Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wateen is undergoing voluntary restructuring and has delisted from the Karachi Stock Exchange because it was unable to meet its debt payments and did not have the necessary liquidity to carry on its day to day operations. Not a good sign for the Etisalat Group in Pakistan. And now it seems the end is near for Warid as well. According to a story published on paklogger.com, a popular Pakistani IT portal – and quoting Reuters - Warid is up for sale and the interested parties – according to Reuters – are the Etisalat Group themselves and a local player, China Mobile, which people know as Zong. According to Paklogger, an unnamed PTA official says that the deal may already have been finalised with Etisalat. But it has also been confirmed from sources that the Warid top management will be off to Dubai this week and while the company is silent now, we can expect some kind of a statement as early as the start of next week. Now, according to the story posted on paklogger, Reuters is quoting ‘sources familiar with the matter’. This is interesting because some market sources say that Etisalat itself has leaked this story in an attempt to affect the valuation of Warid. Until some time back, Zong was quite interested in Warid, as buying up the operation would have catapulted Zong to the number two slot in Pakistan. But recently, sources in the company have hinted that the price is not right. Telenor is not very interested, and it shouldn’t be. Recent growth trends show that it is doing very well on its own, having overtaken Ufone to become the second-largest player in the market. Ufone could use this opportunity to regain that position and according to Reuters, Walid Irshaid, the chief executive of PTCL has confirmed that the company is weighing a potential bid. Mobilink is apparently keeping a close eye on what is going on, but so far there are no indications that it is a likely contender for acquiring the struggling Warid. But it will all boil down to price. Etisalat could end up buying up the operation unless Warid lowers its price, because whoever buys up what is now the smallest tlecom operator in Pakistan will also be taking on a sizeable amount of liabilities.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Overheard in passing

Ok, the following is not my content. It was sent to me by someone qand if anyone wants to know I can provide them with the email contact of this benefactor. I have no idea if any of this is true or not, but it is certainly very interesting, so read on, and enjoy the satisfaction that only rumours can bring.

THIS IS WHAT AMBASSADORS of USA, INDIA and PAKISTAN Report
Memo #3 US Ambassador Robert Munter

From: Robert Munter
US Ambassador to Pakistan
Islamabad, Pakistan
To: Assistant Secretary of State
Bureau of South and Central Asian Affair
Department of State
Washington, DC
Date: December 31, 2010
Re: Pakistan the first quarter

Having been in Pakistan since October, I am forwarding a brief review of my first personal impressions.
1) View about America: Survey after survey has shown that the populace at large has very unfavorably views about US government and policy. The perception in the corridors of power is very different. Given their propensity to focus on conspiracy theories most have a notion of US influence in Pakistan that far exceeds our real capabilities. Sometimes I feel as the “Governor General” from a bygone past caught in a historic time warp. From the highest office down to mid level functionaries, perception becomes reality, when it comes to viewing US as the kingmaker. This mostly helps us in stacking the deck of cards in our favor but also works against us at times when diplomacy is seen as failing. Our dilemma is that our policy objectives are incongruous with popular sentiment of the people in Pakistan. Changing this is not merely a matter of perception and has to be more than a public relations exercise. It will require a significant change in our strategic trajectory.
2) The Social divide: Having served in Iraq I have experienced the divide between the elites and the common citizen, which is quite typical of the Middle East and South Asian countries. In Pakistan however it takes unparalleled heights. My first private party at a key ministers residence, the opulent lifestyle was in full contrast to the plight of those serving us. White gloved waiters were standing with ashtrays so that the corpulent minister and guests could smoke their Cuban cigars at will, and with utmost disdain flicker the ash at random intervals to be caught by the gloved waiters with unsurpassed dexterity. Alcohol, which is, otherwise not publicly displayed in this Islamic country was flowing from an open bar. Our hosts were shocked that most American guests did not drink. I was taken aback at the presence of so many blond Pakistani women, on inquiring was told by our bemused social secretary about the miracle of peroxide and modern hair coloring which seems to be the fashion statement of the day for well groomed (sic) modern Pakistani women. As we pulled out to leave, the sight of an army of drivers, was something to behold, huddled in the frigid night until the wee hours, for their masters to terminate their fracas. Service is legitimate but this smacked of servitude, opprobrium reminiscent of attitudes of European aristocracy and our own experience with slavery.
3) Hypocrisy a new dimension: I was stunned to hear form a very senior political functionary about US interference in the internal affairs of the country. When pointed out that this interference could be curtailed if the Government of Pakistan would refuse to take Billions of Dollars in US aid annually, his response was that monies were for services rendered in the fighting terrorism. Purloin of developmental funds to support the prodigious lifestyle of the ruling elite seems to be the normative. This can be only rationalized as a self-entitled narcissism of a collective of people with a rapacious appetite to loot the country.
4) The common man: My contact has been limited but even with limited exposure they continue to amaze me. In abject poverty and mired in the maelstrom of illiteracy they display a dignity and authenticity that is in stark contrast to the capriciousness of the pseudo westernized elites. Hospitable to a fault and honest despite being in the vortex of poverty the common everyday people of Pakistan display great ingenuity to survive against formidable odds. A gristle of the soul, that must come from a past rooted in spiritual life of a different sort.
5) Democracy: In Pakistan democracy has taken a dimension that borders on mockery of true representative government. The elected representatives come almost exclusively for the elite and privileged class. Rather than representing the populace they are more like local regional ‘viceroys’ representing the federal government and their own vested interests in the regions. Most are in politics not with a sense of public service but more to maximize the opportunity to make money, which they do with total disdain. The mainstream political parties are oligarchies controlled by the founding patriarchs or their heirs. One wonders if this is the model, we seek to perpetuate? Given my background as a history professor I have my druthers.
6) Alchemy of change: The polarization in the society makes significant change likely in the near future but given the deficit of leadership and organization it is not inevitable. This situation is unlikely to be remedied in the short term. If such a leadership were to emerge then conflict between the polarized segments would likely ensue. Under these circumstances we will not be able to count on the Military as a stabilizing force. The Military though a disciplined and well led, is a egalitarian body with much of its leadership and rank coming from middle, lower middle and poor classes. Their support of any move to perpetuate the rule of the elite will be at their own peril. The current military leadership is unlikely to prop the existing structure if such a conflict was to occur and possibly may even be catalytic toward such change. This is in stark departure form the past.
Pakistan is a fascinating place the contradictions are glaring but the promise is great,ironically what may be good for Pakistan may at least in the short term not be good for furtherance of our policy goals. We need to take a long view and it may be worthwhile to cut our losses, uncouple from the ruling elite and align our self with popular grassroots sentiment in the country. This would change our perception in the short term and when change does come we are for a change will be on the right side.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010
Memo #2 Indian Ambassador to Pakistan

From: Sharat Sabharwal
Indian High Commissioner
Islamabad, Pakistan
To: Ministry of Foreign Affairs
New Delhi, India
Subject: Pakistan Sate of the Union-2010
December 10, 2010

End 2010 summary analysis on Pakistan is being forwarded. The detailed report is being sent separately by diplomatic pouch.
The Government of India (GOI) strategic planning directive for Pakistan of 2000 clearly states our aim; to undermine the Pakistan Sate internally and externally with the intent to weaken it to such an extent, where it does not pose any further threat to GOI regional goals. With this in mind we have executed a cohesive plan to internally disrupt the country and to undermine it on all international forums both overtly and covertly.
I am pleased to announce the Sate of the Union of Pakistan at the end of 2010, is currently most conducive for the furtherance of our goals. Our efforts over the last sixty-three years seem to be coming to fruition. The country has never been more polarized, lacking in leadership and economically weakened. We anticipate that the time is nearing when we will be able to achieve our strategic goals without use of overt military force. This will be the highest tribute to the teachings of ‘Chanakya' which we have so assiduously pursued.
Pakistan was created ostensibly in areas where Muslims were in majority. From its inception there was a divergence of goals resulting in a clear division. This dichotomy has persisted and has taken a institutional form. The two basic divisions are summarized: -
1) Group 1:Belonging to the mercantile classes, who wanted to protect and preserve their commercial and land interests. They formed the majority of the ruling class at partition and continue to do so today. We estimate it to be about five to ten percent of the population. To summarize, this group is characterized by being: -
a) Mostly secularized and westernized: They do practice religion nominally and have maintained its cultural trappings to a variable extent but in essence religion to them has become a cultural phenomena and no longer holds any significant sway on their worldview. It has no relevance to what they perceive as their geopolitical center of gravity.
b) Privileged and above law: They are almost completely above the law; in fact they are the law. If you are part of this group you are never stopped by the police if stopped you never have to go to the courts, if indicted you almost never go to prison. They never wait in line; an army of servants and facilitators help them live above the daily grind of what life is in Pakistan for the rest of the ninety percent.
c) Economic apartheid: This group has access to the best living conditions within palatial residential developments, gated communities with private security. They have access to the best country clubs, hotels, restaurants and golf courses. They have an inside track to lucrative jobs and contracts. They travel freely and are found shopping and entertaining more in Western and Mid Eastern capitals then in the country. It is an incestuous club, were every one has a net worth and a network they depend on. They all mutually help each other and thrive.
d) Educational apartheid: Their children go to elite schools mostly in the Cambridge system; the government (public) schools are not even an option for them. Once they have done there ‘A’ levels the majority leaves for universities in the West for higher education where they either end up staying or return only to work at the helm of family businesses or to lucrative jobs in the private or public sector.
e) This group is mostly Western and India centric; they have no intrinsic cultural values and have learnt to appreciate and adopt western and now Indian cultural norms as their own. Some even are nostalgic about being part of greater India and reaping the benefits of the economic boom. We need to work closely with their representatives and continue to emphasize the futility of partition. The cultural assault by Bollywood needs to continue and we need to use human rights and civil society organizations to infiltrate their ranks even further.
2) Group 2: A segment that wanted to lay the foundation of an Islamic State to be based on the laws derived from the Quran and the practice of The Prophet Muhammad (The Sunnah). This group has mostly degenerated into a pathetic and ineffective hoard, unable to articulate a vision or strategic leadership. It can be characterized by being:
a) Poorly educated: with focus on doctrinal minutiae and nuance, having lost track of the dynamic core of the universal message that was once a historic force and resulted in changing the geopolitical map of the world. Only a small group remains that is making efforts to revive this spirit but fortunately for us has found no traction.
b) Divisions into sects and subgroups: with esoteric doctrinal differences, but significant difference in strategic approach. Rather than agreeing on a minimal common platform they are at virtual war with each other. Unyielding and unwilling to accommodate any divergent opinion. They lack unity and a common purpose.
c) Absence of a cohesive and coherent alternative model: They have failed to articulate an alternative paradigm to our western developmental theory; nothing substantial that can catch the imagination of the masses.
d) Economically disenfranchised: They mostly come from the economic under privileged class though some members of the educated salaried middle class are increasingly joining them. This is a dangerous trend and we need to develop a cohesive plan to prevent this hemorrhage.
e) We have successively infiltrated their ranks and our agencies can instigate communal killings and sectarian violence almost at will. Our effort needs to continue to stoke the sectarian divide and prevent the educated middle class form focusing on the ideological imperative of returning to its foundational ideals. We need to prevent them from serious scholarship of their religious texts and continue to draw a wedge between them and their co religionists.

Having lost its moorings and ideological underpinning that kept it united the society has become fragmented to its constituent tribes and ethnicities. The leadership has disintegrated, and the lowest common denominator in the society has surfaced at the helm. The current so called leaders in large part are totally inept and almost universally corrupt, this combination is lethal for their country, but provides us with unfathomable opportunities.
The political parties continue to be weak, poorly lead and are mostly family run oligarchies, with the perennial quest for power without purpose, goals without ideals and family over merit. The resultant effect is dysfunctional parties that are, inept and ineffective. They lack internal democratic mechanism, which has resulted in the perpetuation of family fiefdoms. They do not have the capacity to bring about fundamental change the country needs.
The higher judiciaries has shown some independence but is stymied because of the overall weak and corrupt legal and criminal justice system, which is on the verge of collapse and does not serve the common good anymore. This has resulted in groups and individuals to take vigilante action, further weakening the writ of the state.
The real danger to the furtherance of our policy objective comes from the Armed Forces; despite our best efforts we have not been able to infiltrate their leadership. It is surprising that it derives its rank and file from such a highly fragmented polity, yet ends up in developing into a cohesive organization with common purpose. The Armed Forces are one of the very few meritocracies in the country with an egalitarian ethic and continues to be mostly well led. The greatest danger comes from its current leadership in General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. He comes from a non-elite background and can be termed as the ‘common soldier’s general’. He has transformed the Army in the last three years form its lowest ebb at the end of the Musharaf era, to where it is now again an elite force commanding respect and veneration of the people. His continuation in the leadership position is highly detrimental to our strategy. We need to continue to make efforts to undermine him and make his personality controversial.
We have so far succeeded in creating a civil military divide but if a nexus was to form between the military and civil society, a dangerous situation could evolve which could result in galvanizing the middle class with the potential of revolutionary transformation. This would be very detrimental to our strategic aims and objectives and should be avoided at all costs.
Danger also comes from the growing cadres of youth that are idealistic and for some reason large segments of them, especially those belonging to the middle and low middle classes, still carry an ideological zeal. They could be organized and become the nidus of resistance against the status quo. We need to continue the assault on this group through our media and other surrogates to dilute their fervor and to try and assimilate them into a South Asian culture mosaic that we successfully potentate.
The corruption of the political class and bureaucracy coupled with the extravagant lifestyles of the elite will ensure the continuation of a culture of dependency, which will keep the country on the brink of bankruptcy and help us make significant inroads. We do not see this changing in the near term; no change seems possible from within the political structure. Our concern remains about a nexus between the military and elements of civil society becoming an agent of change.
We hope this analysis will help in laying the premise for the strategic reappraisal that is currently taking place; I am looking forward to participating in the dialogue in New Delhi at the end of the month.
Jai Hind

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Memo#1 Embassy of Pakistan

From: Husain Haqqani
Ambassador of Pakistan to USA
Washington, DC
To: Asif Ali Zardari
President of Pakistan
I am happy to report that we have finally convinced the White House to send a formal invitation to you for an official visit to the US in 2011. Sir it was not easy, they were concerned that you may be under indictment by then, by either The Supreme Court of Pakistan or by the International Court of Justice. This resistance was however overcome given your deftness in dealing with the visiting American delegation and agreeing to an expanded role for Drones and US Special Forces in Pakistan. Please accept my congratulations on this diplomatic coup de grace.
We are creating a full agenda for your visit and have arranged for meetings with several real estate agents, who have assured us that they have prime real estate properties for your consideration. Given the recession here, if I may add, it is a good time to buy.
Ms Sara Palin has also shown interest in a “private” meeting, please advice if you would like to keep it very discrete and “private” or if a combined Press conference should be arranged at the end.
Several Ex-legislators who have been “wrongfully” accused of corruption and forced to resign like, Charles Rangel, Doc Hastings, Randy "Duke" Cunningham and Marsha Blackburn just to name a few have expressed interest for you to give a seminar on: 'How to survive as a “wrongfully" accused politician'. Please advice if this will be feasible. Be rest assured we will negotiate top fees for your appearance and you will be amply compensated for your valuable time.
The State Department wants General Kayani to accompany you. They have agreed that while you are busy with the real estate showings he will be meeting at the White House, State Department and Pentagon to discuss key policy issues. Please be reassured The Defense Attaché has been briefed to appraise you of the decisions on a daily basis. This carries the additional benefit that we can keep 'The Chief' under close observation. This should assuage your fear about The Military taking advantage of your absence.
Given the past difficulties in tracking the cabinet ministers in different nightclubs, the FBI has arranged for a special chartered plane to take them to Las Vegas for the weekend. Several Casino’s have been reserved and they will have ample opportunity to get entertained and keep out of site of the media.
The Co Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has shown interest in meeting some Hollywood Celebes; please be assured I am personally making contacts and adequate arrangements will be made. We are also arranging for special credit cards to be issued by the embassy to him and the accompanying ladies for their shopping pleasure.
Since you have kindly agreed to bring some opposition members along, please remember that Imran Khan can under no circumstances be brought; he has displayed extreme undiplomatic tendencies. Mr. Nawaz Sharif has declined to attend, and Mulana Fazal ur Rehamn does not present an image we want to project. Altaf Bahi is unlikely to risk leaving his self-imposed exile, Wali Khan and his groupies are too boisterous and The Choudhary's are too incoherent. It may be advisable to consider Kashmala Tariq and Marvi Memon, they are quite benign and have pretty faces for television. They will be pleased by this gesture and it may help in toning down their rhetoric at home.
Talking about image it will help to bring several key women members and advisors, preferable good-looking ones sans Fuzia Wahab she, as they say here in the west, 'has a good face for the radio’. We need to blunt the impression Aafia Siddiqui has created and show the positive side(s) of Pakistani women.
Please be also advised that we are arranging several meetings with the Pakistani American Community here in the DC Virginia area. They will be screened and we will make sure all miscreants are weeded out. It will not be possible as requested by His Excellency the Minister for Interior Mr. Rehman Malik, that shoes should not be allowed inside the hall. Unless you feel, it will be safer to conduct these meetings in a Mosque, in which case we will be happy to arrange. This may carry the risk of confrontation between the “Maulwi Types" and “Enlightened Moderates” and has its pros and cons. Please have The Minister of Defense carry a study on this matter; he seems to have plenty of time since the Defense Ministry is working despite his input.
Sir can I also in the end bring to your attention a trivial matter, please do remind the Foreign Minister about the issue of my extension, it is due for renewal next month.
Praying for you health, continued success and completion of your ‘Awami’ mandate. God save Pakistan.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Conquering India

Ordinarily I would not have bothered to write about this subject but certain statements emanating from various quarters pertaining to it made it impossible to sit back and do nothing. The issue is the shortly to be expected marriage between former Pakistan cricket captain Shoaib Malik and fading Indian tennis star Sania Mirza.

Many people believe, or should I say hope that this union will have some kind of an impact on Pak-India relations and help the two countries move closer together on the path towards peace. I will soon get to how this marriage will help in finally resolving the Kashmir issue and how the marriage will eventually result in a solution to the Mumbai attack controversy. That is not all. This marriage will also help Pakistan win the war against terror in North Waziristan. I am no political pundit, but I think it does not take a rocket scientist to know that this marriage also holds the key to global warming. Well warming of some sort regardless, and most of it in Dubai.

Now, before I come to how all that will happen, I would like to ask some questions. The most obvious question is why people even think that the marriage between a Pakistani cricketer and an Indian tennis player will have any impact whatsoever on the political and strategic tension between the two countries. I am just unable to comprehend why someone even thought that this was a possibility. What possibly could have been the basis for such conjecture? They are two individuals making a personal decision that does not have the endorsement of either government, which is not needed anyway. And a key point here is that they will not be settling in Pakistan, but in Dubai. And when people asked another rather silly question about her career, and whether she would represent India or change her allegiance to Pakistan, she made it very clear that she would continue to play for India and Shoaib Malik for Pakistan. Well, after his ban that is and if he gets selected. I mean as the PCB has said about many other cricketers that domestic cricket is not enough to warrant selection in the national side, I wonder what they will come with once Shoaib Malik is eligible for selection again. Anyway, I digress from the main issue here, which is how the marriage between Shoaib Malik and Sania Mirza will bring about peace in Afghanistan.

The point I was at when I got distracted was Sania Mirza and Pakistan. Not trying to cast any aspersions here but it is obvious that by not deciding to move to Pakistan or to play for Pakistan (which is silly as I already said but felt the need to say again) Sania Mirza is only interested in Shoaib Malik and has no intention whatsoever of establishing any link with Pakistan. Any frankly, why should she? She is an Indian.

So the fact that people believe this marriage will have any impact must be based on the tremendous harmony and love generated between Indian and Pakistan when Mohsin Khan married Rina Roy. Oh wait, that marriage actually failed to accomplish anything, hmm must have been some mistake there. I mean these marriages are supposed to work, dammit!

Just as the marriage between Zaheer Abbas and Kanpuri maiden Rita, now known as Sameena also played its part in bringing about peace between the two countries. Right? It did, didn't it? It didn't? Another failure? How can this be? Every one is so confident that these things actually work.

Oh well, I guess then this marriage is also destined to have no impact on the animosity between the two nuclear neighbours. And you know what, I was actually hoping that it could maybe help solve Pakistan's power crisis as well.

Oh before I forget, on a side note. Some equally misguided souls out there are rejoicing that while India rejected Pakistani players in the IPL Shoaib Malik has scored a coup, because Sania Mirza has rejected all Indian men. Hmm, methinks there is another side to this coin. Shoaib Malik has rejected all Pakistani women.

God, I hate cynical bastards like myself.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

On a power trip

The usual consensus is that when a state entity is privatised the end result will be a company that is better geared towards providing improved customer service and is friendlier towards it's clients.

This was proven to a great degree when a lot of banks were privatised and the transition saw them emerge as organisations that strive to provide improved customer satisfaction and there was more consistency in their SOPs. Many of the local banks with the inception of a corporate culture now compete with the international banks on an even footing and while soke may argue that there is still lots to ground to cover everyone generally agrees that there have been tremendous improvements as well.

Similar is the case with Pak Telecom or PTCL which is now a private entity. It is still struggling to shake off the effects of being a state owned corporation, for example the still extremely powerful workers union and the fact that many of its One Stop shops are still manned or in some cases womanned by the traditional mould of PTCL employees, despite the new look offices.

But the company has made some strides and will no doubt continue to make more as it competes with the likes of Mobilink, Warid, MaxCom and others in the field of telephony, mobile telephony and broadband internet.

But there is one company which has without a doubt lost ground after privatisation. And I am talking more about company image, friendliness, about providing the user with a sense of caring and customer satisfaction. The company I am talking about is the Karachi Electric Supply Company as I believe it is now called, and not Corporation, but I could be wrong and if so, I apologise. But suffice to say, we all know what I am talking about.

Over the years, people will remember that KESC has always been a problem child with break-downs, loadshedding and tripping as common and frequent problems occurring on a daily basis. But people will also remember that KESC always managed to get a handle on these problems in Ramadan, as a gesture of goodwill, shall we say? And KESC also managed to get a hold of this and drastically cut down power outages in winter, when obviously consumption was low.

But ever since privatization, several things have happened, and at the rick of sounding like a sour puss, all of these changes have been for the bad.

For one, there is no relief now in Ramadan, after all, it is now a private entity and is here to make money. Ok, let us agree with that, since all private entities are doing a business with the eventual aim of making money are they not. I mean, when schools and hospitals follow this premise how can we find fault with the KES for following this doctrine.

Another change has been the fact that unlike before when both the KESC and WAPDA were public-sector siblings, now the bigger brother, WAPDA no longer feels obligated to come to the rescue of its errant younger brother in it's time of need by diverting power from the national grid to the City of Lights (read that darkness).

A third, but not final change for the worse has been the fact that now there is little or no reduction in load-shedding during the winter months either. One fails to understand the logic behind this when the KESC should be better able to meet the demands of its consumers with power requirements at a low. The only logic that comes to mind is that KESC saves money by not purchasing gas or furnace oil during these months and continues to resort to loadshedding to compensate for the shortfall in power generation.

The attitude of the KESC management of constantly being less than forthcoming about where the actual problem lies each time there is a power crisis is also quite demeaning to the citizens of Karachi. One is never sure if the darkness is cased by loadshedding, or a breakdown, or a shutdown because of maintenance. The KESC helpline is of no use, the answers are equally enigmatic and often insult the intelligence of the consumer. That is when the consumer is able to get through to a customer service representative at all.

But the last straw, one that rubs the wrong way to an extreme degree and leaves a very bad taste in the mouth is the recent wave of KESC advertisements, part of the new campaign to curb electricity theft. The killing blow, after years of suffering at the hands of the monopoly in the dark, the heat and after being told clearly, that we have no choice but to put up with it, is being labelled a thief.

The ads speak about a sense of responsibility and about being ethical and about playing our part in ensuring that the entire community benefits, and the majority does not pay for the wrongs committed by a few. That is all well and good. But not quite.

What about the sense of responsibility and commitment and sense of caring that KESC should be showing towards its consumers. Why is it that the KESC simply shuts down the minute there is a shortfall in payments or the minute some furnace oil or gas provider agreement falls through. Why is it so easy for the KESc to just turn around and say, ok, we will not provide power to the people.

Where does the credo of caring for the community and ensuring that paying customers do not suffer go? And it has been a fair bit of time since the new management took over, and we have yet to witness an increase in the capacity of the company to generate more power. The power tariff continues to rise every few months yet the KESC is still ever short of cash and constantly harping about its inability to purchase more fuel be it gas or furnace oil to keep the power plants operational.

Maybe the hundreds of thousands of rupees spent in print, tv and radio advertisements calling people a thief could have been better used to revamp the transmission system and keep the power plants up and running.

As power outages continue, as power plants are shut down for maintenance or break down, and feeders continue to trip, the KESC manages to stay afloat, and focussed on its own power trip.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Boom Boom for Captaincy

I wish I had known of this earlier. Then I would not have wasted half of my life trying to develop a good reputation, and wasted countless hours trying to inculcate within myself a spirit of honesty and propriety behaviour.

I am not sure how successful I have been at achieving my aims, but I do feel that whatever success I have had has been an utter and complete waste of time.

I mean, I should have just chewed on a cricket ball and done so in the public eye with no less than two dozen cameras zoomed in me and people watching all over the world.

And I should have tried my level best to embarrass myself and my country, and perhaps I too would have been rewarded by something as lucrative and prestigious as the captaincy of the Pakistan cricket team.

Oh man, I wish my parents only knew that they were leading me down the path of destruction and despair when they told me that honesty was the best policy and that I should always try to conduct myself in a respectable and dignified manner.

I mean the proof is right there for all of us to see. Shahid Afridi is currently the front runner for the post of captaincy and I am pretty sure it is not his performance with the bat that has landed him this coveted position. The statistics are not exactly mind-boggling. He is known for his big hitting, but not known for consistency and reliability.

However, his performances with the ball have always been a little bit better, and he has himself said that he prefers to be selected as a bowler. Well, now he has proven beyond any shadow of a doubt that he truly does prefer balls.

But the issue here is more than just Shahid Afridi and his becoming captain of a team that is full of talented individuals with great cricketing skills. The sad part is that this group of players excels at some things other than cricket, like arrogance, indiscipline and the lack of national pride.

The issue also is the standards upon which hangs the balance of judging success and failure.

There is no doubting Shahid Afridi's talent, but can one really say that he is a bigger asset than Shane Warne ever was for Australia, or Freddie Flintoff for England.

yet Shane Warne, tipped by many to be the next Aussie skipper had to forever fore-go that ambition because of his indiscretions with the opposite sex, indiscretions of the extra-marital kind. They were private matters, yet the Australian Board felt they reflected wrongly on his character, especially in context of his future role as skipper of the team.

And Freddie Flintoff was vice-captain as well when he fell off his Pedalo into the Caribbean during a late night drunken excursion which was well beyond curfew as well. And with that tumble he let slip forever any chance of ever leading the England Test side. Again, there was no disrepute for the country involved in that, he was not breaking any laws, he was not cheating ior trying to cheat. But it was considered an act of indiscipline and insubordination and behavior unbecoming of one who someday plans on leading the country's cricket team.

Perhaps, to some degree it still is a game of gentlemen, but not in Pakistan.

On a side note, maybe we are all wrong and just out to get Afridi. Maybe the poor chap was just extremely nervous and wanted to chew his nails and accidentally nipped the ball in the process. We are so cruel to the innocent boy! Shame on us!

As for Mr Ijaz Butt, who could think of no one else as captain of the national cricket team, I am just too disappointed to say anything.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

My post has been vacant for months now, well over a year in fact. Its not that I have nothing to write, or say, but its been difficult gathering my thoughts together in any form of valid comment. Hence I decided (or maybe my writers block decided for me) that if I couldnt say anything of worth, I would say nothing.

I will be honest, I still have not got too much to say, but it is said that if you start writing, thoughts start to flow, and that is why I decided to just pound the keyboard today, hoping against hope that the words will have some significance. If not today, maybe tomorrow.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The myth of objectivity in war reporting

The myth of objectivity in war reporting

As a journalist, one must uphold an ethic entailing the establishment of truth and objectivity. One needs to look at an event and record the facts in an un-biased manner. The issue in question is maintaining objectivity when reporting on a conflict that your country is involved in.

Journalism has many goals, and it has many standards that it is expected to live up to. Perhaps the most desired goal of journalism, is objectivity. The ability to be detached and unprejudiced while gathering and then disseminating information. The idea being that such objectivity will allow people to arrive at decisions without the journalists personal views clouding his or her judgement.

And when we say here, “covering a conflict”, there are two ways that is done, one is by reporting as an embedded journalist, and the other is by reporting on the conflict from a distance.

When a reporter is on the front lines with military personnel, constantly in touch and developing relationships, it becomes difficult to report objectively. And confounding all of that is the fact that certain information that is more than newsworthy cannot be reported due risking national security. But war reporting is clearly the great exception from the cult of objectivity—if only because a reporter who disengaged himself emotionally from a skirmish's outcome would be inviting death. And who can say that that any reporter that goes out into a combat situation will eventually not become sympathetic with the guys they're travelling with. In addition, how can it be possible for such a journalist to maintain total objectivity or true balance? In Iraq for example, can we expect a journalist travelling with a marine patrol to get comments from Iraqi fighters?

This actually raises another question, one that plagues those on the front lines or those reporting from their pressrooms alike. Who is a freedom fighter, who is a terrorist, who is a separatist and who is an insurgent? Just because a military handout uses those terms, are we as journalists supposed to parrot them? Are the Tamil Tigers terrorists when those in East Timor were not? Are the Chechens terrorists when the Basque are separatists? Should journalists make these decisions, or use terms coined by politicians and war-mongers with vested interests?

There also gives rise to the question whether coverage should be objective, or balanced, or both? And how are the two different? For example few would argue that the famous Vietnam-era footage of the young girl running for her life while on fire from a napalm strike had a strong effect on anti-war sentiment. No one can deny that it was factual, but was it balanced? There were other sides to that war that were perhaps not highlighted to the same degree. And can objectivity be maintained without maintaining balance? Or can a report that reported the facts, but just one side of the story be termed objective and unbalanced, or simply not objective?

I personally think that objectivity cannot come without balance, for a journalist to be able to say that his story is objective, it has to be balanced, and that means all the facts, to the best of his ability, from both sides, as they were seen or heard. Perhaps the term resistance is best when a journalist is unsure of terrorist, freedom fighter or insurgents. We should not be the ones deciding that. However balance can be taken too far and I will come to that later.

Given that, we have to keep in mind that every reporter’s perception of what is true, or likely to be true, or what is good or bad differs. Each person's world conforms to its own set of culturally defined expectations and in such a way as to appear satisfyingly real in total to its creator. The definition of feminine or masculine beauty depends on if the viewer is European or an Australian bushman. Preconceptions, prejudices, biases, cultural norms and mores, education, superstition, peer opinion, all play their role in people creating their own realities. This also changes levels of acceptable objectivity for that person

Until ESP becomes a viable form of communication, descriptions must be in words. However, words are notoriously slippery things: no word means the same thing to everybody or even anybody.

Journalism requires making a series of decisions, the first and most important is deciding just what is news. Then there is the necessity to determine what events constitute news: disasters, either natural or man-made, economics, politics, religion, people interacting with each other or animals or nature or whatever is of interest? Of course, the decision maker receives that power based on years of experience in determining what is news. However, that merely proves the above point that experience is a basis of a person's reality.

And then comes the actual reporting. As in selecting which events are news, someone must decide which words best describe the event. These decisions are based on the reporter's world as he or she examines the facts gathered and decides what words those receiving the report will best understand.

Television, using pictures in reporting the news, might allow the argument that pictures don't lie. Since people can actually see what is occurring or has occurred, the event is reported objectively. Nonetheless, the pictures are as subjective as words. Again decisions based on a world view are made: at the bottom the reporter or camera operator decide where to aim the camera, at what focus, at what distance, using a close-up, a medium or long shot, and at what angle. A great example is the Iran Hostage Crisis in which the mobs would sit around basically picnicking until the cameras appeared. The mob would then stand, chant and wave banners. A close-up camera shot can make ten people look like a mob; a long-shot can make thousands look like a local dispute. An example would be the bringing down of Saddam’s statue in Baghdad. There are no long shots of that event.

If war makes objectivity impossible, or at least very difficult, why do we pay so much lip service to it? Perhaps because journalists think the myth of objectivity will help keep them safe - even when they have declared sides.

Take the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, for example. After allied troops toppled the Taliban regime, Wall Street Journal reporter Alan Cullison purchased a used laptop and hard drive in Kabul on which he found al-Qaida correspondence and terrorist plans. Included in the 1,750 files recovered was information on the movements of an al-Qaida operative whose itinerary paralleled that of Richard C. Reid, the now-convicted shoe bomber of American Airlines Flight 63 - information that would help the military or CIA further its anti-terrorist initiative. On Dec. 31, 2001, his paper published the first of its stories based on its computer finding. Before publication, it shared the information on the computer and hard drive with the U.S. military. And I quote here the Journal’s Managing Editor Paul E. Steiger telling the New York Times on Jan. 21, 2002, "We decided that this was the right thing to do in moral terms and reporting terms,". Again I quote. "In moral terms, we would have been devastated if we had withheld information that could have saved the lives of our servicemen [emphasis added] or of civilians. In reporting terms, we wanted to verify what we had." Most of us would cringe at asking the military to verify or look at information and then telling us what we can print or not. However, the patriotic duty is something that most of us would also give in to. However, as it can be seen, sides were being taken. The information was not shared with the public beforehand, but the other way around.

Coverage of war has never been objective. And to expect it of embedded journalists would be a bit naïve. The embedded journalists might tell us who's gaining territory, who's retreating, who's on fire. Hazy truths, at best. And nothing approaching a complete account of any battle will be feasible until long after war's end, when reporters interview soldiers from both sides. Citing security reasons, the forces accompanying the journalists will control the big picture as rigorously.

Why should we expect it to be any other way? No government has ever endorsed the notion that the press should have unfettered access to the battlefield. Even the pretence that war correspondents should be objective is a recent development. Until the early 20th century, war writers routinely wore the uniforms of the army they covered and carried arms against "the enemy." Their dispatches openly (and honestly) rooted for the home team. While covering the Spanish-American War as a journalist, Stephen Crane aggressively maneuvered his way ahead of U.S. troops so that he could accept a Puerto Rican village's surrender on behalf of the soldiers, Phillip Knightley writes in his history of war reporting, ‘The First Casualty’.

Objectivity needs a method to integrate new information with existing knowledge. Until new information can be incorporated into what one already knows, it is useless. When confronted with new information one must effectively ask oneself, "How does this add to my understanding of reality?" That information must be interpreted by, and tested against, what one already knows. I cannot emphasise this enough.

When a reporter is embedded with US troops and witnesses the destruction of Iraqi resistance, he or she has obtained new information. If this reporter is committed as a matter of principle to objectivity, he or she has by now a lot of knowledge pertaining to what was witnessed. The reporter needn't, and shouldn't, constantly be a cheer-leader for America in this case. They needn't say "it was a great achievement for freedom-loving people," but that fact should prevent them from reporting a falsehood. For example, because of their knowledge, they should not report the "other side" with equal credibility, e.g., "the Iraqis, on the other hand, consider themselves victims of imperialist aggression." The sum of knowledge the reporter possesses (or should possess) disproves the Iraqi claim and should be presented as being false.

At the same time, reporters who present "both sides" equally are not thinking objectively, or at least they are not communicating objective knowledge. Objectivity requires integration with all knowledge one possesses and not merely the unintegrated information at hand. Whether one likes it or not, the reporter will have to, has to, and always will have to make judgements on the credibility of information, and not just report everything he happens to lay his hands on. Objectivity comes when a reporter presents information, and seeks to verify that from sources other than the originating point of the information, and then presents those facts as well. An objective report presents the story being released by the official authority, and then shows all the evidence that such claims are false. If the case may be. At that point, it's perfectly objective for the reporter to draw the conclusion that someone is covering up the truth, because such a conclusion is warranted by the evidence. Being objective means recognizing that not everybody's point of view is equally valid or deserves equal respect. That is how I see objectivity differing from balance.

I think a concerted effort should be made to suspend the race to be first, offering less trivial coverage and replacing the reporter's instant insights and speculation with the honesty and simple humility of an occasional, "We don't know."

The sorry state of journalistic freedom in Pakistan

There is a general perception that the press in Pakistan enjoys much more freedom than it ever did. There are also some circles that believe freedom of speech and freedom of expression are rights enjoyed by a broad spectrum of society and have touched levels never seen before. There is no doubt that the number of newspapers, radio stations and television channels has seen unprecedented growth in the last couple of years and with the number of radio stations and television channels still in the pipeline this trend will continue in the coming months. But this can be misleading if used as a standard to gauge the levels of journalistic freedom. The government is the main source of these misleading perceptions.
The number of journalists, print or otherwise has certainly increased but the improvement in their working conditions is debateable. For example police arrested two radio journalists Farhat Abbas Shah and Afaq Shah, working for the radio station FM Radio 103 on 10 November earlier this year at their radio's studios in Lahore, Punjab province in the east of the country. It is true that they were released on bail the next day but two days later the police raided the station and seized equipment, making it impossible for it to continue broadcasting.
According to the Lahore Press Club, the two radio journalists were arrested for broadcasting a report on a scandal at the Punjab cardiology institute. They were reportedly maltreated in the first hours of their detention.
In another incident, on 6 November, also this year, Qazi Muhammad Rauf, correspondent for the Urdu-language daily Express in the north-eastern Khyber Agency tribal zone, was seized by armed men and held for 24 hours by members of the Sheikhmalkel tribe angry at what they saw as a biased article.
Rauf had reported on clashes between the tribe and a religious organisation Amr Bill Maroof Wa Nahee Anil Munkar in the tribal area. Around a dozen armed men abducted Rauf and took him to a private detention centre where they beat and then chained him.
The authorities intervened following a tip off from his colleagues in the Tribal Union of Journalists and persuaded the tribal leaders to release him, on 7 November.
In yet another incident, police in Skardo in the north-east arrested the editor of a banned magazine Kargil International, Ghulam Shehzad Agha, on 4 November. The authorities accused the journalist and of backing autonomy for the Pakistani part of Jammu and Kashmir. The Pakistani interior ministry banned the magazine that he ran on 8 September 2004, charging that it carried seditious and unpatriotic news.
Elsewhere, Sarwar Mujahid, correspondent for the Urdu-language daily Nawa-I-Waqt in Okara district in the east of the country was freed on 12 October 2004. He was arrested and detained on 31 July 2004 at Sahiwal prison in Punjab province.
Mujahid was held under the Maintenance of Public Order law. His detention appeared to be linked to his articles about a conflict between Pakistani paramilitaries and tenant farmers who have for years farmed land belonging to the army.
All these incidents were widely reported by the local press and I say this to clarify that atrocities against journalists are not carried out in a clandestine manner or with any fear of reprisal. These are just a few examples of violence against of journalists that takes place every year. And these are not the worst. Journalists have also been killed.
The frequency of such events is linked directly to the fact that the number of publications, radio stations, and TV stations in the country, and consequently, the number of journalists is at an all time high. But is is also an indication of the fact that the wielders of power have not yet reached the state where they believe they are beyond reproach or scrutiny. They act like the lords of the lands, and they citizens are their serfs, and any voice or cry that is raised against them is to be silenced.
Having said that, it is also wrong to say that the press in third world countries like Pakistan is unable to play its due role as the fourth estate simply because of undue interference from the government or other state machinery. There are many other factors that play a crucial role in undermining the freedom of the press and create obstacles in the dissemination of information. These can range from external pressures like state control and the influence exerted by political groups to increasing commercialisation in the media industry and dishonesty on the part of some journalists. In one way or the other, they have all acted as major impediments in the fair and objective coverage of events and issues.
The right to know is a fundamental right of every human being and heavy responsibilities lie on the shoulders of the press as we are supposed to ensure timely dissemination of facts without distortion, no matter what the circumstances.
And in most cases, this is being done; the press is playing a vital role in spreading awareness and in supporting causes like human rights, democracy, free speech and this has led to the general feeling that the press enjoys increased freedom, but in the true sense of the word, more than 50 years on from independence the masses are yet to taste the benefit of freedom.
The right to know can only be ensured if there is a sense of accountability and transparency in the workings of the government and the authorities feel that they are answerable for their actions, that they have a responsibility to the masses. And since the institution of democracy has never been able to develop properly in Pakistan, a truly representative and accountable form of government has never materialised in Pakistan. Hence the primary ingredient to the right to free speech has always been missing, and still is.
However, as I said, the censorship affecting press freedom does not emanate from the state alone. There are some forces and groups, distinct from the federal and provincial governments, which force the dailies to resort to self-censorship.
Ethnic and other militants groups regularly come up with demands or warnings to which the newspapers have to concede more often than not. Then there is also the issue of greatly increased commercialisation in the industry, newspapers organizations must remain solvent at all times otherwise they were liable to be sold out. Hence this leads to the killing of stories that may be detrimental to the reputation of a sponsor, regardless of how valid it may be. Or it can lead to the insertion of stories that are in the interest of certain sponsors. This is not ethical journalism and is a form of self-censorship exercised by newspaper owners and their marketing departments.
While it cannot be denied that a newspaper would be unable to survive without finances, there has to be a balance, and a policy needs to be drafted to ensure the effectiveness of content. The idea of a proper, functioning press council is yet to materialize but there are fears, and rightly so, that the authorities would aim to use the same as an instrument against the media.
The presence of some working journalists and representatives of the masses on such a body would increase its credibility. However, the government can only be stopped from creating such a body, and imposing its authority on the media in Pakistan, if the journalists take the lead and impose a strict code of ethics upon them. Moreover, it is sad but true that the people and institutions seeking press freedom have failed to strengthen themselves for the purpose.
The Council of Pakistan Newspaper editors, (CPNE) for example comprises newspaper owners, not professional editors. There is also the need of a press complaints commission, an accountability body, which might be established under the CPNE to ensure a fair and healthy industry, he said. It is also apparent that the credibility of the press has been just as severely damaged by the commercial interests of the owners as by any other external force.
Another factor that has led to a weakening of journalistic ethics and falling standards is the fact that the institution of the professional editor is under threat as many media owners have become their own editors. Ideally, a professional editor should be the only person taking decisions on editorial policy and journalistic content. The professional editor has a social conscience, the owner is first and foremost a businessman. But of course, that is being said, keeping in mind the fact that journalism is supposed to be a mission, not just a profession, and certainly not a business.
But the sales and marketing department is a very potent, and growing force in today’s newspapers, with perhaps no truly altruistic journalistic organization surviving this capitalist regime. Newspapers or journalistic bodies do not really help the situation much by accepting donations from the authorities.
Recently, there was an interesting situation where journalists in Islamabad had staged a walkout from the press gallery during the proceedings of the Senate in protest of the closure of the Islamabad and Rawalpindi Press club by the District administration as well as the registration of criminal cases against several journalists.
At first glance, this may seem to be just another act of state terrorism against the media. But there is more to the picture. The pressmen had accused the Punjab government of becoming a party to the dispute between the two journalist bodies, which was obviously not be acceptable to them. They also claimed that the press club had been sealed by the district administration on the direct intervention of Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervez Elahi and Law Minister Raja Basharat.
But the key factor in this dispute was the allegation that the district administration had closed the doors of the press club to journalists when a losing candidate, also a journalist, used his influence.
Now, here is a prime example of, when journalists, resort to using their connections and then use the state machinery for their private gains, they do more damage to the institution and give the administration a chance to dominate them. There is no excuse for this, and journalists should constitute a self-regulatory body to ensure three things; that a code of ethics is formulated, implemented, and followed.
Eventually, the Minister of State for Overseas Pakistanis and Information Secretary of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML) Senator Tariq Azeem assured journalists that the federal government would ask the provincial authorities not to become a party to the matter. This is utterly shameful and an embarrassment to the profession.
The government persists in making claims about increased press freedom in the country but, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans Frontières) in their report for 2004 announced that Pakistan's position has dropped by 20 places as compared to its standing in previous year 2003. Pakistan stood at 120 in 2003.
It is clear that there are two sides to the coin. It would be unfair, and inaccurate to simply blame the state machinery for suppression of a free press, or say that government censorship is the only factor undermining press freedom. It would also not be completely accurate to say that journalists are following ethical norms and conduct themselves with due dignity and respect.
In Pakistan, which is a new country, not yet 60 years old, democracy is still in its fledgling state, so the concept of free speech and expression is also not fully developed, and similarly, journalistic norms and ethics are also in their infancy and have not yet matured.
The formation of a press council, by the journalists to regulate themselves, to educate themselves about ethical reporting is one step in this direction. Increased awareness and education among the population so that they are also aware of their right to know is another step. The introduction of true democratic norms and a valid democracy in the country is also imperative if the press is ever to be free.
But most of all, what we need is the will to report what is happening with honesty, with no personal bias and with the aim of dispensing the truth because people have a right to know the truth.