Sunday, November 17, 2013

How to find "Buzurg" and "Wali" of Allah

How to find "Buzurg" and "Wali" of Allah

During the late 1970s I started reading extensively and would read whatever came my way. This decade was probably the peak of monthly magazines or "digests" publications. Taking cue from the Reader's Digest and success of Urdu magazines such as Urdu Digest and Sayyara Digest, several "digests" became popular such as Subrung Digest, Jasoosi Digest, and Suspense Digest. Most of them relied upon crime, fiction and suspense short stories translated in Urdu from the West. However, some like Subrung Digest acquired a distinctive position due to the original fiction produced in Urdu, of which some of the long running series are now considered epic.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Problems with Bloom's Taxonomy: Impact on Curriculum and Motivation of Students

Problems with Bloom's Taxonomy: Impact on Curriculum and Motivation of Students

The basic problem with Bloom's taxonomy is defining the learning process as a sequence of progression from simpler memory recall function to the supposedly higher levels such as synthesis and evaluation which as Frank Smith argues below is contrary to the actual process of human learning. The problem is that the theoretical foundations of Bloom's Taxonomy are based on the experiments done (i) on pigeons, rats, and dogs by the founders of behavioral school of Pavlov and Skinner, and (ii) involving "senseless" and "meaningless" tasks. They unfortunately forgot to compare their experimental results with the observations of children learning in real life settings as the seminal work of John Holt, Chomsky and others demonstrate using sensible and meaningful activities. In the excerpt given below, Frank Smith points out the problems with Bloom's taxonomy through various observations of real people in real learning situations that prompted him to say:

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Get Pakistan out of this quagmire: Economic Cost of War on Terror for Pakistan

[To understand the context of this post, please read At What Cost! Why Compute Economic Costs of Faulty Political Decisions]
Impact of War on Terror on Pakistan’s economy

[This post is copied from Pakistan Today and was written bOmer Zaheer Meer, Tuesday, 15 Oct 2013]

History is evident that wars had been and will always be costly both economically and in terms of the loss of human lives. The western world and its allies are facing a unique war with no defined goals, targets, definite end-period and a faceless enemy making it much more costly and destructive.

The USA-led War on Terror (WOT) and potential solutions as to its ‘end’ are the talk of the town these days, with different perspectives put forth by differing sections of our society, however the economic impact and cost of this war for Pakistan’s economy is an area less frequented.

Pakistan has been paying a very heavy economic price for the ongoing WOT. The economic costs have been high, including the direct costs due to heavier spending on defense, compensation for the affected, damage to the infrastructure, severely deteriorating law and order situation, extensive capital flight, lack of foreign investment, industry closures and resultant poor revenue generation for Government. Indirect costs includes loss of economic activity from increased uncertainty, lower investment due to increase in perceived risk, opportunity costs, social disorder, lack of exports due to uncertain conditions and travel restrictions on Pakistani businessmen and the economic impact of the loss of men and women earning bread and butter for their families.

Studies had been undertaken by government as well as non-governmental institutions to determine the cost of war on terror for Pakistan. While their estimates vary, they have all accepted that beside the irreparable loss of lives, a severe economic slowdown has engulfed Pakistan’s economy as a direct consequence of this war.

What’s significant for the economists is the recent initial estimate by the government of Pakistan of the up to date losses suffered by Pakistan’s economy in the last 12 years to be $100 billion, approximately. On the other hand, just $15 billion had been paid to Pakistan through official channels (recovery rate of a mere 15 per cent). It is worth mentioning here that the Pak-American Business Council and some other private institutions’ loss estimates are much lower, though still material losses are put at between 40 to 60 per cent of the official figure.

Pakistan received $10 billion from Coalition Support Fund (CSF) against explicit expenses incurred, $2.1 billion assistance from FMF (Foreign Military Fund) to strengthen the military’s capacity against terrorists, economic assistance grants had been $1.5 billion while budgetary support of $1.2 billion too had been received.

The amounts and purposes of the funds spent and distributed by USA directly through local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are unknown while debt worth $1.65 billion had also been written-off.

The yearly official estimated losses to Pakistan’s economy as a direct consequence of participating in the USA led WOT are as below:

  • 2001-02: $2.669 billion
  • 2002-03: $2.749 billion
  • 2003-04: $2.932 billion
  • 2004-05: $3.410 billion
  • 2005-06: $4.670 billion
  • 2006-07: $4.670 billion
  • 2007-08: $6.940 billion
  • 2008-09: $9.180 billion
  • 2009-10: $13.560 billion
  • 2010-11: $17.830 billion
The total till 2010-11 comes to a whopping $67.926 billion.

The Economic Survey of 2010-11 disclosed that the loss to Pakistan’s economy due to participating in WOT was approximately $68 billion till then. The government didn’t disclose the updated economic losses in the Economic Survey of 2011-12. The latest official estimate as mentioned above is approximately $100 billion which is over 43 per cent of Pakistan’s GDP ($231.2 billion as per World Bank) and 164 per cent of the total foreign debt ($60.9 billion as of March 2013)

An interesting observation to note is the rising rate of the losses in the financial year 2010-11. This shows the rising intensity of the war and the upward trending economic costs. Moving forward this loss may rise at an even higher rate.

Not only did the growth in Pakistan’s economy nosedive but the overall economy was also hit hard. To understand the severity of the economic losses, let us examine the fiscal year 2010-11. The exports dwindled to the tune of $2.90 billion, terrorism compensation amounted to $0.80 billion, infrastructure damage amounted to $1.72 billion, foreign investment declined by $2.10 billion, privatization projects worth $1.10 billion could not materialize, industrial output was negatively affected to the tune of $1.70 billion, tax collection declined by $2.10 billion, cost of uncertainty amounted to $2.90 billion, expenditure overruns by $1.60 billion and others expenses incurred were $0.90 billion, totaling $17.82 billion in just one year.

Since accounts have been rebased to 2005-06, we’ll use comparative figures from 2006-07 to meaningfully appreciate the extent of the economic impact. Tourism industry has been destroyed. Industrial sector is adversely affected as working hours were lost with increased uncertainty, terrorism and resulting migration. Its growth rate of 7.7 per cent from 2006-07 fell to a mere 3.5 per cent in 2012-13 with the manufacturing sector amongst the hardest hit sub-sectors. The services sector also slumped to a growth rate of just 3.7 per cent in 2012-13 compared to 5.6 per cent in 2006-07. Agriculture growth rate at 3.3 per cent in 2012-13 almost regained the level of growth of 3.4 per cent from 2006-07. The massive potential of increasing this could not be realized though. Total investment has declined from 18.79 per cent of GDP in 2006-07 to 14.22 per cent of GDP in 2012-13.

Post 9/11 Karachi, the economic lifeline of the country, faced a series of terrorist attacks which were repeated in Punjab and Balochistan. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa without doubt has been the worst affected. This further increased the risk perception of the country. Economic growth slowed down to the point of stagnation growing at an average of 2.94 per cent since 2008-09. With all these staggering losses, there is still no end in sight to this war on terror ravaging the economic, social and political landscape of Pakistan. The quicker we get out of this quagmire the better it will be for Pakistan.

The writer Omer Zaheer Meer is an economist, a qualified chartered accountant, financial analyst and anti-money laundering expert. He can be reached on Twitter @OmerZaheerMeer - See more at:

Whither Writ of the State? Costs of Breakdown of Law and Constitution in Pakistan

[To understand the context of this post, please read At What Cost! Why Compute Economic Costs of Faulty Political Decisions]

Whither Writ of the State? Costs of Corruption and Nepotism in Today's Rangeela Shahi Daur

I often see reference to the "writ of state" in talk shows and in the writings of columnists in newspapers invoked typically in the context of the Talibans threat and urging the need for military action. I wonder why these specialists fail to see the "writ of the state" being violated every day in a systematic manner by all and sundry in nearly every walk of life.

Who can stop the sons of the powerful from breaking the traffic laws or even committing heinous crimes? Is it possible for the traffic cop to stop a land cruiser with black tinted glasses when over speeding or breaking traffic signals or driving dangerously or threatening the other traffic with armed escorts? Taking the cue, breakdown of the writ of the state is visible on every intersection, every signal, and every place where a bus/mini bus stops, and in every taxi and every rickshaw running without a meter and every car driving outside the lane! It is visible in every government office where there is public dealing. Bigger the office, bigger the breakdown of the writ of the state. Why can't we see that Taliban threat is just one of the more visible manifestations of  the breakdown of the writ of the state, and is simply a logical consequence of the breakdown of state institutions that has taken place over the last so many decades.
Our existence is not only being threatened by the so called Talibans but is being threatened on a daily basis by various gangs and mafias in a systematic manner. I compare this state of the affairs to the situation prevailing during the weakening of the Mughal Empire (early eighteenth century) when the breakdown of the writ of the state and breakdown of the control of the central administration enabled all sorts of groups to rear their heads and create havoc. Known famously as the "rangeela shahi daur", Marahttas, Rohillas, Sikhs, Afghans (Nadir Shah, Durrani) and all sorts of gangs and private armies would descend on cities and would indulge in loot and plunder and took control of vast areas. To protect themselves, people started paying protection money (or bhatta/taxes) to their area lords who maintained private armies, and who gradually separated from the Delhi rule and became independent princely states.

Isn't this the same situation? There is a general breakdown of law and order everywhere as evident from the emergence of mafias and organized gangs of looters and plunderers, as people are forced to pay protection money to them and they act as a state unto themselves for all practical purposes:
Whenever we talk of the violation of the "writ of state", it must start from the usurping of state, constitution and courts and other civil institutions by the military dictators. They trampled upon the law and the constitution for half of our existence directly and the remaining half by pulling the strings of the civil governments from behind, not letting them rule, and by calling all the important shots. To perpetuate dictatorial rule and protect its gains, influential groups and feudals were given a leeway and were allowed to morph into lawless mafias and gangs specializing in extortion of money through hook or crook; a distinctive attribute of the Rangeela Shahi daur was the captivity of state institutions by the private armies of the viziers and advisors. 

Most prominent among the gangs of today is the transport mafia that has destroyed the urban transport corporations (KTC, RTC, LTC etc), provincial transport corporations (PRTC, SRTC etc) and even the railway system (KCR and PWR and their branch network). Railway's freight business was destroyed by the NLC (an official gang hoisted by dictators) and forcing the freight movement away from railway to the transport mafia, which not only destroyed the road network, but literally handed over the safety of main highways to gangs. The mafia colluded and worked in tandem with the police (city transports is often owned by police) and other government bodies in getting route permits, then getting the bus stops encroached and soon with the help of the powerful groups the entire infrastructure (huge maintenance facilities, parking lots, railway land, and rolling and fixed assets) was encroached upon or sold away as scrap. The pitiful state in which the people now travel (jam packed as sardines inside and on roofs of buses, squatting on the floor of train) is visible everywhere as these mafias run transport in a pitiful state and extort the price of their choosing as the state haplessly looks on. Transport mafias are the precursors to the urban gangs and pressure groups that we see around. Convenience of the travelers and commuters is always the first priority of a competent administration as exemplified by Sher Shah Suri and the establishment of the GT Road and its support infrastructure (wells, checkpoints, saraiye/motels). The breakdown of the safety, security and convenience of the passageways is the first outcome of the breakdown of administration as witnessed in the Rangeela Shahi daur.
Then comes the land grabbing mafia famously referred to by Ardsher Cowasjee as "plot-ocracy". It started with the use of squatters by influentials to systematically encroach government land. But there is a more refined version to this crude tactic. Thousands of acres of lands are allotted to the favored individuals and institutions every year by every administration over the last several decades. Government land is forcefully occupied and then regularized or it is privatized illegally and sold away at throw away prices. Biggest landowner in Pakistan and the biggest land mafia in the organized government sector includes the military and its quasi institutions about which much has already been written. The trend again resembles the breakdown of the Mughal State during the Rangeela Shahi Daur when the commanders of the Mughal armies started proclaiming independence in the areas of their controls, as seen now in the cantonments, DHAs and feudal/wadera run territories that are virtually independent of the civil administration and hold the majority of the land in most cities and rural areas. These entities charge taxes/protection money from the businesses, which is not deposited in the state treasury, similar to what happened in the Rangeela Shahi Daur.

During the Rangeela Shahi daur, nepotism was at its height. People related to those in power got all the benefits and lucrative postings. We see a similar thing today. We have the drug mafia protected by the most powerful in the state. We have the sugar mills mafia that forces the prices down by creating surpluses during the buying season and then jacking up the prices during the selling season by creating shortages. They make money by creating shortages by first exporting the sugar out, and then importing/hoarding and selling at high price. By creating entry barriers, they do not allow new mills to be established and neither allow the farmers to make their own brown sugar. A racket about which even the state institution like Competition Commission of Pakistan expresses helplessness. Poor farmers are forced to park their tractor trolleys for weeks in miles-long queues on roads leading to the mills and not buying the cane until its weight reduces due to evaporation of the moisture content. We also have the wheat mafia that exploits the poor growers by colluding with the fertilizer mafia and the government institutions to jack up the fertilizer prices just when the sowing season is about to start, and reduces the selling price of wheat when the produce is ready for selling. Much has been written and documented about these practices but the state institutions are helpless or in collusion with these powerful groups.
There is this racket of fake medicines mafia that run their life threatening business with impunity under the very eyes of the regulators that extort money when they fix the prices and when they go for inspections. About fifty years ago, the system of such inspections was really stringent and now it has evaporated. Thirty years ago we all used to drink tap water. Supply of clean filtered water was ensured in every city. Even the five star hotels used to serve this water. But, the filter plants were encroached, and the entire infrastructure of filtration and supply of clean water was handed over to the tanker mafia and the state responsibility was abdicated to appease the powerful mafia of the water bottling industry.

Loans write-off mafia was a big business in Zia's time continuing till today where the art of taking a loan, defaulting and then getting them written off became the popular way to become rich. Banking mafia is paying only 1.5% on certain deposits while charging +20% on the loans. A spread unheard of in the world under the very eyes of the world bank supported central bank.
Adulteration mafia responsible for the substandard quality of edibles works with impunity under the watchful eyes of the inspection mafia that only ensures that protection money is being paid to them. Police mafia owns the police stations that are auctioned and that extort money from anyone and everyone. It is a misfortune of one to get entangled with them. In the court hearing on breakdown of law in Karachi, an official admitted that all agencies are taking protection money or bhatta.

Mafias in government departments have made government a "khairati idara" to provide salary without any work. The number of ghost employees is legendary. No one can tell with surety what is the strength of the real employees in schools, municipal corporations, provincial or federal government. There are ghost schools, ghost teachers and ghost employees. 

Oil companies cartel mafia charge whatever they want as OGRA looks on. The art of collusion is perfect. Electricity stealing mafia in tandem with NEPRA condones theft by allowing the utilities to slap the cost of theft on to the poor paying consumer. Energy sector mafia makes everyone blush. NAB and NRO allows mafias to go Scott free without any accountability. During the recent Supreme Court case hearing, a judge remarked that if we are allowing the big fish to return a percentage of looted amount and go free without a blemish to their existing jobs, then why should not the state allow all the petty thieves and dacoits to return their looted wealth and go scot-free! [1]

Let's see the genesis of this situation emerging in Karachi. It all started with car jacking and a whole underground economy of stolen cars and their fake identity papers sprung up with the connivance of the police. Then came the menace of mobile snatching, which started as individual acts but then morphed in to organized gangs. The gangs began getting protection from police as well as political parties. Then came the menace of bhatta mafia. Beginning as a fund raising drive, it soon morphed in to big business. The gangs were few and the markets were many from where the bhatta was extracted. Then as the gangs increased and the space started shrinking, territories were defined and demarcated. Gangs had to coalesce together into bigger units and were adopted by one or the other political parties. Target killings is one of the symptoms of the territorial wars fought to demarcate the ownership of the boundaries where one or the other gang would rule. The situation is much akin to what happened during the alcohol prohibition in 1930s leading to gang warfare in Chicago and New york and other cities of USA. Territorial disputes would often lead to gang wars. This is what we are witnessing in Lyari today.  

I think the columnists identify the responsibility of the state but stop short of apportioning the responsibility on the state institutions and fail to find the parallel to the rangeela shahi daur during the twilight of Mughal rule which was accompanied by such marauding hordes. Centralized decision making in the hands of the dictators destroyed the entire culture of distributed decision making at different tiers of the government. Now no one makes any decision any where. For all decisions, they look at the center. Just recall the paralysis of the administration as exemplified by the Sikandar episode near the Red Zone in Islamabad. One man was able to command the attention of the entire nation and hold it hostage for more than five hours, prompting and forcing a courageous Zamurrad Khan to take law into his own hands and act.

When the state fails to perform, the vacum left has to be filled by someone, anyone who has the courage can fill it and will fill it. The result is the destruction of the writ of the state and the emergence of the "rangeela shahi daur" of today where the hordes of Nadir Shah Afghan and Durrani resemble the talibans,  marahttas are the gangs, rohillas are the mafias, and subedars are the agencies and government institutions. All states unto themselves. Whither the writ of the state?


[1]  SC assails NAB chief’s powers to let accused go off scot-free

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