Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Ahmedi Killings: Time For The PPP To Step Up (Updated With Taliban Statement)

Before I put down my thoughts, let me urge you to go and read two great posts on the tragic killings at Ahmedi MOSQUES yesterday. The first is at A Reluctant Mind and the second is at Cafe Pyala. I basically agree with everything both of them say on the killings of MUSLIMS at MOSQUES.

I want to concentrate on a different facet of the tragedy, namely the absurd laws that remain on Pakistan's books, decades after political expediency (in Bhutto's case) and downright bigotry (in Zia's case) that have allowed things like this to happen.

Actually, I think some people may take issue with that statement in and of itself. So let's back up for a second. There are basically two ideal-type views on the relationship between laws in a society, and that society's existing mores and preferences. The first would be that laws really matter, and change the way we think about things, as well as the things we do. The second is diametrically opposed to this, and would argue that laws are epiphenomenal. Laws, in this view, merely reflect what we already think and do and have no independent effect on anything. Put differently, the first view says laws determine our actions and thoughts, and the second says that our actions and thoughts determine our laws.

This distinction is important because it forces us to consider what types of actions we should take when we oppose a particular social practice. Let's take honor killings. If you are with the first group, you think that if you make the laws against honor killings more stringent -- by, say, punishing the entire family responsible for the killing -- then you can slowly but surely eradicate it. If you are in the second group, you think changing the law is pointless; the thing to do is to change the education standards and the social norms that govern our interactions and actions in society. These prescriptions are very different, and so the views we have on the law-norms relationship have very real consequences for how we go about reforming things.

I think most reasonable people would fall in between the two ideal-type views on average, but privilege one or the other on a case-by-case basis.

On the Ahmedi issue, however, I'm most definitely in the first camp. Why do I believe this? Well, the main reason is that the only reason we even have these laws -- especially the Bhutto laws from the 70s which declared Ahmedis non-Muslims -- is because of agitation from the religious right. Now, we all know that the religious right has no real political power; they've never won anything worth winning in elections. They are at most a nuisance, a bunch of mosquitoes and flies who need to be brushed away when they start buzzing around. They don't represent "average" Pakistani norms and never have.

The problem is that because of short-term and ill-advised considerations, non-religious leaders have given into these goons repeatedly. Whether it's something serious like declaring Ahmedis non-Muslims (Bhutto), or something unserious but still incredibly annoying like a religious column in the Pakistani passport (Musharraf), leaders have found it convenient to give in to them, hoping it'll shut them up. But it never does. All it actually does is leave draconian and bigoted laws on the books for people to take advantage of. The Zia laws are similar, in that they allow and sanction people to explicitly discriminate against an entire group of Pakistani citizens. Let me say that again: under Pakistani law, we are supposed to discriminate. Not discriminating is illegal.

What ends up happening is that because of the existence of these laws, cultural and social practices change as a result. Anti-Ahmedi sentiment has spread from being the sole purview of the religious right to a much more mainstream position in the last couple of decades. Judging by online comments and some Tweets I've read, hating Ahmedis and being glad about yesterday's events is perfectly normal. My feeling is that these laws are a big reason for that.

Anyway, all this is a long preamble to my actual point: this is the next big thing the PPP must do. The Hudood laws, the rape laws, and the anti-Ahmedi laws. Gone. Done. Dusted. Am I crazy? Can this happen? Mostly yes, and mostly no, respectively, but bear with me.

If you examine the PPP government's record in power, there's been a great bifurcation on the issues on which they've done well versus the ones they've done badly in. Think about their greatest successes: the autonomy package for Gilgit Baltistan. The moving forward -- if fitfully, in stops and starts -- on Balochistan and Balochi rights. The 18th amendment. Inter-provincial harmony. Now think about their greatest failures: electricity. Water. The war. The economy.

Can you see what's going on here? On the issues which affect the everyday lives of ordinary Pakistanis, the PPP government is either unwilling or unable to do anything that makes a difference. On the other hand, on "big" political/constitutional issues, whose importance tomorrow will outweigh their importance today, they've actually done an excellent job.

Well, this should be right up their alley. The anti-Ahmedi and Hudood laws are a disgusting blot in our penal code. It should be their next target. The tragedy of yesterday should serve as a focal point around which reform can coalesce. Recall that the PPP was the only party to support Musharraf's Women's Rights Bill back in 2006, when his own coalition partners (the Q) weren't really for it. They are, purportedly, the secular, liberal party of Pakistan -- or at least they advertise themselves as such. The numbers may not work in the Assemblies -- I see only the MQM helping them out, and even combined those two don't make for a majority, let alone a two-thirds majority. But I'd still like to see them make an effort, if for no other reason than forcing the PML-N and PML-Qs of the world to come out in the open and explicitly say they favor the current discriminatory legislation (and they will, don't worry).

This is what governments are elected to do: tackle the big issues which individuals can't tackle on their own (like, say, garbage collection). This is the PPP's chance to make history...again. It's time for them to rid Pakistan of these laws. It's time for the PPP to step up.

UPDATE: Here's the Taliban's statement in reaction to the killings. Let's just say it's not exactly like reading NFP:
Congratulations for the whole nation. What the brave Mujahideen did yesterday in Garhi Shahu & Model Town, Lahore. We greet them whole heartedly how well they have done with best of their expertise. As a whole we do like to encourage the nation for increasing this kind of activities like target killings of Qadianis, Shia, supporting political parties, Law enforcement agencies, Pakistan Army, racist parties and many more. MQM is an acting political and terrorist wing of Qadianis & jews. They are responsible for destruction of the country & nation. We are confirming the very near future assassination attacks on everyone who is with MQM. Simultaneously we advise the realistic people to take initiative and kill every that person who came in their range. There is no specific need of detonators, bombs or explosives. Just kill them either by means of just crashing them under their cars. Qadiani & Shia are the enemies of Islam and common people. They disrespect Muhammad (Salal-Lahu-Alaihi Wasallam) and Sahaba (Razi Allahu-Anhum). They have no respect for anyone. MQM is their terrorist wing which is involved in target killings in Karachi.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Here Are My World Cup Predictions. Where Are Yours?

With the World Cup just two weeks away, it's time to put in some predictions. I'm always wrong with this stuff, but it never stops me from trying. Before I detail some of the choicest tidbits here, a quick note: I want to run a type of mini-competition amongst footie fans from the Rs.5 readership. There are basically thirty one spots open to prediction if you leave out the permutations of the third- and fourth-place teams in each of the groups in the first round. I am also leaving out the 3rd place playoff because bronze medals are for losers.

So yeah, there are 31 spots open for prediction. All you have to do is number your teams the way I have done it here. This part is crucial: your number 1 should be the winner of group A, number 2 the runner of Group B and so on. Just follow my lead by looking at the table below, and filling it in with your own predictions.

Then, either in the comments or in an email to fiverupeesadmin AT googlegroups DOT com, send me a numbered list that looks like:

1. France
2. Nigeria
3. England
4. Serbia
31. Spain

or whatever. You can add your justifications and whatever, but that part is optional. All you have to do to partake in the competition is give me thirty one numbered teams. And you must do so before a ball is kicked; the competition closes at the exact moment the World Cup begins. Who knows, I might even give a prize to the winner (maybe).

So get cracking with your predictions and send them in. You can find the groups by clicking here.

Anyway, here is my bracket:






1. Winner of Group A—Mexico

2.Runner up of Group B—South Korea








3.Winner of Group C—England

4.Runner up of Group D—Germany

5.Winner of Group E—Holland

6.Runner up of Group F—Paraguay



7.Winner of Group G—Brazil

8.Runner up of Group H—Chile

9.Winner of Group B—Argentina

10.Runner up of Group A—Uruguay





11.Winner of Group D—Serbia

12.Runner up of Group C—USA

13.Winner of Group F—Italy

14.Runner up of Group E—Denmark



15.Winner of Group H—Spain

16.Runner up of Group G—Cote d’Ivoire

The highlights for me:

  • France failing to get out of the group stages for the second time in three World Cups. Do not, I repeat, do not sleep on Mexico and Uruguay. You do so at your peril; I watched plenty of the South American and Central American qualifiers, and trust me, neither team is to be messed with. Plus, France just suck. I mean, they're just a terrible team, with a terrible coach, and overrated players. I am very confident about this one. They're out.
  • Two tasty all-South American round of 16 clashes. The first between Argentina and Uruguay and the second between Brazil and Chile. Argentina beat Uruguay by a single goal twice in the qualifers, the second time under considerable pressure (in Uruguay, when a draw or defeat could've meant missing the World Cup). But they're more settled now, and I don't see Uruguay having enough to get by them. As for the second game, as much as I love Chile's sexy 3-3-1-3 formation, they got laced 7-2 on aggregate against Brazil in the qualifiers, and I see that trend holding up too. Also, the Brazil-Chile game will be the most entertaining of this round. Remember I said this.
  • If it's a contrast in styles you want, watch the Denmark-Italy game. Denmark are actually quite an exciting team to watch based on the little I've seen them play in the last couple of years. Trust Italy to ruin the fun with a 1-0 win, the goal a freaky one that takes a deflection off a set piece in the 78th minute.
  • By the way, I see Serbia ruining England's World Cup dream...indirectly. You see, I'm predicting Serbia win their group, pushing Germany down to the runners up spot, so that they play England in the first knock out stage. England may be better on paper, but in big tournaments, I'll take the Germans over the English every day. Some teams just know how to play and win big matches. Germany is one of those teams. England is not. Bye, bye Don Fabio.
  • The two most interesting quarter finals for me will be between Holland and Brazil, and Italy and Spain. I expect the bad guys to win one (Brazil) and the good guys to win the other (Spain). Meanwhile, Argentina and Germany beat a pair of teams that have realistically reached their ceiling by getting to the quarters: Serbia and Mexico, respectively.
  • In the semis, Brazil beat Germany, who simply aren't good enough. And Spain beat Argentina in the game of the tournament, where Messi and Di Maria put the fear of God into Spain (whose one vulnerability is down the flanks) before ultimately bowing out because of some idiotic substitution by Maradona. We get our dream final: Brazil vs Spain.
  • Spain are exactly the type of team Brazil love to beat. They'll sit back, absorb, wait, wait, wait some more, and then pounce. Think Inter-Barca first leg to see what I mean. Brazil will have 40% of the ball but 75% of the goals. Children everywhere will cry, including Brazilians, who wonder what the hell Dunga has done to their team, they barely recognize it anymore, before someone politely tells them that Brazil haven't played "like Brazil" since 1982.
Alright, now it's your turn. Remember, numbered teams to 31, either in the comments below or in an email to fiverupeesadmin AT googlegroups DOT com. Go for it.

Other random predictions
  • Most annoyingly played up thing by the media who have nothing else to write about in the week before the games begin: those horns that make it sound like the stadium has been invaded by bees. Trust me, by June 11, you would've heard the word "vuvuzela" about 8204343299048 times.
  • Top scorer: David Villa
  • Most heartbroken team: Spain.
  • Team everyone is happy is kicked out when they are because their media is starting to bug the hell out of everyone: tie between England and USA.
  • Biggest disappointment (team): Portugal, who fail to win a single game.
  • Biggest disappointment (player): Wayne Rooney, who gets a red card at the wrong time. Again.
  • Most outrageous quote: Diego Maradona, in the couple days off between the group stages and the first knockout stage.
  • Possible subjects of said quote: Pele's sexuality, racism in South Africa, the backward nature of Uruguayans, or a reporter's sister.
  • Best feud: pick two, any two, players from Holland.
  • Best friendship: Pique and Fabregas, who make Spain even more suffocatingly likable.
  • Most awkward moment: when British tabloids reveal that John Terry's wife has been having an affair with his Chelsea teammate Michael Ballack. Ballack confirms the rumors before the England-Germany game, saying "Well, I broke my ankle and am sitting here in London, and I had to help my team, I always kinda liked Wayne Bridge.
UPDATE: If you contributed predictions under the pseudonyms of any of the following, please email me as soon as possible at fiverupeesadmin at googlegroups dot com:

1. Lahori
2. Disfigured corpse
4. Ahad
5. KP_Red_Devil
6. Mcphisto
7. Zozo

Thank you.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Costs Pakistanis Are Paying In This War Must Always Be Part Of The Story

I really, really liked this piece in Dawn. It talks about the tremendous toll the war against the Taliban is taking on soldiers in the military:
His son Captain Bilal Zafar was killed in the prime of his life, cut down by a rocket-propelled grenade while leading a charge against entrenched Taliban fighters.

"I loved him so much that once I told him 'I will not get you married. Because I love you so much I am afraid I will not be able to share my love with your wife'," he said, sitting under a huge poster of the commando and the last SMS sent to relatives.

"If there was an American dignitary sitting in front of me I would certainly try to ask him, 'What else can a human being do more than sacrificing their life? Has any other army in the world suffered so many casualties fighting militants?'"

There is definitely a pattern on display here. Something bad happens in the world, Pakistan (or Pakistanis) get blamed, Americans/Indians say "you're not doing enough, do more", and Pakistanis get defensive in the media. Rinse, lather, repeat.

I think one of the reasons this is the case is that there tends to be little understanding in places other than Pakistan about the tremendous costs the military and Pakistani civilians have borne in this war. Close to 10,000 civilians have been murdered in the last five years, and about 2,500 soldiers have died. Those are huge numbers, easily dwarfing the casualties of any other state in this war.

Now, if you want to argue

1. That the military's efforts against the Taliban aren't sincere and that strategic depth/India is still the guiding concern, or
2. Pakistan and Pakistanis deserve what they are getting, or
3. There is still a lot more to be done

that's fine. I've heard and read each of those positions expressed many times, usually but not always in anti-Pakistan arenas. But my point would be that you can simultaneously hold those positions and point to the costs suffered in this war by Pakistan. It's not mutually exclusive.

Every article on Pakistan and the Taliban war should have the sentence "In the last five years, 10,000 civilians and nearly 3,000 troops have died." Every last one. The decontexualization that takes place when these figures are not mentioned is incredibly damaging to all concerned, and the war itself. It elides the very real and indisputable fact that ordinary Pakistanis are victims in all of this.

Again, how we got here and whether the anti-Taliban efforts are enough are valid discussions to have. But the "do more/do it now/you suck" mantras need to be tempered by, or at least suffused with, the knowledge that this war as hurt Pakistanis above everyone else.

Table/Chart Of The Day

What better way to mark my return to blogging than with this chart (via Rafay Alam)? It synopsizes this post, which in turn argues that quitting Facebook is like the Hijrat-e-Medina. I've heard some great analogies in my time and some terrible analogies in my time, but I think this is the first that fits in both categories: it's so idiotic that I actually enjoyed it.

Similarities between Hijrat-e-Madina, Migration to Pakistan and Quitting Facebook Hijrat-e-Madina Migration to Pakistan Quit Facebook

Why Required

Injustice based on religious discrimination towards the masses
Humiliating attitude of people in power towards Islam and Muslims
Popular Hesitations for Hijrat

We have so much of property / resources here (Makkah / India / Facebook)
What will the new land be like? We do not know anything about it.
We will have to start over from scratch.
We will have to leave our loved ones here

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Screw The Jamaatis - End The Ban On Youtube and Facebook

If you're offended by the Prophet cartoon thing, here's an easy solution for you: don't search "Muhammad + cartoons." You'll be just fine.

The groundwork for this entire sh'bang was laid down by the Jamaat-e-Islami. Having spent the last three weeks with an insufferable Jamaatia, I've seriously had it with these opportunistic hypocrites. Interestingly enough the Jamaatia didn't come with us from Pakistan, he moved to the U.S. in the 90s after graduating from IBA, went to Columbia and Harvard, works for Rand Corporation and was hired by the State Department to be our cultural guide. And what a cultural guide he was. This is what I learned from Mr. KH:

1) Nobody gets married in the U.S., "they all have boyfriends and girlfriends" (said in a most judging tone).

2) Americans don't have a moral code.

3) Pakistanis are useless / insincere. There's no point in bringing in lawyers and judges from Pakistan and teaching them about the American system because there's no hope and you guys won't make a difference because Pakistani's have no commitment. (This, by a guy who left the country for greener pastures and is clearly staying in the U.S. until he can get his hands on an American passport, I imagine once he does get the passport we'll see him hosting a fiery talk show in Pakistan.)

4) Pervez Hoodbhoy is an American agent. (Again, this guy works for Rand and was hired by the State Department, apparently they don't teach irony at Columbia or Harvard.)

5) Karachi, especially Defence has gotten really, really 'bad' - morally and socially that is. (What can I say,women do roam around the streets in their thongs propositioning every truck driver that passes by.)

6) Young Pakistanis are totally out and have no moral code because they drink alcohol. (Yes, all I do while having a drink is figure out which brothel would give me the best price for my mother and sister.)

7) Sufism is a new concept.

There was much more vitriolic shit coming from his mouth but at some point I stopped listening, but I'm sure you get exactly what type of person we're dealing with.

Sadly, this deluded, moralizing, self-righteous twit isn't alone, there are many more out there and they're getting more and more vocal. They are the product of Pakistani universities from the late 70s through to early 90'd (the Zia years), especially universities where IJI was prominent. They seem to have forgotten how IJI became prominent, with American money and American guns, and now spend their free time denouncing the U.S. The rest of the day, when they're actually working, you'll find them at MNCs, Banks, etc., or like Mr. KH, working with the U.S. government. They may hate America but not American dollars.

Well, they can go fuck themselves. The Pakistani people did not vote them into power, they have no mandate to govern or legislate, all they do is intimidate.

Let's grow some balls and stand up to these turds.

Blogging Will Be Light For A Week

I am going on a much-deserved vacation. To New York. Hahaha. Anyway, I'll be back next week. I know it'll be hard for Pakistanis to live without me and Facebook at the same time, but you'll be okay. Connect with your family or something for a while.

P.S. No, commenters, I don't have anything to say about the Facebook ban beyond: hahahhahahahahahahahhahahahaah, God we're stupid.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How Insufferable Are New Yorkers?

Well, the short answer, for me anyway, is "very".

There's a little discussion going around in the blogosphere on how annoying, if at all, New York and New Yorkers are. What started it off was this post by Conor Friedersdorf:
Even if New York is a peerless American city, an urban triumph that dwarfs every other in scale, density, and possibility; even if our idea of it is the romantic notion that Joan Didion described, "the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself;" even if you've reveled in the fact of the city, strutting down Fifth Avenue in a sharp suit or kissing a date with the skyline as backdrop while the yellow cab waits; even if you've drunk from the well of its creative springs, gazing at the Flatiron Building, or paging through the New York Review of Books on a Sunday morning, or living vicariously through Joseph Mitchel or E.B. White or Tom Wolfe or any of its countless chroniclers; even if you love New York as much as I do, revering it as the highest physical achievement of Western Civilization, surely you can admit that its singularly prominent role on the national scene is a tremendously unhealthy pathology.

Despite the rent, the cold, the competition, the bedbugs, the absurd requirements for securing even a closet-sized pre-war apartment on an inconvenient street; the distance from friends and family, the starkness of the sexual marketplace, the oppressive stench of sticky subway platforms in the dog days of August; despite the hour long commutes on the Monday morning F Train, when it isn't quite 8 am, the week hardly underway, and already you feel as though, for the relief of sitting down, you'd just as soon give up, go back to Akron or Allentown or Columbus or Marin County or Long Beach -- despite these things, and so many more, lawyers and novelists and artists and fashion designers and playwrights and journalists and bankers and aspiring publishers and models flock to New York City.

And then Andrew Sullivan jumped in:
I love it to death, but would never live there. And the narcissism of its inhabitants (yes, I know I'm not exactly one to talk) is deeply irritating. It's much less different than it once was; and nowhere near as interesting as it believes.

At which Ezra Klein stepped in:
New Yorkers, by contrast, have what's considered the greatest city in the country and can't stop talking about it. It's like an A-student bragging about his grades, or a rich guy making everybody look at his car. It's unseemly.

And finally, Ta-Nehisi Coates, who says it's all about the sheer numbers:
I think it's hard to get what happens when you slam millions of people who are really different into close proximity. It's incredible to watch. I think that's only smug if you're the kind of person to attribute accidents of environment and history, to genetics.

Moreover, I think New Yorkers only seem more smug, because there are more people in New York and thus more arrogant New Yorkers. In my time, I have watched mo-fos from everywhere from Dallas to Cleveland to Columbia, Maryland hold forth about why their neck of the woods is touched by God. This kind of person would be that way, no matter where he or she were born. Regrettably, in New York we have more of those kinds of people, because we have more of all kinds of people. It's worth remembering the sheer population size of the city--it's like ten Detroits.
My view on this is fairly simple: I love New York but I fucking hate New Yorkers.

You see, New York is a fantastic city. It's got great restaurants. Great attractions. Great nightlife. Great comedy. Great buzz. When you visit New York, you feel a thrill -- it's like being part of something bigger. And for me, personally, New York will always have a special place in my heart. The woman I married spent five years in the city, four as a college student, and for that reason alone, I love it; the memories of visiting it are invariably happy ones.

But my problem is this: New Yorkers believe that they have a monopoly on living in a cool place. Now, please understand this is not some Chicago-New York rivalry thing playing out. Frankly, I consider neither of these cities home, and couldn't care less what inhabitants of each city think of each other.

But it is quite instructive that New Yorkers believe they are sui generis; they are special and unique for living in a place like New York. They really do believe that they have the best of everything (untrue) and that no one is as hip or cool as them (also, sadly, untrue).

What's more is that New Yorkers think what makes them cooler and better than everyone else is the fact that they live in New York. It's circular reasoning taken to absurd lengths. Why is New York cool, you ask? Well, because of New Yorkers. And what makes New Yorkers so special? New York!

Shut up. Please, just shut up.

Look, I have many friends in New York. I try to visit at least once a year because of the number of friends I have there. I would love to live there one day, if I could afford it. But honestly, New Yorkers need to get a grip. More than that, they need to get over themselves.

It should be made mandatory for New Yorkers to spend some time in other big cities, both in the U.S. and abroad, just to understand how non-special they really are, and just how non-special their city really is. You want culture and art? Walk around Montparnasse in Paris during the early evening, or maybe around le Marais. You want down and dirty, hipster neighborhoods with local markers and weed sellers? Go to Camden in London. You want neon signs? Walk around downtown Tokyo, where it's brighter at night than during the day. Hustle and bustle? Las Ramblas in Barcelona.

But New Yorkers don't know any of this, or pretend not to know. For them, the world begins and ends at the boundaries of the 8000 bridges and tunnels connecting New York to the rest of the world. And it's really annoying. I get that you're proud of your city, and like living there. But open your goddamn eyes and ears, just for a second. And if that's too hard, then at least do us the favor of closing your mouth.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Don't Forget About The Rafay Alam Conversation!

This really is my fault. I put up my conversation with Rafay Alam up on the weekend, when blog readership is considerably lower. I then completely ensured that no one would read it by adding the Hamid Mir post, which understandably is getting more attention because of its scandalous nature.

Be that as it may, I am requesting you to go read the Rafay Alam conversation. Unlike the idle speculation in the Hamid Mir post, it's actually educational. I can only speak for myself; I learned a lot. And it's about real-world important stuff, like water and electricity and development in Pakistan. So check it out.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Hamid Mir Email, And The Explosive Charges Surrounding It (Updated With Asian Tigers' Denial Of Conversation)

Over the last couple of days, I have been trying to wrap my head around the Hamid Mir/Khalid Khawaja/ISI/Taliban issue. I have many, many more questions than answers. In fact, I'm not even going to pretend that this post is any way, shape of form, even remotely enlightening. It's merely me thinking out loud. But I hope you read along anyway.

Let's backtrack for a second. We know the following facts: in the middle of last month, ex-ISI operative Khalid Khawaja was abducted by a group calling itself the "Asian Tigers", presumably a splinter group of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and also connected to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Punjabi sectarian outfit. Two weeks ago, he turned up dead, bullets in his head and chest, and a note attached to his body warning that other "American spies" would meet a similar fate.

Just who was this Khalid Khawaja character, and where did he come from? Well, in the late 1980s, Khalid Khawaja wrote a public letter to the late General Zia-ul-Haq, accusing him of not trying hard enough to introduce Islam into Pakistan, perhaps the only time the General had to deflect such an allegation. Khawaja was soon dismissed from the Air Force and the ISI.

He is also alleged to have been the point-man between Osama bin Laden and Nawaz Sharif, when the former financed the latter's efforts, as part of the IJI, to make trouble for the PPP both before and during Benazir Bhutto's first government. In recent times, he resurfaced as a defender of the rights of the "disappeared", people accused of being involved in terrorism and picked up by the ISI and other intelligence agencies without a trial.

In short, his credentials with right-wing and militant elements in the country should not have been in question. Now, he is dead. The question is: why did the Taliban kill him?

An audio file on the Cafe Pyala blog has helped fill in some of the gaps. In it, Hamid Mir, host of Geo's Capital Talk and regular contributor to Jang and its English-language sister publication The News, is heard to be informing a purported member of the Taliban about Khawaja's nefarious ways.

Hamid Mir, through a fairly circuitous route, accuses Khawaja of being behind the killing of Abdul Rashid Ghazi in the infamous Lal Masjid siege of 2007. He calls Khawaja a CIA agent because of his relationship with William Casey (head of the CIA in the 1980s); neglecting to mention that if having extensive contacts with members of the CIA in the 1980s was a marker of being a CIA agent, then our entire military-intelligence apparatus is one giant collective CIA agent. He criticizes his relationship with a man named Mansoor Ijaz -- someone who, I must confess, I'd never even heard of until this weekend -- and claims that Ijaz is involved in an "international network" of Qadianis (Ahmedis), and that he (Hamid Mir) considers Qadianis "even worse than kaffirs". He basically spends 15 minutes on the phone alleging that Khawaja is a fake and a fraud, that his beard and past history is part of a conspiratorial plan to deceive right-thinking people, and that he is fighting for the wrong team.

Hamid Mir signed Khalid Khawaja's death warrant. Of this there can be no doubt. The Taliban guy, who clearly had no strong feelings one way or the other at the beginning of the conversation, is convinced by the end that Khawaja is a bad guy, and must be taken care of. Anyone who has heard the tape can have no other interpretation of that conversation.


One can spend a lot of time shaking their head at the frankly despicable views that Hamid Mir espouses here. But surely it is not news that Hamid Mir is an intolerant, bigoted and hateful liar?

It would also be easy to question the platform Hamid Mir is given by the most-watched cable news station in the country, as well as his column where he is allowed to, quite literally, make things up and/or quote himself as "a source" (
as he does in the aftermath of this Khawaja episode). But, again, given it's Geo and Jang Group, is anyone surprised?

No, for me, the more interesting questions about this entire deal are these:

1. How did the public come upon the recording of the tape?

Evidently, the recording first made its way to a page on Facebook titled "Inter-Services Intelligence". Is it an "official" ISI page? Well, it does have a disclaimer noting that "Views expressed in this page ARE NOT NECESSARILY THOSE of the Institute. PLEASE KEEP THIS IN MIND." Also, it's a goddamn Facebook page. But you can honestly never put anything past the ISI -- even wasting their time with fake online farms and putting up drunk pictures of themselves.

Be that as it may, isn't it highly suspicious that this Facebook page was where the recording was first released? Even if the page itself isn't official, surely some intelligence agency is involved, purely as an implication of the fact that this was a private telephonic conversation that was clearly bugged? I don't know about your Facebook friends, but I certainly don't consort with people who have casual spying skills.

So given that some agency was involved -- and as someone mentioned to me, it may be the IB, not the ISI -- the obvious question than becomes: why? Why would Unnamed Intelligence Agency (UIA) want to damage Hamid Mir this way? What's the agenda? Is UIA actually upset at Hamid Mir for killing one of their erstwhile brethren? Is UIA taking on Hamid Mir because of his political views on things like the disappeared, as he alleges in his widely circulated email published below*? Is it something more personal and opportunistic? Did Hamid Mir's jumps from pro-establishment to anti-establishment to pro-establishment and then back somewhere in the middle piss someone off? Just what is going on?

No one knows.

2. Is this the end for Hamid Mir?

The News did not carry this explosive story at all, which is fairly instructive. I'm hoping it means that there are some hard questions being asked within that organization as we speak. Geo/Jang is a disgusting organization at the best of times -- they lie, obfuscate, quote sources that don't exist, print "planted" stories from the agencies, plagiarize, and allow Ahmedi-haters and bigots like Aamir Liaquat to broadcast their views on Jahil Online -- but this may be a step too far for even them. I hope.

3. How will the Taliban react to this?

Judging by their shabbily put-together press release that a friend forwarded to me (published below**), not very well. It's quite a rant, jumping from denying the conversation between Hamid Mir and their guy took place, to asking for more pictures of Salman Taseer's scantily-clad daughter to be produced, to threatening PTCL for being party to bugging a conversation they claim never took place, and finally ending with a very friendly sounding "Take care".

More interestingly, for me anyway, was how clueless the guy at the other line sounded. Think about it: why is the Taliban getting information from Hamid frigging Mir on Khalid Khawaja? Shouldn't the very fact that they kidnapped him mean that they have something on Khawaja? Or was it a case of "kidnap first, ask questions later"? I found this utterly bizarre. This could mean one of three things:

(a) the Taliban were really after the Col. Imam (the so-called Father of the Taliban) and/or the poor sod of a journalist who accompanied them, not Khalid Khawaja. He was a bonus that they didn't know what to do with, until Hamid Mir told them what to do with him.

(b) the Taliban are internally divided to the extent that one arm doesn't know what the other is doing. Maybe somebody kidnapped him without realizing the implications, only for them to realize them later.

(c) the Taliban behave less rationally and instrumentally than analysts like myself like to think so, and in fact behave more randomly than we could imagine. In essence, they're making it up as they go along.

I really don't know.

4. Who, exactly, are the types of people to "like" the Facebook page of the ISI?

I mean, seriously.

*Email from Hamid Mir.

Subject: "A new web war for Hamid Mir--warning for journalist community"

Dear All,Thank you very much for your support.Today publisher of Daily Times and Governor Punjab Salman Taseer created a new record in the history of yellow journalism by publishing a one sided tape drama scandle against me.I would like to remind my journalist colleagues that Salman Taseer published many dirty articles against me in the past when i was banned by Musharraf regime on tv.Today he published the transcript of a concocted tape with some comments on the front page of his newspaper.Yes he tried to kill many birds with one bullet.

This is a conspiracy against me.Khalid Khawaja was assassinated in the month of April and this tape surfaced in the middle of May just few days before some important political and leagal events.I am consulting with my lawyers and i will go into court against Salman Taseer for publishing a one sided concocted story against me.My hands are clear and i have no fear except Allah who have provided me a new opportunity to unmask some more realities in the court of law.

This fabricated tape is part of a bigger drama against journalist community.Some elements want to silence the voice of media on certain national issues by blackmailing journalists like me.These people are very unhappy on those journalists who are raising voice for missing people,who are opposing government stand NRO and who criticized the fake degree holder members of the parliament.Many journalists are disliked by the government and some parts of the establishment.These journalists may become a target one by one.Some government ministers warned me on May 13th that some elements are trying to use the family of Khalid Khawaja against me and journalists like Ansar Abbasi,Kamran Khan and Shahid Masood will also face some new cases.I am sure we will face these kind of fabricated cases with unity.Thanks again for showing solidarity with me.

Hamid Mir

**This is a press release from Taliban Media Center commenting on the fake audio tape issued by some secret agency of pakistan. We are actively condumn the reliability of this tape since there was no conversatin like that in between us and Mr. Hamid Mir. Althoug we have talked with many different persons of media. It is very often and there is no doubt that they are not involved with us. This is seems to be a conspiracy to destroy the reputation of Mujahideen and the brave people of this country who want to bring truth in front while revealing the dark faces of this nation.

Suppose, this audion tape can be accepted as a true one than it is also demanded that the video tapes of Shery Rehman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Salman Taseer should also be treated as the same degree. Since sexy pictures of Salman Taseer's daughter and sons are on media so can any one tell the nation how a loose characterd person can be a governor of a province. What action should government agencies took? Why they are delaying?

Unfortunately the secret agenceis of Pakistan are directly opposing the nations benefits and try to sabotash the well repudiated personalities and institutions for the greater interst of their own. We also like to remind the fake movie, released to media for defacing the actual good will of Mujahideen in swat. That was prooved to be faked later but on its basis army did the brutal assault/operation of the whole area. Now people of this country must understand that Mujahideen are not their enemies. But the government, politicians and military beaurucrates are the real enemies of this nation.

Also it is demanded by us that all the relevant records of phone calls in between us and the major media representatives should also be released for public pursuation. ASIAN TIGERS had prooves for their satisfaction that's why they kidnapped Khalid Khwaja. We contacted the ASIAN TIGERS on this matter and they denied any kind of connections with either Mr.Hamid Mir or any other person related to media. They also condumns the fake audio tape. Also they demanded the actual agenceies who bring this tape. If these agenceies have any kind of proof then they need to bring it in front. Who forced ASIAN TIGERS to kidnap Khalid Khwaja and Colonel Imam with Asad Qureshi. What was the role or Gen. Hameed Gul and Gen. Aslam Beg. Where you fit Ibrahim Parachi and Shah Abdul Aziz. Either Gen. Hameed Gul and Gen. Aslam Beg are the actual Punjabi Taliban or this tape is the fake
one. Ibrahim Parachi is also the CIA agent and Shah Abdul Aziz is a doule agent of Xe and ISI.

If Mr. Hamid Mir attracted or give instructions to ASIAN TIGERS in order to kidnap Khalid Khwaja then they must have conversations more than once. These tapes should also be published for media. Are we right in demanding this action? If Mr. Hamid Mir gave proof to ASIAN TIGERS then he also gave instructions to them for kidnapping Khalid Khwaja & company. We expect that very soon these tapes should also be available on internet and youtube. By the way what exactly the dates of this tape is.

Secondly, who gave the authority to PTCL or any government agency to tape a phone prior to any court order. By doing this PTCL is also establishing it's reputaion as an alley of terrorists (Govt. of Pakistan, ISI and Army). If this happened again then PTCL should ready to get the most suitable answer in proper manner. Although we know how PTCL was sold to these culprits and Khwaja was also involed in that deal. Do you want to raise the curtain?

PTCl should clear it's position in order to bring the facts if this tape is true or fake. If they claim it is a true tape then they also give explanation why they tape these calls. If this is the fake one then they also took legal actions against that agency.

If PTCL will not take any action then no problem, we are here and you have a very little time for confession. Take care.

Note: This statement is on behalf of ASIAN TIGERS

By the way, just to be clear, in an earlier version of this post I had noted a disclaimer saying that I obviously couldn't independently verify the validity of this Taliban press release, deleted it by mistake, and am reinserting it. A very trustworthy source forwarded this to me, but of course that doesn't mean anything to you, the reader. So keep that in mind.

UPDATE: Please check out Hamid Mir's "defense" of the entire thing, where he doesn't actually claim the voice isn't his. That's some defense. I also love that he refers to himself in the third person.

UPDATE II: In a "hmm, the plot thickens" moment, check out this letter -- in particular, the letter writer and his complaint -- to The News from last year (via a commenter on Grand Trunk Road):
Friday, October 02, 2009

This is with reference to Hamid Mir's report (Sept 20) titled "How an ex-commando became a terrorist". It is total disinformation -- Ilyas Kashmiri neither had any association with the SSG nor did he serve in the army as a soldier. Being an ex-commando officer, I know that the SSG never indulges in such heinous crimes. It's a superior professional force of the army composed of responsible officers and men who carry out professional tasks. I would like to add that there is always an attempt by hostile agencies to defame the security forces of Pakistan with a malicious intent. Therefore, newspapers and columnists must refrain from falling prey to these fifth columnists.

Colnel (r) Imam

Ex-SSG officer,


Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Conversation With Environmental Activist And Columnist Rafay Alam

Over the last few days, Rafay Alam and I have exchanged a bunch of emails on Pakistan's electricity crisis, water scarcity, development issues, traffic in our cities, urban sprawl and other related items. Rafay is a father, lawyer, environmental activist, teacher, columnist, cyclist, and Lahori. You can follow his Twitter feed here. Without further ado...

Ahsan: Hi Rafay,

Thanks for doing this. I'm sure our readers will appreciate it as much as I do.

Let's get started. Can you tell us briefly a little bit about yourself? In particular, what issue areas you tend to cover in your writings, and what else you do professionally?

Rafay: Ahsan:

I spent some time before answering these questions thinking about why Five Rupees Blog would want to interview me and, though I can't think of any good reason, I must tell you what a shot to the ego it is for me to be interviewed by Five Rupees Blog. The pleasure is all mine. I just hope your readers find the interview interesting.

A little about myself: I'm a 35 year-old Lahore based lawyer. I'm married to my best friend, Aysha Raja, and am father to beautiful four year old Leila Alam.

I've wanted to be a lawyer since I interned with Asma Jehangir in the summer of 1995. That was when Asma was in the forefront of blasphemy, child labour, women's rights and human rights issues, often litigating them herself. I had become a member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and was, I suppose, along with the other Friday Times reading urban elite, very much a civil society bachcha.

I've also had a long-lasting enthusiasm for the city I live in. I'm no hard-core Lahori from the Walled City. The Lahore I grew up in, the verdant Gulberg III of falsa orchids before the road-wideners got ahold of control, was entirely suburban. My interests, therefore, are not just in the historical and architectural features of the "Old Lahore", they lie as far the walled-off villages in DHA's Phase VIII.

My interest in Lahore has greatly influenced my interest in cities themselves. As social or economic organisms, cites should be studied, and if for nothing else, because they are civilization themselves. Cities have existed since man inhabited this earth, they are where the great bulk of our human culture and civilization has happened. The dymanics of cities - showcases as they are of the very latest the human civilization has to offer - fascinate me. It's why - and I'm embarrassed this - most of my bedtime reading is usually papers on urban planning or local government budgets.

When the government of Punjab had its brainwave in 1996 to widen Lahore's Canal Road (at the cost over 2,000 trees and irrepreable damage to the city), I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. As one of the lawyers in the Lahore Bachao Tehreek, we knew that it was the provisions of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act, 1997 that gave our rag-tag movement "teeth". Arguing about the pros and cons of a road-development project is one is thing, but getting out of the unambigous legal requirement of conducting an environment impact assessment of the project is altogether different kettle of fish. There was simply no way the Goverment could have sidestepped the legal requirement.

It was about this time I met with one of Pakistan's foremost authorities on environmental law. I had all these questions about why our law required environment impact assessments in the first place, and of course I knew nothing, nothing at all at the time, of environmental law. Over the course of the conversation, the man I went to ask for help and guidance essentially told me: look, I don't know either, we just copied the requirement from the 1983 law.

It struck me at the time that if this so-called guru of our 1997 enviornmental law had pulled a cut-and-paste job with the earlier 1983 law, then no-one really knew what environmental law was all about. It was around about this time, the summer of 2006, that I wrote a column in The News about the Lahore Bachao Tehreek. What was supposed to be a one-off column turned into a weekly column as both Omar R. Qureshi, the op-ed editor at the time, and I thought there was a place in the paper for a column on urban issues and the environment. For better or worse, we thought that a sustained debate on urban and environmental issues would be better than no debate.

The column itself has been an amazing experience, almost like a college education in itself. I write about things that interest me - the city, the environment - and things that I've learnt researching about the things that interest me. Before I started cycling regularly, I did most my column thinking stuck in traffic jams in the city, and it's no coincidence that much of what I write about relates to traffic management. In fact, most of my inspiration for the column comes from my own experience living in Lahore and just trying to contextualize the issues I see it facing. Every now and then, however, I'll step outside the little area I've marked out for myself and will write about development issues or something important that I feel isn't given its share of attention at the op-ed level.

I also lecture at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, where I am a member of the Law & Policy Department. I teach property law, and have for several years. I also teach at the University of Punjab's Department of Architecture, where I lecture on urban development.

Until recently, I hosted two shows on City FM 89. One was music and trivia show (for some reason, I have a remarkable capacity for trivia) that I co-hosted with my wife and the other was a news review show. But since being on air is very much sitting in an empty room talking to yourself - a sure sign of madness - both Aysha and I decided that we'd done enough of it (nearly five years) and I'm enjoying the three extra hours a week I've got to myself.

Ahsan: Holy crap, that's a lot of stuff to do. Seriously, I got tired just reading your email. I needed a nap before typing a response.

You brought up the question of traffic, so let's get right into it. Now, the caveat to everything that follows is that I only know Karachi well, but I can't imagine the other urban areas of the country are strikingly dissimilar.

I'm just going to talk in big picture terms, because frankly I lack the expertise to get into the nitty gritty, which I hope you will for me. But here's what I know: Pakistan has a lot of people, right? And a lot of those people live in cities -- close to 50% now. And a lot of those people in those cities have cars. So we have a lot of cars.

Now, because governments through our history haven't given these issues too much attention, the networks of roads and highways has remained as if we are still in the 1970s, when only the 22-families-types had cars (I exaggerate, but you know what I mean). So we have a lot cars, and not many roads, and so we have a lot of traffic jams. This is ignoring the very big issue of people disobeying traffic laws regularly, thus causing bottlenecks and so on.

Now it seems to me that there's two solutions to this. One, you can have fewer cars on the road, which means more viable public transport options. Two, you can have more roads, so the cars have more space. By and large, we have gone for number two and not number one. The problem with that choice, as I see it, is that it doesn't provide a structural solution to a structural problem -- it only delays the worst of the crisis.

So you built flyovers and highways? Excellent! No, seriously, it's really helped traffic in Karachi. I'm forever thankful to Mustafa Kamal for all that work. But all it's done is ensure that traffic is relatively smoother for five years. By then, there'll be even more cars on the road, and we'll be back to square one.

So my question to you is: why is a clean, efficient, cheap, viable public transport system so difficult to attain in our metropolises when other countries, even poor ones, manage it? I know Mustafa Kamal tried to introduce this network of CNG buses and what not in Karachi, but it never really took off, either because (a) the entrenched interests of the transport mafia were too strong, or (b) his administration was never really serious about it. What's your view of this, both in Karachi and the rest of the country? Why do we have a public transport system so decrepit that only poor and lower middle class people use it?

Rafay: I suppose I should start with a caveat as well: I have no formal training or experience in traffic management or transport. Most of my thinking, as I think I said earlier, happens when I’m stuck in traffic so, by extension, most of the questions I’ve asked myself and tried to answer in my column come from my own experience in traffic.

In order to understand the world of transport - to make it tangible – the subject has to be understood within the larger framework of urbanism and development. All too often, amateur assessments of traffic come from personal experience, and you must take my word for it when I say how counter-intuitive some traffic principles are. I note, for example, the caveat you employed in your reply and your candid support of CDGK Nazim Mustafa Kamal and the overpasses his local government had built in the city.

I think the best way to understand the paradigm is to keep in mind that mobility is a basic human right. The ability to get from A to B, whether it be by foot, cycle, automobile, bus, train, aeroplane, boat, submarine or, say, catapult, must be allowed to every man and woman. Also remember that the automobile and aeroplane are the late entries in the various options people have to exercise their right to mobility. Someone once pointed out to me that, until the advent of the automobile, intersections used to be places where people met. Isn’t it interesting that, within little less than a century, the internal combustion engine has changed a rule as old as human civilization itself.

But the need to exercise mobility – or getting into your car, for example – only arises when there is a distance to be covered between A and B. If one lives far from work, walking may not be an option. If one doesn’t have a cornerside convenience store, then getting daily supplies requires transport. The big question one has to ask themselves is: why would one want to put great distances between A and B?

There are good reasons: A may be a residential neighbourhood and B might be a leather factory. In which case it makes good sense. Most early English town planning principles developed on the belief that a strong rail transport system could support clean and tranquil residential communities afar from the polluted and unsafe cities where there was employment. Over the decades, transport options in cities in the United Kingdom have grown. Residents of London are offered sidewalks, cycles, buses, the Underground, elevators (yes, elevators are form of transport as they ferry thousands up and down high-rise office towers), cars, buses and trains. The multiplicity of transport options, in turn, frees the people who live in or come to visit a great city like London to exercise their mobility, go to work, enjoy an afternoon in the park, go to the theatre, whatever, in fact, they want to do. One of the features of great cities is just this multiplicity of transport options, so the role of transport in how a city functions and feels is too important to ignore.

Which is pretty much what we do in the cities in Pakistan. To begin with, our cities are, by and large, laid out in the rigid town-and –country planning of nearly a century ago. This is the urban planning paradigm that rigidly segregates, for example, commercial and residential uses. I suppose such a rigid distinction was understandable, if not necessary, back in early 20th Century India. The economy of South Asian cities was not as developed as it is now, and the commercial sector was relatively small and not too diverse. There may have been no more than a handful of commercial activities that could have taken place, and the nature of these activities made them unacceptable uses of land in a residential area.

But 21st Century urban Pakistan is nothing like what South Asian cities were a century ago. The vast majority of Pakistan’s industrial and manufacturing sector is located in its urban and peri-urban areas. Also, the nature and scale of commercial activity has grown exponentially. The urban planner of yesteryear had no idea of what to do with a One Potato Two Potato or a Hot Spot. He had no idea of what such a use was, let alone the ability to foresee whether it would be acceptable or not to sell potato chips within a residential community.

Why am I explaining all this? Let’s take Islamabad so that I can explain what I mean. Islamaabad was designed in sectors. Each sector is divided into four sub-sectors. There are small markets in each sub-sector (Kohsar Market, for example) and large markets (Markazs) for each full sector. There is also a dedicated commercial area for the city (Blue Area). The small markets were meant to cater to immediate residential needs, the Markazs for larger shops and things like restaurants and hotels. The Blue Area was meant for offices.

The design of Islamabad, simple as it is on paper, rigidly segregates commercial and residential land use. It forcible keeps offices and schools away from homes. And in doing so, it creates the need for transport.

There’s nothing wrong in creating a need for transport. It’s just that two things need to be kept in mind. The first is that it may not always be necessary to create the need for transport by separating A from B. The second is that having a variety of transport options is crucial whenever A and B are separated.

In Pakistani cities today, everyone is subject to arbitrary land use segregation rules. It’s like a universal constant. But the vast majority of people can’t afford cars, and so that option of transport is not available to them. They are left with their legs, cycles, motorcycles, rickshaws, buses and wagons. That may sound like a lot of options, but consider that there are nowhere near enough buses and wagons, let along user friendly means of accessing them while cycles, motorcycles and rickshaws are dangerous.

Here I’ll point out that this lack of available transport options immediately makes half the population of Pakistan – some 90 million people - immobile. Women and the elderly simply do not have access to the many forms of transport available in Pakistani cities and may remain house-bound or dependent on friends and relatives in order to get around. I feel that this lack of real public transport and transport options allows Pakistani society to sit back and believe things like chardewari and the segregation of women are part of our “culture”. Respect for women is definitely a cultural trait, but I also believe that unfriendly and disrespectful public transport sometimes fools people into thinking that locking women up at home is also perfectly acceptable.

So, why isn’t clean, efficient, cheap and reliable public transport available in Pakistan? The answer, as you correctly pointed out in your question, is that we don’t have a structural solution to the structural problem. So what are these structural problems that we’re trying to find structural solutions for?

The first thing that comes to mind is the fact that our urban development template segregates industrial, commercial and residential use without properly appreciating the purpose for which such segregation was initially created. Urbanists around the world more or less agree that the thing to look for in making a city really great is density, population density. Throughout human civilization, cities have been places people have met and exchanged goods and services as often as they exchanged ideas and interacted with one another. The urbanists of today propose building cities that allow mixtures of commercial, industrial and residential activity in any given area in order to maintain that crucial density of people. What that translates to in transport language is: They are aiming to reduce i) the need for an A and B; and ii) the distance between A and B.

That still doesn’t answer the question of why we don’t have efficient public transport systems in our cities. Believe me I’ve tried to understand this myself – I mean, there are over 8 million people in the city of Lahore, surely someone can understand the need the city has for public transport and provide for it. Surely if the government isn’t keen the private sector can jump in and take advantage of this huge market demand.

The answer, as far as I can make out is that the people responsible for our cities do not understand or appreciate the need for public transport. Why should they? The all drive cars. Unless the decision makers are also stake holders, how can anyone expect there to be a efficient public transport system. Why else would a city government allocate billions of Rupees of money for roads that a minority elite enjoy (and congest) when the money could be better spent on improving the public school system in the city, or investing in a sewage treatment plant. The fact it has is made worse by the fact that the property development of the past decade caters almost entirely to the automobile elite. DHA is designed so that, if one needs a dozen eggs, they need a car.

It’s unfair on many levels. A city as sprawling as Karachi – sprawl made possible, by the way, by rigid land-use segregation, is not navigable by the initiated. You either need a car or a iron mental and physical constitution. It’s not just the obvious inequities. Think also of the fact that, not being immobile also affects job opportunities and, by extention, household incomes. This is a real issue, especially when over half the city of Karachi, for example, lives in slums.

By not understanding the importance of mobility and public transport, our cities are daily violating our human right to mobility.

Ahsan: You know, I never thought about the ability of getting from one to place another as a "human right" per se, but the way you put it makes a lot of sense. My take from your discussion on Islamabad, especially, is that the key was/is to create neighborhoods which are self-containing. So you shouldn't have separate areas for businesses and shops on the one hand and houses and apartments on the other. You should have neighborhoods with businesses and residences. Of course, this is no longer possible, because cities are already on the ground! But if we were starting from scratch...

I still don't buy your explanation of why we don't have public transport. You say we don't have public transport mainly because the people in charge of these decisions -- the political and bureaucratic elite -- wouldn't need it, and so consequently not worried about it. But the elite in India doesn't need public transport either, and Bombay's trains, while not at Singapore or Tokyo's level, afford more opportunities for transport than Karachi's. And India is just one example; there's many countries out there where the elite live in a different world, but the non-elite still have public transport.

Anyway, let's move on to something else that you may well consider a human right: the right to have a fan on when it's hot, and a light on when it's dark.

A couple of months ago, as the energy crisis really began to grab headlines, I found that I knew a lot about the political side of things, but very little on the technical side of things. Our media, to the extent that I am aware of it, has done a pathetic job of educating Pakistanis on why we have an energy crisis. I don't mean the immediate causes, such as electricity theft and people not paying bills and the circle of debt between various power companies and so on. I mean deep, structural, scientific causes. So I began to look around for some literature, and found very, very little (though I did find some).

To that end, can you tell me why we have an energy crisis? From my basically-uninformed perspective, we (a) have never adequately developed renewable sources of energy, even though wind and solar would do well in Pakistan, (b) never planned for the fact that our population and economy will, you know, grow, and (c) not devoted enough energy, pardon the pun, to thinking about nuclear energy for things other than weaponizaton. How do you see this issue?

Rafay: Ahsan:

I don’t think having electricity is a human right. The right to have a working fan is different, say, from the right to be able to freely move around, express your opinion, organize yourself politically and, especially, live a healthy life.

Electricity is, without doubt, crucially important to the development of a country. There are studies which link GDP to electrification. Having electricity for a light, for example, can help people study in the dark or carry out a cottage industry after a long day in the field. But it is not something that is provided to people by the State for free. Electricity has to be paid for; it is very much a commodity. That said, electricity is like a catalyst for development. But I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the right to electricity is a human right.

So, why do we not have electricity? That’s a fairly basic question. But I’d like to get right into it before I can explain the answer: If you think about it, the mobile phone has been quite a phenomenon in Pakistan. From two decades ago, when there were none, to now the rise of the use of the mobile phone seems unstoppable. In today’s Pakistan, a mobile phone and a connection are cheap enough to within the reach of just about everyone. Within twenty years, there has been a roll-out of a vast infrastructure that is, at the same time, providing a cheap service to everyone.

In contrast, the massive infrastructure in place to provide electricity to people in Pakistan is failing. It costs less than a Rupee to make a mobile phone call, but nearly ten Rupees to consume a unit of electricity.

Often, during loadshedding, I am amused at the thought of millions of people without electricity talking on their mobile phones. The imagery here is relevant. The State has rolled out expensive infrastructure for both these services, but only one infrastructure seems to be working.

The electricity grid in Pakistan was designed in the fifties and sixties. It belongs to a world where electricity was produced only by large dams. It envisages a world where large cities consume most of the electricity of the country (and they do) and for whom only large power generation solutions will work.

But, in today’s world, with today’s problems, do you think a fifty year old solution is still relevant? We don’t have electricity in Pakistan because the thinking behind our electricity infrastructure belongs to a world that’s long gone. To give you an example of how far grid technology has progressed, there are countries in northern Europe that are experimenting with “smart grids”. With the common use of solar energy in these countries, some structures actually produce a surplus of electricity. The “smart grids” allow these consumers to sell electricity back to the electricity company.

The vast majority of Pakistan’s commercial and industrial activity takes place in its urban areas. With our high levels of urbanization, domestic consumption of electricity is also very high. If you can visualize it, almost all of our electricity is consumed in the relatively small footprint our cities make in the overall area of the country. Another factor to consider is population growth. The failure of population stabilization policies means that, in the next two to three decades, the population of Pakistan will approach the 300 million mark, and over 50 percent of the population will live in cities. In other words, the cities are expected to double in size within the next decade or so. Get ready for it.

Pakistan has an installed capacity of slightly over 20,000MW of electricity. We actually produce far less than this installed capacity (due to the mystifyingly complex issue of “circular debt”) and, of this, nearly a quarter is lost due to the theft and inefficiencies in the transmission and distribution system. From this miserable situation, we are supposed to cater to the requirements of nearly 300 million people – half of whom will live and consume energy in cities – within the next two decades.

And that is why, if we remain on our present course, we will not have electricity and we will continue not to have electricity in the future.

Ahsan: So what's the alternative to this "present course"? If gray European countries can have a surplus of solar electricity, why can't sunny Pakistan? If European countries (and some American states) can have population densities that rival Karachi and Lahore, and yet not have a "population problem" per se, then why is it such a problem for us? Put differently, why is the n+1th person in Pakistan a "problem" but the n+1th person in the US or UK a unit of power (the IR world is fairly unanimous that the one thing that will keep the U.S. in a stronger position than Western Europe, Japan and Russia is their dying populations)?

Actually, that's a bunch of questions, so let me be more direct: if you were the adviser to our leadership on energy issues, and you had 100 units of money to spend, how would you divide that money amongst (a) dams, (b) newer and "smarter" grids, (c) nuclear energy, (d) solar and wind energy, (e) conservation efforts, and (f) something I may have left off the table? And can you explain why you would spend it in the way you do?

Rafay: Ahsan:

You have to break the electricity crisis into parts to understand it. One part is understanding our current installed capacity (about 20,000MW give or take) which comprises of a mix of hydroelectric, oil, gas, nuclear and renewable energy sources. Our production of electricity is somewhere in the region of 13,000MW (I’m not sure, so don’t quote me, so to speak). We don’t produce near to installed capacity because i) hydroelectricity depends on river flow, which increases and decreased through the year; and ii) of the circular debt issue.

Of the electricity actually produced, nearly between a fifth to a quarter is lost – simple lost – because of inefficiencies and theft in the transmission and distribution network.

If we sorted out the circular debt issue, improved the efficiency of the grid system and, generally, conserved energy, our current installed capacity is enough to meet our short term needs.

But we don’t just need a short term solution. We need a long term solution that gives Pakistan the ability to tap into its development potential. In the next twenty years, as our cities continue to grow, every other Pakistani will live in an urban area (or at least earn his livelihood through non-agricultural means). This is going to place a huge stress on housing as well as electricity for commercial and industrial purposes. Keep in mind that structures and buildings are where the majority of electricity is consumed. There are other challenges as well, but since we’re talking about electricity, I’ll try to keep the discussion focused on electricity.

The challenge of the future is to think of a roadmap that takes Pakistan’s energy resources from where they are today and provides for 300 million Pakistani in the next three decades. I know plenty of people believe that the coal reserves in Thar are the answer. But it’s not that simple.

Any country, be it the United States or Pakistan, has to rely on a mix of energy resources. That way, a single energy resource doesn’t become the only thing keeping the country going. Don’t put your eggs in one basket.

If I were to think of things this way, I’d organize my energy mix so that the electricity from hydroelectric resources also bolstered the country’s water resources (we haven’t raised our water storage capacity since Tarbela). I’d make sure we relied less heavily on oil for electricity. In that way, I’d reduce the country’s huge oil import bill that just adds to air pollution and environmental degradation (and dependence on places like Saudi Arabia). I’d try and make sure our gas resources remained robust (our gas resources are depleting). I’d also try and increase solar and wind energy production. And I’d make sure that I don’t rely too much on the Thar coal unless and until someone finds the least environmentally damaging way coal can be used to generate electricity (China, which relies heavily on coal, has serious air pollution issues).

Almost all of Pakistan is good for solar electricity most of the year. There are vast parts of Sindh and Baluchistan that are perfect for the production of wind energy. But there are problems with these. Solar won’t work all year round and, in some areas, not all day long. The wind resources are too far from the consumers and so infrastructure costs to get the electricity to the grid can be high.

But these are problems if you look at renewable resources as the only resources. Renewables make perfect sense in Pakistan, but you’ve got to combine them with out-of-the-box thinking on how to employ them with the rest of the energy mix. You’ve also got to start thinking about changing the existing grid system.

Pakistan’s existing grid system was laid out in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s old and archaic and needs to be replaced. There’s simply no point in investing billions of dollars in new electricity production when the grid system it flows through is inefficient. I’d also start thinking about changing the grid system.

But when we start talking about replacing grid systems, we are getting into “far out” territory. But that’s fine. It’s only when you’re in outside-the-box land that you can see clearly.

If I had the chance to work on the electricity problems, I’d also look into how we run our cities. Cities are were all the buildings – those energy guzzling buildings – are located. It’s these buildings that consume electricity for industrial and commercial purposes and which house all of us T.V. watching, air conditioner enjoying, microwave food eating urbanites that have to be improved and made more energy efficient. Which brings us to the second part of understanding the electricity crisis.

Conservation and energy efficiency has to mean more than using ACs at 27 Celsius or not using them till 11am. These measures are, at best, crowd pleasing theatrics. Real energy efficiency means changing the way we make buildings and – here I’m really into “far-out” land – the way we design our cities.

Smaller cities require smaller sources of electricity to run them. One of the reasons we need large dams for our energy crisis is because only dams produce the amounts of electricity that our cities consume. But if we could reduce the size of our cities, we could actually do away with the need for having large dams as energy sources. Instead, we could rely on a mix of renewable solar, micro-hydel and wind resources to provide electricity to our cities.

I’m sure you’re going to ask me what I’m talking about. Our cities are already bursting at the seams and the rural to urban migration statistics paint a picture of relentless increases in their populations. How on earth can they be made smaller? It’s tough enough keeping them at the size they are at already.

All that rings perfectly true, but I am a great believer in human beings and the strength of their ingenuity. I’ve been influenced by the thinking of Manuel Castells here. He suggests that technology can be driven by ideology as much as it is by necessity. I’ve written about this before, but in short, the idea runs like this: There needs to be a continuous political ideology that drives technology and innovation – even in things as seemingly unrelated as urban planning – towards a desired goal. Let our goal be smaller cities. Why? Because smaller cities are more sustainable, energy efficient and sustainable than the large cities that we have today. How will we do it? I have no idea. But that doesn’t mean anything. Imagine if someone had suggested to the fathers of the ENIAC computer that, within half a century, their clunky hundred foot metal and pipe monster would fit into the palm of someone’s hand. They would have laughed. But look at where the continuous political ideology of personal freedom took the ENIAC technology. As Castells points out, if Soviet Russia had the same technology as IBM did building ENIAC, they would probably not have come up with the I-phone. Sure they would have employed the technology for some means – probably to further whatever sustained political ideology characterizes their system, but they would not have come up with the I-phone.

So, like I said, part of the solution to the energy crisis is to replace the energy grid and to change the entire damn paradigm we have of urban planning and development.

Ahsan: Last question on electricity, I promise. What are your thoughts on the rental power plants controversy?

Rafay: Ahsan:

There are two options open to any person who has put on a bit of weight. They can either exercise or they can go to their tailor to have their trousers taken out by two inches. The latter option does nothing about the weight gain. At best, it is a temporary solution.

If Pakistan’s energy woes could be likened to the need to lose weight, then rental power plants would be like getting your trousers taken out. But it doesn’t solve the problem of the energy crisis.

The acute shortage of energy is also an opportunity for businessmen to strike a favourable deal with government. Government will be suffering the pressure of a restless public and might be convinced to make a temporary decision that have catastrophic long-term results. The rental power IPP are an example of how persuasive business interests can be.

I won’t get into the alleged financial misdealings in the run up to the stalled rental power plant negotiations, but look at it this way: IPPs running on oil pass the cost of the oil onto the consumer (subsidized, of course, by government). Rental power plants would have done the same thing, except that they would have also passed the rental costs on as well. Although a country like Pakistan needs electricity, getting it at over Rs. 14 a unit is extortion.

Meanwhile, I often wonder what my trouser tailor analogy means in a country where men don’t usually have belts. In the land of the shalwar, the azarban can simply be tied looser.

Ahsan: If you're in Pakistan, you actually do neither. You just have your belly protrude over your belt at basically a right angle. I think there's some nice symbolism there: in our country, you don't do anything about problems. You just ignore them.

Let's move on to water. Having read your columns on the subject, I think I have a fair handle on your thinking on this issue. Amongst other things, you believe (a) that Pakistani cities (especially the elite in said cities) are way too wasteful with water (this is the "watering lawns with drinking water" point you've repeatedly made); (b) that India, despite the media hype to the contrary, actually has very little to do with Pakistan's water crisis; and(c) that our water crisis will only get worse in the future. Please correct me if I've mischaracterized your position on any of this.

As I understand it, Pakistan has two main sources of fresh water: glacial melt, and rainfall. On the latter point, as we've alluded to earlier, more dams would make sense. But politically, given historic tensions amongst the provinces, dams are always troublesome (as the Kalabagh issue showed us). Leaving that aside, however, are there good scientific or technical reasons to forgo more dams? And can you clarify the big dams vs. small dams problem, the one Arundhati Roy is always on about?

And on the glacial melt, shouldn't global warming conceivably benefit Pakistan's water supply? This is obviously my simplistic thinking on the issue, but if glaciers are melting at a faster rate, and Pakistan gets its water from glacial melt, then climate change could actually work out for the better here, no? (By the way, I'm 100% sure I'm wrong on this, but I don't know why, which is why I'm asking you).

Rafay: Ahsan:

Quite aside from the fact that you have not, in any way, “mischaracterized” anything, I have to say that your summary of my thoughts on water is most flattering.

First: The big dam versus little dam debate. I don’t really know the ins and outs of this one, but I do know is that, recently, the World Bank – which was, until then, one of the main financers of large dam projects around the world – undertook a review of their practices regarding dams and found, essentially, that while dams do the things they are designed to (like provide water storage capacity or produce electricity) their benefits are not equitably shared. Big dams displace tens if not hundreds of thousands of families and their communities and the economic effects of dams often don’t filter down to the very people who are made homeless for them. Like I mentioned in my earlier answer, one of the reasons we need big dams is because they are the only feasible way to power our energy inefficient cities. Looked at this from another angle and basically what it means is that the electricity (and the development it supports) supplied to Islamabad by, say, Mangla Dam is disproportionately used by Islamabadis than by the people who live near Mangla Dam.

Anyway, the World Bank has reviewed its policy on building large dams on the basis of the report (and now spends most of its money on road development projects in developing countries). Of course, this is a controversial decision, because the energy provided by large dams is the just the thing small and growing economies claim they need to develop and maintain production and competitiveness in today’s world.

The other things dams do is store water for irrigation. The storage areas created by dams can be used to channel water using a canal irrigation network to faraway farmlands. Under the Indus Water Treaty, when Pakistan got three western rivers and India the three eastern rivers of the Indus Water Basin, it was agreed that Pakistan would built three dams and a vast irrigation network to make up for the loss of water from the eastern rivers. Thus Mangla, Tarbela and Kalabagh were planned. For whatever reason the Kalabagh dam has not been constructed and so the

Now, I think I’ve read somewhere that Pakistan has just about 20 days of storage capacity for irrigation. We need to increase this in order to ensure food security in an uncertain future made more complicated by climate change. As our water resources deplete, keeping fertile and arable land productive is going to be a challenge.

One thing you have to keep in mind is that our falling water resource has to do with our population increase and less with any “depletion” of water. If your water resource is X and population Y, then the per capita resource is X/Y. Double the population and you halve the per capita water resource. As they say, there’s lies, damn lies and then there’s statistics.

To answer the question you asked: Yes, climate change is expected to affect our water resources. According to the science on climate change, the Himalayan glaciers they were expecting would melt are melting faster than they thought (Note: this science appears to be a bit clouded about what’s happening with glacial melt, if any, above an altitude of 5,000 meters). If this is so, there will be increased glacial melt in the near future followed by a depletion once the glaciers run out.

You have to keep in mind, however, that glacier water is not crystal clean drinking water. It carries silt. Lots and lots of silt. And that increased silting will have an effect and reduce the storage capacity of our existing reservoirs Tarbela and Mangla (and will also reduce the amount of water our rivers carry as they approach the Indus Delta in Sindh). If we have just about three weeks of water storage capacity now, it’s going to be closer to two weeks unless additional water storage reservoirs are built. And, here I think this is what people like Arundhati Roy are saying, is where the issue of the use of conservation and small storage reservoirs comes in. But I don’t know much about the big dam small/dam debate and won’t speak on this any more or fear of being wrong.

Nearly half of the river and canal water in Pakistan is lost because of seepage and theft (Note: not that this seepage and theft is bad per se, as this water is inevitably used for further irrigation or domestic purposes). This means that the lower riparian’s rights to receive water are being affected. Meanwhile, there are unacceptably widespread use of inefficient irrigation practices that waste water. Then there is the increadible subsidy given to this precious resource (in Punjab’s it costs Rs. 120 to flood-irrigate an acre of land – sugar is about Rs. 60 a kilo by comparison and you can park your car in an urban centre all day of merely Rs. 10).

If we had the vision and foresight to implement sustainable farming practices, the Chairman of WAPDA told me himself there is almost three times the water in this country to provide food for 200 million people.

The Ministry of Environment carried out a study of how Pakistan would be affected by climate change. Changes in temperatures and water shortages are expected to reduce crop productivity by as much as 30 percent. This will mean a collapse of the agricultural economy (which employs nearly half the workforce and accounts for nearly 60 percent of export). Increase in water contamination will have disastrous effects on the country’s health (as it is, nearly a third of patients admitted in our hospitals are there because of water-related ailments). Both these factors will contribute to rural to urban migration, putting a stress on housing and sanitation as well as things are food productivity. There will be knock-down food security issues on account of these things (and we’ve already demonstrated that we have the characteristic trait of famine-stricken countries of not being able to supply food to people who need it (think atta and, of all things, sugar). So no, there is simple no way that climate change works to Pakistan’s advantage. In fact, despite its relatively small global CO2 footprint, Pakistan is expected be one of countries most severely affected by climate change.

Ahsan: The other day Mohsin Hamid has this op-ed in Dawn which I blogged about. If I were to synopsize his piece, his basic argument would be that the Pakistani state doesn't have enough money to do what it needs to do. It was essentially an argument for a higher tax-to-GDP ratio.

Leaving the merits of his argument aside, I think there are three possible answers to the question of why Pakistan is not where it needs to be, developmentally speaking. The first is the aforementioned Hamid argument, which is that we have don't have enough money. Personally, I find that hard to believe. A quick google search (hardly the most robust thing methodologically, but bear with me) tells me that Pakistan collected Rs.1 trillion in taxes in 2009, which is hardly pocket change. My view is that (a) it's spent in the wrong places (F-16s and foreign trips rather than schools), and (b) when it is spent in the right places, is spent badly (more as patronage than anything else).

But there are two other logics. The first would be that our political system is screwed up beyond repair, that our leaders have no rational incentives to deliver to the public, and consequently they are safely ensconced in the knowledge that they don't actually have to do anything. We can call this the "apathy" logic.

Finally, it could simply be the case that our leaders don't have technocratic experts such as yourself, who are able to break down complicated and deathly important issues into everyday language. For this argument, it's not that they don't want to do good, it's that they can't, because they don't know how, and moreover, there are no experts around to help them.

So my last question to you would be: which of these logics do you think is most crucial to understanding our development issues, on things like water and energy and physical space? Keep in mind that proposed "solutions" to these problems differ considerably. If it's the first, then we have to get more money. If it's the third, then we have to get people like you a fancy suit and make you take the CSS exam. But if it's the second, then I don't know what the solution is, because political systems tend to be entrenched, and when they do change, change slowly.

So, to reiterate, which is it: a money problem, an apathy problem, or a lack-of-knowledge problem?

Rafay: Ahsan:

You appear to ask me “how can we fix Pakistan” and give me three possible answers. One, throw money at the problem. Two, empower the political leadership, and three, unleash the technocrat.

Well, let me eliminate some of the options. I don’t think throwing money at the problem will solve it. It never solves anything (i it did, would we have beggars on the streets?). If I could have a second to respond to the “let’s pay tax” solution, I’d like to point out that most Pakistanis are not just poor, a good third of them live below the poverty line. And I’m sorry, but getting the few remaining Pakistanis to pay income tax is just not going to be the solution.

As things stand, Pakistan earns most of its money through customs and import duties. The “common man” pays also pays a whole host of taxes, like the Sales Tax (soon to be replaced by the notification-proof VAT) and exorbitantly high taxes on electricity and petrol consumption. Collecting income tax will only squeeze the middle class further (it’s not going to get anything from the poor at all). This idea that, somehow, income tax is the solution is a misnomer. In fact, I’m beginning to think that this get-the-tax attitude has less to do with raising revenue and more to do with a sophisticated against-the-man stance government often like to take. In fact, given the problems in Punjab (we’ve nearly run out of money and then there’s the militarism and lack of electricity), I’m kind of amused to see that the Chief Minister of the Punjab has ordered that steps be taken to recover luxury tax from the owners of 1.8cc-engine cars and above. In many ways, this “going for the rich” posturing (just like the rather easy “politicians don’t pay taxes” headline) is kind of the government giving signals that it’s against The Man.

Next, I don’t think unleashing the technocrat is the right answer either. For one, there are already too many technocrats – and I mean, good, intelligent and hardworking men and women – in and around government already. If the technocrat had the solutions, this would be a different country. Second, a government of technocrats is deeply un-democratic. I, for one, am a huge admirer of anyone who has the courage (and balls) to stand for election. Someone once told me that it would be foolish for anyone to ever disregard a politician’s priorities. I don’t know how far that goes in a country like Pakistani – where blood lines and biradari-ism are prevalent – but what I’m saying is that politicians, at the end of the day, are the ones who fought to represent the people. For that alone their views, opinions and priorities should not be disregarded. On the other hand, someone with a college degree from the US and a year or two’s experience working in an air-conditioned office is not suitable for giving advice on how this this Islamic Republic should be run.

I’m not saying technocrats are bad and we should get rid of them. That isn’t true and politicians often need support on technical issues. I’m saying that it won’t be right for a democracy to rely on the prejudices of the unelected. If the CDA in Islamabad, for example, has elected representatives, do you think that it’s priority (as it is right now) would be to “elimate” beggars from streets? No, if the CDA has elected leadership, it would be thinking of ways to improve the quality of life of the poor in Islamabad (was ever a city designed to be more unfriendly to its own people, especially the ones that can’t afford a car?).

I now realize that, by saying two of the three choices you set out for me are no-goes, I have hemmed myself into an answer. Like you, I don’t know exactly how to respond to the question because, as noted, political systems are entrenched. So, is there a way out of the “apathy problem”?

Um, yes.

Like you said, political systems are entrenched. And it’s not just ours, it the same everywhere. Why else would George W. Bush get elected? Why else would Jemima Goldsmith’s brother stand for election (he won his seat, incidentally, on a Conservative ticket)? Why else would there be political dynasties in Bangladesh, Thailand or any other of a host of countries?

But if political systems are entrenched, I believe we need to stand back and examine the structure of the system. It’s like being Neo in The Matrix. Only when we can properly understand how the system works can we make the system work for us and, more importantly, make it work for us in a less unjust and more sustainably way. How is that done? Well, you’ve hit the nail on the head by describing the problem as “apathy”. In order to solve the apathy problem, you need to stop being apathetic.

Political systems only work when the people they are designed for participate in them. Our political system is bloody well impossible to understand, and I don’t think anyone amongst us has the ability to change, in one or two generations, something that’s been entrenched for decades, if not centuries. But that shouldn’t stop people from wanting to participate in it.

I love to quote the example of the boys and girls of Zimmedar Shehr. Here’s a bunch of people who just got sick and tired of how much trash and litter was left about in commercial areas. But they didn’t sit around complaining about the inaction of government. They didn’t try and set up and NGO that would get funds and execute a program to manage solid waste in urban areas. They simply got gloves, a couple of bags and started cleaning up the trash themselves.

That’s what I call interacting and participating in the system: literally getting your hands dirty with the issue(s) you are passionate about. I mean, it’s been sixty years since this country was founded and government has done little or nothing (apart from provide to minority elite). It’s foolish for anyone to even expect it to change. Unless, that it, they become part of the change.

The Zimmedar Shehri phenomenon has spread to over eight cities. In Lahore, they have already been approached by the Solid Waste Management Department and been given an office in Town Hall. They’ve executed an agreement with the Chief Minister and are now poster children for a new Pepsi campaign. Their involvement, in little over a year, has not only meant cleaner commercial areas in parts of Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Faislabad. They are also beginning to understand how the political process (albeit the political process of a limited section of urban governance) works. But theirs is an example of how far a little bit of participation in the political process can take you.

Ahsan: On that (slightly) hopeful note, let me thank you for your time, Rafay. This has been enlightening, and I hope our readers got as much out of it as I did.

As mentioned above, you can follow Rafay on Twitter here.

For those interested, I have had such email conversations before.

Click here for my conversation with two South Asia scholars in the American academy, Vipin Narang of Harvard/MIT and Paul Staniland of MIT/University of Chicago.

Click here for my conversation with Cricinfo Pakistan editor Osman Samiuddin.

Click here for my conversation with Dawn editorial writer and op-ed columnist Cyril Almeida.

Click here for the one with political economist and The News columnist Mosharraf Zaidi.

Click here for one with a Wall Streeter in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Click here for one with an Indian foreign affairs blogger after the Mumbai attacks of 2008.