Monday, June 26, 2006

What needs to be done for Pakistan

The country is infested with multiple problems. And at the root lies poverty and overpopulation. At the time of independence in 1947, the population of Pakistan was around 30 million, which has increased five folds in the last 5 decades and the demographic forces are dragging the number up to 300 million in 2050. At that time we would perhaps be the 3rd in terms of population, right after India and China. But, with the level of resources we have, at that time, we would most probably be at the bottom of the ladder in economic and social development.

What should be done in this scenario? We cannot curtail the population growth drastically. For that we would have to follow the rights based approach which means that the people should make their own choices about the number of children they want to have, the timing of having children and what methods to use for either spacing or stopping childbearing. And, then there is the question of what programs should take priority-- should we strive for universal education, water and sanitation, primary health, infra structure or population control? This is a billion dollar question.

My answer is that we need everything. But, if we really need to make a hierarchical list, then population planning (the word 'control' is considered politically incorrect these days ) and primary health care should top the list. Then comes economic reforms, universal primary education, governance, environment issues, water management etc.

It seems that most people can take care of themselves if the conditions are right, for example in the absence of government supply of water or natural gas, people pump water from underground and buy gas cylinders.  In the absence of (good quality) health and education services, the affluent classes go to the private sector for their needs as they can afford it, and why shouldn't they! But, the real problems are for the chronically poor of this country, those who cannot even have two meals a day, let alone send their kids to schools and buy medicines. They live in one room households, with no water, no access to fuel at home for cooking, no access to schooling (for various reasons), and no access to health care. In a resource poor country like ours, we should take into account the needs of those people.

The programs and policies should have a long term vision and thinking in should take a holistic approach as we are not living in island and in order to survive we need all the basic necessities which are linked with each other anyway. For example, who can deny the links between deforestation and overpopulation, water shortages and poor governance, democracy and freedom of media, media's role in behaviour change etc. In short, Pakistan needs leaders who are good managers, not politicians who are fighting over whether trouser and shirt is Islamic or not.

At present, we all have to be realistic and solve the problems of basic survival needs of the people, and that solution has to be long term, sustainable and acceptable by the people.

loney among friends!!!!

Though I have a number of friends in Isloo, but at times I feel really lonely.... Don't have a single friend who would be interested in the things that I am interested in, like hiking, movies, cultural activities etc. The only activitiy that I do with my friends is visiting their homes, eating food, drinking tea and chit chat about general life. I guess the only friends with whom I enjoy most are Mehmood and Hammad and both are not in Islamabad, at present..... It is perhaps easier to be your own friend.... have a car and do whatever you want to do!!!! Or perhaps find a 'activity' partner... But how do you do that in Pakistan... I mean, finding a partner is not hard, even keeping him is also not that difficult.... But mantaining a platonic relationship and still not affecting the relatioship is almost impossible. Most guys here do not understand the meaning of NO.... They think a woman's NO is actually a secret YES, because women are not supposed to take interest in SEX!!!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

"Culture" in Isloo

Islamabad, considered a cultural dead city is finally growing up and you find various cultural activities to take part in. Some of the good places to look for are:

Islamabad Cultural Forum
Pakistan Academy of Letters
Pakistan-India Forum for Peace and Democracy
Civil Junction
Art of Living Activities
Asian Studies Group

The best would be to read the "What's On" column in the daily News, especially on Saturday and Sunday. Other than that several activities are announced through bill boards and banners through out city, so pay attention to those.

Hudood Ordinance

It was refreshing to watch the debate on Hudood Ordinance on Geo Television Channel. At least someone for the first time had the guts to lay their fingers on this topic on which the whole nation seems to be super sensitive. While the debate showed that there are Islamic scholars and lawyers in Pakistan who may dare to discuss such a topic in a non emotional manner. However, it was pretty obvious that there is still a section of society which is paranoid about such a debate lest it legtimizes consensual sex in the countyr. They think such a debate is a foreign agenda to tear the fabric of our society!!

Islamabad sizzling

Recently the temperature is stuck around 40 degrees C (108 F)... Our house is like a oven (having no AC). And on top of that someties there is power outage. Don't know how people sleep at night in this weather. But I should not complain... There is running water and electricity, a luxury for the middle and poorer classes of the country... There is no regular 'loadshedding' here, at least in our area. In Karachi, they are saying that there is daily loadshedding of electricity for many hours. Water is a problem all over the country, including the bold and beautiful Islamabad... Only in our area Naval Colony we are no facing any serious water shortages as they have dug a new well. I wonder what will they do after a few years, when even this new well dries up. All over Islamabad, people are digging wells with motor pumps (as a result water pipe prices have suddenly sky rocketed).

People are concerned for their own water, their own electricity and own comfort. Their actions are motivated by personal interest and only for the present... No future oriented thinking. Living in the present is good but our actions that can have far reaching affects should share some responsibility for future. We owe at least something to the future generations.

In the public discourse, I haven't observed any paranoia, fear, anger or just a heated discussion on the water problem. People are happy to dig new wells or discuss the dam issues. It seems that perhaps we are waiting for an emergency to take any action. Or we are too scared to face the reality!!!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Art of living

Yesterday I joined the art of living Islamabad, Pakistan chapter basic course. The course is basically about Pranayama (life force) and how we can enhance the pranayama within us. This is supposed to release stress, tension and depressions.

Here are some of the teachings.

Life is dependant on four things: air (breath), water, food, and environment we live in. And in order to live truly harmoniously we have to balance our lives by avoiding things that reduce the prana. For example, things that we consume regularly like tea, coffee, cigratte, all have prana reducing agents and should be avoided as much as possible. (I can't stop tea drinking). Similarly, meat (all kinds, including fish) should be avoided as meat takes about 78 hours to digest and depeletes lot of prana!

7 layers of the self: body, breath, mind, intellect, memory, ego, and self. The first 6 layers are different for all, but we are all the same at the level of self, which is the spirit or God. The breathing exercises would help us all achieve that level.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Earthquake blues

Even though it has been 8 months since the earthquake of October 2005, people I meet still talk about it... The picture they draw of the experience is horrific and horrendous. It seems that the experience has definitely punctuated the lives of the people strongly, making them think about life and its purpose, seriously. Thank God that I have not heard of any casualties of people that I directly know of with the exception of Shahnaz Kapadia, a middle aged widow, who lost her elder son and is struggling with the life of the younger one. The stories of the fall of margalla towers only is enough to realize the unpredictibility and uncertainity of life. Fate has been really cruel to some people, and there is no rational justification to understand that why those innocent people had to lose their lives or thier limbs, and in such harsh manner, fighting tons of rubble. I do not know of any direct stories of Bagh, Muzaffarabad and Balakot (the whole city was destroyed). But I did hear stories showing the best and the worst of humanity. While so much aid came from all over the world and the country and so many people went to help with the relief work, there were people looting the crushed houses, abducting children, merchants hiking prices of even such things as the shrouds for the deadbodies. I could not believe that the price of KAFAN would sky rocket as the demand surged all of a suddent. In that moment of national disaster, I would have thought that KAFAN prices should have come down!!! Anyway, it seems that in terms of relief and rehabilitation, no stone was left unturned.... My friends and other people who visited the affected areas said that there were enough food, clothes, blankets and medicines etc. One friend commented that she has never seen such nice blankets in her entire life. Thanks to the international community for their immediate support. And, thanks to America too!!! A special mention is needed as I heard stories of special efforts of the American army, doctors and nurses. Someone said that most of the relief and search efforts would not have been possible without American assitance and their sincere support. But alas, the people of Kashmir even then fired on american aircrafts!!

Well, coming back to margallah towers in Isloo, the whole tower, even thee portion that was unaffected looks haunted. Noone lives there now, a place which used to be one of the most expensive places to live is frequented by ghosts now...the broken tower breaks your heart everytime you look at it reminiding of all the people who were burried under tons and tons of rubble, never to come back or only to survive sans arms or legs or both. How fragile and strong are human beings!!