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

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Perishing from Earth

As in the experience of all other civilizations it can be with us if we do not recognize the principles for survival. If we failed to learn from history and recognize the future trends we will eventually go back into darkness from whence we came, and we the people will perish from the earth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Emphasizing Well-being

In recent years, psychologists studying measures of life satisfaction have largely confirmed the old adage that money can’t buy happiness—at least not for people who are already affluent.

A nation is successful not when it’s rich but when its people are happy. If you are very poor, there is no doubt that greater income can improve your life. But once the basic needs are secured, well-being does not necessarily correlate with wealth. The social and psychological needs of human beings also shape our cultures, and help to determine whether our civilization is sustainable or not. Good life is redefining prosperity to emphasize a higher quality of life, rather than the mere accumulation of goods.

The Prime Minister is busy sketching up plans for making continuing increases in gross domestic product (GDP) as a chief priority of domestic policy, under the assumption that wealth secured is well-being delivered.

Whether due to curbs on hundi business as a post-9/11 scenario or owing to connoisseur planning, foreign exchange reserves (FER) of Pakistan touched highest levels ever in the previous government. With increased GDP and FERs the number of suicidal deaths also grew larger when poverty ridden people take their lives. This situation demonstrates that some link was broken somewhere. And that’s about social moorings and calls for a shift in paradigm.

The government must focus on delivering what people most desire. Indeed, a new understanding of good life can be built not around wealth but around well-being: having basic survival needs met, along with freedom, health, security, and satisfying social relations. Consumption would still be important, to be sure, but only to the extent that it boosts quality of life.

Pakistani society if focuses on well-being will involve more interaction with family, friends, and neighbors, a more direct experience of nature, and more attention to finding fulfillment and creative expression than in accumulating goods. It should emphasize lifestyles that avoid abusing our own health, other people, or the natural world. In short, it will yield a deeper sense of satisfaction with life than many people report experiencing today.

What provides for a satisfying life? The disconnection between money and happiness in wealthy countries is perhaps most clearly illustrated when growth in income is plotted against levels of happiness. In the United States, for example, the average person’s income more than doubled between 1957 and 2002, yet the share of people reporting themselves to be very happy over that period remained static.

Happiness is best predicted by the breadth and depth of one’s social connections. People who are socially connected tend to be healthier—often significantly so. More than a dozen long-term studies in Japan, Scandinavia, and the United States show that the chances of dying in a given year, no matter the cause, is two to five times greater for people who are isolated than for socially connected people.

International development professionals also now acknowledge that strong social ties are a major contributor to a country’s development. The World Bank, for instance, sees social connectedness as a form of capital—an asset that yields a stream of benefits useful for development.

Creating a higher quality of life requires us to help create new political, physical, and cultural infrastructures of well-being. Pakistan has no such infrastructure and is thus ranked 167 out of 180 countries in Well-being Index. Sri Lanka ranks 49 and Bangladesh 131. Interestingly, Nigeria ranks 133, a position better than Pakistan.

Year after year, the Human Development Index report shows Pakistan lagging behind the rest of the regional countries. Our investment in realizing the human potential remains the lowest in South Asia. The HDI report lists a shocking situation of the poor quality of life in Pakistan.

The standard tool used to measure societal health, GDP, is much too narrow to serve as a yardstick of well-being because it sums all economic transactions, regardless of their contribution to quality of life. It also ignores entire swaths of non-market activity that contribute to individual and society well-being.

A well-being society would offer consumers a sufficient range of genuine choices rather than a large array of virtually identical products. Businesses would be encouraged through economic incentives to deliver what consumers really seek—reliable transportation, not necessarily a car; or strong neighborhood relationships in lieu of a large house with a big yard. Choice would be redefined to mean options for increasing quality of life rather than selections among individual products or services.

If focused on well-being Pakistani society would ensure that everyone in it has access to healthy food, clean water and sanitation, education, health care, and physical security. It is virtually impossible to imagine a society of well-being that does not provide for people’s basic needs.

Making the transition to a society of well-being is a challenge to the new premier given people’s habit of placing consumption at the apex of societal values. All the same, any move in this direction starts out with two strong advantages. First, the human family today has a base of knowledge, technology that can be invested in well-being rather than in continued material accumulation for its own sake. A second advantage is simple but powerful: for many people, a life of well-being is preferred to a life of high consumption.

By nurturing relationships, facilitating healthy choices, learning to live in harmony with nature, and tending to the basic needs of all, the PPP Government will leave its indelible footprints in history if it shifts from an emphasis on consumption to an emphasis on well-being. This could be an apposite response to the growing number of suicidal deaths due to poverty, and to be his great achievement in the twenty-first century.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Desperate need for apt policy planning

The stump oratory must have reached people about sharpshooter or inept public managers’ actions, GDP growth rate is declining; foreign exchange reserves are depleting fast, record downfall in exports and of foreign investment. Ipso facto, no previous government in past decades confronted issues like these when financial stability has become a forgotten song, it has miserably. Yes, the government has completely failed in efficient service delivery to the poor. Consequently, it has contributed sweet nothing in reducing poverty and hunger that goes on to sustain stark national inequalities in wealth, assets, incomes and opportunities.

The Asian Development Bank estimates that 40 million people in Pakistan live below the poverty line. In its stated bid to ensure national security, Pakistan is spending more on arms and defense, and less on social security and protection, public distribution systems and welfare programs.

In the direst situations suicide rates among the poor are on the rise. Ironically, while national level defaulters on debt benefit from enhanced facilities to restructure debt and continue borrowing, the overwhelming burden of national debt is borne by the poor.

Lacking job opportunities in rural areas cause migration to urban cities. This takes the form of low quality jobs in the informal economy, or in the case of women and girls, prostitution or domestic service. Migration under conditions of economic stress exacerbates food insecurity. Owing to weak economic and social profile of the country, the adult population could not be gainfully employed, resulting in an 8.3 per cent current unemployment rate (more than 10 per cent in urban areas), plus substantial under-employment. Today, of the current workforce of some 48.40 million- as many as 8 million- are unemployed.

More and more workers, especially women, are being forced from the relatively protected formal sector to the unprotected informal sector. This is accompanied by concentration of assets and resources in the hands of the rich and newly prosperous, who have been able to take advantage of the economic opportunities offered by modernization and globalization.

Graft and corruption in government are a significant cause of continuing poverty and hunger. Despite NAB being there, corruption is on the increase and being accentuated by the companies of the developed countries through their underhand dealings with the national officials.

Sitting in luxurious offices the economic managers of Pakistan juggle with statistics rather than conducting surveys. This is often done to draw statistics acceptable to donors or financial institutions. To duck the WB in 2001, for instance, it drafted the poverty reduction strategy, just about the time when the WB initiated a new line of credit (PRGF) for countries that were equipped with such a strategy.

The increase in the tax-GDP ratio is apparently marginal but in the numerical terms, bulk of the burden has been shifted from direct to the indirect taxes and the share of the regressive sales tax being recovered at the highest rate over the globe has sharply gone up. It is affecting the whole population. The sales tax formed over 44 per cent of the total tax collection during the fiscal 2002-03. The result is that quantum of sales tax has grown from 27.11 in 1998-99 to 42.33 per cent during July 2004-January, 2005.

The Oil Companies' Advisory Committee fixes the prices of various products on fortnightly basis. It is claimed that the committee fixes the prices in a very transparent manner keeping in view the international prices. But the transparent formula was never made public either by the government or the committee. Oil companies have thus been licensed to plunder the poor.

Pakistan currently has about 74 percent of the population living on $1 per day and 86 percent living on $2 per day, implying that one out of every three households going to sleep hungry every day.

The narrow focus on economic growth has not only failed to eliminate poverty, it has also resulted in policies that have created new forms of, or aggravated existing conditions of poverty and hunger. Shaukat Aziz institutionalized policies that opened up economy and shrunk government’s direct responsibility for redistribution of assets and benefits. Public support and subsidies were systematically torn down, and market based price systems were made the primary determinant of allocation and distribution. With privatization and withdrawal of government subsidies for domestic industry, a significant proportion of the work force was shunted into the informal sector. By and large, previous government achieved economic growth at the cost of well being of workers, small-scale agricultural producers and consumers. The greatest beneficiaries of PM Shaukat Aziz’ adjustment programs were the rich, large private producers, distributors, traders, and MNCs.

Poverty and hunger are violations of human rights. They result in exclusion and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. The human rights of people to housing, water, and sanitation—guaranteed under international law and commitments of development targets made at global summits, including the Millennium Summit and the World Summit on Sustainable Development—drag on to erode. By ratifying a number of international human rights instruments, such as, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Pakistan has voluntarily accepted the obligations to progressively realize human rights to food, health, adequate housing, water and sanitation, which are essential for the well being of its citizens.

Pakistan needs policies that protect the rights of people to water, land, forests, other natural resources, biodiversity and indigenous knowledge. Policies are also needed that ensure people’s access to a services essential to their development especially among the poor and historically marginalized, this includes education, social security, healthcare and information, etc. Access must be equitable and the quality of services must not vary according to socio-economic or gender backgrounds. (

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Advice to Defectors

These days political defection is on the up and up. People of mark from significant and not so significant political organizations are falling away and joining Muslim League (N) or the PPP. General public identify these turncoats as opportunists and lotas (ewer), I don’t. I hold them in high esteem, as they are intelligent people who have a nodding acquaintance with trends in power corridors. They know and rightly so, that in number games, or for this or that reason, PML (N) or the PPP will remain in power. I dedicate this column to such wheeler-dealers.

I feel it pertinent and this is what I can do to equip the defectors with a patrimony—I can tip them off with some rough and ready thoughts. I want them to climb the ladder and go up in life and not get lost in milling crowds at the bottom rung.

You’ve rightly seized the opportunity, Mr. Defector. Your decision to turn your coat is indeed to suit the times. What could the Duke of Savoy do expect to turn his coat by turns when his lands passed into the hands of the invading French army first and back into the hands of the Spanish army? No one is patted as much as a political apostate. In politics, as on a sick bed, one tosses from side to side in the hope of getting better comfort.

Pedants might tell that success is for those who work hard; are courageous, tenacious, so and so forth. Wrong—absolutely wrong. Through and through, these are hidden landmines to destroy. Success comes only to those who circumvent these impediments by taking shortcuts. Concentrate all your faculties on one point—your success. The guy who cuts a wide path rarely cuts a long one.

You might have been told to abominate the filthy lure by some fox that failed to reach the grapes, or by those who want to keep it all to themselves. Do not build treasures in heaven, for they in heaven, I am told, have no need for cash, but live on their creditworthiness. Joining the ruling party is the right place to be wealthy. At the very least your bank loans will be written off and you also stand a good chance of becoming a minister.

Now that you’re in the ruling party, you must know that the two cannot go together—man and honesty; one gets broken. The Greek god Hermes was patron of both trade and of thieves.

Your decision to defect to the ruling lot and that too from the front door is hunky dory. All the good horses have been whipped away. Today’s insects are tomorrow’s stars. You only have to remember the rules of the game.

Invoke curses on the politicians who are without power and have been thrown out of the ring by the referee. You must find a sycophant to become a sycophant yourself. In the West dogs that look into the eyes are not allowed at public places. Win the ruling class with flattery and sycophancy. This will qualify you for a minister’s slot. And, remember, more people worship the rising sun than the setting. To his dog, every man is Napoleon. That is why dogs are so popular among the gentry. In today’s wheeling dealing people need those around them who wag their tails.

Stoop as low as you want if it is to pick up a prize (a slot of a minister or any other public office), for he that humbles himself shall be exalted here and hereafter. Everyone has his ego and vanity. There is nothing people need at the top so much as nourishment for their self-esteem. Flattery and sycophancy have always been popular with those in power and authority. When the Czar had a cold, all Russia sneezed, they say.

To pose big is half the way to success. To hide your crimes is the other half. Try to trump up some connections with Uncle Sam. You can learn from some cabinet ministers who rear such connections. Who else would know this better than General Pervez Musharraf how to swap country’s sovereignty? Go play golf with him and take lessons.

The successful politician surrounds himself with all status symbols—(un)attractive attire, mobile telephone, starched shalwar qameez, and a security guard with deadly gun. Keep in mind that is the way to impress. If you have status, what you say becomes important. Play the game on a grand scale. Keep an imaginary appointment with the man in uniform, the President or the Quaid of PML (N).

And pay court to the harem of the sultans in intelligence agencies. Today they make or unmake the politicians. Be useful to them for they obtain more often favors by your judicious efforts. You must be sweet of tongue and ready with a smile. And never make the mistake of making your demands modest. Always inflate them.

These are the days of specialization. You must try to become an expert, specialized in politics in some innovative ways. Old ways of getting kickbacks are now risky. Invent new ways of making politics as money spinning. Only sometimes men come by the name of genius in the same way that certain insects come by the name of centipedes, not because they have a hundred feet but because most people can’t count beyond fourteen.

These are the days of publicity. Publicity gives you the outsize figure. Send a dog in spaceship and he will return a celebrity. You will be a notability if you win media publicity on hollow slogan mongering. You will learn such flags of convenience from your new Party. Remember, when a goose lays an egg, she just waddles off as if she were ashamed of it. When a hen lays an egg she calls on heaven and earth to witness it by her cackles. Be a successful politician and thus a hen. You must cackle loud even if there is no egg. That is the norm today. (

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Evolution to Academic Excellence

In 21st century there is a need to develop a new entity in higher education - one that educates and develops graduates for meeting the challenges of this century. Such an institution must emphasize the creation and development of knowledge into practical, sustainable solutions to today's problems, and the commercialization of those solutions to create wealth. This must be done within a learning community that emphasizes communication and teaming skills leading to creative problem solving and within an environment that emphasizes a sound appreciation of humanity’s ethical and moral principles. Anthony G. Collins, President of Clarkson University, has expressed this in: “The Evolution to Academic Excellence.”

He asserts that with the advent of the industrial revolution during the nineteenth century, some liberal arts institutions added faculties that supported economic growth and spurred business development. At the same time, technological institutes sprang into action to create manufacturing professionals and some colleges even specialized in the art of business itself. After WWII a new emphasis began to emerge on research - the creation of scientific knowledge.

Those who have a vision to track the process of economic development – the connection of science to engineering to business coupled with liberal arts to provide the humanistic elements are best suited to create this type of institution. Ideally this type of institution would have engineering at the core of its being and value interdisciplinary activity rather than a culture that wants to retain disciplinary purity. The very interdisciplinary intellectual capacity and fundamental mathematics and sciences needed for engineering, technology and business degrees create the academic institution of the future.

General Francis Walker, President of Massachusetts Institute of Technology once said: “In the present stage of social and industrial change, change almost bewildering in the rapidity of its movement and in the extent of the field over which it is taking place, it is most reasonable to believe that great gaps exist between the public needs and the supply of those needs by the existing institutions of learning. As a result of their freedom from obligation to the general system of education, they not only will be at liberty, but they will be strongly impelled to search out those real needs of the people in the matter of education which are at present unsupplied. It is essential to this function that they should remain in a state of flux; open to all impressions; mobile under all influences; not too soon assuming that they have found their ultimate resting place and have taken on their distinctive character.”

The mission of the institution has to be of graduating and developing students who lead and practice technology. Our focus must be on this “product.” While we must recognize the influence of nanotechnology, we have to fully grasp that “technology” and also the engineering to embrace a new knowledge-age definition that includes biotechnology and info-technology. We have to broaden our vision of technology to include contributions from the life sciences, to embrace the vitality of new disciplines within engineering, and to appreciate how businesses operate with the sophistication of integrated technology systems.

We have not recognized the dramatic changes in demographics - the changing fraction of underrepresented individuals, the geographic shifts in population centers, the socioeconomic profile of our constituents - nor have we fully recognized the need to introduce new majors to draw more women into the technological workforce so that their talents can be developed and utilized. In short, we need to and should be obligated to deliver education that is appealing to a broader range of potential students.

In addition to lagging behind in reacting to changes in student interest, the marketplace, and the demands of employers, we have failed to react to the roles our educational institutions must play in the economy. We must now recognize that the creation of knowledge can no longer be our end goal. We must also develop intellectual property, transferring technology to the marketplace, and become a central part of the economic enterprise that values innovation, creativity and creates wealth. Implicit in this direction is the development of research at all levels of the institution.

Given this unsettling background of an institution dependent upon its external environment, our institutions must revitalize higher learning in order to provide a more comprehensive, unique image that remains true to core mission and values.

The students ought to know that they are the center of the educational process and all academic staff demonstrates an unparalleled commitment to creating a person-to-person connection within our living, research and learning environments. The faculty needs to collaborate, innovate and create knowledge across disciplinary boundaries and educate students to have a particular appreciation for the opportunities that lie at the intersection of traditional disciplines.

Our campus community must stimulate the intellectual environment that attracts a diverse pool of exceptionally talented women and men who will rise to be leaders of the 21st century with the passion to create enterprises that benefit society.

The evolving strengths and vision for the future must intersect precisely with the growing technological needs of the society – a society that must depend upon a workforce capable of creating, adapting and managing technology regardless of discipline of study or natural individual talents.

To fulfill this vision for academic excellence, our educational institutions should uniquely position to further stake their legacy to society based on commitment to technology and leadership in marrying coursework, research and extracurricular pursuits in engineering, business, science, health sciences and arts.

We should create a distinctive place in the higher education order as attainable as we each ought to continue to promote and explore innovative ways to arrange the basic building blocks of traditional fields of study to reflect new avenues for interdisciplinary education, research breakthroughs, and solutions for society.

Our education system is a pack of confusion disorder. Can we transform it for delivering academic excellence as envisioned by Anthony G. Collins? (

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Ballooning Youth of Pakistan

In more than 100 countries, people are getting not only more numerous, but younger. Youth bulges, combined with economic stagnation and unemployment, can burden these countries with disproportionately high levels of violence and unrest—severely challenging their hopes for social and economic stability. Pakistan is one such country

Pakistan currently has the largest number of young people in its history, with approximately 25 million people between the ages of 15 and 24. Pakistani youth makes up 63% and adolescents nearly 43 % of the total Pakistani population. Illiteracy, lack of awareness, poverty and dearth of focused attention to youth-related problems add to the complexity of the problems currently faced by the country in social sector development.

The predominance of young adults can be a social challenge and a political hazard. Our economy and labor markets have been unable to keep pace with population growth, contributing to high rates of unemployment. While unemployment tends to be high in Pakistan in general, it is among young adults three to five times as high as overall adult rates.

Young men in rural areas are often hardest hit relative to their expectations. Agriculture is the single largest source of livelihood worldwide, but many young rural men expecting to inherit land increasingly find themselves disinherited.

With few opportunities in rural areas, young people in Pakistan are increasingly forced to leave behind more traditional lifestyles and migrate to cities in search of work, education, and urban amenities.

Many urban areas are thus now home to significant, and potentially volatile, youth bulges. Rapidly industrializing cities and frontier areas can be spawning grounds for political unrest because thousands of young men migrate to these sites in search of already in short supply livelihoods.

Yet urbanization is proceeding faster than municipalities can provide infrastructure, services, and jobs. Municipal governments in Pakistan are the least able to muster the human and financial resources to contend with these problems, especially when the poorest, nontaxable segment of the urban population continues to grow rapidly.

Most young people, men and women, work in agriculture. Other types of work are segregated by gender, with females engaged in stitching, embroidery, and knitting (largely based at home) while young men work in factories, are self-employed, or perform skilled labor. Young people’s attitudes about gender roles remain traditional, with well-defined lines between the domains of males and females.

The UN projected that by 2007, for the first time ever, more people would be living in cities than in rural areas. This urban share could top 60 percent by 2030—with almost all of this growth projected to occur in the developing world.

We have a large number of youth between 18 and 35 who are properly educated, but have nothing to do. Urban discord, more than the rural sort, afflicts diverse social classes, including the angry unemployed. The risks of instability among youth are increased when skilled members of elite classes are marginalized by a lack of opportunity.

It isn’t difficult to find contemporary parallels. The collapse of the Communist regime in the Soviet Union in the early 1990s in part to the mobilization of large numbers of discontented young men who were unable to put their technical educations to use due to party restrictions on entering the elite. And Samuel P. Huntington, Harvard professor and author of the controversial treatise on the Clash of Civilizations, has pointed to connections between tensions in the Middle East (where 65 percent of the population is under the age of 25) and the unmet expectations of skilled youth. Many Islamic countries, he argues, used their oil earnings to train and educate large numbers of young people, but with little parallel economic growth few have had the opportunity use their skills.

Pakistan where a large youth bulges, coupled with high rates of urban growth and shortages of employment opportunities, is already creating a very high risk of conflict.

The US has begun to take notice. In April 2002, in a written response to congressional questioning, the US, CIA noted that “several troublesome global trends—especially the growing demographic youth bulge in developing nations (Pakistan included) whose economic systems and political ideologies are under enormous stress—will fuel the rise of more disaffected groups willing to use violence to address their perceived grievances.” The CIA warned that current US counter-terrorist operations might not eliminate the threat of future attacks because they fail to address the underlying causes that drive terrorists.

Fortunately, demographics are not destiny. But the likelihood of future conflict may ultimately reflect how Pakistan chooses to deal with its demographic challenges.

There are nevertheless examples of some countries, where policies were in place that provided young men with occupations and opportunities—including land reform and frontier settlement schemes, migration abroad, industrialization, and the expansion of military and internal security forces. The latter strategy probably helped regimes such as North Korea, China, and Turkmenistan that maintain political stability during the post-Cold War era despite large proportions of young adults.

In the short term, Pakistan government will need to tackle the underlying factors contributing to discontent among young people, including poverty and the lack of economic opportunity. And the government can address part of the risk associated with youth unemployment by investing in job creation and training, boosting access to credit, and promoting entrepreneurship.

Ultimately, however, the only way to achieve the necessary long-term changes in age structure will be through declines in fertility. Government can facilitate fertility decline by supporting policies and programs that provide access to reproductive health services—voluntary family planning services and maternal and child health programs and counseling, including providing accurate information for young adults—and by promoting policies that increase girls’ educational attainment and boost women’s opportunities for employment outside the home. (

Friday, November 7, 2008

Latching on Nanotechnology

Today I reassemble excerpts of my lectures, delivered at various local universities, on Nanotechnology—the largest breakthrough of 21st Century—the act of purposefully manipulating matter at an atomic scale and has the ability to manage universe at a molecular perspective. The nano-era is just around the corner and I see a multi-trillion dollar industry coming for a jumpstart within 5-10 years.

Nanotechnology is going to change the face of present day solutions to health problems. For instance the tiny autonomous robots that will work in bloodstream, clearing out plaque deposits, fixing various genetic flaws, looking for and eliminating cancer cells, and working in tandem with brain cells will vastly increase the human intellectual capacity. They will be like built-in doctors—cruising about, taking samples, communicating diagnosis, and finally, at your design, they will deal with whatever problem they encounter by administering drugs, or performing minute surgery.

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 will 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 will nibble away at atherosclerotic deposits, widening the affected blood vessels. Cell herding devices will 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 heart attacks.

With constant monitoring of our every bodily function, and continuous removal of dead cells, nanites will keep us at 100% peak health, giving us life-spans far exceeding those we can expect today—100, 200 or even 300 years; cancer cells—gone; poorly functioning kidney fixed; broken bone repaired; funny looking nose tweeked. Out and out, memory of one human being will be more and sharper than of several PCs of today.

It will impact the practice of medicine in many ways. The tools of medicine will become cheaper and more powerful. Research and diagnosis will be far more efficient, allowing rapid response to new diseases, including engineered diseases. Small, cheap, numerous sensors, computers, and other implantable devices may allow continuous health monitoring and semi-automated treatment. Several new kinds of treatment will become possible. As the practice of medicine becomes cheaper and less uncertain, it can become available to more people.

With real-time monitoring of the body's systems, it will be possible via nanotechnology to detect undesired effects far earlier, allowing a more aggressive and experimental approach to treatment. Researchers will be able to gather far more data and process it with computers millions of times more powerful. The result will be a detailed model of the body's systems and processes, and the ability to predict the effects of any disease or treatment. Diagnosis will also be far easier and more informative. It will be possible to build thousands of diagnostic tests, including invasive tests and imaging tests, into a single, cheap, hand-held device. A variety of single-molecule detection technologies will be available even with early nanotechnology. Trustworthy diagnosis will make medicine far more efficient, and also reduce the risk of malpractice.

The practice of medicine today involves a lot of uncertainty. Doctors must guess what condition a patient has, and further guess how best to treat it without upsetting the rest of the body's systems. By contrast, when pathogens and chemical imbalances will be directly detected, many conditions will be treatable with no uncertainty, allowing the use of computer-selected treatment in common cases. This may further reduce the cost of medical care, although doctors, regulatory agencies, or the patients themselves may resist the practice initially.

Many organs in the body perform fairly simple functions. Already, sophisticated machinery can replace lung function for hours, heart function for months, and kidney function for years. Since nanotechnology can build machines smaller than cells, many other organs will be candidates for replacement or augmentation, including skin, muscles, various digestive organs, and some sensory functions.

With nanotechnology, we should be able to build mass storage devices that can store more than a hundred billion billion bytes in a volume the size of sugar cube. RAM that can store a mere billion billion bytes in such a volume and massively parallel computers of same size that can deliver a billion billion instructions per second

One aspect of nanotechnology is about building working mechanisms using components with nanoscale dimensions, such as super small computers (bacteria sized) with today’s MIPS capacity, or super computers the size of sugar cubes, possessing the power of a billion laptops, or a regular sized desktop model with the power of trillions of today’s PCs

The nano-engineered materials will have superior physical properties—stronger, cheaper and lighter. Material strengths are currently limited by lattice defects and intermolecular bond energies. Nanoscale materials, in contrast, might be produced with microstructures that are ordered over the long range. This could lead to stronger and lighter materials. In a similar way, the hardness and surface smoothness of nano-engineered materials would be controllable to a greater extent than at present. They will be much cheaper than the products produced by conventional industry.

The military aspects of nanotechnology have gotten more attention. We see upcoming weapons that are simultaneously more effective and less lethal. Weapons that are enormously powerful, but non-lethal, might tend to be used a lot. Pentagon is doing research for development of nano-weapons. 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

Pakistan should create awareness, prepare for nano-era, include nanotechnology as a subject matter in core curriculum and most importantly our industry needs to stay vigilant and stop making un-informed decisions for investment. (