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Pakistan Opens Indian Visitors' Eyes

Several prominent Indian journalists and writers have visited Pakistan in recent years for the first time in their lives.  I am sharing with my readers selected excerpts of the reports from Mahanth Joishy (USIndiaMonitor.com), Panakaj Mishra (Bloomberg), Hindol Sengupta (The Hindu), Madhulika Sikka (NPR) and Yoginder Sikand (Countercurrents) of what they saw and how they felt in the neighbor's home. My hope is that their stories will help foster close ties between the two estranged South Asian nations.

Mahanth S. Joishy, Editor, usindiamonitor.com :  (July, 2012)


Many of us travel for business or
leisure.  But few ever take a trip that dramatically shatters their
entire worldview of a country and a people in one fell swoop.  I was
lucky enough to have returned from just such a trip: a week-long sojourn
in Pakistan.

It was a true eye-opener, and a
thoroughly enjoyable one at that.  Many of the assumptions and feelings I
had held toward the country for nearly 30 years were challenged and
exposed as wrong and even ignorant outright.

 ------------------------------

 The Western and Indian media feed us a steady diet of stories about bomb
blasts, gunfights, kidnappings, torture, subjugation of women,
dysfunctional government, and scary madrassa schools that are training
the next generation of jihadist terrorists.  And yes, to many Westerners
and especially Indians, Pakistan is the enemy, embodying all that is
wrong in the world.  Incidents such as the beheading of
American journalist Daniel Pearl, 26/11
and the Osama Bin Laden raid in Abottobad have not helped the cause
either.  Numerous international relations analysts proclaim that
Pakistan is “the most dangerous place in the world” and the border with
India is “the most dangerous border in the world.”


--------------------------------------

(Upon arrival in Karachi) two uniformed bodyguards with rifles who
were exceedingly friendly and welcoming climbed onto the pickup truck
bed as we started on a 45-minute drive.  I was impressed by the massive,
well-maintained parks and gardens surrounding the airport.  I was also
impressed by the general cleanliness, the orderliness of the traffic,
the quality of the roads, and the greenery. Coming from a city
government background, I was surprised at how organized Karachi was
throughout the ride.  I also didn’t see many beggars the entire way.  I
had just spent significant amounts of time in two major Indian cities,
Mumbai and Bangalore, as well as several second-tier cities like
Mangalore, and none would compare favorably on maintenance and city
planning, especially when it came to potholes and waste management.
 This was the first surprise; I was expecting that piles of garbage and
dirt would line the roads and beggars would overflow onto the streets.
 Surely there is dirt and poverty in Karachi, but far less than I was
expecting.  Karachi was also less dense and crowded than India’s cities.




My second pleasant surprise was to see
numerous large development projects under way.  I had read about
Pakistan’s sluggish GDP growth and corruption in public works and
foreign aid disbursement.  This may be true, but construction was going
on all over the place: new movie theaters, new malls, new skyscrapers,
new roads, and entire new neighborhoods being built from scratch.  In
this regard it was similar to India and every other part of Asia I had
seen recently: new development and rapid change continues apace,
something we are seeing less of in the West.

 -----------------------

 We were also able to do some things which
may sound more familiar to Americans: bowling at Karachi’s first
bowling alley, intense games of pickup basketball with some local
teenagers at a large public park (these kids could really play),
or passing through massive and well-appointed malls filled with
thousands of happy people of all ages walking around, shopping, or
eating at the food court.  We even attended a grand launch party for
Magnum ice cream bars, featuring many of Pakistan’s A-list actors,
models, and businesspeople.  A friend who is involved in producing
musicals directed an excellent performance at the party, complete with
live band, singing, and dancing.  This troupe, Made for Stage has also produced shows such as the Broadway musical Chicago to critical acclaim with an all-Pakistani cast for the first time in history.




Even the poor areas we visited, such as
the neighborhoods around the Mazar, were filled with families coming out
for a picnic or a stroll, enjoying their weekend leisure time in the
sun.  All I could see were friendly and happy people, including children
with striking features running around.  At no time did I feel the least
bit unsafe anywhere we went, and we definitely went through a mix of
neighborhoods with varying profiles.

 ------------------------------------------

 Lahore is more beautiful overall than
Karachi or any large Indian city I’ve seen.  Serious effort has gone
into keeping the city green and preserving its storied history. 
Historians would have a field day here.  In particular we saw two
stunning historic mosques, the Wazir Khan and the Badshahi,
both of which should be considered treasures not only for Muslims,
Pakistanis, or South Asia, but for all of humanity.  I felt it a crime
that I’d never even heard of either one.  Each of them in different ways
features breath-taking architecture and intricate artwork comparable to
India’s Taj Mahal.  These are must-see sights for any tourist to
Lahore.  The best way to enjoy the vista of the Badshahi mosque is to
have a meal on the rooftop of one of the many superb restaurants on Food
Street next to the mosque compound.  This interesting area was for
hundreds of years an infamous red-light district, made up of a series of
old wooden rowhouses that look like they were lifted straight out of
New Orleans’ Bourbon Street, strangely juxtaposed with one of the
country’s holiest shrines.  From the roof of Cuckoo’s Den restaurant,
we could see all of the massive Badshahi complex along with the
adjoining royal fortress, all while having a 5-star meal of kebabs,
spicy curries in clay pots, and lassi under the stars.  We were
fortunate to have very pleasant whether as well.  This alfresco dining
experience with two good friends encompassed my favorite moments in the
city.




We did much more in Lahore.  We were given a tour of the renowned Aitchison College,
which one of my friends attended.  This boys’ private prep school is
known for its difficult entrance exams, rigorous academic tradition,
illustrious list of alumni since the British founded the school, and its
gorgeous and impeccably maintained 200-acre campus that  puts most
major universities icluding my own Georgetown to shame.  Aitchison has
been considered one of the best prep schools on the subcontinent since
1886.  However, it would have been impossible to get a tour without the
alumni connection because security is very thorough.




Pankaj Mishra, Bloomberg:  (April, 2012)

...I also saw much in this recent visit that did not conform to the
main Western narrative for South Asia -- one in which India is steadily
rising and Pakistan rapidly collapsing.

Born of certain
geopolitical needs and exigencies, this vision was always most useful to
those who have built up India as an investment destination and a
strategic counterweight to China, and who have sought to bribe and
cajole Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment into the war on
terrorism.

Seen through the narrow lens of the West’s security
and economic interests, the great internal contradictions and tumult
within these two large nation-states disappear. In the Western view, the
credit-fueled consumerism among the Indian middle class appears a much
bigger phenomenon than the extraordinary Maoist uprising in Central
India.
------------
Traveling through Pakistan, I realized how
much my own knowledge of the country -- its problems as well as
prospects -- was partial, defective or simply useless. Certainly,
truisms about the general state of crisis were not hard to corroborate.
Criminal gangs shot rocket-propelled grenades at each other and the
police in Karachi’s Lyari neighborhood. Shiite Hazaras were being
assassinated in Balochistan every day. Street riots broke out in several
places over severe power shortages -- indeed, the one sound that seemed
to unite the country was the groan of diesel generators, helping the
more affluent Pakistanis cope with early summer heat.

In
this eternally air-conditioned Pakistan, meanwhile, there exist fashion
shows, rock bands, literary festivals, internationally prominent
writers, Oscar-winning filmmakers and the bold anchors of a lively new
electronic media. This is the glamorously liberal country upheld by
English-speaking Pakistanis fretting about their national image in the
West (some of them might have been gratified by the runaway success of
Hello magazine’s first Pakistani edition last week).

But much
less conspicuous and more significant, other signs of a society in rapid
socioeconomic and political transition abounded. The elected parliament
is about to complete its five- year term -- a rare event in Pakistan --
and its amendments to the constitution have taken away some if not all
of the near- despotic prerogatives of the president’s office.

Political
parties are scrambling to take advantage of the strengthening
ethno-linguistic movements for provincial autonomy in Punjab and Sindh
provinces. Young men and women, poor as well as upper middle class, have
suddenly buoyed the anti-corruption campaign led by Imran Khan, an
ex-cricketer turned politician.

After radically increasing the
size of the consumerist middle class to 30 million, Pakistan’s formal
economy, which grew only 2.4 percent in 2011, currently presents a
dismal picture. But the informal sector of the economy, which spreads
across rural and urban areas, is creating what the architect and social
scientist Arif Hasan calls Pakistan’s “unplanned revolution.” Karachi,
where a mall of Dubai-grossness recently erupted near the city’s main
beach, now boasts “a first world economy and sociology, but with a third
world wage and political structure.”

Even in Lyari, Karachi’s
diseased old heart, where young gangsters with Kalashnikovs lurked in
the alleys, billboards vended quick proficiency in information
technology and the English language. Everywhere, in the Salt Range in
northwestern Punjab as well as the long corridor between Lahore and
Islamabad, were gated housing colonies, private colleges, fast- food
restaurants and other markers of Pakistan’s breakneck
suburbanization.
...

Hindol Sengupta, The Hindu: (May, 2010)

Add this bookstore to the list of India-Pakistan rivalry. A bookstore so
big that it is actually called a bank. The book store to beat all
bookstores in the subcontinent, I have found books I have never seen
anywhere in India at the three-storeyed Saeed Book Bank in leafy
Islamabad. The collection is diverse, unique and with a special focus on
foreign policy and subcontinental politics (I wonder why?), this
bookstore is far more satisfying than any of the magazine-laden
monstrosities I seem to keep trotting into in India. ...









Yes,
that's right. The meat. There always, always seems to be meat in every
meal, everywhere in Pakistan. Every where you go, everyone you know is
eating meat. From India, with its profusion of vegetarian food, it seems
like a glimpse of the other world. The bazaars of Lahore are full of
meat of every type and form and shape and size and in Karachi, I have
eaten some of the tastiest rolls ever. For a Bengali committed to his
non-vegetarianism, this is paradise regained. Also, the quality of meat
always seems better, fresher, fatter, more succulent, more seductive,
and somehow more tantalizingly carnal in Pakistan. ....

Let me
tell you that there is no better leather footwear than in Pakistan. I
bought a pair of blue calf leather belt-ons from Karachi two years ago
and I wear them almost everyday and not a dent or scratch! Not even the
slightest tear. They are by far the best footwear I have ever bought and
certainly the most comfortable. Indian leather is absolutely no match
for the sheer quality and handcraftsmanship of Pakistani leather wear.

Yes.
Yes, you read right. The roads. I used to live in Mumbai and now I live
in Delhi and, yes, I think good roads are a great, mammoth, gargantuan
luxury! Face it, when did you last see a good road in India? Like a
really smooth road. Drivable, wide, nicely built and long, yawning,
stretching so far that you want zip on till eternity and loosen the
gears and let the car fly. A road without squeeze or bump or gaping
holes that pop up like blood-dripping kitchen knives in Ramsay Brothers
films. When did you last see such roads? Pakistan is full of such roads.
Driving on the motorway between Islamabad and Lahore, I thought of the
Indian politician who ruled a notorious —, one could almost say
viciously — potholed state and spoke of turning the roads so smooth that
they would resemble the cheeks of Hema Malini. They remained as dented
as the face of Frankenstein's monster. And here, in Pakistan, I was
travelling on roads that — well, how can one now avoid this? — were as
smooth as Hema Malini's cheeks! Pakistani roads are broad and smooth and
almost entirely, magically, pot hole free. How do they do it; this
country that is ostensibly so far behind in economic growth compared to
India? But they do and one of my most delightful experiences in Pakistan
has been travelling on its fabulous roads. No wonder the country is
littered with SUVs — Pakistan has the roads for such cars! Even in tiny
Bajaur in the North West frontier province, hard hit by the Taliban, and
a little more than a frontier post, the roads were smoother than many I
know in India. Even Bajaur has a higher road density than India! If
there is one thing we should learn from the Pakistanis, it is how to
build roads. And oh, another thing, no one throws beer bottles or trash
on the highways and motorways.

Madhulika Sikka, NPR News: (May, 2010)


This may be hard to believe, but the first thing that crosses your
mind when you drive into Islamabad is suburban Virginia
— its wide
roads, modern buildings, cleanliness and orderliness is a complete
contrast to the hustle and bustle of the ancient city of Lahore, some
220 miles east on the Grand Trunk Road.




Islamabad
is laid out in a grid with numbered avenues running north to south. The
streets are tree lined and flowers abound among the vast open stretches
of green space.


Perhaps one of the
most beautiful spots is the Margallah Hills National Park. Drive up the
winding road on the northern edge of town to the scenic view points and
you'll see the broad planned city stretch before you.

It's
a Sunday afternoon and you could be in any park in any city in the
world. Families are out for a stroll and picnicking on park benches.
There's a popcorn vendor and an ice cream seller. Kids are playing on a
big inflatable slide. Peacocks strut their full plumage as people are
busily clicking away on their cellphone cameras. Lively music permeates
the air as souvenir sellers are hawking their wares. Off one of the side
paths I notice a young couple lunching at a bench, a respectable
distance apart from each other but clearly wanting to be alone.




So what's it like here? It's pretty much like everywhere else. On a
quiet Sunday afternoon people are out with their families, relaxing and
enjoying themselves, taking a break from the stresses and strains of
daily life. For all of us this is an image of Pakistan worth
remembering. I certainly will.

 

Yoginder Sikand, Countercurrents.org : (June, 2008)

Islamabad is surely the most well-organized,picturesque and endearing
city in all of South Asia. Few Indians would, however, know this, or, if
they did, would admit it. After all, the Indian media never highlights
anything positive about Pakistan, because for it only 'bad' news about
the country appears to be considered 'newsworthy'. That realization hit
me as a rude shock the moment I stepped out of the plane and entered
Islamabad's plush International Airport, easily far more efficient,
modern and better maintained than any of its counterparts in India.
And
right through my week-long stay in the city, I could not help comparing
Islamabad favorably with every other South Asian city that I have
visited. That week in Islamabad consisted essentially of a long string
of pleasant surprises, for I had expected Islamabad to be everything
that the Indian media so uncharitably and erroneously depicts Pakistan
as. The immigration counter was staffed by a smart young woman, whose
endearing cheerfulness was a refreshing contrast to the grave, somber
and unwelcoming looks that one is generally met with at immigration
counters across the world that make visitors to a new country feel
instantly unwelcome.


Here's a Pakistan Pictorial:
Find more photos like this on PakAlumni Worldwide: The Global Social Network


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Comment by Riaz Haq on July 30, 2012 at 10:51am

Here's an ET report on housing market in Pakistan:

In Pakistan, average monthly expenditure on rent per household has increased at an annual rate of over 13% for the last nine years, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS).

A look at the Household Integrated Economic Survey (HIES) released by the PBS reveals that an average Pakistani family spent Rs888 every month on house rent in 2001-02; which rose to Rs2,693 in 2010-11; signifying an annualised increase of 13.12% over a period of nine years.

Interestingly, in the same period, annual rise in average house rent in rural areas was 2.7% higher than the corresponding increase in urban areas – even though 85.63% of the populace of rural areas lives in owner-occupied houses. In contrast, 75.79% of the urban population lives in houses that they own.

Urban housing

The highest number of people living in rented houses in urban areas belongs to the third quintile of the population in terms of income distribution at 22.38%. The third quintile in income distribution is representative of the middle class in a society.

The lowest number of people living in rented houses in urban areas – 15.93% – belongs to the fifth quintile of the income distribution. This suggests that the richest people in urban areas are most likely to own the house they live in.

The HIES figures also reveal that the poorest people, belonging to the first quintile in urban areas, end up spending 83% more on house rent as compared to a comparable group living in rural areas. Similarly, the richest people belonging to the fifth quintile living in urban areas tend to spend 220% more on average house rent per household, as compared to a comparable segment of the population living in rural areas.

Home ownership and per-capita incomes

“Rise in per-capita income does not seem to display any correlation with the percentage of owner-occupied houses in Pakistan,” economist Kaiser Bengali said, while talking to The Express Tribune. “In many cases, someone who works as a peon and earns a low monthly income can still own a house in Pakistan. This is so because people belonging to certain professions – such as the civil service, military, police, government teachers, journalists etc – receive free or subsidised land from the government or other trusts.”

Data supports Bengali’s view. Pakistan’s Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, formerly known as the Gross National Product per capita, increased by 9.62% annually between 2002 and 2011; but the number of persons living in owner-occupied houses over the same period remained almost stagnant at around 79% of the population.

Bengali says an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis can afford to live in their own houses because the free-market mechanism does not actually operate in the country’s real estate sector. Many people receive land on subsidised rates, he informs us, because of professional affiliations. “The government announces housing schemes regularly for its employees in different ministries and departments. That enables people to acquire land at negligible costs,” he says; adding that land is the primary expense in real estate, because physical structures can be built gradually over an extended period of time.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/414818/real-estate-the-pakistani-housin...

Comment by Riaz Haq on August 3, 2012 at 2:04pm

Here's an ET report on public sector development projects in Pakistan:

The groundbreaking of roughly 70 projects in the next five months hinges on the timely allocation of funds and the ability of ministries to deliver, according to Planning Commission.

In a briefing regarding the possibility of completing the projects before announcement of next general elections, the Planning Commission told Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf that roughly 170 mega projects can be completed in one year and half of them by December this year provided these bottlenecks are removed. The Commission has outlined about 250 projects, both mega and small, that could be inaugurated within a year.

After assuming charge, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had directed the Planning Commission to prioritise the projects that could be inaugurated before the PPP-led coalition government completes its five-year term.

However, Planning Commission sources said that the existing Rs360 billion total PSDP portfolio is not sufficient to meet the requirements. They added, the Commission cannot divert all funds against the projects where less than 40% work is completed as already allocations were made which were sufficient to pay the salaries of the employees.

There are roughly 1,044 projects having total estimated cost of Rs1.8 trillion in 2012-13 Public Sector Development Programme document. The projects which are near completion are in the sectors of water are 11, power (14), transport and communication (39), physical planning and housing (65), health (10), higher education (33), education (6) and rest are in the others category.

Sources said in the last quarter of the last fiscal year the government delayed billions of rupees payments to contractors to avoid development budget overruns. These payments have shifted to this year’s Rs360 billion budget affecting the allocations of other schemes.

A finance ministry official said that the ministry suggested in the meeting to divert funds from the existing pool instead of seeking additional resources for completion of priority projects. They added the ministry cannot pool funds until the executing agencies were serious enough to take on the task. Furthermore, many of projects were being delayed due to litigation and land disputes.

Meanwhile, according to Prime Minister House, the government has decided to focus its efforts and pool its resources for the expeditious completion of the Kachi Canal project within this year. The premier directed the finance ministry to immediately release Rs6 billion required for the completion of the project.

The meeting also decided to complete Dadu-Khuzdar Transmission line on fast-track basis. It was also decided that Kallat-Quetta-Chaman road be completed before end of this year. The Prime Minister also directed the fast-track completion of Kalat-Rato Dero, Khori-Qubi Saeed Khan section (Kuhzdar-Rato Deo road) and Gawader-Rato Dero road.

The prime minister observed that though the allocation of public sector development funds have been increasing over the years, their impact has been missing since the projects could not be completed in time for one reason or the other leading to cost over-runs and delay, said the PM House.

The premier directed that the approval of the projects should be accorded keeping in view their national and strategic importance. The prime minister also observed that all health related projects should be completed on priority basis.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/416788/70-development-projects-to-start...

Comment by Riaz Haq on August 18, 2012 at 6:44pm

Here's NY Times piece on how Bollywood portrays Pakistan and Pakistanis:

...the need for patriotic films arose as the newly formed nation was looking for a reason to remain united. Pakistan became a convenient excuse. As India’s national identity began to strengthen in the 1960s, jingoistic films began to emerge.

Manoj Kumar’s 1967 classic, “Upkar,” for instance, had covert references to Pakistan, but never named the country outright. The protagonist in the film is suggestively called Bharat (Hindi for India), who takes a moral high ground when his younger brother asks for the family property to be divided between them.
------------
The younger brother (Pakistan is metaphorically called the younger brother of India) is the evil one, who exploits the older one’s tolerance. “Such family metaphors were used by the industry until much, much later,” said Namrata Joshi, associate editor of Outlook magazine.

Professor Kumar said it wasn’t until 1973, in Chetan Anand’s “Hindustan Ki Kasam,” which was based on the 1971 war between the two countries, that a movie made unambiguous references to Pakistan. “But Pakistan still remained an unnamed malevolent power on Indian screens,” he said.
-----------
The 1990s saw a sudden spurt in Hindi films talking about the tensions with Pakistan. “The problem was that Indian filmmakers chose to see Pakistan in only military terms. No one tried to portray or even find out what Pakistani society looked like,” Professor Kumar said. “They began to equate Pakistan to its ‘evil’ military.”

Films like “Border,” based on the 1971 war with Pakistan, were released, where patriotism took on a new definition. “You loved India only if you hated Pakistan,” said Ms. Joshi of Outlook.
-----------
A typical modern-day Hindi film on the tension between the two countries would have morally upright Indians and sinful Pakistanis. “However, they always distinguished Indian Muslims and Pakistani Muslims. The former were always the good guys,” said the journalist and film critic Aseem Chhabra.

The cross-border tensions on screens portrayed a rather subtle gender politics as well. “I don’t remember a film where the girl is from India and the boy from Pakistan,” said Ms. Joshi. “India had to have an upper hand sexually as well.”

The Hindi film industry witnessed some high-octane nationalism in the early 2000s with films like “Gadar” and “Maa Tujhe Salaam” having blatant Pakistan-bashing scenes. Pakistan was the evil enemy, much like what the former Soviet Union was to the United States during the Cold War
------------
The way the Hindi film industry has looked at Pakistan has always been dependent on the mood of the nation and government policies. “But now, filmmakers keep in mind the mood of the market as well,” Professor Kumar said, “because Pakistan is emerging as a huge market for Bollywood films.” As Pakistani diaspora increases in number, this market would further expand....
---------
Despite these changes in sentiment, films featuring cross-border espionage like “Agent Vinod” and Salman Khan’s “Ek Tha Tiger,” which released Wednesday, still face problems with the censors on both sides of the borders.

“With Indo-Pak films, as with Indo-Pak relations, it is always one step forward and two steps back,” said Professor Kumar.

http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/16/how-bollywoods-views-on-p...

Comment by Riaz Haq on October 7, 2012 at 9:08am

Here's Arms Control Wonk Michael Krepon on visiting Pakistan:

There’s no shortage of bad news about Pakistan. Lots of trend lines are worrisome. That said, allow me to fuzz up your mental image of Pakistan with these thoughts, while they are still fresh from a trip in mid-September.

Pakistan has lots of bright, able, independent-minded, young talent.

Pakistan has a middle class. This cohort can grow and prosper if a nation of traders is free to trade freely and directly to the subcontinent, as well as to Central Asia.

Pakistan has vigorous political parties. It has an election coming up whose outcome cannot be confidently predicted. Religious parties are minority parties. How many Islamic states fit this description?

Pakistan’s armed forces are beset by many problems. These problems will only be compounded by seizing power. Pakistan’s politicians have running room to succeed – or to make the same old mistakes.

Everyone in the country understands that the economy has to improve. Without economic growth, national security is a mirage.

The Line of Control dividing Kashmir has been mostly quiet for almost a decade now.

On August 14th, Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, gave a speech at the Pakistan Military Academy on the occasion of Pakistan’s 65th Independence Day. What he said has gotten little play outside of Pakistan.

Here’s a sampler:

It becomes blatant extremism when one not only insists upon finality of personal opinion, but tries imposing it on others. More so, if one tries to enforce his opinion through use of gun, it becomes terrorism. That is why Islam does not allow anyone to claim to be a know all, and flirt with divinity.

If this is the correct definition of extremism and terrorism, then the war against it is our own war, and a just war, too. Any misgivings in this regards can divide us internally, leading to a civil war situation. It is therefore, vital that our minds must be clear of cobwebs on this crucial issue.

The war against extremism and terrorism is not only the Army’s war, but that of the whole nation. We as a nation must stand united against this threat. Army’s success is dependent on the will and support of the people… It is also crucial that appropriate laws are passed to deal with terrorism. Since 2001, many countries in the world have formulated special anti-terrorism laws. Unfortunately, our progress towards such legislation remained very slow…

We are fully aware that it is the most difficult task for any Army to fight its own people. This is always done as a last resort. Our ultimate aim is to bring peace to these areas so that the people can live a normal life. But for that to happen, it is critical that people abide by the constitution and law of the land. No state can afford a parallel system of governance and militias.

Please compare these remarks with those Gen. Kayani gave at the same venue shortly before the Osama bin Laden raid. It is standard practice to blame Pakistan’s ills on unwise choices by its military leaders. I’ve been there and done that, and will probably do so again. And yet, no other Pakistani politician has come close to framing the issues that Pakistan faces in this way.

Is this hokum, or is there a shift underway? Is the trade initiative a tactical maneuver or a possible strategic opening? We’ll see. There are too many complicating factors to enumerate, but here’s one: India, like Pakistan, has a national election coming up.

http://krepon.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/3558/visiting-pakistan

Comment by Riaz Haq on November 12, 2012 at 9:26pm

Here's a Reuters report titled "Dismal trade, production data deepens fears about Indian economy":

India's economic gloom deepened on Monday with a surprise contraction in industrial production, a fall in exports and higher retail inflation, dashing hopes of a quick revival in an economy on track to post its slowest growth in a decade.

The data will add pressure on the government to boost economic growth by fast-tracking stalled tax and regulatory reforms. It will also bolster calls for an interest rate cut by the country's central bank, which has so far ruled out any before January, citing high inflation.

Two of the country's biggest business chambers expressed alarm at the data, which caused the rupee to fall to a two-month low. They said it was clear that the slowdown in manufacturing growth had not yet bottomed out.

"At this juncture, it is important that government does not lose momentum on the reform front and needs to take courage now to implement some big ticket reforms," said R V Kanoria, president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

The data underscored the scale of the challenges facing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in trying to revive an economy that once boasted double-digit growth but has been hard hit by the global economic downturn and a series of policy missteps.

Credit Suisse said India's October trade deficit of nearly $21 billion was the country's worst on record and could prompt the government to impose measures to curb the deficit, such as further increases in import duties on gold.

Industrial production unexpectedly shrank an annual 0.4 percent in September, according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO). That came as a nasty surprise to economists who had forecast a rise of 2.8 percent in a Reuters poll.

Analysts had hoped India's festival season, which began in September and will peak this month, would boost sales.

Production of consumer goods fell 0.3 percent in September from a year earlier. Capital goods, a proxy for capital investment in the economy, shrank an annual 12.2 percent.

"Investment plans have slowed down. It takes a long time for investment plans to pick up again," said Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of India's influential Planning Commission.

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram told Reuters earlier this month that growth for this financial year could be as low as 5.5 percent, which would be the slowest rate of expansion since 2002/03.

Delays in environmental and other regulatory clearances, coupled with high interest rates, have hurt many industrial and infrastructure development projects.

The government has launched a slew of initiatives, including raising subsidized diesel prices and opening sectors like supermarkets to foreign players to revive the economy.

But Indian business leaders said it needed to swiftly take more steps, including speeding up approval of infrastructure projects, overhauling the tax system and, reducing its huge fuel, food and fertilizer subsidies burden.

Business leaders also called on the central bank to reduce interest rates that are the highest among the major economies.

Chidambaram has been arguing for lower rates, saying monetary policy has limitations in controlling inflation in an emerging economy such as India and that policymakers must learn to live with some inflation....

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/12/us-india-economy-idUSBRE8...

Comment by Riaz Haq on November 13, 2012 at 10:40pm

Here's some interesting tidbits from a Dutch website about Pak middle class:

Over 80% buy no more than a single pair of shoes a year
A survey conducted by Gallup Pakistan during May 2012 found that 62% of respondents purchased just one pair of shoes for personal use during the previous 12 months. An additional 21% did not purchase any shoes at all during this period. According to Euromonitor International estimates, unit sales of shoes in Pakistan rose by 75.4% between 2006 and 2011, with real value sales increasing by 27.1%, to US$805 million.
Just how big is the middle class?
Writing on Dawn.com, Saki Sherani argues that “two parallel universes existing side by side in Pakistan: an expanding middle class with a voracious appetite for consumption, and a [larger] swathe of population that is increasingly food-insecure.” The consensus estimate is that around 40 million people fall into the former category, but taking the black economy into account, he estimates that the true figure is actually 70 million. He adds that “In absolute terms, it is the fourth largest middle class cohort in Asia, behind China, India and Indonesia. Affluent, educated, urbanised, and increasingly 'globalised,' Pakistan's middle class is not only growing, but is already a voracious consumer.” He also cites an e-mail he received from a friend who recently visited the country: “This place is rocking. The pizza parlours, coffee houses, swank new malls are all packed, brimming with consumers. It took us nearly a month to get a reservation in Karachi's top restaurant!” According to Euromonitor International data, the proportion of Pakistanis with an annual disposable income of at least US$10,000 (at purchasing power parity) increased from 29.2% to 52.3% between 2006 and 2011.
M-commerce: huge potential but many obstacles remain
Speaking to The News Pakistan, against the backdrop of the 5th International Conference on Mobile Banking in Pakistan, which took place in Karachi during mid March, Lito Villanueva of Visa International said that there was huge potential for m-commerce in Pakistan because most people are still unbanked and the rate of mobile penetration is relatively high. However, Amer Pasha, country manager of Visa Pakistan cautioned that levels of financial literacy were still low, even among literate people. He added that most shopkeepers and traders “prefer cash so that they can remain in the undocumented economy.”
Skin creams popular during winter
A survey conducted by Gallup Pakistan during January 2012 has found that 91% of Pakistanis use some method to protect their skin during the dry winter months. 57% said they used cream or lotion to protect their skin, while 24% claimed to use oil, and 8% soap or facewash, while 2% utilised homemade remedies. According to Euromonitor International data, value sales of skin care products in Pakistan were worth US$92.9 million during 2010....

http://www.agentschapnl.nl/onderwerp/pakistan-marktkenmerken

Comment by Riaz Haq on January 24, 2013 at 10:22pm

Here's Peter Osborne in Daily Telegraph on Pakistan:

It was my first evening in Pakistan. My hosts, a Lahore banker and his charming wife, wanted to show me the sights, so they took me to a restaurant on the roof of a town house in the Old City.

My food was delicious, the conversation sparky – and from our vantage point we enjoyed a perfect view of the Badshahi Mosque, which was commissioned by the emperor Aurangzeb in 1671.

It was my first inkling of a problem. I had been dispatched to write a report reflecting the common perception that Pakistan is one of the most backward and savage countries in the world. This attitude has been hard-wired into Western reporting for years and is best summed up by the writing of the iconic journalist Christopher Hitchens. Shortly before he died last December, Hitchens wrote a piece in Vanity Fair that bordered on racism.

Pakistan, he said, was “humourless, paranoid, insecure, eager to take offence and suffering from self-righteousness, self-pity and self-hatred”. In summary, asserted Hitchens, Pakistan was one of the “vilest and most dangerous regions on Earth”.

Since my first night in that Lahore restaurant I have travelled through most of Pakistan, got to know its cities, its remote rural regions and even parts of the lawless north. Of course there is some truth in Hitchens’s brash assertions. Since 2006 alone, more than 14,000 Pakistani civilians have been killed in terrorist attacks. The Pakistan political elite is corrupt, self-serving, hypocritical and cowardly – as Pakistanis themselves are well aware. And a cruel intolerance is entering public discourse, as the appalling murder last year of minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti after he spoke out for Christians so graphically proves. Parts of the country have become impassable except at risk of kidnap or attack.

Yet the reality is far more complex. Indeed, the Pakistan that is barely documented in the West – and that I have come to know and love – is a wonderful, warm and fabulously hospitable country. And every writer who (unlike Hitchens), has ventured out of the prism of received opinion and the suffocating five-star hotels, has ended up celebrating rather than denigrating Pakistan.
---------
Many write of how dangerous Pakistan has become. More remarkable, by far, is how safe it remains, thanks to the strength and good humour of its people. The image of the average Pakistani citizen as a religious fanatic or a terrorist is simply a libel, the result of ignorance and prejudice.

The prejudice against Pakistan dates back to before 9/11. It is summed up best by the England cricketer Ian Botham’s notorious comment that “Pakistan is the sort of place every man should send his mother-in-law to, for a month, all expenses paid”. Some years after Botham’s outburst, the Daily Mirror had the inspired idea of sending Botham’s mother-in-law Jan Waller to Pakistan – all expenses paid – to see what she made of the country.

Unlike her son-in-law, Mrs Waller had the evidence of her eyes before her: “The country and its people have absolutely blown me away,” said the 68-year-old grandmother.

After a trip round Lahore’s old town she said: “I could not have imagined seeing some of the sights I have seen today. They were indefinable and left me feeling totally humbled and totally privileged.” She concluded: “All I would say is: ‘Mothers-in-law of the world, unite and go to Pakistan. Because you’ll love it’. Honestly!”

Mrs Waller is telling the truth. And if you don’t believe me, please visit and find out for yourself.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/asia/pakistan/910050...

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 1, 2013 at 10:23am

Here's a piece in WSJ on how Pakistanis view Zero Dark Thirty, the movie:

Pakistani commentators have seized on the film even though it is not being officially distributed.

Nadeem Paracha, senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper, one of Pakistan’s leading English-language newspapers, catalogued what he considered flaws in its depiction of Pakistani society in a blog post on Thursday.

He went on to suggest, through a series of comic photographs, that the Oscar-nominated film reinforces American and Pakistani stereotypes about each other.

Similarly, Dawn’s film critic, Mohammad Kamran Jawaid, in a freewheeling and, at times, contradictory review, suggested that viewers’ response to the film would depend “on the individual’s level of hurt.”

In a review for the Express Tribune, Noman Ansari, a freelance writer, sought to add some perspective.

“Yes, Zero Dark Thirty portrays a dark corner of Pakistan, but the film never claims that this is all there is to the country,” the piece said. “It doesn’t have to, because this is a film about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, and not about Pakistan’s glorious win at the cricket world cup. And like it or not, our national army was completely clueless about an operation by a foreign military on its own soil, near its own naval compound.”

It added: “So if Zero Dark Thirty makes us look completely incompetent and stupid when it came to the events of May 2, 2011, perhaps it is because we were.”

The raid depicted in the movie caused huge consternation among ordinary Pakistanis when it happened, according to a survey. In a poll conducted by YouGov in association with Polis at Cambridge University shortly after the raid, 75% of Pakistani respondents said they disapproved of the U.S. operation and 66% didn’t believe that Osama Bin Laden had been killed at the compound in Abbottabad.

The association between bin Laden and Abbottabad continues to rankle residents of the town.

“I am disappointed that my town harbored a terrorist who had caused damage to my country,” said a 31-year-old woman in Abbottabad, who declined to be named. “My town is now notorious. My cousins in Canada no longer tell people that they are from Abbottabad.”

But when she was whether Zero Dark Thirty should be shown in Pakistan, she said: “Pakistanis watch Indian movies and, if you read the Pakistani press, we are led to believe that they are the enemy, too.”

http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2013/02/01/what-pakistan-thinks-...

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 1, 2013 at 10:33am

Here's Nadeem Paracha in Dawn on Zero Dark Thirty, the movie:

Recent Hollywood blockbuster, ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, was quite an experience. Though sharp in its production and direction and largely accurate in depicting the events that led to the death of Osama Bin Laden, it went ballistic bad in depicting everyday life on the streets of Pakistan.

With millions of dollars at their disposal, I wonder why the makers of this film couldn’t hire even a most basic advisor to inform them that

1: Pakistanis speak Urdu, English and other regional languages and NOT Arabic;

2: Pakistani men do not go around wearing 17th and 18th century headgear in markets;

3: The only Urdu heard in the film is from a group of wild-eyed men protesting against an American diplomat, calling him ‘chor.’ Chor in Urdu means robber. And the protest rally was against US drone strikes. How did that make the diplomat a chor?

4: And how on earth was a green Mercedes packed with armed men parked only a few feet away from the US embassy in Islamabad? Haven’t the producers ever heard of an area called the Diplomatic Enclave in Islamabad? Even a squirrel these days has to run around for a permit to enter and climb trees in that particular area.

I can go on.

The following is what I have learned …...

http://dawn.com/2013/01/31/zero-iq-thirty/

Comment by Riaz Haq on January 17, 2014 at 10:22am

I never spoke much of my parents’ language, Sindhi, but I did know it. One of the most interesting elements of the trip was visiting my father’s town, Rohiri, his birthplace. I found there was still a sizeable Hindu community there. That totally took me by surprise. We still think there was a massive religious cleansing in Pakistan and there were no Hindus left.
Then I came across this family of shopkeepers who said, “Don’t worry about anything. Stay with us.” They gave me lunch and dinner and put me on the night train to Lahore. Talking to this family in the neighbourhood where my father grew up and was married was fascinating. The question that came to mind was why did my father’s family leave Pakistan and why are these people still here?
Official figures suggest 14 million people were displaced after partition and that half a million to a million people were killed. And yet 60 years later these Hindu people in Rohiri are still there. They felt connected to the place where they were born.
In the three towns I passed through I kept meeting Hindus — traders, professionals. Their numbers were small, 300 or 400 families in each of these towns. They have their own places of worship. I dared to ask: “Are you happy here?” and they said, “Yes, this is the land where we were born.”
But living as a minority in a society does put you in a delicate situation.

http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2014/01/17/balwant_bhaneja_a_ca...

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