Monday, January 31, 2011

Revolution in Egypt


Mohammed Abed/Agence France-Presse -- Getty Images


Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

One by one, they’ll all fall

This is a new age a new era where the super powers are crumbling under their own weight. The network of client states governed by dictators to serve as proxies for the world’s super powers is fast crumbling.

The past six months have been the most empowering for the world’s disenfranchised. Wikileaks and the Palestinian Papers have revealed a mountain of evidence of global deceit against the poor and powerless.

The fire that started in Tunisia is now touching the heart of Arab’s consciousness. Egypt is about to wake up and rise against the dictator whose cursed shadow had rusted every dawn in the past three decades. There will be light and their will be freedom in Egypt. It may not happen tomorrow or next month, but it will happen soon.

The Mubarak regime has been trying to shut down people’s voices and even the Internet. See the graph below that shows how searches for the Facebook declined from within Egypt after the Mubarak regime pulled the plug on the Internet.


However, such tactics are not going to work. In the words of Faiz:

شہر کی فصیل پر دیو کا جو سایہ تھا
خاک ہو گیا آخر
رات کا لبادہ بھی چاک ہو گیا آخر
پاک ہو گیا آخر
اژدہام انسان سے فرد کی نوا آئی
ذات کی صدا آئی
راہ شوق میں جیسے راہ رو کا خون لپکے
اک نیا جنوں لپکے
آدمی ہنسے دیکھو
شہر پھر بسے دیکھو

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Pakistani flood victims and the elite

Pakistani flood victims rush to pick up relief...Image by United States Marine Corps Official Page via Flickr
٢٠١٠ کے سیلاب کے بعد سیلاب سے متاثر لوگوں کی بد حالی پاکستان کے عوام کے لئے لمحہ فکریہ ہے - غربت اور افلاس کے مارے جب سیلاب میں اپنی جھونپڑیاں بھی ڈوبا چکے تو قوم پر لازم آتا تھا کہ اپنی توجیہات میں ان لاکھوں کو بھی شامل کرتے جو بھوک اور ننگ کی جنگ تنہا نہیں لڑ سکتے -

میں ٹورونٹو میں بیٹھا پاکستان کے امراء کی خرمستیاں پاکستانی ٹیوی پر روز دیکھتا ہوں. کہیں کوئی لودھی صاحب ناچتے گاتے نظر آتیں ہیں تو کہیں سیاسی تجزیہ نگار سیاسی قلابازیوں میں مصروف دکھائی دیتے ہیں - مفلس پاکستانیوں کی کہانی پاکستان کے امراء کی زبان سے عطا ہوتی دکھائی نہیں دیتی - اس کے برعکس امریکا اور کینڈا کے نشریاتی چنلز پر بھوکے ننگے پاکستانیوں کے لیے دوسرے منت سماجت کرتے نظر آتے ہیں.

پاکستانیوں، آنکھیں کھولو اور اپنی ذمے داری پہچانوں - اب بھی وقت ہے کہ جن کا نان نفقہ اور بہبود ہمارے ذمے ہے ہم ان کا حق ادا کر دیں اور اپنے آپ کو آج اور روز محشر شرم سے بچا سکیں -
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Friday, January 28, 2011

Unicef says severe malnutrition after Pakistan floods

This is not a picture from Somalia or Sudan. The haunting picture of a child, who has been reduced to skeleton, is a Pakistani child in his mother's lap.

The devastating floods in July-August 2010 in Pakistan has exposed the vulnerable underbelly of Pakistan. The economy, society, and the state have failed. Famine now stares at the very poor that have been uprooted by floods in Pakistan.

The military and political leadership in Pakistan is indifferent to the plight of those who have put them in position of power. Only last night the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yusuf Raza Gilani, told BBC that his government is doing the very best it can.

The very best of the government in Pakistan has delivered famine instead of food and shelter. Pakistanis are better off without such sham democracy.

While the world is focussed on the Arab street, the situation is fast becoming conducive for a change in Pakistan, which should enable the starving to snatch food and resources from the political and military elite in Pakistan. The Arab street can wait. The starving in Pakistan cannot.

If you can, please donate generously to the World Food Programme and Unicef to help the poor in Pakistan. No one should die of hunger in this age of opulence and waste.

AFP: Severe malnutrition after Pakistan floods: UNICEF
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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Palestinian Authority funded Iranian opposition

Coat of arms of the Islamic Republic of Iran. ...Image via WikipediaGrowing weary of the Hamas-Iranian nexus, the Palestinian Authority retaliated against Iran by pouring millions into a radio station to help the opposition led by Mir Hussein Mousavi against the Iranian President Mahmood Ahmadinejad. These details were revealed in the Palestinian Papers released simultaneously by Al-Jazeera and the Guardian.

It was only a few weeks ago that Wikileaks revealed through the release of American cables that the Saudi King was asking the Americans to attack Iran. Despite decades of Iranian support for the Palestinian people, the Sunni Arabs, including the Palestinians, miss no opportunity to inflict harm on the Shiite Persians.

The centuries old Arab-Ajam rivalries are going strong.
The Hindu : News / International : Palestine papers: Abbas sought funds for Iran
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Pakistan floods crisis is far from over, says Oxfam

Six months after the devastating floods in Pakistan, life has not improved for most of the affectees.

BBC News - Pakistan floods crisis is far from over, says Oxfam

Modesty photoshopped

Iranian government does not want its chief negotiator seen with a foreign female official with low neckline. The result is a doctored image of Reuters' photograh.
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In Photos: Pakistan flood survivors - Features - Al Jazeera English

Al-Jazeera documents the lives of those who survived the floods, and are now at the mercy of their fellow countrymen.

In Photos: Pakistan flood survivors - Features - Al Jazeera English

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Capital punishment in Iran

An image taken from the Sunni Muslim militant group Jundallah (Soldiers of God) website, allegedly shows Saiful Rahman Chabahari (L) and Hessan Khashi (R), the two men who attacked a religious parade in the Iranian city of Chabahar. - AFP Photo
TEHRAN: Iran on Monday hanged 11 members of Sunni militant group Jundallah which claimed last week’s devastating suicide bombing of a Shiite mourning procession, a judiciary official said.

“This morning 11 members of those belonging to (Jundallah), who in recent months were involved in terrorist attacks in the province (Sistan-Baluchestan), fighting with police, and martyring several innocent people have been hanged in Zahedan jail,” Ebrahim Hamidi, head of the provincial justice department, told state news agency IRNA.

Jundallah (Army of God) is a shadowy Sunni militant group which has claimed several deadly attacks in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan province, including a December 15 suicide bombing in the city of Chabahar which killed 39 people and wounded dozens.
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Iranian government hangs political opponents


From BBC:

Iranian authorities have hanged two men convicted of taking part in protests following the disputed presidential election in 2009.

Iranian prosecutors said Jafar Kazemi and Mohammad Ali Hajaghaei had taken photos and footage of the protests and distributed them on the internet.

They were also found guilty of chanting slogans promoting the exiled People's Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI).

A PMOI leader in France, Maryam Rajavi, described the executions as barbaric.

The People's Mujahideen of Iran is an exiled opposition group which has campaigned against clerical rule in Iran and, before that, the Iranian monarchy.

It is seen by Tehran as a terrorist cell in the pocket of Western security services but is also on Washington's list of proscribed organisations because of its history of violent attacks.

After the presidential election in 2009, the internet - and specifically social networking sites - became a crucial means of mobilising hundreds of thousands of Iranians who disputed the results to protest.

Hundreds of people were arrested after the protests and although most have been released, more than 80 people have been jailed for up to 15 years, and at least four other people convicted of involvement in the demonstrations are reported to be on death row.

WB, ADB link funding to power sector reforms

"The Asian Development Bank and the World Bank are reportedly linking their financial assistance to Pakistan to the implementation of reforms within the country’s National Electric Power Regulatory Authority.

“There is unannounced stoppage of multibillon dollar funding from donors, so the implementation of envisaged power sector reforms is quite crucial,” officials reportedly said, according to The News International, a Karachi-based newspaper."

WB, ADB link funding to power sector reforms

13-year old suicide bomber kills 13 Shiites in Lahore

Minar-e-PakistanImage via WikipediaThe Sunni militants are in full swing these days. They killed 18 Shiites in Iraq yesterday and a 13-year old suicide comber has killed 13 Shiites in Lahore today. There is no end in sight to the senseless violence that has been perpetrated by the Sunni militants against Shiites in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.

The intra-Sunni violence has also increased in the recent past. This begs the question: If a strong pacifist movement fails to emerge amongst Sunnis soon, will Sunni Islam decline into a violence-ridden belief system that may be shunned by the rest of the civilized world.

Lahore suicide attacks kill 13, injure 50 | DAWN.COM
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Friday, January 21, 2011

Karbala continues to bleed

Millions of Shia Muslims gather around the Hus...Image via WikipediaSunni militants have killed 62 Shiite pilgrims in Karbala, Iraq. The Shia-Sunni rivalry in Islam continues to claim lives 1300-years after the dispute first emerged the very day Prophet Muhammad (SAW) died.

I often wonder why Muslim societies have such poor dispute resolution mechanisms. More Muslims today are killed by other fellow Muslims. The intra-Muslim violence has continued over centuries. The Arab-non-Arab violence and the Shiite-Sunni violence are only two examples of the gory disputes that have made Muslim societies weak and vulnerable.

The relatively prosperous Muslim societies, the ones who do not rely on petro-dollars, are of mostly of non-Arab origins and are located further away from the spiritual heart of Islam in Mecca. Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and even Bangladesh are examples of places where Islamic beliefs and indigenous cultures have meshed together to create non-violent versions of Islam.

However, as one moves closer towards Mecca, the clash between faith and indigenous cultures becomes more pronounced. Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran serve as examples of the clash within Muslim societies.

But no other schism in Islam has been more devastating then the one between Shiites and Sunnis. It started the day Prophet Muhammad died and his companions met at Saqeefa-bani-Sa'ada to select Prophet's close friend, Abu-Bakar, as his successor. Prophet's family, comprising his daughter and son-in-law (Ali), disagreed with the choice of the successor. Thus started the dispute that has not been resolved since that fateful night the Prophet died.

Several wars were waged between the two groups, which had different tribal origins as well. The Prophet's family belonged to the minority Bani Hashim clan. Others belonged to the more powerful Omayyad tribe. Despite the differences between the clans, their ancestors descended from the same great, great, great grand father, Abd-Munaf.

The clashes between Shiites and Sunnis started early, one of which pitted Ali against an army led by Prophet's wife, who was also the daughter of the first caliph, Abu Bakar. In another war, the Omayad Caliph Yazeed killed all but one living males in the Prophet's family, including Prophet's grandson Hussain.

Hussain and 73 of his companions, including his six-moth old son Ali Asghar, were butchered at the banks of Euphrates near Karbala on October 10, 680. It is the same Karbala where Sunni militants killed 62 Shiites the other day.

Karbala continues to bleed.
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Army may march from Karachi to Islamabad

The bloodbath in Karachi continues as scores are killed in sectarian and ethnic violence that has plagued the cities for months now. The two dominant political forces, MQM and PP, have failed to deliver a sense of normalcy in the City. Voices are getting stronger for the military to step in Karachi. 

This will indeed be bad for the democratic forces in the country. Sindh's political elite should act fast to return Karachi to safety and harmony. If the situation were not to improve, the military may step in. It would be hard to restrict military to Karachi. The soldiers may get marching orders to Islamabad after Karachi.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Hindu : Business / Industry : IndiGo orders 180 Airbus A320s worth $15.6 billion

Indian airline supporting Western business:

Private low-cost domestic carrier IndiGo has placed a firm order for purchasing 180 single-aisle Airbus A320 passenger jetliners, making it the largest single order for such a large number of jets in commercial aviation history.

IndiGo has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for 180 eco-efficient Airbus A320 aircraft of which 150 will be A320neo's and 30 will be A320s. It will also make IndiGo a launch customer for the A320neo. Engine selection will be announced by the airline at a later date.

The Hindu : Business / Industry : IndiGo orders 180 Airbus A320s worth $15.6 billion

Thursday, January 13, 2011

مدھیہ پردیش: باپ کو اپنی بیٹی کی لاش سائیکل پر لے جانی پڑی | خبریں | اردو

A father in Dhmania, India, had to drag the dead body of his daughter on a bicycle to a hospital for postmortem because the police did not have any vehicles available to transport the remains.

The economic disparities in India are indeed a bigger challenge than sustaining the fast growth of the economy.

مدھیہ پردیش: باپ کو اپنی بیٹی کی لاش سائیکل پر لے جانی پڑی

بھارتی معیشت نوفی صد سالانہ کی رفتار سے ترقی کررہی ہے، مگربھارتی میڈیا میں چھپنے والی رپورٹس کے مطابق اسی ملک کے ایک گاؤں کے غریب بکشو سنگھ کو پوسٹ مارٹم کے لیے اپنی بیٹی کی نعش سائیکل کے کیریئر پر باندھ کر اسپتال لے جانے کے لیے دس میل تک پیڈل مارنے پڑے۔

بھارت کے نسبتا ً ایک چھوٹے شہر اورنگ آباد کے شہری اپنی خوشحالی اور دولت کی فراوانی کا مظاہرہ اجتماعی طورپرایک ہی دن میں دیڑھ سو مرسیڈیز کاروں کی خرید سے کرتے ہیں، جن کی مالیت 65 کروڑ روپے سے زیادہ ہے، اور بھارت کے ایک گاؤں دھمانیہ کے انسپکٹر منوج کدیا کا کہنا ہے کہ پولیس کے اپنےپاس کوئی گاڑی نہیں ہے وہ بکشو کی کیا مدد کریں۔

پولیس نے بکشوکوحکم دیا تھا کہ وہ اس وقت تک اپنی بیٹی کی آخری رسومات ادا نہیں کرسکتا جب تک اس کا پوسٹ مارٹم نہیں ہوجائے۔

ریاست مدھیہ پردیش کے گاؤں دھمانیہ میں رہنے والے بکشو سنگھ کی 16 سولہ بیٹی کسی زہریلی چیز کھانے سے ہلاک ہوئی تھی ۔ پولیس نے اس واقعہ کو خودکشی قرار دیا۔ تاہم یہ معلوم نہیں ہوسکا کہ خودکشی کی وجہ غربت تھی یا کچھ اور۔

پولیس کا کہنا تھا کہ قانون پوسٹ مارٹم کے بغیر نعش کی چتا جلانے کی اجازت نہیں دیتا۔

انہوں نے بکشو سنگھ پر یہ واضح بھی کردیا کہ اگرچہ پوسٹ مارٹم کرانے کی ذمہ داری پولیس کی ہے مگر چونکہ پولیس کے پاس نہ گاڑی ہے اور نہ کرایے پر گاڑی لینے کے مالی وسائل، اس لیے یہ انتظام بکشو کو خود ہی کرنا ہوگا۔

بعض خبروں کے مطابق کئی علاقوں میں تھانے میں رپورٹ درج کرانے کے لیے درخواست گذار کو کاغذ اور پنسلیں بھی ساتھ لے جانی پڑتی ہیں۔

دھمانیہ گاؤں سے ڈسٹرکٹ اسپتال انوپ پور کا فاصلہ 14 کلومیٹر ہے۔

بکشو سنگھ کے لیے پریشانی یہ تھی کہ اس کے گاؤں میں بھی کوئی گاڑی نہیں تھی اور وہاں زیر استعمال واحد سواری سائیکل تھی۔ اس کے پاس کسی دوسری جگہ سے گاڑی کرائے پر لینے کے وسائل بھی نہیں تھے۔

بکشو کا کہنا تھا کہ بیٹی کی نعش کو خراب ہونے سے بچانے کے لیے میرے پاس واحد راستہ یہی تھا کہ میں اسے سائیکل پر اسپتال لے جاؤں۔

اس نے بیٹی کی نعش کو اپنے سائیکل کے کیریئر پر باندھا اور شہر کی طرف چل پڑا۔

دس کلومیٹر کا فاصلہ اپنے سائیکل پر طے کرنے کے بعد راستے میں اس کی ملاقات مقامی رکن اسمبلی بساہولال سنگھ سے ہوئی ۔صورت حال کا علم ہونے پر اس نے ایک ویگن کا انتظام کیا اورپولیس کو یہ کارروائی اپنی نگرانی میں کرانے کی ہدایت کی۔

بھارتی نشریاتی ادارے آئی بی این کی رپورٹ میں کہا گیا ہے کہ پوسٹ مارٹم کے بعد دھمانیہ میں بکشو سنگھ کی بیٹی کی آخری رسومات ادا کردی گئی ہیں۔ تاہم پولیس ناخوش دکھائی دیتی ہے کیونکہ اسے رکن اسمبلی کی اس معاملے میں مداخلت اچھی نہیں لگی۔

مدھیہ پردیش: باپ کو اپنی بیٹی کی لاش سائیکل پر لے جانی پڑی | خبریں | اردو

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Watchdog for Afghanistan reconstruction resigns | World | DAWN.COM

From the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON: The US official in charge of overseeing the billions of dollars being spent to rebuild Afghanistan announced his resignation Monday, just a week after he fired two of his top deputies in a major shake-up of the organization.

Arnold Fields’ decision to step down comes after key members of Congress urged President Barack Obama to dismiss him for incompetence and mismanagement. His critics claimed he failed to aggressively oversee the more than $56 billion the US has poured into Afghanistan since 2002 to rebuild schools, roads and other facilities.

Fields was appointed by President George W. Bush as the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction in June 2008 after the job was created by Congress. His resignation is effective Feb. 4.

Watchdog for Afghanistan reconstruction resigns | World | DAWN.COM

Friday, January 7, 2011

India amongst the top-10 research producing countries in the world

Latest research has revealed that India is in fact one of the 10 most research producing countries n the world. According to Elsevier's bibliometric tool SciVal Spotlight, India is prominanant in research in many disciplines where India's share in chemistry (35 per cent), engineering (18 per cent), mathematics and physics (11 per cent) and biology (10 per cent) was found to be very impressive.

While India was ranked amongst the top 10 in the quantity of research produced, it dropped many notches when it was ranked amongst top 20 when quality was factored in the rankings. University of Delhi was still able to rank amongst top 10 in terms of quality.

Pakistan under General Musharraf also tried to address the lack of research generated by the institutions of higher learning. However, the approach to address the research gap was rather flawed. Under the Musharaf regime, academics' salariries were increased manifold and the research academics were further incentivised to take on graduate students and research for even higher wage benefits. The result was an increase in the research throughput, but the quality was dubious at best. Higher wages rather corrupted the academic institutions, transforming them from being institutes of higher learning into institutes of higher earning.

Now that the American and European funds into higher education have dried up, the Higher Education Commission does not have the means to support the salaries and stipends of researchers it had sent abroad for doctoral studies. The capital intensive brick and mortar spending in the name of research has also stopped leaving partially built structures on many cmpuses. Earlier in 2010, vice chancellors from leading universities in Pakistan threatened to shut down all public sector universities in Pakistan unless the government restored their funding. A compromise was reached between the government and the universities where some operating funds were restored to allow universities to be able to pay the inflated wages sanctioned under the Musharraf regime.

While India has left Pakistan behind in quality and quantity of research, the academics in Pakistan still refuse to accept the fact that they are running an intellect-free enterprise churning out graduates of dubious credentials. This has to change. Unless the academics in Pakistan realize that their research is not helping Pakistan resolve its core challenges, there is no point churning out 1,000 PhDs a year in Pakistan.
Scopus, which served as the underlying bibliometric database for SciVal Spotlight, had sourced over 18,000 journals from over 5,000 publishers, scanning 42 million records (70 per cent abstract) and over three million conference papers. From working with researchers and librarians, Elsevier was moving towards the top of the pyramid. SciVal Spotlight was developed to target institutional heads such as deans, provosts, directors and heads of departments and government funding agencies, Dr. Kolman said. “SciVal Spotlight, will help evaluate research and establish strengths greatly assisting in policy formulation.”

Thursday, January 6, 2011

TATA Bye Bye

A car for 100,000 rupees has failed to tickle most Indian's fancy. Many might think it's the price (app. $2,500), still too high for the Indian consumers. I think it's the lack of parking that is also preventing TATA's Nano from taking over roads in India. The average consumer lacks space to park the car outside their homes (no space available inside the house) on narrow streets in most Indian towns. Furthermore, paid parking at work and other destinations further makes operating a car more expensive than a two-wheeler. Of course, fuel price differential between a car and motorcycle limits the possibility of making Nano the peoples' car in India.

I present two interesting views on Nano. First, from Professor Madhav Badami of McGill University in Montreal who pointed out the following shortcomings in Nano:

Working paper, IIM Bangalore (2008)

A Note on the Tata Nano, and its Implications for Motor Vehicle Ownership and Activity

Mr. Ratan Tata was reportedly motivated to develop an inexpensive car in order to have M2W vehicle users switch to cars because he was concerned for their safety -- it is not uncommon to have entire families, including small children and babes-in-arms, travelling on unstable M2W vehicles. Thus was the idea of the Tata Nano born.

Although it has been claimed that the low price of the Nano will cause demand for it to explode, and therefore, motor vehicle ownership and activity to further accelerate in India, it is doubtful to what extent this will happen, and whether those who currently use, or plan to purchase, a M2W vehicle, will opt for a Nano instead (Gupta, 2008; Guttikunda, 2008; Mohan, 2008b).

First of all, personal motor vehicle sales have already been growing very rapidly, even without the Nano – in fact, they nearly doubled, just between 2001-02 and 2006-07. In particular, car sales grew an astounding 22% just over the previous year, more rapidly than for M2W vehicles, which grew 11% over the same period. However, M2W vehicles continue to account for the bulk (78%) of all motor vehicle sales, and – this is key -- 85% of passenger vehicle sales (SIAM data quoted in Gupta, 2008).

Secondly, although the Nano has been proclaimed, with much fanfare, as the "people's car" on account of its low (by international standards) price of 100,000 rupees (approximately US$ 2040 at current exchange rates), the on-road price will likely be around 125,000 rupees for the basic model, and around 150,000 rupees for its deluxe versions (as against the approximately 205,000 rupee on-road price tag for the immensely popular Maruti 800, in its standard version). Further, one needs to consider the operating costs of the Nano over its service life, in terms of fuel, insurance, servicing, and maintenance, in addition to its capital cost, in determining its attractiveness to potential buyers.

Guttikunda (2008) and Mohan (2008b) have worked out the economics of owning and operating a Nano relative to a M2W vehicle for a middle class family. Whereas the annual payments for fuel, and loan servicing for a M2W vehicle would amount to 10% of the annual income of a typical middle class family, they would account for as much as 22% of this income if the family chose to purchase a Nano (Guttikunda, 2008). According to Mohan (2008b), given that a middle class family cannot afford to spend more than 15% of income on transport, the annual payments he calculates for fuel, loan repayment, insurance, and servicing and maintenance for a Nano would require an annual income that only about 20% of families command even in a wealthy city like Delhi (it should be noted that Mohan assumed a higher number of daily kilometres travelled than did Guttikunda).

Finally, as Mohan (2008b) points out, used air-conditioned cars in reasonably good condition have been available for 100,000 rupees or less. Yet, it does not appear that M2W vehicle users have shifted to these cars in any significant way.

Given the foregoing, and given the low operating and maintenance costs, high maneuverability, and ease of parking of M2W vehicles, it is not very likely that those who currently use or plan to purchase these vehicles will switch to the Nano. Neither does it appear to be likely that the Nano will lead to accelerated car ownership. The Nano is likely, however, to take a share of the high-end M2W vehicle market, and to some extent the low-end car market -- although it should be kept in mind that the annual expenses for the Nano are likely to be only around 10% less than for the Maruti 800. The Nano may also establish for itself a niche market, perhaps comprising second or third family cars (Gupta, 2008; Guttikunda, 2008; Mohan, 2008b). But a true "people's car" – assuming of course the desirability of the majority of Indians owning a car – the Nano will likely not be, in a country in which more than two-thirds of the population live on $2 per day. Indeed, as Mohan (2008b) observes, if the term people includes more than 70% of the population (which one hopes it does!), there can be no "people's car" in India.

Regardless of the effect of the Nano on motor vehicle ownership and activity, it may safely be assumed that a business as usual approach will sooner rather than later lead to an intolerable situation for all, including those in motor vehicles. This paper is an argument for a rejection of that approach, and for policy choices, challenging though they undoubtedly are, that will hopefully lead us to transport (or more precisely, accessibility) systems that are resource conserving, environmentally benign, and socially equitable, in Indian cities."

And from the Economist:

India cars: The one and a half lakh car


Tata Motors is trying a number of tactics to try and boost sales of the Nano, its ground-breaking low-cost car.

Sales in India of the much-lauded Tata Nano passenger car have dropped dramatically in the past four months, as surging raw material costs forced Tata Motors to raise the price of the car twice in that time. The price rises mean that the most basic version of the car no longer costs the original 1 lakh (Rp100,000; US$2,200). At the same time, the car's profitability is being dented all round as Tata is being forced to come up with new ways to try and shift the Nano.

In November 2010 (the latest figures available) Tata Motors delivered just 509 Nano cars to Indian consumers, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM). That equates to an 85% decline compared with November 2009, and was the car's lowest ever-monthly sales total since it was launched onto its home market 17 months ago.

Unfortunately for Tata, this was not a one-month blip. In July 2010, monthly deliveries of the car peaked at an impressive 9,000 units. In each of the subsequent four months between August and November 2010, however, monthly sales have crashed compared to the previous year. In the first 11 months of 2010, just over 71,000 Nanos were delivered to Indian customers.

Tata's Chief Executive Officer Carl Peter Forster has blamed the sales decline on the worsening availability of financing loans in India, as cautious banks become nervous about lending to low-income consumers, in case they default on their repayments. Yet purchasers of rival models do not seem to be experiencing the same financing problems.

On the contrary, new car sales in India are booming right now. In November 2010, new car demand leapt by 21% compared to the previous year. This followed an incredible October, when new car sales reached their highest ever monthly total, at 182,992, which was a 38% year-on-year increase. Indeed, the Indian economy is enjoying brisk consumer spending all round, driven by rapidly-rising GDP, which in the last quarter grew by 8.9% compared to last year. SIAM is now predicting that Indian new car sales will increase by at least 25% in the current fiscal year, which began in April.

Worryingly for Tata, there is unlikely to be any lift in Nano sales this month or next. October and November are the strongest months of the year in the Indian car buying calendar, thanks partly to the five-day Hindu festival of lights, Diwali. The downside of this sales rush is a two-month sales hiatus in December and January.

The one and a half lakh car

Almost certainly more relevant to the Nano's waning sales than any financing issues are the two price rises that Tata has put in place in the last five months. Tata raised the price of the Nano by 4% in July 2010 and then by another 9% in October. The cheapest variant of the Nano now costs around Rp140,000 (US$3,100). Crucially, this means that the car is no longer the one lakh car it was dreamt up to be. The 'one and a half lakh car' does not have quite the same ring.

These price rises are in direct response to surging raw material costs, especially in the two key commodities of rubber and steel. Ironically, it is partly the booming car sales in the two emerging Asian giants of India and China that has fuelled demand for these raw materials, which in turn has pushed their prices up.

Another reason for the Nano's sliding sales is the reports of fire or smoke within the car. Such reports first emerged shortly after the Nano's launch in mid-2009 and were the reason that many of its initial orders were cancelled. Stories continue to circulate, as does one particularly damaging photograph of a Nano that has spontaneously burst into flames.

Testing tactics

Tata has been forced to take drastic action to avoid inventory levels of the Nano building up even further. Production of the car at Tata's Sanand factory, in Gujarat India, is said to have stood at just 71 cars a day during the month of November, or 2,000 for the entire month. The factory, which only opened in July 2010, is capable of building 250,000 Nanos a year.

The company is pouring money into various sales and marketing tactics to try and shore up Indian sales. These include more than doubling its warranty repair period to four years or 60,000km, up from its previous 18 months or 24,000km. Tata executives point out that this makes the Nano even more economical compared to rival products as owners get free repairs for years.

In response to the waning number of loans available to would-be Nano buyers, Tata is also working hard to put a number of financing programmes in place. For example, India's largest commercial bank, the State Bank of India, is offering seven-year loans to Nano buyers with extremely favourable annual interest rates compared to their standard loans.

The carmaker is even now targeting the purchasing power of its own employees with their own bespoke financing scheme. From the beginning of 2011, all Tata employees with a monthly salary of over Rp12,500 (some 25,000 employees) can buy the car on a four-year loan with annual interest rates of just 2%, and no processing fee. This compares with the 14% interest rate for a normal car loan. Repayments will be deducted from workers' monthly salaries under the scheme, which is even open to blood relatives of employees.

If these tactics work, then Tata may be able to overcome some the problems caused by its rising prices. But it will still be some way from making the Nano a success. The car's utra-low price was always dependent on exceedingly high volumes, which is why Tata is working so hard to keep up the car's sales momentum. Nor were the array of expensive sales, marketing and financing tactics included in the Nano's original business plan, and nor indeed surging raw material costs. The profit margins on this vehicle were always perilously low. Right now, they must be non-existent.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

An interesting and refreshing perspective from the US about AFPAK

A different story emerges from Pakistan

H.D.S. Greenway / Oct 29, 2010

KHUR, Pakistan

WHAT CAN we do about Pakistan, you ask, the source of so many troubles for the United States? You wonder: Why can’t or won’t Pakistan eject the Taliban terrorists from their safe havens, or stop them from crossing the border to kill our boys in Afghanistan?

Let me be your guide. If you want to hear a different narrative, come with me for a visit into the so-called “lawless tribal territories’’ on the Northwest Frontier where Pakistan and Afghanistan meet. Here the trouble is that the Americans aren’t stopping the Taliban from crossing over from their safe havens in Afghanistan to attack Pakistan.

Come, you have been invited to lunch at the officers mess of the Bajaur Scouts, gleaming with the regimental silver and leftover traditions from the British who once tried, but never succeeded, in taming the Pashtun tribes. Semi-autonomous tribes traditionally rule themselves rather than be under the direct control of the government.

But first we must drive over the storied Malakand Pass, leaving behind, as Winston Churchill described it, “under the haze of heat’’ the flat lands, up where “the landscape is wild and rugged,’’ and down again into a broad valley like a cup.

“The country of the plains is left … A single step has led from peace to war … and we have we entered a strange land’’ he wrote a century ago, and it still holds true today. For then as now, Pashtun religious zealots, then called Ghazis and now called the Taliban, are making trouble in the tribal territories.

In 2008 they had just about taken over Bajaur on the Afghan border by killing elders, destroying schools, and imposing their strict brand of Islam. The 26th Regiment, and the Scouts, cleared, held, and now they are building. The casualties were heavier than most American units have suffered across the border in Kunar Province.

Unlike the regular army, the Scouts are all Pashtuns themselves. The British formed these frontier Scouts on the theory that it takes a Pashtun to catch a Pashtun. But the Scouts tell us that they had forgotten what their grandfathers and great grandfathers had known, and had to re-learn the guerrilla warfare of which the Taliban are masters.

Today Bajaur is all but pacified, at least for now. The markets are open, people can move freely, teachers are back in their schools. It’s a success story, and that’s why we have been invited here. Don’t be alarmed that we are escorted by pickups full of armed Scouts with machine guns mounted on the cabs. That’s just a precaution. You are not in danger, except, perhaps, “from suicidals,’’ the scouts say, or perhaps a roadside bomb.

Listen to the tribal “elders.’’ They once again represent tribal authority which the Taliban broke down. In town the Scouts have left one of the telephone poles which was refitted to be a gallows by the Taliban. You can see caves that the Taliban dug to hide in — “like the Viet Cong,’’ says one of the Scouts who has read about the tunnels of Cu Chi in Vietnam.

But come and look at this map. Those hatched marks are the bits where Taliban are still active, to be mopped up. There, straddling the border, there’s the weak point! The British drew the border separating members of the same tribe, so the tribesmen have always wandered back and forth at will.

No matter how successful the Scouts and the 26th Regiment have been in clearing out the Taliban from Bajaur, they say the Americans and the Afghan Army in Kunar Province aren’t preventing the Taliban from coming over from their safe havens in Afghanistan. It’s not for lack of will. It’s just the reality of porous borders and frontier fighting.

Whether Pakistan’s national leaders want to keep good relations with some Taliban in other parts of the frontier, as a hedge against when the Americans leave, is a matter above the Scouts’ pay grade. All they know is that Talibs from safe havens in Afghanistan are coming over to kill their boys.

Not quite what you’re hearing back home?

H.D.S. Greenway’s column appears regularly in the Globe

Pakistan’s economic snapshot

Here is a slightly dated data on Pakistan’s economic performance.


South Asia

Low income

Present value of external debt *

35 957,2

Population (millions)


External debt per capita ($)


Share of public sector external debt in total (%)




External debt stocks

40 736,6

49 337,4

Long-term external debt

37 127,3

43 590,6

Public and publicly guaranteed

35 974,0g

39 358,5

Official creditors

33 162,1

36 547,8

Private creditors

2 811,9

2 810,7


2 650,0

2 650,0

Private nonguaranteed

1 153,3

4 232,1

Use of International Monetary Fund (IMF) credit

1 381,3

4 351,8

Short-term external debt

2 228,0

1 395,0

Interest arrears on long-term




3 173,2

6 878,6

Long-term external debt

3 173,2

3 678,0

Public and publicly guaranteed

3 173,2

2 568,1

IMF purchases


3 200,6

Principal repayments

1 505,7

1 877,5

Long-term external debt

1 353,6

1 697,6

Public and publicly guaranteed

1 081,7

1 241,2

IMF repurchases



Net flows on external debt

2 573,5

4 168,1

Short-term external debt



Interest payments

1 094,7

1 063,0

Long-term external debt


1 011,9

Public and publicly guaranteed



IMF charges



Short-term external debt



Net transfers

1 478,8

3 105,1

Total external debt service paid

2 600,4

2 940,4

Other long-term net resource flows

Net flows of long-term external debt (excluding IMF)

1 819,6

1 980,3

Foreign direct investment, net

5 590,0

5 438,0

Portfolio equity flows

1 276,0


Grants (excluding technical cooperation)

1 006,3


Debt forgiveness grants



International Development Association grants



Memo: technical cooperation grants



Profit remittances on foreign direct investment

2 974,0

3 203,0

Major economic aggregates

Gross national income (GNI)

145 489,5

172 033,6

Exports of good, services, and income

29 304,1

33 791,2

Workers' remittances & compensation of employees

5 998,0

7 039,0

Ratios (%)

External debt stocks to export



External debt stocks to GNI



External debt service to exports



Preserves to external debt stocks



Currency composition (%)




Japanese yen



U.S. dollar



* Data in millions of U.S. Dollars, unless otherwise indicated

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Salman Taseer, a tragic loss of life in a politically hostile Pakistan

Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populace province, was assassinated in Islamabad on January 4 by one of his 26 years old bodyguard who had suspected Mr. Taseer of committing blasphemy.
The almost unanimous and global condemnation of his death is indicative of the fact that sensible people and societies do not support settling ideological disputes by bullets. This lesson in civility, however, is lost in today’s Pakistan, which has regressed into almost a medieval state where religious and other fanatics are calling the shots. 

While Salman Taseer is recognized for the sacrifices he made for democratic ideals as a deputy to late Benazir Bhutto, or for his his principled stand against the blasphemy law, which is in serious need of reform, and for his support for Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who has been sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy, Mr. Taseer’s recent record as a political administrator cast a shadow on the illustrious political career he had enjoyed in the past.

Pakistan’s famous author on current affairs, Ahmed Rashid, eulogised him as a stalwart for democracy.  It was however the same Salman Taseer who supported the military dictator, General Musharraf,  and became a minister in a caretaker government supported by the dictator. Mr. Taseer was later appointed governor by Mr. Asif Ali Zardari to keep in line the political opposition in Punjab. Mr. Taseer’s failed attempt to dislodge the elected provincial government of the party that opposed his political master, Mr. Zardari, is another misadventure that puts in question his credentials as a democrat. Mr. Taseer was believed by the masses to be close to the American establishment. This further damaged his political bonafides in Pakistan.

Despite his earlier struggles against the military dictatorship and the authoritarian rule of the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Mr. Taseer’s recent past did not put him in the company of democrats.  He had joined the coterie of political opportunists brought to prominence by President Asif Ali Zardari, whose own political acumen and the aptitude for governance leaves much to be desired. Thus it came as no surprise when the news reports mentioned some legislator, crying at Mr. Taseer’s demise. Like Mr. Taseer, they lack popular support and rely on the Presidency for their political relevance and survival. Like Mr. Taseer, they are part of the elite not used to such senseless violence. Their grief is also reflective of the insecurity that has now extended its reach to the most powerful and protected in Pakistan.

Mr. Taseer was of the twittering classes, one of the few Pakistani politicians whose tweets were read in Washington DC, and other capitals in the western Europe. Culturally he was closer to the twittering class than to those who struggled to buy naan and cheeney (bread and sugar) at grocery stores in Lahore. A look at the Internet searches conducted from the Google search engine suggest that he was not reputed for his stand for democracy or human rights, which many leading columnists would like us to believe, but instead for his family’s western lifestyle that fascinated the conservative Pakistanis. This is in fact more of a reflection of the socio-political voyeurism that plagues the superficially devout Pakistan.

Mr. Ahmed Rasheed and other elites in Pakistan are obviously stunned to see one of their fellow elite gunned down in the middle of a street. Ordinary Pakistanis, are indeed greatly saddened, but not shocked by Mr. Taseer’s brutal murder.  They have reconciled with such violence that claims the lives of the very poor as they sleep on the streets of Karachi or pray in the Imambargahs or mosques in Lahore and Peshawar. 
Mosharraf Zaidi, another Pakistani writer blogging for the Foreign Policy echoes Ahmed Rasheed’s sentiments:  "Taseer's assassination for me, and many among the small English-speaking urban community in Pakistan, is gut-wrenching and heart-breaking. It is a reminder that the realities of Pakistan in the New Year are stark and intimidating." This to me is another evidence of the elite slowly waking up to the violence that has to date only threatened the lives of the poor, disenfranchised masses in Pakistan.

When ordinary citizens are denied opportunities to excel in all spheres of life, they seek heroism in notoriety, crime, and extremism. Was there any other opportunity for Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, Mr. Taseer’s alleged assassin, to become a hero to anyone? Mr. Qadri picked the misguided lot for its praise, a fact reflected in the praise showered by extremists on Mr. Qadri on various social media outlets on the Internet.

Pakistan's elite has to allow the rest of the citizenry some opportunity to excel and shine. They have to address the genuine grievances of the very poor whose numbers have exploded in Pakistan. If the economic disparities continue to worsen in Pakistan, social, cultural, religious and political disputes will generate even more violence, which is no longer going to spare the rich and famous in Pakistan.

Monday, January 3, 2011

ا More than 9,000 dead in 2010 in Afghanistan

Despite the surge in Afghanistan, there has been no slowdown in bloodletting in Afghanistan. VoA reports sustained violence in spite of heavy NATO presence in Afghanistan. VoA further reports that the armed conflict in Afghanistan has expanded to other parts where the situation was largely peaceful in the past.

افغانستان:2010ء میں نو ہزار سے زائد افراد ہلاک | خبریں | اردو