Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year


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Political Dynasties & Assassinations

Benazir Bhutto's assassination is very tragic and worthy of the strongest condemnation as she was murdered while engaged in a democratic process in Pakistan. In spite of increasing levels and sophistication of security arrangements, political assassinations have remained a sad fact of life for as far back as the recorded political history. Julius Caesar, Abraham Lincoln, Liaquat Ali Khan, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King stand out on the list of the victims. Of particular note are the assassinations of leaders in political dynasties. Among those who have suffered the most in recent history, the two families that come to mind are the Nehru dynasty in India and the Kennedys in the United States.
Political dynasties are based on a strong emotional link with the people. These strong emotions are both positive and negative. While many love them dearly, a few hate them with equal passion and are willing to use violence to act out their hateful feelings. Benazir's father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's assassination was carried out in late 1970s using the court system in Pakistan and recoded as a lawful. Then her two brothers were killed in mysterious circumstances. The enemies of Benazir succeeded in their second attempt on her life on Dec 27, 2007. The other notable fact that characterizes such assassinations is the abundance of conspiracy theories. There are still many conspiracy theories about the JFK assassination four decades later. And, it's just starting to emerge that the Benazir Bhutto assassination is no exception. These theories are further heightened by the incompetent handling of the investigation by the government and the media fascination with conspiracy theories. The accusations and counter accusations have already started to fly among political rivals while an investigation is going on. In such an environment, this murder will probably remain a mystery in the minds of many of her supporters regardless of any inquiries, domestic or international. The Bhutto family refusal to allow any autopsy will ensure the mystery continues, if nothing else does.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

19-year-old Bilawal succeeds Benazir Bhutto


Benazir Bhutto was not only chairperson of PPP for life but designated her husband as successor for leadership in her will. Her husband decided to name his son Bilawal to succeed while maintaining effective control of the party himself as co-chairman. It all stays in the family, like the rest of their wealth and other vast possessions. This only confirms the undemocratic nature of Pakistan's elite that includes Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, also chairperson for life of of his party PML(N).
As long as Pakistanis accept this behavior of their "leaders", they will continue to be ruled by a small elite that disenfranchises them. The only way out of this monarchical system is to let the current economic growth continue in Pakistan that strengthens the size and the power of the middle class to develop sufficient clout to bring about real broad-based democracy based on rule-of-law.
For those interested in a broader perspective of this development, please read my blog entry titled "Who Owns Pakistan".

Friday, December 28, 2007

Pakistan After the Tragic Assassination of Benazir Bhutto

The airwaves and the Internet are filled with commentary, praise, criticism, hyperbole and punditry after the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto. This video from News Hour with Jim Lehrer (Done By Judy Woodruff) struck me as an objective, no-nonsense commentary from both Pakistani and US perspectives.


Find more videos like this on PakAlumni Worldwide: The Global Social Network

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto 1953-2007

Benazir Bhutto died in an apparent suicide bombing in Rawalpindi today. Inna Lillaha Wa Inna Ilaihe Rajeoon. May her soul rest in peace.


The increasing violence in Pakistan, witnessed recently, will further intensify after Benazir's assassination. Regardless of one's political views, this assassination must be condemned in the strongest possible terms and fully investigated and perpetrators brought to justice. Let us hope that the country does not descend into full-scale civil war. May Allah guide us all in this difficult period and protect Pakistan. Amen.



The Bhutto family, sitting left to right in back row: Nusrat, Shahnawaz, Zulifiqar Ali, Sanam. In front, Murtaza and Benazir.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Who Owns Pakistan?

A friend of mine recently sent me a book titled "Who Owns Pakistan?" by Mr. Shahid-ur-Rahman. My first impressions and commentary after scanning this book are as follows:

First Impressions:
This seems to be a well-researched work by the author on a subject that has received very little independent scholarly attention. While it singles out Z.A. Bhutto's nationalization in the 1970s as the biggest culprit, it also includes a good description of how industrialization was stymied in Pakistan by successive governments while feudal rulers continued to take their toll on any middle class growth essential for civil society and democracy. The author argues that the Bhutto era nationalization has left such "deep scars on the psyche" of Pakistani industrialists that, to this day, these industrialists are not willing to make long-term investments in big industrial projects with long gestation periods. The military governments have, in fact, been more pro-industrialization because the military elite benefits from the manufacturing sector as much much as it does from real estate and agriculture sectors.

Comparisons with India:
Whenever we discuss Pakistan, comparisons with India are inevitable because we have such a long shared history and both countries became independent at the same time. Looking at the Indian experience, the Indian Congress governments were not particularly friendly to industries as depicted well in the Bollywood movie "Guru" based on the life of Dhirubhai Ambani. The semi-literate Ambani built a multi-billion dollar empire called Reliance Industries in India. However, Congress and Nehru were really hostile to the feudal system and brought it down almost immediately after independence in 1947 through
real and extensive land reform that reduced individual and family land
holdings to a few acres each. In spite of his deeply held socialist beliefs, Nehru was a pragmatic leader and believed in industrialization. He recognized that India needed a strong higher education system to support industrialization. The renowned IIT system was, therefore, started in 1951 by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Education Minister Maulana Abul Kalam Azad with the first IIT in Kharagpur inaugurated by Maulana Azad on Aug 18, 1951. Maulana Azad was also the person who brought Birla and Nehru together after Liaquat Ali Khan as Finance Minister in 1938 started investigating Birla for his cash contributions to the Congress party. Recognizing the contributions of Birla and Tata to Congress in the struggle for India's independence, Nehru gave special treatment to both of the industrialists and asked them to help in India's industrialization.

Actions by Nehru and Congress in India were in sharp contrast to the policies pursued in Pakistan. There was no strategic thinking or vision to start anything like the IIT system in India or to reach out to the industrialists who chose to come to Pakistan. Instead, these policies allowed thousands of acres of land in the hands of a few Pakistani feudal families such as the Jatois and the military elite while Pakistan's leader ZA Bhutto presided over the destruction of the nascent industrial sector that had just started to take off under President Ayub in the 1960s. Like Tata & Birla, some of the Pakistani industrialists such as the Habibs and the Haroons helped in Pakistan's independence movement and, immediately after independence, Habib Bank had bailed out Pakistan Government with a huge loan in its early days to cover its budget deficit. However, Bhutto showed no recognition of their help during his nationalization campaign in the 1970s. All of Bhutto's favors were reserved for his feudal colleagues who assumed leadership positions in his administration. These are the conditions under which Pakistan could not move from feudal to industrial society and the middle class could not grow to sufficient strength to demand real democracy based on rule of law.

Privatization in Pakistan:
Nationalization had finally been recognized as a failure in Pakistan when Benazir Bhutto became prime minister in the early 1990s. During the two terms each of Benazir and Sharif, each embarked on rolling back ZA Bhutto-era nationalization by privatizing hundreds of industrial units. However, the privatization efforts by both have now been documented by author Shahid-ur-Rahman to be marred by massive corruption involving a giveaway of multi-million rupee units for the token prices of a few rupees. The sales of these units did not make even a small dent in the national debt.

Pakistan Under Gen Musharraf:
Since "Who Owns Pakistan" was published in 1999, the last eight years under Gen Musharraf have seen the return to annual economic growth of 6-8% with significant new domestic and foreign investment in industries, particularly telecommunications, financial services and infrastructure development. Pakistan's GDP has more than doubled. The number of telephones has soared to 50 million from a mere 600,000 six years ago. The privatization of banks has led to a huge increase in the production and sales of cars, motorcycles and, perhaps most important, TV sets. From a strictly economic standpoint, military rule in Pakistan appears to have been a lesser evil. But, regardless of what one might think about the merits of military rule, Pakistan has seen significant growth under General Musharraf and his hand-picked Prime Minister Mr. Shaukat Aziz. By all accounts, the ranks of the middle class have been swelling in Pakistan during Gen Musharraf's rule. According to Tara Vishwanath, the World Bank's lead economist for South Asia, about 5% of Pakistanis have moved from the poor to the middle class in three years from 2001-2004, the most recent figures available. As expected, the prospering middle class has demanded more than just economic benefits. The middle class is now demanding democratic reform that bodes well for Pakistan in the long run. However, this class is still small relative to the population in Pakistan. It just needs to be cognizant that impatience on its part can roll back the gains made in the last eight years.
The Higher Education Commission under Dr. Ata-ur-Rahman Khan has seen a tremendous increase in HEC budgets with the opening of dozens of new universities and large number of scholarships to study abroad. My hope is that, if the economic, education and industrial growth continues at the current pace for another decade, we can expect a much larger, more powerful middle class to emerge that will successfully challenge the feudal and military rule in the not-too-distant future in Pakistan. We might even see real land reform at some point to free the unwashed masses in rural and tribal Pakistan. Feudal system might even fizzle out by itself as the vast landholdings get distributed among the feudal offsprings over the next couple of generations.

The Indian Exception:
Among the less-developed nations in Asia and Africa such as India and Pakistan, India remains a unique example of a country that has only partially industrialized but it remains largely democratic in spite of the majority of its people not being served well by its successive governments. There seems to be only one plausible explanation for the Indian exception as a democracy: India's sheer size and diversity make it very difficult for any military to govern it but I think the early and effective land reform in India has been one of the key factors in its ability to free the average people who chose to sustain democratic institutions over other alternatives. With the recent emergence of a powerful middle class in India, India's democracy has been further strengthened.

Conclusion:
Pakistan remains decades behind India in establishing democratic institutions by failing to limit the power of the feudal lords,the military generals and the clerics.
The recent economic growth has helped propel the middle class as evidenced by the growth of the media and the powerful resistance to military rule by the civil society including the lawyers, the media and various NGOs. However, the Pakistani middle class is still relatively small to bring about a fundamental change. It needs to grow at the current pace for at least another decade. The challenge for India is to enable sharing of its new-found wealth and opportunities with the rural folks who have not yet participated in India’s progress.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Eid-ul-Azha Dec 2007 in Silicon Valley, CA

Eid-ul-Azha was celebrated Wednesday by the Muslim Community Association in Santa Clara and Friday by South Bay Islamic Association in San Jose. Here are some pictures of the Eid celebration at the Santa Clara County Fairground organized by SBIA in San Jose, CA. Do feel free to participate in the poll:

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Ailing US Economy: Can Asians & Arabs Rescue It?

As the widening sub-prime crisis and the resulting credit crunch in the US become serious, there are many Asian and Arab sovereign funds coming forward to help major US and European financial institutions. Citigroup, UBS and Morgan Stanley clearly stand out as the recipients of their largess. Here's a brief run-down of these three deals:

Abu-Dhabi-Citigroup Deal
Abu Dhabi Investment Authority agreed to purchase 4.9% stake in Citigroup for $7.5b in convertible debt. It's a rather complicated deal but the interest rate on this investment by Abu Dhabi works out to about 11%, an unusually high interest rate that speaks to both the risk and the reward of this arrangement. Part of the concern by the Oil-rich country is based on the fact that Abu Dhabi's reserve are held in dollar-denominated assets and the US dollar is continuing to lose ground against other major currencies including the Euro. The other concern is the impact of a US economic slowdown leading to worldwide slowdown that causes reduced demand for oil and lower prices.

Singapore-UBS Deal
The Government of Singapore Investment Corporation(GIC) announced it is purchasing 9% stake in Swiss Bank UBS for about $10b. The identity of a second investor, believed to be Saudi, was not disclosed. The rapid Asian growth has helped balloon the size of the Singapore reserves and they are looking for opportunities to invest. The other factor is that the Singaporean wealth is mainly tied to international finance and trade which they would like to support.

China-Morgan Stanley Deal
Chinese government is buying a 9.9% stake for $5b in Morgan Stanley, one of the largest investment banks on Wall Street. China has been accumulating US dollars at an unprecedented rate with its rapidly expanding manufacturing exports to the United States and the rest of the world.

Conclusion
These three deals are likely to spur other, similar deals. As the rapid Asian economic growth and the commodities boom create tremendous wealth in Asia and the Middle East, these regions have a stake in maintaining this phenomenon by making larger investments in their own economies and supporting the consumers in the West.
The Asians and the Middle Easterners are likely to continue this investment/purchase strategy in the foreseeable future in spite of concerns about the growing deficits in the US and the falling value of the US currency. The only uncertainty here is how the US Congress reacts to it.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Unitended Consequence of Charlie Wilson's War

The soon-to-be-released Hollywood movie "Charlie Wilson's War" tells the story of behind-the-scene activities that led to the massive CIA backing of the Afghan resistance against the Soviets in the 1980s. Based on a book of the same title by late George Crile, it focuses on the efforts of a "scandal-prone, womanizing" US Congressman Charlie Wilson and "out-of-favor, blue-collar" CIA operative Gust Avrokotos who both found a willing partner in Gen Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan. Wilson, a congressman from East Texas with almost no Jewish constituents, was a strong supporter of Israel as he saw Israelis as the underdogs surrounded by Arab enemies armed by the Soviets. His support for the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan was motivated by his hatred of communism and the Soviet Union that he saw as the evil empire. That may also be why he ignored any concerns about the unintended consequences of his actions in supporting a strongly religious band of Islamic fighters who disliked western values and culture as much as they hated communism.
George Crile connects the dots from the CIA's supply of weapons and training to the Muslim fighters in Afghanistan to the the fall of the Soviet Union and then the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001, concluding that the terrorism we face today is the unintended consequence of our actions in Afghanistan back in the 80s. Crile starts with this conclusion at the very outset and then spends the rest of the book backing his conclusion with facts and figures he gathered in his research. Having been a producer of CBS 60 Minutes, Crile was well equipped to write such a book. Let's wait and see if this movie does justice to a great story. With the star-studded cast including Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman, it should be a big draw at the box office.



The big question that will continue to loom for Americans and the world is whether we have learned any lessons to avoid even greater and more disastrous but unintended consequences of our current actions in the ongoing "war on terror".

Here's a trailer of this movie:

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Grandchildren of Z.A. Bhutto & Zia-ul-Haq Speak Out

Omar-ul-Haq, grandson of Zia-ul-Haq and Fatima Bhutto, granddaughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto have both written for the op-ed pages of The News, a widely read newspaper in Pakistan. Both of these young people appear to be quite interested, intelligent and articulate, and quite pessimistic about the future of democracy in Pakistan. I can understand their lack of idealism, given the fact that 50% of Pakistan's children are not in schools, but it is a sad state of affairs when the next generation seems ready to throw in the towel. Let's hope the two are not representative of the mainstream of our next generation. Following are the excerpts from their pieces:

Writing for Sunday, Dec 9 issue of the News in Pakistan, Gen Zia's grandson Omar-ul-Haq says:
"I confess that I am torn between the merits of military and democratic
regimes. While I've never been one to stand on the streets and protest
for leaders who are apparently going to save our country, I'm
definitely not in favour of seeing President Musharaff rule our nation
for much longer either. I have also given a lot of thought to
democracy in Pakistan and while it is the ideal solution, I'm still
not sure if I can see an effective democratic government in Pakistan;
a relatively new and developing nation. While I am not necessarily in
favour of a military regime, the question I pose is whether Pakistan
is ready for yet another democratic government or are we Pakistanis
just simply imagining and hoping for the next democratically elected
political figure to come and perform miracles for our nation? As
tragic as it is, most Pakistanis, including the educated elite, are
unaware of the definition of "democracy". Although we understand the
basics -- that officials must be elected by citizens and must gain the
support of the majority of the population -- do we exactly understand
how these officials get the majority of votes? Do the masses even
consider what the past leaders have given them (or should I say have
not given them) before running out on the streets and risking their
lives for them?"

Murtaza Bhutto's daughter Fatima Bhutto writes in the same issue for the News as follows:
"The Sharifs struck a separate deal with El Presidente, so there goes
the PML (the Daughter of the West might also want to explain to her
chums the Sharif brothers why their election papers were rejected on
the grounds that they had been convicted in courts of law, while hers
were accepted-- even though she was convicted by Swiss courts in the
Cotecna corruption case.) The MMA is pretty cosy with the government.
The JUI has survived this whole spell of 'emergency' rule quite well,
they may not have a working deal with the army, but they certainly
have an understanding. So who is opposition exactly? The MQM is allied
with El Presidente. Imran Khan was, and then he wasn't. Then he hated
Nawaz, now he doesn't. Then he called Benazir a crook, now he's told
the Lahore Bar Association that he's super willing to help her drop
her myriad corruption cases if only she'll be a sport and join his
boycott. So, yes, the opposition-- or rather those commonly accepted
as the opposition-- are a morally bankrupt lot of puppeticians. They
go which ever way leads them to power; they're not opposite to
anything-- except ethics and principles. They're not even anti El
Presidente. They're enablers, the lot of them."

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The "High Confidence" National Intelligence Estimate on Iran

High Confidence
The latest US national intelligence estimate says that Iran discontinued its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that it is currently not pursuing such a program. This report validates what the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Iranian Government have both been saying for sometime as the Bush administration has been ratcheting up its hostile rhetoric against Iran, and talking up the "dangers Iran poses to the world". What caught my attention in this report was how the NIE characterized its conclusions regarding Iran as "high confidence". After a report like this, one would expect the neo-cons would re-think the folly of their ways and accept this conclusion. Instead, President Bush, Sen Lieberman, the neo-cons and their supporters such as the Wall Street Journal have started spinning the report in various ways. The spin ranges from claiming " the need for continued US and international pressure on Iran" to outright rejection of the NIE as inaccurate or naive. Among others, Michael Ledeen asserts, since "you can't prove a negative", the NIE must be wrong. Frank Gaffney goes on to say that, since no one "outside a small circle in Iran has certain knowledge about the state of nuclear weapons program", therefore "we had better be prepared to use military force". In other words, the facts do not matter when it comes to their personal animosity toward Iran as a member of the "Axis of Evil".

International Isolation
The initial response from the Bush administration indicates that they will continue their efforts to build international support for sanctions and even military action against Iran. Russia and China have already expressed their opposition and the EU members are clearly rethinking their future course of action. I think any arm-twisting by the US at this point would be counterproductive and could lead to international isolation of the US rather than Iran. No country, even the US, can afford to be isolated in this day and age.

Iranian Reaction
In terms of what will happen next,a lot would depend on how the Iranians choose to behave after the NIE report. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has a way of engaging in inflammatory rhetoric, making even his friends and neighbors feel uncomfortable and insecure. Iranian President's statements about "wiping Israel off the face of the earth" not only contravene the UN charter but also invite hostility of the world. He would be well-advised to try and build confidence in his neighborhood with conciliatory gestures toward all of his neighbors and the broader Middle East. Such a policy would serve the Iranian people well and save the US and the world from another disastrous misadventure by the United States.

The Future
There seems to be almost universal agreement in the US and the rest of the world that the Bush foriegn policy has been short-sighted and counterproductive. The excessive use of the military power has been disastrous for the US and its relations with most of the rest of the world. As the US goes into the 2008 general elections, there are hopes that the end of the Bush era would bring greater emphasis on the use of diplomacy and soft power by the US. However, one can not take this for granted. The foreign policy statements by the front-runners of both parties do not seem to be particularly reassuring. Let's hope better sense will prevail once the elections are over and the reality of governing sets in for the new leader of the free world.

Friday, November 30, 2007

NEDians Convention 2007 Banquet Video

Better late than never. Here's the video of the NEDians Convention 2007 Banquet held on Sept 8, 2007 in San Jose, CA.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Human Rights Abuses in Pakistan: Is it Really War On Terror?

Here's a video that captures the roots of the widespread anger that led to the current crisis in Pakistan. It documents violations of basic human rights being committed in the name of security that are fueling more resentment and possibly terror. I wonder what has happened to the battle for the hearts and minds of the mainstream Muslim majority to beat the extremists? Is it time acknowledge the current tactics are ill-conceived? Is it time for Musharraf and his US backers to rethink the whole strategy?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Politicians And Dictators Without Stature

I am sharing this piece written by Dr. Samia Altaf with you. At its core, this piece reflects much of my thinking but I couldn't have articulated it better than Dr. Altaf has. Kudos to Dr. Samia Altaf.

Helping Pakistan

By Samia Altaf

Pakistan, labeled the most dangerous country in the world, with loose nukes and
angry jihadis, is unraveling. It needs help. To be helped it needs to be
understood. Urging a transition to "true democracy," after the fourth military
dictator has suspended the constitution for the second time and sacked a
judiciary that dared to question his legitimacy, betrays either naiveté or
disinterest. Both will hurt in the long run, if there is a long run.

Understand that there has not been much difference between military and
civilian rule in Pakistan. When unreal hopes are betrayed by one, the other is
accorded a relieved welcome. Four painful cycles ought to be enough to make
that clear. The pundits wringing their hands at the ills of dictatorship today
are the same who saw huge silver linings when the fourth dictator, the
"enlightened moderate," came along to clean the democratic mess.

Understand that both dictators and democrats have attacked the judiciary in the
same way, both have pandered to the religious fundamentalists in the same way,
both have harassed political opponents in the same way, both have enriched
themselves in the same way.

Understand why this is so. Understand that the vast majority of the 160 million
people have gained nothing since they were "liberated"—not from those who
founded the country, not from the democrats, not from the dictators, not from
the priests. Half of them are still illiterate, a third are below the poverty
line, many still die from the lack of clean water, and many still live in
another century. Any surprise they are not active participants in the struggle
for "true democracy?"

Understand that the forgotten have no expectations of political equality or
fundamental rights from their rulers, be they dictators or democrats. No
political party has bothered to make that the central thrust of its campaign
and one that did in the past only abused it cynically. All the leading
democrats are ever ready to ditch the aspirations of their supporters and cut a
deal with the dictator of the day. It is an easier route to the top.

Understand that in a deeply unequal society without individual rights, and with
extreme dependence of the many on the few, the functions of political
representation and social protection are inseparable. Understand that the
natural state of such a society is one of patronage. Understand that the
unprotected and powerless are as rational as anyone else—when forced to
participate in an electoral game, they vote for the most powerful patron with
the strongest links to the ruler. Understand that the preyed upon want their
protectors to be on the winning side first and represent their political
ideology second. Ideological somersaults and shifting loyalties matter but
have to be accepted pragmatically in the real world that exists for them. Count
the number of political representatives who have been in every party that has
ever ruled the country. Watch how high they hold their heads; watch how much
they are sought after.

Understand this is still very much a monarchical society in which the ruler, in
whatever garb, believes he rules by divine right Understand the culture in
which every ruler, legitimate or illegitimate, begins to see visions of being
anointed by the Almighty to "save the nation." The more incompetent and
unprepared the chosen one, the greater the proof of divine purpose. The third
dictator (the "meek") used to say, in so many words, with awe and humility:
"Look at me, what is my worth? Would I be here were it not for the will of
Allah?"

The leading prose writer of the country called such leaders "men without
stature." Calling them pygmies would have landed him in jail for abusive
language. And why does the Almighty continue to find such pygmies? Because He
is putting His chosen people to His severest test! Understand this is an
environment rife with such fatalistic beliefs.

Understand this is a society at a stage of development where political parties
are personal affinity groups with lifetime leaders—the leading democrat is
chairperson for life of a party she inherited from her father. Understand this
is a banana republic in which the "best" president and the most "appropriate"
prime minister are determined not by the people but by meta-patrons abroad.
Understand this is a place where a prime minister can be parachuted from above
one day and be consigned to the doghouse the next. Understand this is system in
which the king's courtiers can switch loyalties any minute and have to be
continuously bribed. Count the size of the cabinet; compare that to the output.
And, nary a protest from any side, nary a protest on any count.

So what does a transition to "true democracy" mean in a situation like this?
Understand that representative democracy is not going to emerge any time soon
by pressure from below. Democracy will be the name given to a sharing of power
amongst the elites holding the wealth, the guns, and the controls over rules
and rituals. And, barring anything different, this democracy will go the way of
previous democracies, each morphing from "true" to "sham," each leaving the
country more wounded and vulnerable than before. Has this not been the story of
the last sixty years?

How then can we get something out of the elite democracy that we will
inevitably inherit? Not by imagining a battle won, not by wishing for some
ideal unfettered democracy, but by working towards a system of some checks and
balances that limits the accumulation of power and the abuse of office by
ruling groups, a system that advances human rights and access to justice, and
one that enlarges the space for hearing the voices from below.

By some quirk, this was a scenario beginning to unfold with the assertion of
independence by the judiciary, by its questioning of arbitrary executive
authority, by its taking up the causes of ordinary citizens. This was the first
institutional development in over sixty years that promised a meaningful step
towards good governance in the interest of the ordinary citizens. And even
before one could be sure it was for real, the fourth dictator (the
"enlightened") smothered it, quickly and ruthlessly, risking even his carefully
varnished image of moderation in the process.

De Tocqueville said it long ago: "Unable to do without judges, it [the
government] likes at least to choose the judges itself and always to keep them
under its hand; that is to say, it puts an appearance of justice, rather than
justice itself, between the government and the private person." Pakistanis know
why. Governance in Pakistan is allergic to accountability. Pakistanis know now
what has to change.

So, going back to "free and fair" elections, back to "true democracy," as
promised by a dictator, ruling under an emergency, to a bunch of democrats
ready to cut a deal, is not going to do much good. It will be very old wine in
very old bottles. Well-wishers of Pakistan, at home and abroad, need to grasp
the one promising development in an otherwise sorry history. They have to agree
on a one-point agenda—the Supreme Court has to be restored; the independence of
the judiciary has to be guaranteed. This is the only leverage we have at the
moment, the one issue on which a broad coalition can unite. This is where the
fight for "true democracy" begins. Whomsoever is next anointed by God would
need to be put to this test of sincerity. Otherwise, the moment and the opening
would be lost. Those who are fighting would need to go on fighting.

This unpublished appeal, addressed to friends of Pakistan, at home and abroad,
is dedicated to the students at the Lahore University of Management Sciences
(LUMS).


Dr. Samia Altaf is the 2007-2008 Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson
International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC.

Is 90% Good Enough?

In response my earlier post on the role of Justice Chaudry and Pakistani Judiciary, I got an interesting comment from Khalid A in London, UK. I'd like to share it with you as follows:

"I wrote the following, as early as March 2007
Knowing When to Stop ( Dawn 27.3.07 & Frontier Post 25.3.07)
I often wonder why our nation manages to extract defeat from the jaws
of victory. I am not talking of cricket.
I was able to identify at least 3 important historical moments when
history of Pakistan would have changed, had we known when to stop, and
bank our profits.

1. In 1969, an agitation for restoration of democracy was launched by
Air Marshal Asghar Khan and others against the Ayub regime. It was no
mean achievement that the all powerful military government was really
shaken. Ayub Khan offered to hold elections within 6 months and to
hand over power to the elected leaders. But Air Marshal Asghar Khan
was thumping the table and demanded immediate hand over of power.
There was no elected civilian leader who could have taken over
immediately. The only person who could take over was Gen Yahya Khan,
and he did. Air Marshal Asghar Khan and his colleagues did not know
when to stop. Having achieved 90 percent of their goals, they tried
for 100 percent and lost everything.
2. In 1977, the combined opposition launched a campaign against Mr
Bhutto. It was no mean achievement that the all powerful Bhutto was
ready to meet 90 percent of the demands of his opponents. But they
wanted 100 percent – Bhutto must go immediately! Bhutto did go, but it
was Zia who took over. Our politicians in the opposition did not know
when to stop!
3. In 1997, Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah had the Prime Minister Nawaz
Sharif in the dock. It was no mean achievement for a judge in a third
world country to be able to summon the Prime Minister. Even in the
West, such a situation would be quite remarkable. The Chief Justice
had achieved 90 percent of the goals and could have accepted an
apology. But he wanted a hundred percent victory. The rest is history.
Alas he did not know when to stop!

Today we have another watershed moment in our history. Will the
agitators know when to stop? Will they accept 90 percent victory or
must they lose everything to achieve 100 per cent? The smell of
victory is quite intoxicating and it blurs one's judgement. Will they
extract defeat from the jaws of victory? Will the nation face a coup
a-la-GHQ?"

I also wrote more recently:

What Supreme Court could have done. (Frontier Post 17 nov 2007)

I wrote on the subject in March 2007, under the title "Knowing When to
Stop" ( Frontier Post 27th March 2007). It is very tempting for me to
say " I told you!", but the events are too traumatic for me to do
that.

I said then that our nation always extracts defeat from the jaws of
victory, because we do not learn when to stop. This happened in 1969,
1977 and 1997. Having achieved 90 per cent of our goals, we do not
stop and consolidate our position. We go on fighting to achieve total
humiliation of the opponent. Instead of a 100 per cent victory, we end
up with total defeat.

This time, the Supreme Court had asserted itself and would have had a
major role to play in our national affairs, in future years, had the
Court avoided the path of confrontation. This should have been
done,not under any pressure, but in the supreme national interest. The
Court could have declared that the President's election would be
valid, but with the following conditions:
1. Gen Musharraf will give up the Army uniform BEFORE he takes the new
oath as President. In this way Gen Musharraf will be a civilian when
he takes the oath.
2. Gen Kiyani will be sworn in as Army Chief, in the same ceremony,
immediately after the Presidential oath.
3. Gen Musharraf must seek a new vote of confidence from the next
assemblies, within a specified time. If the vote of confidence is not
granted, the office of the President will become vacant.

Alas, it was not to be!

Khalid A
London UK



This comment reminded of the lyrics of a Kenny Rogers song:

"You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table
There'll be time enough for countin'
When the dealin's done"

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Popular Independent Media Stifled in Pakistan

Popular TV channels GeoTV and ARY Digital have been forced off the airwaves. It is a very sad period indeed. It seems that the glimmer of hope for a civil Pakistan created by independent TV channels has been extinguished at least for the moment. Looking back at what has transpired in the last few days, we all need to learn a lot about the exercise of freedom, responsibility and the spirit of compromise necessary to nurture and sustain any hope for democracy. Sadly, the spirit of compromise so essential for democracy has been missing in the behavior of the judiciary, the media and the politicians in Pakistan.
In addition to displaying graphic images of violence and mayhem on the streets, GEO and its various commentators ( Hamid Mir, Shahid Masood, others) went out of their way to take strong anti-government positions and failed to play the proverbial "devil's advocate" role in panels consisting entirely of anti-Musharraf panelists. Since the imposition of emergency by Musharraf, Geo abandoned any semblance of objectivity in their reporting. I know I am sad about the closure of my favorite channel and I can understand Geo TV commentators anger at being shut-down but they also need to reflect on their own behavior.
When I see Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and their various allies being presented by our "esteemed" journalists as pro-democracy leaders spouting their support for media freedom, it reminds me that most people in Pakistan have very short memories, and even shorter-term horizons. It seems that all the sins of Bhutto and Sharif in their previous two terms as prime ministers never happened. There is not even a pretense of the two "stalwarts" as being "born-again", acknowledging their prior sins. Recycling these failed leaders will not bring democracy, just more of the corruption and incompetence we have seen from them in the past. The elections will simply become a means to legitimize their governments as elected and democratic.
The real democracy, with all of its institutions properly working, is a goal that requires a lot more patience, tolerance and longer term thinking and sustained effort to succeed. The propensity in Pakistan to become instant "heroes" and "martyrs" by refusal to compromise as shown by our judges, lawyers, media, politicians and Musharraf is not in the best long term interest of our nation. We can do with fewer heroes and martyrs and seriously need wiser, more pragmatic and sincere leaders to move toward a durable democracy that serves our people. Unless we reflect on the mess that currently exists and change our ways, we will be condemned to permanent chaos and ultimately self-destruct. As Churchill described it once: "Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried". Let's choose a path to democracy because the alternatives are far worse.
As far as the independent media are concerned, they have a very significant role to play in this march toward democracy. I do hope to see GEO and ARY back on the air very very soon.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Corruption in Pakistan: Can the West help end it?

As I saw the recent reports from Munich about Siemens pleading guilty to bribing politicians and officials in Nigeria, Russia and Libya, it reminded me that Siemens is a large player in Pakistan. Has any one looked into Siemens engaging in similar corrupt practices in Pakistan?

And, how about the behavior of other American and European companies operating in Pakistan? There are definitely laws on the books in the West such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in the United States. All ethics classes taught in the West in management schools and company training cover this topic. However, the question is whether these laws are really enforced and how often are the companies held accountable? Or do they simply rely on the foreign governments to report misbehavior? It would be a fantasy to expect the officials and politicians on the receiving end to report incidents of bribery as they are the main beneficiaries. But I think the German, French, US and other western governments and other developed nations who claim higher moral positions should be cracking down on these reprehensible practices just to enforce their own laws and live up to their own higher standards. While it may be argued and it is like putting the shoe on the wrong foot, I see it as the only hope we have of containing such widespread corruption in developing nations that is robbing their people blind.
Looking at Pakistan, there have been serious allegations and at least preliminary evidence to suggest that illegal payments were made to Bhutto-Zardari controlled fronts by companies in France, Switzerland and Poland. There was some action pursued in Switzerland at the request of Pakistani Government under Pervez Musharraf. However, France and Poland have not pursued the charges of corruption involving their companies in Pakistan. The only explanation I have heard is that the FCPA style laws did not exist in France prior to the year 2000. It has made me wonder whether there is an inherent conflict when it comes to European or American governments taking action against their own companies. After all, there are jobs in these countries that depend on exports to the developing nations. Would they rather be pristine in their efforts in enforcing their laws even if it means losing business and jobs to the Japanese, Koreans and others?

Upon searching the Internet, I found at least one report in Forbes magazine regarding Siemens in Pakistan:

"The World Bank is looking at an electrical power plant project in Pakistan concluded in the mid-1990s, which was built and later partially maintained by Siemens and financed by the World Bank.The World Bank is concerned that Siemens' costs for the project may have been overpriced.Siemens is currently engulfed in a slush-fund scandal, in which prosecutors allege that managers siphoned off hundreds of millions of euros in company money to obtain foreign contracts.Siemens' own internal investigation uncovered 420 mln euros in suspicious payments going back to 1999 which may have been made to obtain telecommunications equipment contracts in a range of foreign countries.The Bavarian State Prosecutors office has said the sum is estimated in the triple-digit millions of euros."

These reports beg the following questions: Do they represent only the tip of the iceberg of political and official corruption in the developing world? Are there more such investigations and prosecutions on the horizon? I certainly hope there are. In my view, serious action by the Western prosecutors seems to be an effective way to reduce the scourge of rampant corruption in developing nations such as Pakistan.



Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pakistan: What's Next?

Over the last few weeks, the US government has been making various statements about the political situation in Pakistan. There's a lot of talk about "tough messages" and "restoring democracy" in Pakistan. However, I believe Benazir Bhutto and Pervez Musharraf have both been severely damaged by the open and repeated statements of support by the Bush administration. In my humble opinion, this is likely to backfire just like it did in Palestine when US threw its support behind Mahmood Abbas. Average Pakistanis may not be the most well-informed and educated people but they can see this US intervention for what it is: An overt attempt to install US favorites in power. If relatively free and fair elections are held as planned in Jan 08, I see a hung parliament at best with PPP/MQM in Sind, PML(N) and PML(Q) in Punjab and MMA in NWFP/Baluchistan as the winners. The overt US support may, in fact, enhance the popularity of the parties not seen to be supported by the US and increase their strength in Parliament. Given this scenario, no one can take for granted the post of the prime minister with this set up. Gen Musharraf can still influence the outcome in his favor if he plays his cards right even in the face of free and fair elections. The one big unknown is the extent of US influence in Pakistani military if the US decides to dump Musharraf. If the US gets Pakistani military brass to overthrow Musharraf, then all bets are off.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

British Reporter Calls Newsweek Cover Story Absurd

Is Pakistan the Most Dangerous Nation? BBC's Hugh Sykes, now traveling in Pakistan, vehemently disagrees. Here's a quote from his story on BBC Radio: " The notion that Pakistan is more dangerous than Iraq is absurd. Until recently suicide bombs, murder, and kidnapping were routine in Iraq. And there is no way I would do there what I have just done in Pakistan: take a holiday."

Sykes rented a car in Islamabad and headed out onto the partially completed M2 motorway that will eventually connect Lahore (near the Indian border) with Peshawar (the last city on the road to the Khyber Pass and Afghanistan).

But he found the motorways boring, so he left the M2 and re-joined the ancient Grand Trunk Road, which links most of the main towns of northern Pakistan.


As he saw it: "For much of the route it is lined with eucalyptus trees, their almost-autumn leaves and silvery bark shining in the clear October sun as I drove along."

Sykes says: "Driving in Pakistan is fast and sometimes chaotic, but not competitive.
They even hoot politely. And one great danger at home you hardly ever have to contend with in Pakistan is drunk drivers and people with concentration blurred by hangovers."

The conclusions that Sykes reaches are clearly in sharp contrast to all the sensational negative coverage you see in Pakistani and Western media on a regular basis showing Pakistan as a dangerous, unwelcoming place. I generally do not believe in conspiracy theories, but sometimes it seems like a conspiracy against the people of Pakistan with the participation of Pakistan's local media. Not only is this conspiracy depriving our people of the benefits of more international tourism, trade and commerce, but it is also painting all of Pakistan with the same broad-brush of extremism and fanaticism.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Is Benazir Bhutto the Chosen One?

In an interesting NY Times story of Nov 11, 2007 about Benazir Bhutto, a friend of BB is quoted as saying: "She believes she is the chosen one, that she is the daughter of Bhutto and everything else is secondary". Times goes on to say: "Ms. Bhutto calls herself chairperson for life of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, a seemingly odd title in an organization based on democratic ideals and one she has acknowledged quarreling over with her mother, Nusrat Bhutto, in the early 1990s".
Such a sense of entitlement is representative of her feudal thinking and it offers no comfort to those looking to bring any semblance of democracy to Pakistan with BB as the head of a civilian government.
As to her popularity, Times story goes on as follows: "Saturday night at the diplomatic reception, Ms. Bhutto showed how she could aggrandize. Three million people came out to greet her in Karachi on her return last month, she said, calling it Pakistan’s “most historic” rally. In fact, crowd estimates were closer to 200,000, many of them provincial party members who had received small amounts of money to make the trip." And yet, Washington and London back her as their choice to lead a "secular, democratic government". I fear that it is more likely to be just a repeat of her last two terms as prime minister of highly corrupt and imperious governments with rampant lawlessness that characterized them.
The understandable outcry against Musharraf's emergency rule and a real yearning for "democracy" may yet again bring severe disappointment to people of Pakistan. Unfortunately, there seem to be no good options for this nation of 160 million people. I have a feeling that any change now may either be worse than the status quo or more of the same.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Role of Justice Choudhri and Pakistani Judiciary

The Transparency International surveys indicate that Pakistani Judiciary is the third most corrupt institution after Police and Customs. And there are very broad and sweeping laws permitting the judges to hold any one in contempt of court with few, if any, legal and constitutional mechanisms to hold the judges accountable.
While recognizing that Pakistani Judiciary does not have an illustrious record, I absolutely admire CJ Choudhri for his courage in standing up to a dictator. Although we know he is no angel (he was sworn in as CJ by accepting the last PCO by Musharraf when Justice Wajeehuddin and others refused to do so), he set a new example by refusing to give in to Musharraf. However, I fault him for lack of wisdom in dealing with the real issues of restoring democracy after his return to the bench. Instead of focusing on the key issues of restoration of democracy, he and his cohorts on the bench initiated more than 100 suo moto actions, unheard of anywhere in the world.
Supreme Courts in most democratic countries are very selective about the cases
they hear. They do not dissipate their energies on trivial matters, and leave these for the lower courts to adjudicate.
There is also the concept of separation of powers in all democracies. Executive, legislature and judiciary are considered co-equal branches each with its own powers. However, Justice Choudhri & Co were bent upon taking over the executive powers by ordering around the bureaucracy in routine matters of traffic, and other law and order issues. I think Choudhri had a historic opportunity to help transition power from military to a democratic government which he bungled badly by his aggressive and vindictive behavior. Instead of attempting to overthrow
Musharraf by confrontation, he would have been better off in ensuring elections for a new assembly and new civilian government. Now, I'm afraid the lawyers may be alone in this fight without real serious backing by either the political parties or the ordinary people on the streets.
It is understandable that most of the average Pakistanis are quite cynical about the prospects for real democracy that addresses their issues and concerns. It is this cynicism born of
actual experience of the people that is so toxic for the Pakistani society.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Centers of Power in Pakistan: The Feudals, The Military And The Clergy

As a student of Pakistani history and based on watching the ground reality over the past several decades, I have understood that there are three main centers of real power in Pakistan: The Feudal/Tribal Lords, The Military and The Clergy.
The power of the feudal/tribal lords comes from their vast land-holdings and the traditional fear and respect that peasants/followers show them, the power of the military emanates from the guns and the power of the clergy is derived from people's deep religiosity. The civilian "democratic" governments in Pakistan have generally been dominated by feudal/tribal leaders with support from the clergy. In all democratic elections, the winners have been the well-known landholding families in various parts of Punjab and Sindh and the tribal/religious leaders in NWFP and Baluchistan that form the so-called civilian democratic governments. The military governments have been led by generals with support from the clergy. The clergy has, therefore, played a significant role in who controls the reigns of power in Pakistan.
So the two most important alliances that have controlled Pakistan at various times are the feudal/clergy alliance and the military/clergy alliance. The people that usually constitute the backbone in most really democratic societies are the educated middle class which has been largely absent from any participation in the democratic process in Pakistan. It is believed that one of the reasons India has been much more successful in establishing and maintaining democratic institutions has to do with their land reform effort undertaken by Prime Minister Nehru immediately after independence in 1947. On the other hand, the continued power and dominance of the feudal class in Pakistan has had the most pernicious effect on any attempt to produce a large, well-educated middle class in Pakistan. The lack of any serious human development is largely the result of the big landowners and tribal leaders refusing any improvement in their people. The lack of human development has also led to the inordinate sway that the clergy has over people who accept their ill-conceived notions about Islam without question.
Unless there is a fundamental change in Pakistani society that focuses on human development and reduces the privilege of these three centers of power, we are likely to see the real power continue to be concentrated in these three centers that excludes the real people of Pakistan.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Emergency in Pakistan: A Setback for Democracy

While the imposition of emergency rule by Gen Musharraf is not unexpected, it is clearly a setback for democracy in Pakistan. Once again, we are faced with an unfortunate situation but I hope this time it's only a temporary setback in our journey toward democracy. While Musharraf is largely to blame for this situation, the responsibility for it must be shared by our incompetent and corrupt politicians, an unwise and unnecessarily aggressive judiciary and the radical religious element bent upon imposing its will through violence. While we watch the events unfold, let us act rationally and hope and pray that good sense will prevail in Pakistan to allow an early return to a peaceful and progressive democratic rule in the country we all love. Amen.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Out-of-the-Box Thinking by Muslim Students at Berkeley

I was discussing the recent Newsweek story about Pakistan with my daughter Michelle who is a sophomore at UC Berkeley and a member of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) on campus. I explained to her my feelings about Newsweek's bias and about some of the reactions by my friends. In response, she told me about what happened at UC Berkeley last week where an anti-Muslim group was having "Islamo-Fascist Week" and how MSA responded to it. Initially, when the MSA members met to discuss how to respond, there were a few angry voices demanding a confrontational approach by disrupting the activities of "Islamo-Fascists Week" organizers. Fortunately, however, the saner elements prevailed and MSA decided to respond by organizing "Peace, Not Prejudice" week on campus. "Peace, Not Prejudice" was joined by 30 other student groups and turned out to be a great success. The "Peace, Not Prejudice" coalition success completely overshadowed the "Islamo-Fascist Week" organizers. Even the UC Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau threw his support behind the MSA sponsored events.

For full story, please visit The Berkeley Daily Planet.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Is Pakistan the Most Dangerous Nation in the World?

The cover of the Oct 29, 2007 issue of Newsweek has a picture of bearded, young, angry Pakistanis with their fists punching the air. The caption says: The Most Dangerous Nation in the World Isn't Iraq. It's Pakistan.

The crux of the argument it offers is captured in a quote from Bruce Riedel, former senior director for South Asia on the US National Security Council. Here's the quote: "If you were to look for where Al Qaeda is going to find its bomb, it's right in their backyard- in Pakistan."

If you are curious to find out more, here's a link to the Newsweek story: http://www.newsweek.com/id/57485

Needless to say that our greatest threats come from within our own Pakistani society, but we also face potential threats of preemptive action from the international community (including our neighbors such as China and India) fearing for their own security.

This Newsweek story, in my view, represents only the tip of the iceberg of growing concern in the West and our own neighborhood about developments in Pakistan. It's in our best interest to pay attention and do our part to stem the rising tide of religious fanaticism as manifested by the scourge of suicide bombings killing large numbers of our fellow Muslim Pakistanis.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Indo-American Elected First Non-white Governor of Louisiana

Recently, I talked about IAC, the Indo-American Council and its inaugural conference attended by many elected officials of Indian-origin across the United States. Well, there is one new significant addition: Bobby Jindal.

Here's a BBC report that caught my attention:
The US state of Louisiana has elected its first non-white governor, Bobby Jindal, since the 1870s.Mr Jindal, 36, also becomes the youngest US governor and the first Indian-American to head a state.The Republican took 54% of the vote to win outright over his nearest rival, Democrat Walter Boasso, who got 18%.

I see it as good news for aspiring second-generation
non-white Americans seeking public service positions as a career option.
Congratulations to Bobby and his family.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Are people of color less intelligent?


The statement last week by Nobel Laureate Geneticist Dr. James Watson regarding Africa as a laggard has slightly re-opened the taboo subject of the link between race and intelligence.
Here's what The Times of London reported: "The scientist, who won the Nobel prize for his part in discovering the structure of DNA, was quoted in an interview in The Sunday Times saying he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really.”
When I saw this, my first reaction was: Does Watson have a history of racist thinking? Like another Nobel Laureate and semiconductor pioneer William Shockley? Or he just naively spoke his mind without realizing the consequences? Well, Dr. Watson is no stranger to controversy. He has previously argued that stupidity is a disease that should be cured, and that "it would be great" if women were genetically engineered to be pretty
Nonetheless, I decided to search for "testing" that Dr. Watson refers to. And here's what I found:

Richard Lynn, "Race Differences in Intelligence: An Evolutionary Analysis" 2006 Table 16.2 (indigenous populations) Estimated average IQ
Arctic Peoples 91
East Asians 105
Europeans 100
Native Americans (north & south) 86
Southern Asian & Northern Africans 84
Bushmen (southern Africa) 54
Africans (subsaharan) 67
Native Australians (aboriginals) 62
Southeast Asians 87
Pacific Islanders 85

Apparently, this is a compilation of data from "credible sources" and published in respected journals such as American Journal of Psychology. The neutrality and factual accuracy of these studies and data have been questioned by many researchers and scientists. The most common criticisms are that these studies and tests are developed in the European context and they measure mainly problem-solving capability and skills.
For those who are curious, Pakistanis are included along with Indians in Southern Asia with an average IQ of 84, about 16 points below Europeans and almost 21 points behind East Asians including Chinese, Japanese and Koreans.

On the question of nature versus nurture, here are some data on minorities tested in North America and Europe:















This data indicates that the context and the environment do have an impact on the IQ test results but they do not completely erase the difference. However, the debate continues with lots of questions as to the design, the content and the bias in IQ tests.
What do you think? Please comment.

Related Links:

Mena Pakistan

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

PakAlumni Worldwide has 500 members three weeks after launch

I launched PakAlumni Worldwide just three weeks ago after the successful conclusion of NEDians Convention 2007. PakAlumni Worldwide is a social network to specifically address the needs of Pakistani university alumni and students by providing them with an international online platform to connect, share and collaborate.
A brief visit to www.pakalumni.com with its various discussion forums would quickly show you how it is different from Orkut or Linked-In or Facebook. In addition to sharing culturally-appropriate photos, videos, music and blogging, its discussion forums range from mentoring students and young alums on career choices, higher education abroad to alumni giving and entrepreneurship. The instant popularity can be assessed by the fact that it reached more than 500 members within three weeks without any serious promotion effort. When it reaches its full potential, I expect it to serve tens of thousands, even millions of Pakistanis around the world by bringing them together to connect, share, collaborate and socialize on an international scale.
The Pakistani diaspora is huge, successful and powerful. It can be galvanized to exert a strong, positive influence in shaping Pakistani society for the benefit of all Pakistanis and our friends around the world. I have big dreams for this effort and I remain optimistic that these dream are quite achievable.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Indo-American Council, an Indian lobby in the United States

Last Saturday on October 6, 2007, I was invited to attend the inaugural conference of Indo-American Council (IAC) by my Indian friend, Dr. Hasan Kamil, a Silicon Valley venture investor and a graduate of Aligarh Muslim University, MIT and Berkeley. Dr. Hasan Kamil's wife, Talat, an accomplished entrepreneur in her own right, was a co-chair of the conference along with Vinod Dham who I have known as a highly accomplished individual and as a former colleague at Intel. Kamil ,Vinod and I are also charter members of TIE, the Indus entrepreneurs organization. The event was held at the Indian Cultural Center (ICC), Silicon Valley, CA. The ICC is housed in a very impressive new building with excellent facilities including a large well-equipped auditorium, classrooms, conference rooms, a fitness center, a snack bar with an ample lobby for schmoozing, politicking and deal-making . The agenda, the speakers and the turn-out was even more impressive than the venue. A lot of the work in organizing this event was done by Saima, daughter of Kamil and Talat and a senior at Stanford along with other young, rising Indians.

The first keynote was by Steve Westley, a wealthy former EBay executive and the former controller of California state with ambitions to become governor or senator. It was obvious that he has had close connections with the Indian community during his election campaigns. He talked about the success of the IIT system which has produced a large number of very successful entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. These IIT alumni have produced a lot of wealth and now ready to turn the financial strength into political clout for the Indo-American community. He described India as sharing the values of embracing diversity and democracy with the United States. In addition to the normal pandering, he advised the audience to follow the example of the Jewish community and their tremendous success in the United States. He compared the ICC to the JCC (Jewish Community Center) in Palo Alto and other parts of the United States. ICCs combined with IAC will serve as a vehicle for the Indian community to get involved in public service and the political process in the same way that JCCs have done by joining forces with AIPAC, the Isareli lobby. Then he went on to elaborate on the political "clout" of AIPAC in the United States and talked about how Indians can take "a leaf from AIPAC's playbook".

The next speaker was Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco. Newsom also talked about India's embrace of broad religious and ethnic diversity and spoke of Gandhi as one of his heroes. He said" Tolerating diversity is not enough. We must embrace and celebrate it" as is done in San Francisco and preached and practiced by Gandhi.

Then there was a panel discussions including elected officials of Indian origin in various cities and states of the United States. They were quite inspirational in their description of how they succeeded in various parts of the United States including the heartland such as the mid-western
states of Kansas and Missouri where very few Indians or minorities live. I heard interesting anecdotes such as one by Swati Dandekar elected to the Iowa legislature as a Democrat in a heavily Republican district. She went knocking on doors to ask for votes. As she knocked on one of the doors, a man came out and told her he does not vote for women. "Well, my opponent is also a woman." She said in a heavy Indian accent. He responded, "then I'll skip voting." Later on, he had a problem and called Dandekar and asked "Do you remember me." She did and then helped him out by solving his problem and he became a convert. She was re-elected for her seat.

I didn't stay after this session but the roster of speakers in the afternoon was very impressive as well. They had Barak Obama via video link, US Representatives Lofgren and Honda in person.

As the Indians take a leaf from the Jewish playbook, so should we as Pakistani-Americans. So far Pakistanis' focus has been on building only mosques. We should continue building mosques but we need to expand our focus to include building Pakistani-American community centers and participating in the political process as Pakistani-Americans. A modest beginning has been made by the efforts of NEDian Asghar Aboobaker to inaugurate Pakistani-American Cultural Center in Sunnyvale, CA. I think our second generation of Pakistani-Americans need to be inspired to go beyond the work done by the first generation in the public service arena. I signed up and had my daughters Amber and Michelle participate to be inspired by the attendees at this conference.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Alan Greenspan's book tour

Former Federal Reserve Chief Alan Greenspan has been promoting his book "The Age of Turbulence" for the last couple of weeks. Among other things, he is talking about his reasons for supporting the Iraq invasion and his assessment that the Chinese stock market is a bubble waiting to burst. On the question of his support for Iraq invasion, he explains that he was convinced Saddam Husain would block the Strait of Hormuz if not removed from power. I think he's just flat wrong on this reasoning.Other than the US or Europeans, the only power that had the capacity to close the Strait is Iran. The removal of Saddam has, in fact, strengthened Iran significantly and made it more likely that the Strait would be closed in the event of war in the Persian Gulf involving Iran.
On the question of Shanghai bubble, he is more qualified than most but I still think he is wrong. The Chinese economy is very strong and growing rapidly. China is the factory of the world and it is developing a very large consumer class of its own with a pent-up demand not too different from the US consumer demand right after the WW II. So the Chinese markets are backed up a strong and rapidly growing economy to justify high valuation of its stock.

Friday, September 21, 2007

NEDians Convention 2007 Video

Here's a video with some of the highlights of NEDians Convention 2007 held on Sept 8, 2007 in Silicon Valley, CA. It's courtesy of NEDian Ali Hasan Cemendtaur.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

NEDians Convention 2007

NEDians Convention 2007 was held this year on Sept, 2007 in Silicon Valley, CA. It was very gratifying for the NED Alumni of Silicon Valley Steering Committee and me personally as the Chair to see a tremendous response from the NED alums in all parts of the US, Canada and Pakistan.
The attendance was almost 400 people exceeding our expectations. There were keynote speeches, panel discussions and a banquet followed by stand-up comedy and music entertainment. Dr. Shamsul Haq, the Pro VC of NED, represented the Vice Chancellor Mr. Abul Kalam. Here's a recorded video message to the convention by the Vice Chancellor:


Find more videos like this on NEDians Worldwide

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Pakistan Day Celebration in Silicon Valley, CA

Pakistan Day was celebrated today at Baylands Park in Sunnyvale, CA under the auspices of PACC, Pakistan American Cultural Center. PACC is a newly formed group in the bay area led by an NEDian Asghar Aboobaker, Farrukh Shah Khan and others. This was quite a celebration with food, flags, music and games. A job well done for a start. I took the opportunity to go along with my family to join the fun and celebration and promote NED Convention 2007. Here are a few pics I'm sharing with you:

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Haq Family in Niagra, Canada

I took sometime off with the family in Canada and attended a family wedding as the summer approaches to a close. I also used the opportunity to meet NEDians and promote the Nedians convention in Sept in SAn Jose. Here are a few pics to share:

Friday, August 10, 2007

Do you know the way to San Jose?

Well, if you don't, please visit www.nedians.org asap. No procrastination, no excuses, if you really want to be a part of the largest gathering of NEDians anywhere outside of Karachi in 2007. If you are an NEDian, this is a unique opportunity to celebrate the NEDian in you, the rich heritage of NED and genuine pride in your accomplishments and the achievements of your friends in the high-tech valley in California. Show up and be counted! Sign-up on line and we'll show the way to San Jose. Be there Sept 8, 2007.
Riaz

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

NED UNiversity Alumni Convention 2007

NED Alumni of Silicon Valley, CA are celebrating the illustrious history and the rich heritage of our alma mater on Sept 8, 2007 in San Jose, CA. I am very proud to be one such alumnus enthusiastically helping organize this historic event, a first in the high-tech capital of the world, which is now home to hundreds of NEDians. NEDians have made a strong contribution to the development of this valley, its economy and its reputation of innovation around the world. Yours truly is proud to have made his contribution as the lead designer of the Intel 80386 microprocessor and his contribution to Pentium processor/software development and as an entrepreneur and cofounder of two high-tech startups. Please visit www.nedians.org to learn more about NED and NEDians in the high-tech valley. This event is open to both NEDians and non-NEDians. So feel free to register early online at nedians.org.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Sicko challenges the power of US Healthcare lobby

I saw Michael Moore's latest documentary "Sicko" last night along with my family. It opens as usual with a "Bushism" this time relating to healthcare "Litigation prevents OBGYNs practicing their love of women". Then it gets much more serious in bringing out the atrocious state of healthcare in the US and compares it to what the healthcare lobbyists deride as "socialized medicine" in Britain, France, Canada and Cuba. It clearly shows that the people receiving healthcare in these countries are healtheir and happier than the US healthcare consumers.
It also points out the corrosive power and influence of the healthcare lobbyists in the US and how they have essentially purchased the key legistators with large campaign contributions.
My earnest hope is that this movie will reingnite the healthcare debate and have a positive outcome for the average healthcare consumer this time.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Release BBC Correspondent Alan Johnston

As an American Muslim of Pakistani origin, I appeal to the captors of Alan Johnston to please release Alan unharmed immediately. BBC and its correspondents in the Middle East are among the few objective sources of news in the West about the events in Israeli occupied terreitories of Palestine. Instead of targeting the BBC, we ought to appreciate and support the BBC staff around the world.

Alan Johnston banner

Thursday, April 19, 2007

On Demand Computing

It is a rather humbling coincidence that all the talk about always-connected on-demand computing at Web 2.0 conference and the major outages of Blackberry and Turbotax happened in the same week. In the Western World, we can take on-demand availability of water and electricity for granted. However, the Internet connection reliability and availability is a reminder to us how the other half of the world copes with unreliable supply of water and electricity on a daily basis. I think the Web as a platform for mission-critical enterprise computing will eventually happen but not in the next few years.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Web 2.0 Conference

I had a chance to attend the Web 2.0 conf keynotes in San Francisco today. Having been in mobile software space for sometime, all the talk about mobile web 2.0 and endorsement by Eric Schmidt of Google resonated well for me. The real ubiquity of Web 2.0 will not materialize until every possible mobile access device including handsets and cell phones allow people to enjoy the benefits of the collaborative web. A good start seems to have been made but we have a long way to go.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Don Imus's Outrage

There's a justifiable outrage in response to Don Imus's reprehensible racist and sexist remarks. Imus should his lose his job and the platform he has used to perpetrate this outrage.
But as we join the chorus of condemnation, let us ask the question: Would there be similar outrage as widely expressed if the offense had been targeted at a smaller religious or ethnic group?

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Haq Family in Europe

Here are a few pics from our European vacations.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Stock Markets

There are lots of reason being offered for the drop in stock markets around the world. The Asian markets had risen too much too fast. The fear that rise in Japanese interest rates would impact "carry trade" where investors borrow in Japan at very low interest rates and invest in countries/markets with higher interest rates etc. What is lost in all of this discussion is the fact that it's taken five years to approach where the markert indices were in 2000/2001, NASDAQ still reamain at less than half of its its highs in 2000. With few exceptions such as Google, technology and healthcare remain beaten down. Maybe its's time for sector rotation.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Queen and Blair

I finally saw the movie "The Queen" yesterday and enjoyed a powerful performance by Helen Mirren.
I particularly liked the last scene where Queen Elizabeth is telling Blair how things can change quickly as far as popularity is concerned. A very prescient observation. Blair is probably far more unpopular now than the Queen might have been immediately after Diana'a tragic death.

Haq in India

Here are a few pictures from my visit to India:

Friday, February 23, 2007

Kyte TV

Decentral.tv is a very interesting startup based in San Francisco, CA. It's software/website called Kyte tv is still in beta. It's key differentiator is the live chat feature enabling real-time collaboratoon among people sharing an interest around a channel produced by users. I got an invitation to it yesterday and tried it out. It was really really easy to produce a channel and then embed it in this blog. I'd recommend others to try it out. Go to www.decentral.tv

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Haq Family in Europe

Here are a few pics from recent European vacation: