at Bakun, in Sarawak, Malaysia, the mega dam threatens 70,000 hectares of prime rainforest, and is hugely controversial. Large dams are built in Laos, Lesotho, Argentina, and Chile with the aid of military to suppress opposition.

Despite what promoters say, the academic literature belies that dams and reservoirs are purely benign, they have serious effects including earthquakes, coastal fisheries impacts, mercury pollution of food chains, destruction of local subsistence economies, loss of valuable fisheries and local extinctions, to mention but a few.

Large dams often destroy important, irreplaceable archeological evidence - burial grounds, antiquities, ancient building sites, and more. Although the promoters talk about engineering triumph they have enormous negative side effects that adversaries do not consider as progress, like the forced relocation of millions of people.

In the present planning process, the cost of environmental and social impacts is considered only to the extent required for fulfilling the legal requirements. This does not fully account for the real costs.

Such dams are also short of poverty reduction benefits of decentralized renewables. They are capital-intensive and dependent on large centers of demand and long transmission lines. They are among the most expensive infrastructure projects on the planet. The advocates of large dams regularly underestimate costs and exaggerate benefits. They have regularly underestimated the economic costs of large hydropower projects as well as the number of people requiring resettlement or compensation for lost lands, homes, and sources of livelihood. While costs are on average far higher than predicted, large hydropower dams often generate less power than promised.

The developers of large dams do not take into account the hydrological impacts of climate change. They build dams with designs that do not allow for the new extremes of drought or floods that global warming is predicted to cause. This has serious implications for dam performance – particularly droughts will sharply reduce hydropower generation – and safety.

There is no technology transfer benefit from large dams. Global renewable funds and carbon trading mechanisms are supposed to facilitate the transfer of new technologies from Northern to Southern countries and to provide the support needed to increase production and bring down unit costs of these technologies. These arguments do not apply to large dams, which is already a mature technology and well established in Southern countries.

Large hydro projects have major social and ecological impacts. According to the World Commission on Dams, large dams are responsible for the evictions of 40-80 million people, with many of the displaced receiving no or inadequate compensation. Millions of people have also lost their land and livelihoods, and have suffered because of downstream and other indirect impacts of large dams.

Efforts to mitigate the impacts of large dams typically fail. Many impacts of large dams go unacknowledged or underestimated, and measures to prevent or reduce them frequently fail. Even when people are recognized as eligible for resettlement they rarely have their livelihoods restored.

Large reservoirs can emit significant amounts of greenhouse gases. Rotting organic matter in hydropower reservoirs causes emissions of methane and carbon dioxide. While there is still much scientific controversy over how to measure hydropower emissions and compare them with emissions from fossil fuel plants, it appears that hydro projects with large reservoirs in the tropics can have a greater climatic impact per unit of power generated than fossil fuel generation.

They are slow, lumpy, inflexible and getting more expensive. Because of their huge size and site-specific requirements, large dams take longer to build and are more expensive than other types of power plants. While large dams take on average around six years to build, wind turbines and solar panels can start delivering benefits and repaying loans within months of entering construction. The World Bank has found that the costs of hydropower capacity are steadily increasing because the best sites for dams have already been exploited.

Large dams add capacity to power grids in large lumps, while power demand usually grows gradually. Lumpy capacity additions can mean power shortages before the new capacity comes on-line, then costly over-capacity once the new plant is available.

Large reservoirs are often rendered non-renewable by sedimentation. They are depleted over time by sedimentation, a problem that eventually seriously impedes or ends the ability of a hydro plant to produce electricity. The great majority of annual sediment loads is carried during flood periods. The higher intensity and frequency of floods due to global warming are therefore likely to increase sedimentation rates and thus further shorten the useful lives of reservoirs.

Despite overwhelming evidence, dam proponents are repeating the deadly mistake of the Soviet government - ignoring years of respected research. Asian dams continue to proliferate. And foreign dam builders are right in there looking for short-term jobs at the long-term expense of poor Asians.

The projects implemented without public participation and consent are likely to face high risk of delay and cost over-run apart from creating serious social tensions.

The day of the large dams might be over, but we have no shortage of challenges. We all need to become better water managers, and one of the important ways we do that is to change the perspective with which we approach present and future challenges.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Worst Performer of Asia

Ranking 142nd among 177 countries and 135th in GDP per capita, Pakistan is the worst performer in South Asia in Human Development Index (HDI). HDI is the average progress of a country in human development. It focuses on three measurable dimensions of human development: living a long and healthy life, being educated and having a decent standard of living. Thus it combines measures of life expectancy, school enrolment, literacy and income to allow a broader view of a country’s development than does income alone.

Pakistan sustains diverse HDI between provinces and districts indicative of regional disparities in both the level of economic growth as well as in terms of health, education and the quality of life. There is considerable variation across provinces with respect to literacy rates, which vary from 51% in the Sindh to 36% in the Baluchistan. Similarly the primary enrolment rate varies from 75% in the Punjab, to 64% in the Baluchistan. As a consequence while the HDI for Pakistan, as a whole, is 0.541 the provincial HDI varies from the highest in the Punjab, at 0.557, to the lowest at 0.499 in Baluchistan. Islamabad has a greater weight of affluent citizens in its population with a far better social infrastructure than in any province of Pakistan. It is not surprising therefore that the HDI of Islamabad is 0.612 which is higher than that of any of the provinces in the country.

Among the districts, Jhelum has the highest HDI rank at 0.703 and Dera Bugti the lowest at 0.285. Data indicates the large disparities in terms of human development between the districts of Pakistan.

There is also a wide variation in the human development indices within each province. For example in the Punjab, while Jhelum has the highest HDI (0.703), Muzzafargarh has the lowest (0.459). The size and overall development of a district also affects its HDI rank due to intra district variations in income and social infrastructure. Thus for example Lahore has an HDI rank of 0.558 compared to 0.703 for Jhelum because of the much greater inequality of incomes and level of social infrastructure available to the poor and rich parts of Lahore district respectively.

Building the capacity of women Pakistan ranks 120 out of 144 countries. It is the worst performer in South Asia. The gender empowerment measure implies whether women take an active part in economic and political life. It focuses on gender inequality in key areas of economic and political participation and decision-making. It tracks the share of seats in parliament held by women; of female legislators, senior officials and managers; and of female professional and technical workers- and the gender disparity in earned income, reflecting economic independence. Economists agree that the greater the gender disparity in basic human development, the lower is a country's gender disparity index relative to its HDI. Pakistan ranks 76 in Female administrators and managers, 79 in female professional and technical workers, and 139 in ratio of female earned income to male earned income.

The poor governance is a leading cause of lack of human development in Pakistan. Economic stagnation, dire poverty and social inequalities are the result of continued corruption, inefficient management of public resources, and the exclusion of the poor in the development process. Transparency and accountability are lacking in Pakistan's government structures. In effect, it encourages a people-centered approach to better governance in Pakistan and highlights the importance of participatory governance for growth, poverty reduction and sustainable human development

Today the changing ideas are about sources of growth. The institutions are seen as fundamental. Development can be thought of as a process of creating and sustaining the economic and political institutions that support equitable and sustainable growth. Rather than building and consolidating institutions, Pakistan’s institutions are lucklessly being hanged loose.

Sustained poverty reduction requires equitable growth-but it also requires that poor people have political power. And the best way to achieve that in a manner consistent with human development objectives is by building strong and deep forms of democratic governance at all levels of society.

Human development is about much more than the rise or fall of national incomes. It is about creating an environment in which people can develop their full potential and lead productive, creative lives in accord with their needs and interests. Pakistan needs to understand that people are the real wealth. Its development should thus be about expanding the choices people have to lead lives that they value. And this implies much more than economic growth, which is only a means —if a very important one —of enlarging people ’s choices.

Fundamental to enlarging these choices should be building of human capabilities —the range of things that people can do or be in life. The most basic capabilities for human development are to lead long and healthy lives, to be knowledgeable, to have access to the resources needed for a decent standard of living and to be able to participate in the life of the community. Without these, many choices are simply not available, and many opportunities in life remain inaccessible.

The way of looking at development, often forgotten in the immediate concern with accumulating commodities and financial wealth, is not new. Philosophers, economists and political leaders have long emphasized human well-being as the purpose, the end, of development. As Aristotle said in ancient Greece, “Wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking, for it is merely useful for the sake of something else.”

In seeking that something else, human development should share a common vision with human rights. The goal is human freedom. And in pursuing capabilities and realizing rights, this freedom is vital. People of Pakistan must be free to exercise their choices and to participate in decision-making that affects their lives. Human development and human rights are mutually reinforcing, helping to secure the well-being and dignity of all people, building self-respect and the respect of others. (

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The illiterates of 21st Century

Futurist Alvin Toffler said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who can not read or write but those who can not learn, unlearn and relearn. In his book Future Shock, he told us that the traditional way of incorporating new information was to learn, learn more, and then learn more. The tasks before us, however complex, allegedly would be solved if we simply worked a little harder, studied a little longer, and applied ourselves more. As Toffler suggests, what's necessary today is to approach your work and life from the perspective of learning, unlearning, and relearning.

When you switch from an old model car to a new model, most of what you know about the earlier model is of little value when it comes to using the new model. You have to unlearn—forget what you have known—and march into completely new territory. Fortunately, the operation will be a success, and you won't go back, but it is painful, and gives you moments of great anxiety.

The next time you need to make a major car change, more fully embrace the concept of learning, unlearning, and re-learning–let go of what you used to know. You'll be far more proficient.

This imperative for learning is clear as we have witnessed in the global corporate world what happened to many so called "corporate dinosaurs" when change surges through faster than their people’s ability and willingness to learn and adapt to the environment.

Learning organizations are therefore those companies that subscribe to the importance of getting all its members to continuously upgrade their skills, knowledge and experience. They provide the necessary support and ensure that learning takes place as a group in the workplace and in the process increases the competencies and capabilities of their organizations to deal with change and compete in the market place.

The learning organization promotes the continuous cycle of learning, unlearning and relearning. It recognizes that the speed of change in the market place will make obsolete some of the knowledge and skills of its people. It puts great value on the ability to constantly innovate and translate learning into new opportunities in the market place.

Leaders of learning organizations have the courage to abandon old assumptions, which are no longer true, although they were the basis of their success in the past. They encourage staff to unlearn outdated ways of doing things, which are no longer suitable in the new market place.
They get their people to relearn the latest processes and systems that will enable them to be more competitive. The leaders in a learning organization are not sentimental to old technologies and systems that are no longer effective.

Those leaders realize that an environment of continuous change requires a commitment to continuous learning to prevent their organization from becoming a corporate dinosaur. Let the lesson of failure from the Encyclopedia Britannica be a warning to those who take lightly of the need for change.

Encyclopedia Britannica had their most profitable year ever in 1993 and then went bankrupt in 1995. The company continued to sell only printed encyclopedias, ignoring the powerful CD-ROM technology. They rose to the top of the industry and then became a corporate titanic that sank because they did not see the need for continuous learning and change.

Leaders in learning organizations avoid the tendency to impose their views on subordinates. They understand that leadership is not about monopolizing. It is about liberating. They help employees break free of constraints whether real or perceived to achieve a higher level of performance. They encourage employees to stretch their capabilities to the maximum. They encourage initiative and tap the creativity of their staff to improve work.

To encourage commitment and elevate the self-esteem of employees, they give credit where it is due. They do so because they know that people will be more committed to their responsibilities if they are credited for the ideas or suggestions. They are slow to criticize ideas that do not work and quick to praise those that do. Learning organizations are open to new ideas from their employees as well as those outside such as customers, suppliers, government and even competitors.

Environmental monitoring undertaken by companies help detect early signs of changes in the market place that are about to take place and prepare them to respond swiftly. They study customers, suppliers, competitors, government policies, technology makers and economic conditions of the environment and assess the implications on their business today and the future.
They undertake competitor benchmarking and set goals to model after the best companies in their industry. In some areas where they are the market leaders, they innovate and drive the industry by creating the future. Thus they may come up with new products or services, which reinvent the industry and have all other companies trailing their footsteps.

The challenge of learning organizations is to learn and adapt faster than its competitors. The ultimate test of a learning organization is its ability to translate its training and learning into practice. Learning organizations makes it possible for training and learning in the classroom to be translated into practice.

Besides extrinsic rewards leaders also take time to provide people with the intrinsic rewards such as organization-wide recognition, praises, letters of commendations and special dinner invitations.

To keep on in a time of rapid change and also to beat the increasing competition in the market place, Pakistan’s companies are required to produce their products or services faster, better and cheaper. To be able to do this, they need to learn new skills, technologies and processes at a faster rate than their competitors. In fact, to survive the turbulent and accelerating change, and to keep off from becoming the illiterates of the 21st century, they need to continue to learn, unlearn and relearn. (

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

21st Century Agri-Bio Technology

Among other things, scientists are exploring whether it is possible to increase cancer-fighting ingredients in food, to harvest organs from animals for transplantation to humans, to deliver vaccines in fruit and to rescue threatened species such as the American chestnut tree. While many future applications will continue to be aimed at solving age-old agricultural problems like protecting crops from pests, genetic engineering may create new opportunities—and challenges—for the future.

Scientists’ ability to alter the traits of plants and animals by moving genes from one organism into another has come out of the laboratory into mainstream domestic agriculture. To date, scientists have largely used this technology to create crops that benefit farmers, such as corn and cotton capable of fending off destructive pests, and soybeans resistant to chemical herbicides. Now, however, in numerous universities and company laboratories, the power of biotechnology is being used to modify agricultural plants and animals for a wider array of purposes.

Public attitudes about biotechnology will be affected both by the adequacy of the regulatory response and the perceived benefits and risks of the particular products brought to market. In that context, understanding the potential uses of this technology can help us anticipate and prepare for the coming questions. Whether today’s research projects become tomorrow’s products will depend not only on continued scientific progress, but also on addressing the public’s concerns about the technology and on the realities of the marketplace.

Today, recombinant DNA technology is widely used to create transgenic bacteria that produce useful proteins, such as human insulin to treat diabetes, or chymosin, an enzyme widely used in making cheese.

For animals, scientists use a variety of different techniques to insert the isolated gene into the DNA. As with plants, they must carefully test the modified animal to be sure the trait is present and stable, and does not have an adverse effect on the animal.

Some scientists argue that modern biotechnology is just the next step in a progression of increasingly scientific efforts by humans to selectively breed better food crops and domesticated animals. Other experts, however, take the view that recombinant DNA technology is very different from anything we have done before.

Over the centuries of crop cultivation and domestication of animals, the process of artificial (human) selection and selective breeding has created a diversity of food crops and animals with a wide variety of traits. For example, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are all vegetable varieties derived from a single species. Hybridization—the process of breeding genetically different parents with contrasting characteristics to produce a hybrid offspring with the useful characteristics of both parents—has resulted in higher yields and more disease resistant crops. For example, improved varieties of rice with significantly higher yields than traditional varieties have helped meet the developing world’s food needs.

While modern biotechnology falls within the long tradition of the human manipulation of the genetic materials of plants and animals, it also greatly expands the ability of scientists to move traits across species lines, and makes possible for the first time the ability to move genes across distant species, phylas or even kingdoms.

It is precisely because the technology is so potentially powerful and capable of novel uses that a number of issues have been raised. These include concerns about the safety of food made from genetically modified plants and animals and concerns about the impact on the environment, as well as the ethical and moral implications of the technology.

Today, genetic engineering provides a set of new tools for agriculture. In addition to continuing research and development on basic crops, there are also hundreds of potential novel uses for biotechnology being researched across the entire agricultural spectrum—from trees to grass and flowers, mammals, fish, and even insects.

The expanding number of genome maps reveals striking genetic commonality among living organisms. For example, some 10 percent of human genes are clearly related to fruit fly and worm genes; about 99 percent of the overall DNA sequence in humans is similar to that of chimpanzees. To date, scientists and researchers have sequenced forty-eight genomes. These include not only the human genome, but also the flowering mustard plant (Arabidopsis thaliana), a plant referred to in this report because of its extensive utilization in agricultural biotechnology research, as well as the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster), pathogenic bacteria and the nematode.

It is not just science but also the marketplace that will ultimately determine, which biotechnological applications are successfully commercialized.

Biotechnology is a tool. It is not the only tool for addressing a particular set of problems, and it is not necessarily a better tool than conventional, or other, approaches or applications. It is beyond the scope of this report to weigh the costs and benefits of any particular agricultural technology or to compare the relative merits of potential alternatives.

Whether today's research projects become tomorrow's products depends on many factors. Social, political, regulatory, legal, environmental and economic questions need to be debated. Before we make these kinds of decisions as a society—in our respective roles as consumers, regulators, producers, commentators and shareholders—we should understand where the technology is pointed.

Industry and university scientists are applying the new tools of biotechnology across a broad range of plants and animals for a wide variety of possible future uses. Much of this research remains at early stages. The broad scope of current research suggests challenges ahead. As new products emerge, state and federal regulators tasked with the responsibility to protect the environment and ensure the safety of food are likely to face novel questions. Public attitudes about biotechnology will be affected both by the adequacy of the regulatory response and the perceived benefits and risks of the particular products brought to market. In that context, understanding the potential uses of this technology can help us anticipate and prepare for these coming questions. Whether today's research projects become tomorrow's products will depend not only on continued scientific progress, but also on addressing the public's concerns about the technology and on the realities of the marketplace. (

Friday, September 12, 2008

Vision of Women's Future

Unconcern and deficient resources attached to the issue of women’s economic empowerment, together with unbalance between macro-economic and development policies imply that exact economic empowerment for women remains obscure. In an increasingly globalized and interdependent economy, economic empowerment of women is an issue that needs total commitment and a pull for action.

Substantially and essentially, economic empowerment is central to gender equality. The empowerment of women and the poverty alleviation is an issue that has been enormously neglected. Even though the existence of universal recognition of the value of women’s economic empowerment, expressed through such agreements as the Beijing Platform for Action, and the Millennium Development Goals, advancement of most objectives has been slow and in some cases even been gone wrong way up.

A study by the World Economic Forum (WEF) featured prominently that no country has yet managed to eliminate the gap between women and men’s economic participation. Those countries that performed well in the WEF’s empowerment index generally acted upon better in women’s educational attainment, health and well being and political empowerment rather than in economic participation and opportunities.

Even as economic participation and opportunities are all essential components of women’s overall empowerment, they are only pieces of a puzzle that must include economic empowerment for the portrait to be whole. Regardless of meaningful above-board policy changes together with a many-sided thriving programs and explicit development programs, the all-in-all situation has not improved in the same way as visualized by such agreements as the Beijing Platform for Action, which in 1995 adopted the most clinker-built obligation to put forward women’s empowerment with a across-the-board inventory of recommendations and policy changes that, to a large extent, has yet not been executed.

Consequently and contrary to reason, imbalance prevails in parliaments where a small number of women hold parliamentary seats; women earn less than 78% of the wages that men earn for the same work; poor women represent two thirds of the world’s poor people; the labor force of the informal economy is overwhelmingly female; women provide up to 70% of agricultural labor and produce over 90% of the world’s food; women occupy a paltry percentage of managerial positions; and last but not the least, women constitute two thirds of the world’s illiterate.

There is all the more need for a commitment for research and training activities on women’s economic empowerment focus on the integration of gender perspectives and women’s economic issues in global economic policy and decision-making; a review and analysis of economic programs and projects in order to identify and disseminate good practices; and the establishment of a true measure of women’s economic empowerment that includes data on the gender impacts of economic policies and development projects.

Economic policies are seldom, if ever, gender neutral. Many prominent economists have conducted research that recognize and comment on the often negative gender impacts that are produced by structural adjustment and economic stabilization policies.

Macro-economic policies are formulated and implemented in areas such as trade, fiscal management, debt financing, social welfare and other sectors without a comprehensive assessment of their potential gender impacts.

While some micro-credit and micro-enterprise schemes have been a great deal doing well in lifting individual women and families out of poverty – en bloc they have contributed little in improving end-to-end economic status of women or addressing the gender impacts of existing economic policies. This discrimination of poor women into the micro-credit sector, though it may provide them with more income, does not necessarily address the essential gender inequalities that downgrade women to long-established pursuits such as cooking, dishwashing, sewing, laundering or other chores.

Most micro-enterprise initiatives are actually simple augmentations of the domestic domains. This calls for an urgent need to thoroughly appraise micro-finance and other initiatives thereby making them instrumental in enhancing women’s economic status together with their role within the household, community and their impact on her new function as wage earner.

Such appraisal will determine a record of booming experiences and best practices on which to base future initiatives. This will also ascertain gaps not focused on by these initiatives that would guide future policy advocacy and gender mainstreaming ventures.

The establishment of good practices is a key component of the collection, systematization and dissemination of knowledge on women’s economic empowerment, which is still seriously lacking at all policy levels.

Women’s empowerment has three elements, vis-à-vis, resources, agency and achievements. Determining empowerment is useful because it helps to focus an otherwise insubstantial and somewhat ambiguous concept. This prompts us to questions we must ask from ourselves. These questions are, a) how do we define empowerment? a) who defines empowerment? c) how do we know when women are empowered? d) who gets to decide when women are empowered?

Another crucial component is the creation of a knowledge base on women’s economic empowerment. This is about the establishment of a concrete measure of that empowerment. Ideally, this would use existing and newly created data and indicators to provide a baseline from which to measure improvements and changes in women’s economic status. The World Economic Forum’s report has created an index using a variety of indicators to measure women’s economic and political empowerment and their health and well being in 58 countries. This can serve as a useful reference.

Through and through, the issues of measurement for empowerment are often questionable and conflict-ridden. It is essential that the concept be brought down to earth so that policy-makers and development practitioners have concrete goals to strive for. Measuring empowerment includes developing a gendered statistical system and promoting the collection of sex-disaggregated data, the identification and addressing of gaps in information, including on the informal sector, credit, savings and unpaid community and household work.

We can scrutinize the full range of women’s economic contribution and identify areas for future research and action, which will determine the vision of women’s future.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Forgotten Dream

Some 68 years ago our founding fathers congregated at Lahore and adopted a vision of Pakistan commonly known as Resolution of Pakistan based on two-nation theory—a theory that had served the purpose of partitioning India, as 'ideology of Pakistan.' Deviating from this ideology, neither did Pakistan become a republic, nor evolve a positive, affirmative and dynamic self-image, rooted in thousand of years of existence of its federating units across the Indus Valley Civilization.

Our founding fathers were well conscious about the Hindu oppression, corruption, and tyranny. In the wisdom of their own experience, they created for us a land where the people were supposed to be the true sovereigns, the creators of government, the only grantors of its power. They intended the government to be both the employee and servant of the states and citizens, rather than their master. They dreamt for the government where our officials are accountable to the people, rather than the people being accountable to government.

Alas! Soon after the demise of Quaid-e-Azam, the depredators reined in and dragged on the Hindu legacy. The poor remained poor and a small minority overtook the stage as real masters. Contrary to the vision of our founding fathers the captors of Pakistan transformed it into a weak state.

Scholars cannot agree how to define a weak state, but most concur that it is one of the world's gravest challenges. The World Bank frets about 30 low-income countries under stress (LICUS). Britain's Department for International Development (DFID) worries about 46 fragile states.

Weak states are not always weak. They are sometimes strong states that have voluntarily forfeited basic state functions as a matter of ideology, or allowed them to be usurped by special-interest groups. Strong weak states are states that possess powerful military/police power for advancing the narrow economic interests of a small class of citizens while sacrificing a significant segment of the population as failed market victims.

Pakistan has completely failed due to artificial Western constructs and its faux pas in creative policy planning. It lacks an effective judiciary system to safeguard the rights of the poor.

The failure to provide security for all citizens is the first sign of a weak state, as is the use of state violence on its own citizens. What victims of crime experience at police stations today was alien even during colonial era. An economic infrastructure has failed to deliver income or wealth equitably is another sign of a weak state.

An excess of per capita national debt is also a sign of Pakistan’s weak statehood, as is pervasiveness of corruption and fraud in government and business.

Likewise, hunger and food shortage for the poor while food surplus persists in the economy is another sign of weak statehood. Pakistan has a very rich minority that takes advantage of the failed system with the blessing of the state. Thus, Pakistan’s 5% rich own the 95% of nation’s resources.

Those who have not prized freedom have chipped away at every major clause of the constitution, until today we face a crisis of great dimension. The destructive political and legislative attacks against the constitution since its adoption have only escalated. Freckles of anti-democratic clauses have been intruded sometimes in the honored name of doctrines of necessity and other times for good governance but to justify or perpetuate self-rule. Consequently, even after long 58 years Pakistan today stands tall as a weak state.

Pakistan is a weak state for it contains ethnic, religious, linguistic, and other tensions that limit and decrease its ability to deliver political goods. These conflicts have started exploding into open conflict. GDP per capita stands unimpressive. Corruption is common. The rule of law is weakly applied. Time and again army rule is poked in.

Pakistan has completely failed in its ability to deliver political goods. Security is state's primary function. Lucklessly, Pakistan is badly disciplined in providing security to people. Criminals are considered as nobles. Degeneration has reached new and strange dimensions. Offenders sneak into federal cabinet without problem. Consequently, mafias, organized and not organized crimes are dominating. Pakistan has utterly failed in providing a framework through which all other political goods can be delivered.

Pakistan has also failed in adequately responding to a system of codes and procedures, which regulate the interactions of the population and sets the standards for conduct. It could not devise standard systems such as one for payment of utility bills and the masters sitting in air-conditioned rooms failed to feel the problems of common man who spends hours in harsh weather conditions for payment of utility bills. Other predominant problems include not up to snuff justice system, a forum for civil society, and a method of regulating environmental commons.

We have domestic enemies in high places, in and out of government, who work against the very foundations of Pakistan. We have done nothing and the enemies of freedom have succeeded. So I must ask: How much longer will the real public-spirited remain deceived and uninvolved? How much longer we will allow the blood of our forefathers, and all those who have fought for freedom, to be trampled upon? Are we willing to have our freedoms overthrown? Can We The People afford to allow this to continue? Or, will we stand united and indivisible, within constitutional limits and within the law, to restore a Constitutional Republic, and assure that there is liberty and justice for all? We deserve no less.

If honest Pakistanis take a stand they will have an incredible power because their hearts will motivate them. They will be motivated by their love for true spirits of the Pakistan Movement and the sacrifices made by the unknown workers of freedom struggle. They will be motivated by their paternal and maternal instincts to protect the rights of their families and future posterity. My children and yours deserve no less. (

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Where there's no vision . . . .

Where there is no vision, people perish. That’s because they select goals and begin pursuing them, climbing the proverbial ladder of success, before they define mission and clarify purpose. Consequently on reaching the top rung, they often discover to their dismay that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.

If you only keep your eyes on the path before you, you won’t get lost, but neither will you see the stars. By creating a vision you create a focus that becomes a target that beacons a direction to which the people can become committed. It also provides a basis for the establishment of goals and objectives. Simply by visualizing their goals, people can harness the power of thought to achieve happiness, health, fulfillment, and success.

Vision sets the direction. It’s where the program priorities are set to get down to business. Pressures from the world, society, and individuals can veer off course and urge to react to the priorities and goals of others. It’s therefore important to set up something that works ahead of time and be vigilant about following that vision.

Visions are statements of destination, of the ends of the labor; they are therefore future-oriented and are made real over different spans of time. Movement of Pakistan was launched with a vision. By achieving freedom, have we completed our mission? Have we accomplished our job of retaining the freedom? Hasn’t Pakistan lost to Bangladesh and the rest is being eroded by no other than us—internal enemies. We have no answers because after the freedom we kept the vision of Pakistan in deep freeze.

Vision is uncanny and exhilarating ability to grasp opportunity, to look beyond the obstacles of today and see new possibilities for tomorrow. In national perspective, such vision is always the inevitable product of national commitment. True vision, in fact, has no other genesis. As dedication to independence grows, so does your vision. Vision for Islamic Ideology was the diadem of Pakistan Movement. Where has that vision gone?

Pakistan has unfortunately been duped to vision killers, such as tradition, fear of ridicule, stereotyped people, conditions, complacency of some stakeholders, fatigued and treacherous leadership, short-term thinking, and nay-sayers.

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

The most important role of visions in our national life could give focus to human energy. To enable everyone concerned with Pakistan to see more clearly what’s ahead of them, and our leaders could owe and convey a vision. Consciously or unconsciously, this was not done.

Imagine watching a slide show when the projector is out of focus. How would you feel if you had to watch blurred, vague, and indistinct images for an entire presentation? We face a similar situation in Pakistan. People are unaware of their future. They are expressing frustration, impatience, confusion, anger, and even nausea. Undoubtedly, the leaders with the fingers on focus button had the responsibility to focus the projector. They have utterly failed in their responsibilities.

Thus and so without direction and a map, Pakistan is lurching around, getting off course and ending up in places it never wanted to go. Had Pakistan maintained vision, its distractions would have been minimal and our national life would have been spent in a meaningful way. Thus it would have regained control over our life and no longer felt like wasting time.

Even after 57 years we have not learnt to make our motivating vision important. This would have helped us in carrying out the goals with passion and energy; giving a focused meaning to a solid foundation to work from.

Unfortunately, our leaders have completely failed to articulate vision. Contrarily and shamefully they pushed the nation into confusion, chaos and disorientation only to accomplish their personal agendas. They could have painted the big picture, to convey the vision, giving people a clear sense of what the puzzle would look like when everyone has put the pieces in place.

Each Pakistani leader should ask from himself questions such as: “How would I like to change the world for Pakistan and myself? If I could invent the future, what future would I invent for my country and myself? What mission in life absolutely obsesses me? What’s my dream about my society? What’s my burning passion? What work do I find absorbing, involving, enthralling? What will happen in 10 years if I remain absorbed, involved, and enthralled in that work? What does my ideal Pakistan look like? What’s my personal agenda? What do I want to prove?

Even if armed with techniques, though, leaders can’t find any freeway to the future, no paved highway from here to tomorrow. The vision for Pakistan’s future can act as its magnetic north. It can possess the extraordinary ability to attract human energy. It can invite and draw others to it by the force of its own appeal.

Indeed, a new vision will be virtually indispensable when there is a need to significantly transform and revitalize Pakistan to increase the likelihood of its future. This will also help sensitize political leadership to emerging issues, help them think about the future and enhance their creativity or sense of risk taking.

Our leadership must provide a vision, a clear image of a desirable future—one that presents an achievable, challenging and worthwhile long-range target toward people can direct their energies. To avoid extinction, we must design our future and visioning is the starting point. (

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Where, oh, where . . . .?

The motivation for penning down today’s column came from an incident that might turn out to be a routine matter for Lahoreans. It has conversely moved me to the extent that I have started believing that I inhabit with a flock of animals. Today, our need for self-preservation and material gain has taken precedence over concern for society and the community.

One day around noontime in sweltering heat an ill-fated father, carrying on his back a 7-8 year old son with physical disability while waiting at the bus stop in Lahore, gesticulated a bus to stop. Disregarding even the bus stop where the bus was obligatory to stopover kept on moving, thus depriving a needy innocent person his rights as a special child.

As father of a son of just about the same age group, I developed an emotional affinity with that luckless youngster but the gravel heart society seems to be lacking the capacity to think with compassion. I have lived more than 23 years in a culture where persons with disabilities are regarded as a social responsibility and where in a similar situation not just the bus would have stopped and knelt down to facilitate access but also the whole traffic would have become motionless. Alas! This incident caused me a few tossing and turning nights wondering where, oh, where have our values gone?

Many of us are unable to see beyond our own persona. We feel bad only when we receive indifference. This happens because we fail to see the same 'self' in others that has the same needs, expectations and rights. If only we could perceive the big plan of the cosmic mind that interconnects all living beings, we would learn that when we give, we give to ourselves and when we receive happiness from others, we receive it from ourselves. The greatest paradox of life is that when we hold on to life for ourselves, we inevitably lose it, but when we decide to use it for 'giving', we recuperate it.

Indeed, the erosion of values is one of the major concerns of today's society. It is probably due to the increasing stress, fast-paced life, keen competition and overvaulting ambition to achieve too much in too little time. It has made today's man seemingly less principled than our ancestors. This explains, but does not excuse us of responsibility for the widespread decline in values.

Implicitly and explicitly, in a society of humans the real asset of a nation is not its natural resources, but people with right values. Just as it is futile to fill a leaking bucket, it is futile to think of economic reforms and progress without linking up ourselves with our lost values. In Pakistan what we need first and foremost are the solutions that can be utilized on a wide scale and on a long-term basis for reestablishing moral values.

The fabric of society is held together by the standards of morality that we maintain and practice. Values are our personal set of beliefs about what is important, unimportant, right, wrong, good and bad. In other words, values are a kind of map in our minds of how things are or should be. Just as a map is not the territory, values are only our perception of the principles of nature that govern our lives or the universe, not the principles themselves.

Throughout history, this world has seen individuals, families, societies and nations dying for want of values that sustain life—almost with the same certainty with which a plant dies for want of water. We can choose our values in harmony with the laws of the universe or to challenge them. Laws are fixed, so are the consequences of breaking them. We cannot break the laws of the universe; we can only break ourselves against them.

The greatest tragedy of the modern world is that it has given us enough to live with but nothing to live for. Today, our purpose of life has become hazy. Existence has become more important than living. People today do not ask themselves what they feel concerned about and what they would like to dedicate their lives to; they ask which field has better 'scope'. They seek to take decisions on the basis of what lies in the external world, instead of being driven from within. But unless we find a cause to live for, we are not fit to live.

Most homes do not have a value-giver today. Homes have turned into mere houses where family members come to eat, watch TV and sleep. Values are inculcated by the parents, who nowadays shrug off their responsibility. Usually the whole family sits before the TV till bedtime. Where are the values going to come from?

An unpleasant, argumentative environment at home and unresponsive, unsympathetic and ignorant teachers, who cannot act as role models, are the principal reasons for decline of values.

Our school textbooks talk irrelevant things rather than the lives of people with exemplary values. The students look for role models from the contemporary world, as they can relate to them. The media also underplays reports of exemplary people as it assumes that good deeds are uninteresting, hence not for sale.

The main challenges that we face in the 21st century provide viable alternative solutions that can be implemented, and share examples of what millions of people around the world are already doing. I am convinced that people can be transformed, irrespective of their age and conditioning. All that is required is to make them trust the light within and see the need to remove all that keeps our real light from shining forth. A world committed to ecological sustainability would create a new vision of progress that recognizes the future of humanity dependent on our ability to live with compassion for fellow citizens and thus balance with our natural world. (

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Ramadan Kareem

O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint (2:183). Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is obligatory to all Muslims from about age twelve.

The sighting of the thin sickle of the new moon of Ramadan heralds the beginning of a month of glory and spiritual elevation. It typifies that the Muslim denies himself between sunup and sundown the blessings of food and drink, and submits himself fully to Allah, observing the same abstention from beginning to end of month in his thoughts, speech, behavior, and deeds.

Ramadan is the ninth month of Islamic calendar. It is a month of blessing marked by prayer, fasting, and charity and focuses on self-sacrifice and devotion to Allah.

During this month Allah revealed the first verses of the Qur’an. At mosques during Ramadan, near about one thirtieth of the Qur’an is recited each night in prayers known as tarawih.

We fast for the entire month of Ramadan. This means no eating or drinking at all during the sunshine. After the sunset, the fast is broken with a meal (iftar).

The crowning mercy is not just restricted to fasting alone. Worship and good deeds during Ramadan are also wellheads of sanctified concession. We fast during the day not just denying food and water, but as interpreted by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), “Exercise strict control over your tongue, eyes, ears, thoughts and deeds and do everything possible to seek the pleasure of Allah.”

Supplications and repentance of sins are the hallmarks of Ramadan. A night, among the last ten, is known as the “Night of Glory” (Laylatul Qadr). This is among the odd dates but 27th is widely considered as the one. Muslims offer special prayers all the night through.

According to a hadith the recitation of just one Aya in Ramadan brings about reward much the same as the recitation of complete Qur’an in other months.

Ramadan is a specified period of purification and the Qur’an must carefully be studied for self-guidance. Allah is the light of the heavens and earth and the Qur’an—a light for the seekers of truth. It wards off the evil effect of unhealthy atmosphere, it sanctifies the cause of the fast and keeps the true believer in direct communion with Allah, and it does but speaks His own words.

O the divine Fountainhead of blessings, bless Mohammad (pbuh) and help us observe fasts, by restraining our limbs from disobeying You and employing them in that which would please You. O Allah! Enable us not to lend our ears to any vain and our eyes towards any amusement; and so that we may not stretch our hands towards anything forbidden. O Allah help us not to step towards anything prohibited; nothing may fill our bellies but what You have made lawful and our tongue may not utter anything save what You have permitted. O Allah we may cease to exert ourselves except in that which would bring us nearer Your reward, and stop doing everything save that which would protect us from Your torment.

O Allah, empower us to perform timely the five prayers with due regard to their limits which You have enjoined and ceremonies which You have prescribed, and times which You have fixed; and in this respect raise us to the rank of those who performed them with success, who duly observed their essential points, who always performed them at proper times, in most perfect and complete purity and most evident and touching humility, according to the rules laid down by Your Prophet (pbuh), Your favors on him, concerning their bows and prostrations and all the other excellent rites.

And, O the Forgiver, enable us, in this month, to show favor to our relations and do good to them, and to take care of our neighbours with kindness and benevolence, and to purge our property of obligations, and purify it by giving the legal alms; and be just to him who is unjust to us, and make peace with him who is hostile to us-far be it from us to reconcile him who is abhorred on account of You and for Your sake.

O the Benevolent, in every night of the nights of this month, there are men whom Your pardon liberates, or whom Your forbearance forgives, therefore, let us be among these men; and let us be to our month the best people. O Allah, obliterate our sins and remove from us our penalties; so that the month may pass from us while You have cleansed us, within it, of guilt's, and freed us of sins.

O the Compassionate, fill this month with our worship of You alone, and adorn its moments with our service to You; and help us in the day-time to observe fast, and at night to pray and beseech You and humble ourselves unto You, and abase ourselves in Your presence; so that neither its day may bear witness against us of negligence, nor its night of default.

O the Merciful, let us be like this in all the months and days, as long as You keeps us alive; and let us be of Your righteous servants, who will inherit paradise, wherein they shall live forever; and who do give what they give with a fearing heart, for verily, they shall return to You! And let us be of those who are prompt in charity and excel therein.

O Allah for us let this month be a period of peace, faith safety and total submission to Your will; make us walk apace swiftly to that which You like and approve. O Allah pour out much blessings on us in this month, make available for us its generous good and assistance, and keep us safe from the harm, evil, misfortune and mischief that may try to trap us in this month. Amen. (

Monday, September 1, 2008

Change What can be!

The single biggest change management failure of the 20th century was the old Soviet Union. With highly centralized planning, the politburo tried to tightly control the lives of an entire block of nations. There were to be few surprises and activities that weren't in the official plan. Bureaucratic organizations often try to do the same thing. So do many static, low growth individuals. We need to be on guard against our own rigid thinking and hardening of the attitudes.

The faster the world changes around us, the further behind we fall by just standing still. If the rate of external change exceeds our rate of internal growth, just as the day follows night, we will surely be changed. To the change-blind with stunted growth, it will happen suddenly and seemingly out of the blue.

Change forces choices. If we’re on the grow, we’re embracing many changes and finding the positive in them. It's all in where we chose to put our focus. Even change that hits us in the side of the head as a major crisis can be full of growth opportunities — if we choose to look for them.

We don't always get to choose the changes that come into our lives. But we do get to choose how to respond. Crisis can be a danger that weakens or destroys us. Or crisis can be a growth opportunity. The choice is ours. Which ever we chose — we're right about that crisis. We make it our reality.

Change is life. Successfully dealing with change means choosing to continuously grow and develop. Failing to grow is failing to live. Life is the sum result of all the choices we make, both consciously and unconsciously. If we can control the process of choosing, we can take control of all aspects of our life. We can find the freedom that comes from being in charge of ourselves.

Accepting responsibility for choices starts with understanding where our choices lie. There is a long list of things we can't control, but may have a major impact on us as individuals or as clusters. These include economic and political trends, technological changes, shifts in consumer preferences and market trends, as well as catastrophes wrought by human beings (war, terrorism and etc) and so-called Acts of God, such as earthquakes.

The best approach to dealing with things that cannot be changed is to accept them. When the doo-doo starts to pile deep, we ought not just sit there and complain; we ought to grab a shovel. We may not choose what happens to us, but we do choose how to respond – or not.

Choosing to make changes is hard. It's so much easier to blame everyone else for our problems and to use this as an excuse for doing nothing. We must not give away our power to choose. In his bestseller, The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck writes, “Whenever we seek to avoid the responsibility for our own behavior, we do so by attempting to give that responsibility to some other individual or organization or entity. But this means we then give away our power to that entity, be it fate or society or the government or the corporation or our spouse. It is for this reason that Erich Fromm so aptly titled his study of Nazism and authoritarianism, Escape from Freedom. In attempting to avoid the pain of responsibility, millions and even billions daily attempt to escape from freedom.”

It takes real courage to accept full responsibility for our choices – especially for our attitude and outlook. This is the beginning and ultimately most difficult act of leadership.

We must engage ourselves into lively debates about those things over which we have the power to act. We can easily classify them as belonging to three categories: No Control; Direct Control; and Influence. It's rarely black and white. For example, we often underestimate the influence we might have in our functions – or in the world at large. Each time a man stands up for an idea, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

We're either part of the problem or part of the solution. There is no neutral ground. Strong folks make the choice to be part of the solution and get on with it – no matter how small their ripples of change may be.