Monday, November 30, 2009

Bhopal's 1984 Gas Leak Victims Remembered

The year 1984 is remembered as a tragic year in India's history. Not only did the nation lose Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to the assasins' bullets, the nation also lost thousands of Sikhs in the riots that followed the political assassination, and thousands of Muslims and hundreds of Hindus in Bhopal's deadly gas leak of December 3, 1984. The Bhopal disaster is still believed to be the world's worst industrial accident that instantaneously claimed the lives of at least 2,500 people, and injured about 400,000, with the toll still rising to this day.

Media reports indicate that a leak of the toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) occurred that night when it reacted with a large volume of water that seeped into the MIC storage tanks. Detection and subsequent action by Union Carbide employees was too late to contain the leak, and forty tons of MIC flowed out of the tanks over two hours. And even if they had reacted immediately, the safety standards accepted at the plant would not have allowed them to do anything about it. Thus the MIC gas escaped into the atmosphere and drifted five miles downwind over the city of Bhopal, population 900,000, poisoning all in its path. The cause of the gas leak remains in dispute. Union Carbide says it was an act of sabotage, the malicious work of a disgruntled employee who added water to a storage tank, which caused a reaction that built up heat and pressure. However, no one has been charged.

The most seriously affected areas are those nearest the plant, the absolutely poorest sector of the population, mostly Muslims. Prior to the tragedy, the city evoked the splendor of its Muslim past. It was here that princes and princesses rode elephants draped in gold. It is the home of the Taj-ul-Masjid, one of the largest mosques in the country. The "City of Lakes" lies along a sandstone ridge.

There is a continuing stalemate on the clean up of the plant site and its vicinity of hundreds of tons of toxic waste, which remains untouched. Environmentalists have warned that the toxic waste could result in contamination causing decades of slow poisoning, and diseases affecting the nervous system, liver and kidneys in humans. According to activists, there are studies showing that the rates of cancer and other ailments are high in the region. Activists have demanded that Dow clean up this toxic dump, and have pressed the government of India to demand more money from Dow.

Indian officials claim that most of the $470 million in compensation received from Union Carbide has been distributed, but there are lingering suspicions that a large part the funds have been lost to corruption. Another $40 million has been used to build the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Center, which opened in 2000.

Governmemnt officials have dismissed claims that the pesticide plant at Bhopal is still leaking dangerous toxins into drinking water. However, a report published by the British-based charity the Bhopal Medical Appeal (BMA) and the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal says there is evidence that "there are still high levels of toxic chemicals in the drinking water supply in 15 communities near the old Union Carbide pesticide plant".

The report says the water "in and around the Union Carbide factory site in Bhopal still contains extremely unsafe levels of carbon tetrachloride and other persistent organic pollutants, solvents, nickel and other heavy metals". "Not surprisingly," the report claims, "the populations in the areas surveyed have high rates of birth defects, rapidly rising cancer rates, neurological damage, chaotic menstrual cycles and mental illness." The scientists at Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)have announced plans to investigate the long-term health effects of the disaster, including studies to see if the toxic gases caused genetic disorders, low birth weight, growth and development disorders, congenital malformation and biological markers of MIC/toxic gas exposure.

Many of the survivors of this tragedy still live in crowded slums near the abandoned factory walls. In addition to continuing high rates of various ailments in the surviving population and their children, the effects of the accident twenty five years ago this month have also set the city's economic development back by decades, causing widespread and long-lasting poverty well beyond the areas affected by the initial gas cloud.

The economy of the state of Madhya Pradesh, of which Bhopal is the capital, is growing at a rate of about 4% per year, much slower than the national average for India. There are more hungry people in India than anywhere else in the world, though Madhya Pradesh is the only state in the country where the level of hunger is "extremely alarming", according to the India State Hunger Index.

Six in 10 children in the state are undernourished, and more people suffer from hunger here than in Ethiopia or Sudan, according to the index, which was published in October 2008.

Dow Chemicals, which now owns Union Carbide, is facing corruption allegations in India. India's Central Bureau of Investigation raided offices of a Dow subsidiary in 2007. The raids followed allegations of bribes being paid to Indian regulatory officials to facilitate licenses for Dow pesticide products. In 2007, Dow paid a $325,000 penalty to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to settle an S.E.C. investigation into those same payments.

Dow has also enlisted some strong allies here, including big corporate names like Tata and Reliance conglomerates, and some top government officials including Commerce Minister Kamal Nath.

As India, Pakistan and other developing nations vie for foreign direct investments by multi-national companies seeking to set up industries to lower their production costs and increase their profits, the lessons of Bhopal must not be forgotten. It is the responsibility of the governments of the developing countries to insist on legislating and enforcing strict environmental and safety standards to protect their people to avoid another Bhopal. Public interest groups, NGOs and environmental and labor activists must press the politicians and the bureaucrats to protect the people against the growing safety hazards stemming from increasing global footprint of large industrial conglomerates.

Related Links:

Grinding Poverty in Resurgent India

Health Risks Rise as Bunge Jumps in Pakistan

Merchants of Death Eye Pakistan Market

Pakistan Chemical Industry Overview

Horrors of Bhopal 1984

Sikh Victims of 1984 Massacre in India

Ending Corruption Not a Priority in South Asia

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Introspection of Pakistan's Creation

Sixty-plus years after the end of the British Raj in the Indian subcontinent, a number of authors, historians and scholars are now speaking or writing about the circumstances of India's partition, and the reasons for the creation of Pakistan in 1947.

Several of them, including Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal and former Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh have offered their varying perspectives on the subject. Ayesha Jalal has called the creation of Pakistan a "mistake" and Jinnah a "great lawyer with feet of clay". Contrary to popular perception, Singh argues in his recent book "Jinnah - India, Partition, Independence", it was not Jinnah but Nehru's "highly centralized polity" that led to the Partition of India.

Ayesha Jalal has argued that the partition of India -- the event that created Pakistan -- was an accident, a huge miscalculation. Further, she has insisted that Jinnah never wanted a separate Muslim state; he was only using the threat of independence as a political bargaining chip to strengthen the voice of the Muslim minority in the soon-to-be sovereign India, a view shared by Jaswant Singh in his recent book on Jinnah and partition. Unlike Jalal, however, Singh lauds Jinnah as a "great Indian" and blames Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel for the partition. In his book "India Wins Freedom", Maulana Azad also singled out Patel as "the real flag bearer" of partition.

And now, veteran Pakistani writer Afzal Tauseef, who has been honored by Pakistan with "Pride of Performance" award for her service to the nation, has added her voice in a recent interview with Newsline. In her provocative style, she argues that Pakistan was created to preserve the interests of the big landowners in Punjab and Sind, and to serve the interests of the landowning class that would have been threatened by Nehru's insistence on land reform. Tauseef explains in the following words: "I personally think that if Nehru had not included land reforms in his program, Pakistan would never have been created. The country was made so that the jagirdari system could remain intact. The jagirdars, who were all protégées of the British, knew that if left in the Congress fold, they would be wiped out since at that time Marxist thought was moving into the subcontinent. The Muslim League was a product of the British and the land-owning Nawabs. On the other side was America, who wanted something in return for the money it had given to the British during the war. They wanted an area where a new imperialism could be let loose. And this is what continues to this day. Now we are paying for it dearly."

The fact that the quest for Pakistan by the Muslim League won the crucial support of the powerful Unionist Party in Punjab, representing the interests of the feudal Punjabi zamindars and jagirdars, lends support to Tauseef's contention that "the country was made so that the jagirdari (feudal) system could remain intact".

Each of these authors has challenged the widely accepted "Two Nation Theory" in Pakistan as the basis for partition, attributing the event to other causes. Each of them has come under attack from various quarters for his or her work and pronouncements on this highly emotionally-charged subject. Almost all of these views are continuing to generate considerable controversy in South Asia.

Here is the complete text of Afzal Tauseef's recent interview with Nyla Daud published by Newsline:

Having spurned the government of Pakistan’s first offer in recognition of your literary merit some years ago, you have once again been nominated for the prestigious Pride of Performance this year. Will you accept the honor this time?

When a senior police officer representing Zia-ul-Haq came to me offering a Pride of Performance with a prize of eight murabbas of cultivatable landholding, I had refused pointblank. Because, one, all my life I had written against the very system that was being perpetuated by Zia. Two, my acceptance would have led to the indictment of 41 other comrades in the Libya Conspiracy Case in which I had been named a party. So, my answer had been that to be remembered as a freedom fighter and revolutionary were far greater awards. That having been named as the best teacher by 25,000 students was a far greater honour. That I did not care for the bait of a landholding because my grandfather had owned three villages in undivided India. That my late father who had been the Quaid’s security officer in Ziarat had made no claims against his ancestral holdings, despite being in a position to do so, even while others were making fortunes. But yes, now I will accept the Pride of Performance because I have been convinced by friends that the award comes as an honour not from the establishment, but from the country that I have fought for. That it is my right.

What has been the single, most powerful factor in the development of your political ideology?

Growing up in Balochistan, reading the world’s literature with teachers who were book lovers with a progressive bent of mind and acquiring the feel for the Marxist revolution and for social injustice that had already taken seed. But when I moved to Lahore as a teacher at the Lady Maclagan College in the late ’60s, the contrasts in society became more glaring. I realised that the Punjab, with its vast population of honest folk, was a hotbed of oppression perpetuated by good-for-nothing land owners aided by bureaucrats. They had all the power, all the wealth; the awam led miserable lives. I awakened to the reality and joined the rank and file of the Peoples Party as it rose up against the Ayub regime.

Those were exciting times and it was a unique experience to teach younger people who were looking for direction. I had been selected by the Public Service Commission for my lecturer’s position and, although we were not activists in the real sense of the word, the generally suspicious environment forced us to attend party meetings in burqas so as not to be detected, because there were spies everywhere.

Along with Shaheen, Haneef Ramay’s wife – whom I knew from my Quetta days – we formed the underground wing of the PPP. There were about 25,000 female members with us at the time of the crackdown. Then later, during the Zia regime, I was in the forefront of the Bhutto Bachao Tehreek because we wanted to save him at any cost. But even as lakhs of people agitated for the cause and received public lashings, we could not save him. In fact, this has been one of the greatest defeats I have suffered in my life.

The fact remains that Bhutto, your ideological hero, too failed democracy. As did his daughter Benazir.

Yes, in a way, because even during Bhutto’s lifetime, the PPP was on the way to being derailed. All the pioneers, the real persons behind the ideology were so disillusioned that, but for Sheikh Rasheed, they all went their separate ways. Hanif Ramay, one of the original PPP members, was subjected to torture in the Lahore Fort when Bhutto was in power. Dr Mubashir Hasan walked out, giving up a ministry when Bhutto sacked the NAP government in Balochistan. But Bhutto realised his mistake because when asked for his last wish, he had said, “Give me a pistol with 32 bullets and my central committee.”

Benazir, like Bhutto, disappointed although she suffered a lot. We were all for her but as soon as she took oath as prime minister, we realised that the position had been won on the basis of compromises. Benazir compromised with the very people who had killed her father. But had she not acceded to the American point of view, she would have remained in exile all her life, which might have been better in the long run. Her worst mistake was that she compromised on ideology, at the cost of the masses and, that too, at the behest of an imperialist power.

Today, there is no Peoples Party and Zardari’s promotion of Bilawal without in-house party elections is child’s play. It is a game like so many other games that the people have been fooled into accepting.

The Baloch cause, with its apparently anti-federation, separatist viewpoint, has always won your sympathy. Why?

Because Balochistan took me in when I was homeless, when I had no identity. It nurtured me, gave me an awakening and maturity of thought. I have seen how the rights of the Baloch have been trampled upon. Under such conditions, what do you expect? That they will be appeased by being given a hospital or bags of atta? You have to first dress their wounds, which have been festering for so long. Treat them as a part of Pakistan. By the way, Balochistan came to Pakistan only by one vote and that belonged to Akbar Bugti, who was ultimately annihilated by bombs. You don’t bomb your own countrymen like that.

As for representing Balochistan, Bugti (now dead), Marri (who is too old now) and Attaullah Mengal were the only people who had a genuine feeling for the land. Just because they rose up for the rights of the Baloch, they were put into prison, some of them for 25 years at a stretch. All they wanted were their rights in a Pakistan where provincial autonomy does not exist. Balochistan, Sindh and the Frontier province, all have the same grouse.

So the Punjab would be the villain of the piece and, in that case, where does the federation figure?

There never has been a federation and even the Punjab would have been better off with autonomy because I believe that provincial autonomy would strengthen democracy. That was what the Quaid had planned. As for my loyalties, I am all for the awam irrespective of the province they belong to. Punjab is my birthplace and it is to Punjab I owe my identity as a thinker and writer for which I have received so many awards. In fact, if I had not moved here, I would never have learnt to speak my mother tongue nor developed the courage to write in it. Punjabi brought me the friendship of people like Amrita Pretam who has written a book about me, calling me “the child of a lesser God” for my sensitivity in portraying the sensibilities of the masses. My Punjabi writings got me invited to India for an award, thereby giving me the chance of a lifetime to visit the village of my forefathers and relive the tragic ironies of their lives for having sacrificed life over loyalty to the homeland at the time of Partition.

In spite of all this you went to India to accept an award from the very people who had murdered your family and rendered you homeless ?

The Millennium Award people had arranged a very big function in my honour. I was sitting on the stage when they came up, putting their hands together as a gesture of apology. But I said that if you do so then I will also have to apologise because the same sort of cruelties were perpetuated here against the Sikhs and Hindus. The only difference is that those stories have not been written about on the Pakistani side of the border.

How would you review the academic scene in view of your 35-year experience as an educationist?

Zia-ul-Haq’s period was the darkest. At a personal level, I was haunted by the agencies to the extent that once I escaped by jumping over the walls of neighbouring houses at two in the morning. This led to a long period of hide-and-seek, ending only when I myself surrendered to the ISI in Quetta in order to save my sympathisers.

At the public level, one of the first things Zia did was to get together a bunch of pseudo literateurs and publicly tell them that Progressive literature and thought were mere rubbish that would eat up the system. Waris Mir died of shock when he saw the treatment being meted to progressive thought. But the most direct fallout happened when they started scratching away at the history and literature syllabi. They redesigned courses with the express notion of introducing very warped versions of Islamiyat as a subject. I was a sitting member of the Senate Committee on syllabi planning and I told them explictly that while one could somehow compromise on the removal of Faiz from the syllabi, why had we suddenly taken affront to some very beautiful expressions of Iqbal when in the same breath they continued to maintain that Iqbal gave the idea of Pakistan. When I persisted, they told me that the order for the removal of Iqbal’s verses like “Uththo Meree Dunya Kay Ghareebon Ko Jaga Do” had come from above! I maintained that it was not a divine order. So their next excuse was that Iqbal was too difficult to teach. I offered my services to prepare teachers of Iqbal if that was the problem. The very next day I was informed that I was no longer on the Senate Committee.

Where would you pin the cause for the state of things in Pakistan today?

Jagirdari and the jagirdari mindset, especially as it grew to gather political backing. It cost us a wing of the country. This system is an enemy of those with socially-awakened intellect. Nowhere else in the entire world can you find such an oppressive system. India put an end to it at the very beginning but our leaders continue to nourish it. I personally think that if Nehru had not included land reforms in his programme, Pakistan would never have been created. The country was made so that the jagirdari system could remain intact. The jagirdars, who were all protégées of the British, knew that if left in the Congress fold, they would be wiped out since at that time Marxist thought was moving into the subcontinent. The Muslim League was a product of the British and the land-owning Nawabs. On the other side was America, who wanted something in return for the money it had given to the British during the war. They wanted an area where a new imperialism could be let loose. And this is what continues to this day. Now we are paying for it dearly.

But the initial thought behind Pakistan was La illa ha illallah.

That slogan came much later when Liaquat Ali Khan passed the Qarardad-i-Maqaasid. The Quaid had seen Pakistan as a secular state, but within a year-and-a-half he was almost a helpless prisoner in Ziarat. My father was very close to him and I remember him quoting the Quaid as telling a group of students who had come to visit him in Ziarat, “Where is the Muslim League? This typewriter and myself?” The Quaid had never envisioned the Muslim League as a party of landowners. In fact, he was against the allotment of property to people against claims of things left behind in India during Partition. For this reason the rift between him and Liaquat Ali Khan grew to the extent that they were not even on talking terms towards the end. We all know how he was treated on his final journey from Karachi Airport to the governor general’s house.

What is your greatest concern today?

That Pakistan survives. That it is able to weather all the malicious intent directed at it. That the murder and mayhem rampant across its length and breadth may come to an end. I have always been against military intervention but today, there is so much at stake – the country, the people, the very culture – that I believe the army must act.

I also maintain that along with the overall influence of the imperialist powers in the face of a weakened awam, Mullahism is the most significant threat. Pakistan was not made solely for Muslims. The very fact that Muslims are daily at each other’s throats proves the point that there is no such thing as the Muslim collective. Today, society is just a configuration of the different statuses enjoyed by Muslims … the poor, the rich, the oppressed, the oppressors, the powerful and the powerless.

Your hypothesis reeks of disillusionment, meaning that your life-long activism led nowhere.

No, I still believe that the people who came under our influence will eventually rise to recreate the system. I am proud today of the number of students who learnt to think with me. My generation may have failed but I still see light at the end of the tunnel.

It is interesting to see the conventional historical narratives being challenged and analyzed in more depth on both sides of the divide in South Asia.

A serious introspection of events which led to the partition of India can either reopen or help heal the wounds, depending on how the mainstream scholars and leaders in the two nations choose to deal with history.

In my view, Pakistan is a reality that must be accepted, and supported by all to make it a peaceful, stable and prosperous nation, and to ensure regional peace and prosperity. A healing process in the subcontinent can do a lot of good for all of the people of South Asia. It can bring lasting peace between India and Pakistan, and potentially move the region toward a successful common market similar to the European Union.

Related Links:

Jaswant Lauds Jinnah

Feudal Slavery Survives in Pakistan

Ode to Feudal Prince of Pakistan

Is Pakistan Too Big to Fail?

Global Firepower

Jinnah's Pakistan Booms Amidst Doom and Gloom

Quaid-e-Azam M.A. Jinnah's Vision of Pakistan

India Wins Freedom by Maulana Azad

Ayesha Jalal Taking On Pakistan's Hero

The Poor Neighbor by William Dalrymple

Iqbal and Jinnah

Two Nation Theory

Friday, November 27, 2009

Jakarta Diary

Guest Post by Athar Javaid

Concluding a fairly involved and busy schedule at a trade conference and Green Technology show in Seoul South Korea, Jakarta some 3,200 miles south west of Seoul hardly seemed like a detour of choice on my way back home. But my fascination with this huge archipelago of 17508 islands that has long been simmering took over. Besides its fascinating geography and world’s second largest collection of plant species, Indonesia is world’s largest Muslim country (230m) sharing land borders with Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Malaysia. More importantly Indonesia is a republic with an elected legislature and president – A democratic society that has a history of having successfully integrated a host of human races with diverse ethnicity, cultures and religious beliefs.

Given the three and a half centuries of Dutch colonial rule followed by Independence after World War II and three decades of authoritarian rule by Suharto ending in 1998, Indonesians have come a long way in attaining a careful political balance between sociopolitical norms and emerging forces in Indonesian society. Balancing is some what iconic to Indonesian way of life. Balancing Culture and Religion, Islamism and Secularism, Regional autonomy and Centralized rule, Capitalism and Welfare state, all seem second nature to the Indonesians.

Despite its distinct ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups, Indonesia has developed a shared identity defined by its national motto,” Bhenneka Tunggal Ika” meaning “Many Yet One” or Unity in Diversity.

The Arabs notably Arabs of Yemeni origin played a dominant role in South East Asian trade and Islamization since the fifteenth century. As I sat in a Jakarta city tour bus listening to the guide and wondering about this monumental accomplishment of early Yemeni settlers in Indonesia and slow peaceful penetration of Islam over centuries that ultimately resulted in World’s largest Muslim state and pondering over the fact that from the 14th century to the end of the 19th century the region saw almost no organized Muslim missionary activity, it was easy to see that the key element of this grandeur accomplishment was the posture of the settler’s accommodating to and integrating with local beliefs and customs. This combined with the less rigid structure of Indonesian traditional society, including the active role of women in public life made it even more conducive. The resulting Indonesian Islam is tolerant, inclusive and inherently compatible with democratic ideals.

Despite their traditional role of the Yemenis as money sharks, these early settlers while earning money and economic clout in an alien society and culture nevertheless stimulated wide spread acceptance for Islam. Yemeni settlers whole heatedly respected and embraced the culture of the locale they lived in and adapted many cultural practices while subtly propagating the richness of thought and ideology fostered by Islam. This was further evidenced by several museum artifacts dating back to 17th century that represented their holistic approach to life striking a well carved balance within the boundaries of culture and religion.

The early Yemeni settlers in Indonesia have been an oasis of soft change without use of force or their economic clout. Yemeni hospitality, an icon of Yemeni culture must have been a definite plus in shaping their behavior in an alien society. However, at home, this hospitality is often “amiably armed” as evident by its deep expression in the 16th century in rescuing, feeding, housing and forcibly circumcising British soldiers when their naval ship wrecked off the Yemeni coast of Red Sea.

Today Indonesia continues to soft paddle the cultural differences sustaining and reinforcing the social fabric with an all inclusive approach to its diverse ethnicity. A recent example is the expression of inclusively towards Indonesians of Chinese descent. Since 1960 the Indonesians have removed a ban on Chinese characters in publications, and advertisements, a ban on celebrating the Chinese New Year, Chinese Cultural events and even declared Chinese New Year a public holiday. Mohamed Cheng Hoo Mosque – first mosque in Indonesia with Chinese architecture is indeed a clear statement of Islam’s compatibility with cultural diversity and a display of its dynamism – Dynamic enough to appeal to 17,508 islands – each one with its own character, culture and artistic ancestry.

Though grappling with day to day mundane issues ranging from land slides to typhoons, earthquakes, traffic jams and capsized ferries to political rivalries, Indonesia is finally on the right track. On the economic and social front Indonesia continues its path to emancipation combined with spiritual flamboyancy. Indonesia is world’s largest producer of palm oil, manufacturer of cars including automotive parts and one hundred percent use of bio fuel while exporting diesel fuel. A recent move to scrap duties on imports of machinery and raw material for seven vital industries is a welcome boost for business and commerce.

On the political front Indonesia appears to have mustered the capacity to deal with issues as diverse as corruption to ethnic discrimination and violence. Barely one month into his second term, President Susilo Bambang Yodhoyono appeared to meet the test of his credibility facing a serious challenge created by a conflict between National Police and the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

That said, even a country like Indonesia with such a strong track record of social, cultural and religious harmony and stable political system of governance is not immune to the wrath of radical Islam. July 09 bombing of the Ritz Carleton Hotels in Jakarta, the 2003 Marriott hotel bombing and 2002 Bali night club bombings are all perhaps indicative of more terror attacks waiting in the wings to unfold on the slightest trigger of religious or sectarian conflicts. It remains to be seen whether Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country is likely to experience its own process of religious extremism and radicalization.

Some uprising of armed paramilitaries after Suharto’s overthrow and with recent bombings seemed to suggest that Muslim politics even in this tolerant society is being radicalized. However Giora Eliraz, Robert, W. Hefner and many western scholars have provided a more thoughtful and ultimately hopeful prognosis showing the main stream of the Muslim community remains unswervingly moderate. The elections of June 1999 showed that most voters favored secular or moderate Islamist political parties, in fact by a larger majority than in the only other free and open general elections, held in 1955, when about 16 percent of the vote went to parties advocating conservative Islamic programs as opposed to more than 40 percent in 1955. Be that as it may! These self proclaimed soldiers of God and Mujahideens, hell bent on enforcing their brand of Islam through terror tactics could perhaps just look back and be thankful to those responsible for wide spread acceptance of Islam over 17,508 islands following the basic tenets of Islam and cultivating a good will culminating in integration of diverse cultures and communities that will remain exemplary for many centuries to come.

Indonesia with its solid balancing approach to resolve conflicting and debilitating issues is likely to lead the way for the rest of the Muslim world in combating and abating Islamic radicalism and ultimately upholding the basic Islamic values of “ Moderation” and Huqooq Al Ibad” denouncing radicalism and terror tactics in forcing piety.

“Bhenneka Tunggal Ika” “Many Yet One” or Unity in Diversity.

Athar Javaid is an NEDian currently serving as a Vice President of an IT Consulting Firm in Washington DC area.

Related Links:

ASEAN Architect Suharto Passes On

Pakistan's NRO and Corrupt Democracy

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

NRO, Corruption and Democracy in South Asia

Indian and Pakistani democracies have a lot in common. Both systems of governance are a legacy of the British Raj; both have failed to deliver basic necessities, good governance, rule of law and speedy justice to the vast majority of their people; both have been marred by a close nexus between crime and politics; both have many criminals, including violent felons, as members of the legislature and the executive. But the big difference is in the top leadership; the Indian democracy is led by Dr. Manmohan Singh, also known as Mr. Clean; Pakistani democracy has Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, often labeled as Mr. Ten Percent, as its top leader.

The culture of rampant political corruption has come in sharp focus for Pakistanis with the recent release of the names of the beneficiaries of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), a euphemism for the 2007 US-sponsored amnesty decree by former President Musharraf. There are 34 prominent politicians, including President Asif Ali Zardari and his close associates, topping the NRO beneficiaries list of about 8000 people accused of corruption.

This is by no means a complete list of all the corrupt politicians in Pakistan; it's mainly a list of politicians and bureaucrats included in the "NRO" deal struck between President Musharraf and late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto under pressure from Washington. The PML politicians have been explicitly excluded from the pardon under the deal. For example, it does not include the Sharif brothers, who have had serious charges of crime and corruption leveled against them, as recently brought out by the affidavits of the PML leader Ishaq Dar, that implicated both of the Sharif brothers in money laundering. The NRO list is probably just the tip of a much larger iceberg threatening Pakistan's national security, current stability and future prospects.

Of the 278 current Indian MPs for whom records are obtainable, 63 have criminal backgrounds. Of those, 11 have been charged with murder and two stand accused of dacoity (banditry). Other alleged misdemeanors range from fraud to kidnapping, according to data collected by National Election Watch, the campaign group that has put together the data. Fortunately for India, none of these criminal politicians occupy the top leadership positions in New Delhi. The honest leaders at the top, leaders like Dr. Manmohan Singh, set a good example of honest, selfless public service for the rest of Indian society.

Unfortunately, the criminal justice system in South Asia is incapable of speedy resolution when the rich and powerful are accused of crimes. “The speed of the Indian judicial system means it can take 30 years to complete a case – easily long enough to live out a full political career,” Mr Himanshu Jha, of India's National Social Watch Coalition, told the Times Online recently. If the NRO were to be allowed to lapse on November 28 as expected, the politicians in Pakistan can easily avoid accountability by filing appeals after appeals in a slow-moving justice system, where it's easy to pay the lawyers and the judges to push out the trial dates, or to make deals to get the charges dismissed altogether.

Predictably, the PML party members led by Nawaz Sharif, who are waiting in the wings to grab power, are playing up the PPP corruption issue for their own benefit. At the same time, many pro-PPP advocates for democracy in Pakistan are counseling patience in the interest of "national security" and "political stability".

The fact is that these “democratic" leaders are so thoroughly corrupt that they can be bought for a fistful of dollars by any body, including the sworn enemies of Pakistan. The kind of stability that will come from these people will only encourage more crime by politicians and growing cynicism among the suffering people of Pakistan, as born out by a recent British Council survey that shows 80% of Pakistani youth are pessimistic about their future.

Rampant corruption by the top leaders is highly corrosive for the entire society. Ignoring the crimes and corruption of top leaders will neither boost national security nor political stability. In fact, it will do just the opposite, by eating away at Pakistan's guts from within. It will make Pakistan more vulnerable to complete failure and ultimate collapse without help from of any external enemies.

To pave the way for a more responsive, better governed, and modern industrialized democracy, the model that is most likely to deliver what Pakistanis need now in terms of political stability and economic opportunity is the ASEAN model, adopted by Suharto of Indonesia, Mahathir of Malaysia and Lee Kuan Yu of Singapore. These three benevolent, relatively honest and competent dictators of ASEAN, who were repressive and ruthless at times, transformed their nations from poor and backward agrarian societies to powerful, industrialized and democratic Asian tigers.

Given its large size, the Indonesian development model under Suharto should be of particular interest to Pakistanis. During Suharto’s three decades in power, Indonesia’s economy grew an average of 7 percent annually, and living standards rose substantially for the bulk of the population. Education and mass literacy programs were used to promote the national language, Bahasa Indonesia, and to unify the country’s disparate ethnic groups and scattered islands. While Suharto used unfettered dictatorial powers and his own family benefited greatly from Indonesia's crony capitalism and its rapid economic growth, the nation reaped huge benefits as well, and eventually, the significantly enlarged, educated and prosperous Indonesian middle class asserted itself and brought democracy to Indonesia after forcing Suharto out in 1998.

Here is an interesting video clip of a Pakistani minister's frank admission of the PPP involvement in bribery. Listen to Mr. Abdul Qayyum Khan Jatoi, Federal Minister for Defense Production, proclaiming that it is the “political right” of every politician to do corruption: “yaar, karrapshun pay humara haq nahiN hai, aur unn ka hai!”:

Here's a video clip on India's massive corruption:

Related Links:

Musharraf's Legacy


Challenges For Indian Democracy

Zardari Corruption Probe

Pakistan's Feudal Democracy

Blackwater Bribing in Pakistan

The Politics of NRO

Suharto's New Order

Money Laundering Charges Against Sharifs

The NRO Beneficiaries List

Monday, November 23, 2009

Low Literacy Rates Threaten Pakistan's Future

The parts that now constitute Pakistan were among the least developed regions of India prior to 1947, and the last to be conquered by the British,according to an eminent Pakistani economist Dr. Kaiser Bengali. The British rule in Sind, Baluchistan and NWFP lasted about 100 years and these regions were considered the periphery of the British Raj in India. At the time of independence in 1947, the overall literacy rate in India was 12.2%, and the parts that became Pakistan probably had an even lower rate of literacy in single digits.

Pakistan has come a long way in terms of industrial and infrastructure development since 1947, and it is now more than competitive vis-a-vis India. Of the six basic indicators of food, clothing, housing, sanitation, healthcare, and basic literacy, Pakistan is ahead on the first five, lagging marginally behind India in basic literacy.

Although literacy in Pakistan has grown by about 13% during President Mushsarraf's rule to about 56%, it remains woefully low when compared to other South Asian nations. Ranked at 141 on a list of 177 countries, Pakistan's human development ranking remains very low. Particularly alarming is the low primary school enrollment for girls which stands at about 30% in rural areas, where the majority of Pakistanis live. In fact, the South Asia average of primary school enrollment is pulled down by Pakistan, the only country in all of Asia and the Pacific with the lowest primary enrollment rate of 68 per cent in 2005. This is 12 percentage points lower than that of Maldives, which, at 80 per cent, has the second lowest rate in Asia and the Pacific. Low primary enrollment rate and poor health of children in Pakistan raise serious concerns about the future of the nation in terms of the continuing impact of low human development on its economic, social and political well-being.

This lack of focus on access to and quality of children's education has resulted in the proliferation of madrassahs, a small minority of which being highly radicalized, that fill the vacuum by offering a one-stop shop for poor children needing food, clothing, shelter, healthcare and basic education. Parents simply drop their children off at these madrassas, and essentially let these institutions raise them, and brainwash them in some cases. The total enrollment of all madrasas is about 1.5 million students out of over 33 million students attending all of the public and private educational institutions in Pakistan, according to 2005 national education census. Girls account for 53% of all college students in Pakistan, reports the the same Census.

As Pakistan now fights an existential battle against extremely violent radicals, many from the radical madrassas, the nation is now paying a heavy price for years of neglect.

Is increased literacy enough to get Pakistan out of the current morass? The answer is a resounding NO. Clearly, literacy and education are not synonymous. Literacy is necessary but not sufficient for education. In the primitive and medieval periods, there were extremely low literacy rates but people still managed to survive in agrarian societies with subsistence economies. Whatever little knowledge most people needed was passed on to them by their parents whom they watched and copied, without a lot of thinking.

In the modern industrial society, however, literacy is as basic a requirement as food. Individuals who can not read and follow basic written instructions can not contribute much to society, They are not fit for even low level unskilled jobs in an industrial economy.

Beyond basic literacy, the kind of rote learning that goes on in many Pakistani schools, particularly in some madrassas, is neither sufficient nor relevant to society. Useful education has to be relevant in terms of content, and it must encourage critical thinking and develop reasoning skills to help people make necessary decisions in life for themselves, and contribute to the greater good of the rest of the society. The method of memorization-based learning and the culture of blind obedience (Ita'at) in schools have to change to make Pakistan competitive today and in the future.

Upon the urging of saner elements in Pakistan, and pressure from the alarmed world, a new education policy has recently been announced that will more than double education spending in Pakistan from about 3% of the GDP to 7%. If it is done correctly, instills proper values, and with transparency, then there can be hope for light at end of the tunnel for Pakistan's younger generation.


Population living under $1.25 a day - India: 41.6% Pakistan: 22.6% Source: UNDP

Underweight Children Under Five (in percent) Pakistan 38% India 46% Source: UNICEF

Life expectancy at birth (years), 2007 India: 63.4 Pakistan: 66.2 Source: HDR2009


Youth (15–24 years) literacy rate, 2000 to 2007, male Pakistan: 80% India 87% Source: UNICEF

Youth (15–24 years) literacy rate, 2000 to 2007, female Pakistan 60% India 77% Source: UNICEF


GDP per capita (US$), 2008 Pak:$1000-1022 India $1017-1100

Child Protection:

Child marriage under 15-years ; 1998–2007*, total Pakistan - 32% India - 47% Source: UNICEF

Under-5 mortality rate per 1000 live births (2007), Value Pakistan - 90 India 72 Source: UNICEF

Related Links:

Foreign Visitors Pleasantly Surprised in Pakistan

Food, Clothing and Shelter in India and Pakistan

Human Development Slipping in South Asia

Dr. Bengali's Lecture on Pakistan Economy

Literacy in India

President Musharraf's Legacy

Pakistan Education Census 2005

India You May Not Know

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pakistani Army Documentary Wins Top Award

Life of a Siachen Soldier, a documentary produced by Pakistan Army, has won the top prize at the International Film Festival "Eserciti-e-popoli" (armies and people) recently held in Rome, Italy, according to Inter Services Public Relations(ISPR) directorate. Armed Forces representatives from 21 countries, including Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, China, Croatia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Korea, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States, participated in the contest where 150 documentaries were screened in different categories. This year, Pakistan Army’s documentary won the first prize in the category of training and was awarded Chief of Army Staff trophy.

Produced by Brigadier Syed Azmat Ali and directed by Col Syed Mujtaba Tirmizi, the movie focuses on the training and deployment of Pakistan Army soldiers on Siachin glacier. Last Year ISPR won two awards in this competition.

Documentary is about life on Siachin Glacier, also known as the third Pole for the largest mass of ice outside of the North and South Poles. Siachin is among he most beautiful, enigmatic and spell-binding places on earth. It lies at more than 5,500m above sea level in the disputed region of Kashmir. This frozen stagnant Landscape is nothing short of Divine Art.

The tranquility of this beautiful place was disturbed in 1984 by an Indian incursion, transforming it into the highest battle field on earth. This war was unlike any other. The soldiers had to fight two enemies: the opposing Indian soldiers and the hostile weather. More soldiers on both sides have died from the extreme cold than from enemy fire. In spite of repeated discussions, the two sides have failed to overcome their differences on pulling back troops from the world's highest battlefield.

Pakistan wants both sides to pull back to the positions they held more than 20 years ago before India occupied most of the ice field.

India agrees but says the withdrawal should be preceded by marking the current position of the two forces.

Lack of agreement has produced a high-altitude standoff that forces year-round deployment of soldiers by both sides. The back-channel diplomacy is currently focusing on a solution that includes demilitarization of the entire region of Kashmir, including Siachen.

Meanwhile, the Siachen glacier is melting at an unprecedented rate, partly due to global warming, but mainly because of the permanent troops deployments. The glacial ice has been cut and melted; cutting and melting of glacial ice through the application of chemicals have made it the fastest melting glacier in the Himalayas. The situation is further exacerbated by dumping of chemicals, metals, organic and human waste and leaks from 2000 gallons of kerosene oil from 250 km plastic pipeline laid by India on the glacier.

The beautiful Siachen is likely to turn into an environmental disaster unless both India and Pakistan agree to vacate it in the best interest of their people. The rapid disappearance of this glacier will further aggravate the water crisis the two nations are facing.

Here is a video clip of the documentary about Siachen:

Related Links:

Growing China Role in Kashmir and Afghanistan

Water Scarcity in South Asia

Pakistan Army Capabilities

Can Pakistan Defeat the Taliban?

India-Pakistan Military Balance

Y.B. Chavan's Diary of 1965 War

Indian War Myths About Pakistan

Kashmir Holds the Key to Peace in South Asia

India's Missile Shield

Can India "Do a Lebanon" in Pakistan?

Pakistani Research on Antarctica

Pakistan Army

Evaluation of Military Strengths--India vs. Pakistan

Only the Paranoid Survive

21st Century High-Tech Warfare

Pakistan Army, the Taliban and Washington

Indian Attempts to Scuttle F-16s For Pakistan

Attrition Rates For IAF and PAF

China's Growing Role in Afghanistan, Kashmir

China is beginning to act more like a global superpower by playing an increasingly important role in its South Asian neighborhood, with growing interest in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

The United States, as the reigning superpower deeply involved in South Asia, essentially acknowledged China's stature in the region when the following paragraph found its way into the joint communique issued by President Barak Obama and President Hu Jintao at the end their recent summit in Beijing:

"The two sides welcomed all efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia. They support the efforts of Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight terrorism, maintain domestic stability and achieve sustainable economic and social development, and support the improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan. The two sides are ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region."

Coming a week before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Washinton, these developments have already caused consternation in New Delhi, prompting Times of India to complain in the following words:

"China , Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Pakistan... US president Barack Obama ran through the gamut of nations as he articulated another elegant Asia policy speech in Tokyo this week. Conspicuous by its absence was India. Was India not on his radar? Or was it such a close ally that he skipped naming it at a public function? It left New Delhi wondering. Just two days later, bam! He did something even more astonishing by acquiescing in a Chinese demand to let Beijing assume the role of a monitor in South Asia, an area where China is seen by India as part of the problem, not the solution."

China's rapidly growing gigantic economy is hungry for natural resources from around the world, and the neighboring Afghanistan's potential for mining such resources is not lost on China. In addition to helping bail out the ailing US economy, China is using some of its vast cash reserves of $2 trillion to offer supplier financing as well as insurance for the non-Chinese partners to cover political and credit risk in the emerging markets. With bilateral trade volume of about $7 billion, Pakistan is only one example of Chinese interest. Others include politically-risky Afghanistan, and many nations of Sub-Saharan Africa where the Chinese are financing and building major infrastructure projects. In Afghanistan, China has committed nearly $2.9 billion to develop the Aynak copper field, including the infrastructure that must be built with it such as a power station to run the operation and a railroad to haul the tons of copper it hopes to extract. The Aynak project is the biggest foreign investment in Afghanistan to date, according to Reuters. The trade between Africa and China has grown an average of 30% in the past decade, topping $106 billion last year. China has already become Latin America's second largest trading partner after the United States.

Clearly, Afghanistan is very important to China as well as Pakistan. And it is in the interest of both nations to try and counter the rising Indian influence in Afghanistan, facilitated by the regional US presence, that poses political and economic risks to both China and Pakistan. The following excerpt from US General Stanley McChrystal’s recent assessment of the war in Afghanistan has got the attention of Pakistan and China:

“Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan, including significant development efforts and financial investment. In addition, the current Afghan government is perceived by Islamabad to be pro-Indian. While Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people, increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani counter-measures in Afghanistan or India.”

It will be interesting to watch how the competing interests and alliances play out in Afghanistan, especially after the eventual American exit from the region.

China's growing role in Kashmir can be gauged from the fact that the top Kashmiri separatist leader in the Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the Chairman of Hurriyat Conference in Indian-occupied Kashmir, has been invited to visit Beijing. He said he accepted the invitation and hoped to give Chinese diplomats and other officials a "perspective" on the situation in Kashmir. This is the first time ever that Beijing has invited any Kashmiri separatist leader to visit China.

Media reports indicate that India and Pakistan have had two rounds of meetings in Bangkok in the past three weeks as part of the back-channel diplomacy on Kashmir. The dialogue was held between former Pakistan High Commissioner Aziz Ahmed Khan and former RAW chief A S Dullat.

Mirwaiz confirmed to the Indian Express in a recent interview that the four-point formula proposed by former Pakistani President Musharraf is being revived to try and settle the Kashmir issues. The Musharraf formula envisions soft or porous borders in Kashmir with freedom of movement for the Kashmiris; exceptional autonomy or "self-governance" within each region of Kashmir; phased demilitarization of all regions; and finally, a "joint supervisory mechanism," with representatives from India, Pakistan and all parts of Kashmir, to oversee the plan’s implementation.

“India is not ready for the joint-management part of the proposals which talk about joint control of foreign affairs, currency and communications in Kashmir,” Mirwaiz told the Indian Express. “There’s a broader agreement on the other aspects of this settlement model”.

The Hurriyat chairman said the new momentum in back-channel engagements among India, Pakistan and Hurriyat is because the US is pushing for movement in Kashmir to address Pakistani concerns. “There are several geo-political factors that are in play and persuading New Delhi to act,” Mirwaiz said. Apparently, the engagement has the blessing of China as well.

On contacts with New Delhi, Mirwaiz said that he would wait for back channels to produce something tangible before entering into a public dialogue with the India government. Mirwaiz met with Pakistani High Commissioner Shahid Malik last week. Meanwhile, former Hurriyat chairman Abdul Gani Bhat has been in Delhi for the past 10 days. He, Mirwaiz said, has maintained “communication” with “people from the government.” Bhat has also met twice with the Pakistani High Commissioner.

If the ongoing efforts on Kashmir make significant progress, the results of improved India-Pakistan ties will have a salutary effect on the entire region, raising the US hopes to see light at the end of the tunnel in Afghanistan.

Related Links:

Obama's Afghan Exit Strategy

Kashmir Erupts Again

Chinese Do Good and Do Well

China's Checkbook Diplomacy

US Dalliance With Beijing

Obama's Retreat on Mid East and South Asia

Kashmir Holds Key to Peace in South Asia

President Musharraf's Legacy

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pakistani-American Elected Mayor

Pakistani-American has been elected mayor of a town in Washington state by a landslide. The 54-year-old Mayor-elect Haroon Saleem admits that running the Timberline Bar and Cafe, with beer ads plastered everywhere, is not exactly a pious following of Islam, which forbids alcohol consumption.

The big win for a Muslim Pakistani-American is all the more surprising because Granite Falls is a small mining town of 800 mostly blue-collar whites, a result that residents say would have been inconceivable not long ago.

After 911 attacks in New York and Washington, Saleem told the Associated Press that community members reached out, letting him know he was one of them. No one seems to notice that his wife, Bushra, attends social events wearing a traditional shalwar-kamiz.

While Saleem is only the second American mayor of Pakistani origin after Dr. M. Ali Chaudry of New Jersey town of Basking Ridge elected in 2001, others have been elected to public offices in different parts of the country. Masroor Javed Khan, a fellow NEDian and a friend, serves on the city council in Houston, Texas. Saghir Tahir is a member of the New Hampshire State Assembly. Saqib Ali is a legislator in Maryland State.

Since the growth of immigration from Pakistan and other non-European nations starting in 1965, the Pakistani American community has not been particularly politically active, but this is now changing, with the community starting to contribute funds to their candidates of choice in both parties, and running for elected office in districts with large Pakistani American populations. In recent times, Pakistani American candidates have run for various offices across the nation. Because the community is geographically dispersed, the formation of influential voting blocs has not generally been possible, making it difficult to for the community to make an impact on politics in this particular way. However, there are increasing efforts on the part of community leaders to ensure voter registration and political participation.

The U.S. Census Bureau has indicated that there are about 210,000 U.S. citizens of Pakistani descent living in the United States, including permanent residents. The Census Bureau, however, excluded the population living in institutions, college dormitories, and other group quarters from all population groups. The Pakistani embassy estimates the number of people of Pakistani origin living in United States to be much higher, closer to 500,000.

According to estimates published by the Wikipedia, 50% of Pakistani Americans have origins in the Punjab Province of Pakistan. About 30% are Urdu-speaking "Muhajirs" and the rest is made up of other ethnic Groups from Pakistan. The most systematic study of the demography of Pakistanis in America is found in Prof. Adil Najam's book 'Portrait of a Giving Community' (Harvard University Press, 2006), which estimates a total of around 500,000 Pakistanis in America with the largest concentrations in New York and New Jersey states, each with around 100,000 Pakistani-Americans.

Here are a few demographic snapshots of Pakistani-Americans in different parts of the United States:


A 2008 LA Times survey of Pakistani-Americans, conducted on the basis of 2000 Census, found that Californians of Pakistani descent numbered about 28,000, double the population of 1990. Community members say the figure now surpasses 40,000.

The data showed that 56 per cent had undergraduate or graduate degrees, the second-highest rate after Indian-Americans among 16 Asian subgroups examined. Nearly half were home-owners, with the median household income about $49,000, on par with the state-wide average. Two-thirds were immigrants, with a 46 per cent naturalization rate, and the majority were fluent English speakers.

Based on my own knowledge and experience of living in California for decades, the estimate of $49,0000 median household income of Pakistani-Americans appears to be too outdated and too low, particularly for the San Francisco Bay Area where I conservatively estimate it to be higher than $100,000.

New York:

Unlike California, New York City’s Pakistani Americans are mostly newer and less-educated immigrants. They tend to experience greater poverty, earn less, speak less English and live in larger households than city residents as a whole in 2000, according to a census analysis by the Asian American Federation of New York.

Key profile statistics (involving 2000 census data unless stated otherwise) include the following:

1.From 1990 to 2000, New York City’s Pakistani American population grew from 13,501 to 34,310, or 154 percent – surpassing increases of 9 percent for the city overall and 71 percent for all Asian New Yorkers.
2. More than one-third (34 percent) of Pakistani American children and more than one-fourth (28 percent) of all Pakistanis in New York City lived in poverty – exceeding 30 percent of all children and 21 percent of all residents in the city.
3. Pakistani New Yorkers’ per capita income was $11,992 – about half of the city-wide figure ($22,402).
4. Two out of 3 elderly Pakistani Americans (67 percent) and nearly half (48 percent) of all Pakistani adults in New York City had “Limited English Proficiency” – markedly surpassing 27 percent of all elderly New Yorkers and 24 percent of all city adults.
5. New York City’s Pakistani American households averaged 4.1 occupants – far more than 2.6 city-wide.
6. Almost one-third (32 percent) of Pakistani American adults in New York City had not finished high school – compared with 28 percent of all adult New Yorkers.
7. With a 79 percent foreign-born population, New York City’s Pakistani Americans were more than twice as likely to be immigrants as city residents overall, of whom 36 percent were born outside the United States.
8. Most Pakistani Americans in the city lived in Queens, with 45 percent of Pakistani New Yorkers (15,604 people), or Brooklyn, with 41 percent (14,221). The rest of the city’s Pakistani population was distributed about evenly among the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island.


According to the New York Times, the stretch of Devon Avenue in North Chicago also named for Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, seems as if it has been transplanted directly from that country. The shops are packed with traditional wedding finery, and the spice mix in the restaurants’ kebabs is just right.

The 2000 federal census counted over 18,000 Pakistanis in metropolitan Chicago, one of the largest concentrations of Pakistanis in the United States. According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, community estimates in the late 1990s, however, ranged from 80,000 to 100,000, most of whom were either Urdu- or Punjabi-speaking Muslims. Like other South Asians, Pakistanis have commonly tended to settle in and around major urban areas, especially on the two coasts near New York and Los Angeles. Chicago and other inland cities such as Houston have also developed large and visible Pakistani communities.

Nationwide, Pakistanis appear to be prospering. The census calculated that mean household income in the United States in 2002 was $57,852 annually, while that for Asian households, which includes Pakistanis, was $70,047. By contrast, about one-fifth of young British-born Muslims are jobless, and many subsist on welfare.

Hard numbers on how many people of Pakistani descent live in the United States do not exist, but a book published by Harvard University Press on charitable donations among Pakistani-Americans, “Portrait of a Giving Community by Professor Adil Najam,” puts the number around 500,000, with some 35 percent or more of them in the New York metropolitan area. Chicago has fewer than 100,000, while other significant clusters exist in California, Texas and Washington, D.C.

New York Times estimate of 109,000 Pakistani-born American workers' occupations include salesmen, managers or administrators, drivers, doctors and accountants as the top five categories.

Pakistani-Americans political participation remains woefully inadequate. But it's good to see some signs that it is starting to happen at various levels starting from from local communities to state legislatures.

Related Links:

Edible Arrangements--Pakistani-American's Success Story

Pakistani-Americans in Silicon Valley

HDF Fundraiser in Silicon Valley For Pakistan

Pakistani Diaspora in America

Asian-Americans: Contemporary Trends and Issues

New York City's Pakistani Population

Pakistani-Americans in NYC

NED Alumni Convention Draws 400

NEDians Convention 2007 in Silicon Valley

Muslim Demographics in America

Pakistanis in America

Pakistani-Americans Wikipedia Entry

Illegal Immigration From India to America Hits 125%

Pakistanis Find US Easier Fit than Britain

Portrait of a Giving Community

India's Washington Lobby

Occupations of Pakistani-Americans--New York Times

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Digital Maps---Petaluma to Peshawar and Kashmir

After painfully watching the heartbreaking scenes of carnage in Pakistani provincial capital of NWFP on TV screens, it came as a pleasant surprise to see the New York Times mention Peshawar in a different context; volunteer cartographers contributing to digital maps "from Petaluma to Peshawar". It particularly caught my attention because I have had the pleasure of visiting both of these fine cities, and I currently live not too far from the one in California.

"From Petaluma to Peshawar, these amateurs are arming themselves with GPS devices and easy-to-use software to create digital maps where none were available before, or fixing mistakes and adding information to existing ones", said the NY Times, referring to the volunteer mapmakers contributing to digital maps offered by Google, OpenStreetMaps and others. While both Google and OpenStreetMaps are community created, the main difference between the two is that OpenStreetMap provides its map data under a Creative Commons license and the maps created by users of Google Map Maker are the intellectual property of Google.

Open Street Map (OSM) is a geo project that lets anyone update it. Volunteers donate time and energy uploading GPS tracks, building supporting software, and editing the core data. OSM is growing quickly. As an open data project, OSM makes its data freely available to anyone. This enables custom mapping applications like the OSM Cycle Map. It is also being used commercially by a real estate site Nestoria and by VC-funded startup Cloudmade.

Google Maps has varying levels of coverage of the entire globe (as do its competitors like Microsoft Bing Maps and Yahoo! Maps). Most of the data that is used by Google Maps and displayed comes from Tele Atlas (owned by TomTom) and NAVTEQ (a wholly owned subsidiary of Nokia). More than year ago Google released the ability to move addresses or add a new place. With this feature any logged in user can make an edit; you can even watch the edits in a realtime viewer. If your change is accepted it will show up in Google Maps. Road geometry and address changes derived from Tele Atlas data will be sent back to Tele Atlas to help improve its information. The updated data will eventually make it into new-owner Tomtom's GPSs and potentially Google's competitors who also use Tele Atlas. The data collected via MapMaker will not be shared with Tele Atlas.

Google is gradually dropping its dependence on the traditional commercial map vendors like TeleAtlas and Navteq. Instead, it is relying on unpaid volunteers to create digital maps of 140 countries, including India, Pakistan and the Philippines, that are more complete than many maps created professionally. One such volunteer mentioned in the NY Times story is Faraz Ahmad, a 26-year-old programmer from Pakistan who now lives in Glasgow, Scotland. He took one look at the map of India and decided he did not want to see his native Pakistan left behind by its traditional rival. So he began mapping Pakistan in his free time, using information from friends, family and existing maps. Faraz Ahmad is now the top contributor to Google Map Maker, logging more than 41,000 changes.

India-Pakistan rivalry took on a new dimension when Faraz tried to work on Azad Kashmir, and he found that Map Maker wouldn’t allow it. He said his contributions were finally accepted by the Map Maker team, which is led by engineers based in India, but only after a long e-mail exchange.

At his request, Google is now preventing further changes to the disputed region, after people in India tried to make it part of their country, Faraz told the NY Times. “Whenever you have a Pakistani and an Indian doing something together, there is a political discussion or dispute.”

In addition to Faraz, there is a whole community of Pakistani volunteer programmers and mapmakers currently adding roads, streets, businesses, crossings and various points of interest (POIs) for areas for which there are no maps defined yet. Then other users approve or disapprove the additions and changes. Eventually, the maps are posted to Google maps and Google maps mobile. Fairly detailed Google maps for mobile are available today for Pakistan. Such searchable, navigable and routable digital maps are expected to help grow real estate, travel, transportation, retail, financial services, healthcare and emergency services and other service sectors.

The reason why mobile maps have come first is because of the large user base of about 80-90 million mobile phone subscribers. Pakistan has a vast data network over GSM/GPRS/EDGE and EVDO and there are no alternative street navigation systems, with the exception of fairly expensive car navigation systems costing tens of thousands of rupees. Google has a database of cell Towers in Pakistan, and with the help of these towers it identifies the location of the user in real time, within about 10 to 20 meters and sometimes up to 3000 to 4000 meters, depending upon the density of cell towers in a given area. If the mobile phone has data service enabled, the user can download the Google mobile map application from After downloading the application and installing it, it is available in the applications folder of the mobile phone.

A number of GPS enthusiasts have also developed Garmin compatible navigation maps for Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and a few other cities in Pakistan. But it's rare to see car navigation systems in Pakistan.

As painful as it is to watch the constant media coverage of blood and terror in the streets of Pakistan, the NY Times story of volunteer cartographers and the recent Karachi Fashion Week illustrate that there is more to Pakistan than meets the eyes or reaches the ears of the passive consumers of the western and Pakistani news media.

I am glad that there are enough volunteer programmers and amateur cartographers in Pakistan to attempt to build detailed digital maps and maintain them in their spare time--without the assistance of commercial vendors like Tele Atlas and Navteq who did the same for North America and Europe at huge costs. The main contribution of the government under President Musharraf was to invest in the growth of the telecommunications, higher education, and the Internet infrastructure, a pre-requisite for online volunteer collaboration in projects such as map making. It shows what the Pakistani people are capable of doing with just a little help, in spite of the continuing institutional failures in Pakistan. As I have said before, and I repeat here again, it is better to light a candle than curse darkness.

Here's a video clip explaining Google Maps for mobile:

Related Links:

Life Goes On in Pakistan

Pakistan's Multi-billion Dollar IT Industry

Routable Maps of Karachi, Pakistan

Online Maps: Everyman Offers New Directions

Mapping Pakistan

Digitizing Pakistan

Google Maps Come to Pakistan

EVDO Pakistan

GPS Automotive Navigation in Pakistan

SatNav in Pakistan

Pakistan Cartography Wiki Project

Light a Candle, Do Not Curse Darkness