Monday, April 1, 2013
Friday, November 30, 2012
Sunday, November 4, 2012
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
What eventually inspired me to stop procrastinating and start up the rickshaw again was attending a panel discussion in DC about Pakistan, led by none other than our dynamic Finance Minister Dr. Hafeez Sheikh and the new ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman. The title of the discussion was ‘Pakistan: The Untold Story’. Umair happened to accompany me to this particular event, and we both were bemused and frustrated by the level of discussion. The purpose of the event, a small gathering held at the World Bank, was to tell people that it is not all doom and gloom in Pakistan. I thought it was a brilliant idea, get the academic community in DC jazzed about Pakistan, and to get them to look beyond the negativity that surrounds the country. However, what ended up happening was that the Pakistanis on the panel began to paint a picture of sunshine and roses blooming back home - i.e. they took 'positive' to a whole different level.
Let me give you a few examples. When asked “What inspires you about Pakistan”, Dr. Sheikh started with the most generic and boring answer under the sun (not very inspiring at all). It seemed he was doing his best to put the audience to sleep, and he succeeded as I shit you not, the woman sitting next to me was snoozing 10 minutes into Hafeez sahab opening his mouth. I, however, was well aware of this tactic of the Finance Minister, and used all my training of college to stay alert and attentive to what he was saying. It was rambling about how the poetry of Faaiz inspires him, or some story of a trip of his to Sindh and how that inspired him. One thing that did stick out to me was how he mentioned the “Physics of Prof. Abdus Salaam”. Prof. Salaam of course was the first and only Pakistani to win a Nobel Prize, but has been shunned in history because of being an Ahmadi. It is quite sad how our greatest ever achievement as a nation has been hidden from most of the population because of Prof. Salam’s religious orientation. So to say Prof. Salaam inspires him while he continues to be a part of a government that ignores crimes against Ahmadis is strange.
Another Pakistani on the panel, Mohsin Khan, was far more entertaining. Somehow he had a British accent even though he grew up in Pakistan and lives in DC, but who am I to judge. Anyway, on to more trivial things like the content of what he was saying; Mohsin sahab is off the opinion that the economy is “booming”. To be a little more fair to Mr. Khan’s comment, he further elaborated by saying the “informal economy” is booming. So basically, the only part of the economy that is booming is the part which we by definition cannot quantify. Even if the informal economy is growing, it is doing little to affect the single most important economic issue in Pakistan: inflation. It’s hard to imagine an economy “booming” with the inflation levels we have. I did agree with Mr. Khan’s point though that we should attempt to formalize the informal sector as part of a broader program of regulation, privatization and increased taxation
The goras on the panel were a refreshing change I must say. Much better at answering the questions at hand, and Anatol Lievin in particular was very practical about his responses. He talked about the potential in Pakistan, but also about the challenges that lay ahead - something the others missed completely. The one thing all goras brought up that was echoed by our beloved Pakistani panelists was the level of philanthropy in in the country, and how it was unrivaled anywhere in the world. I strongly agree with this point, as Pakistanis as a people have very open hearts, and are always willing to give to a good cause, even the middle income folks struggling to cope with rampant inflation in the country. The problem is a lot of this money is misdirected. If we can better utilize this trait of Pakistani, perhaps get the nation to believe in a system where tax goes to development rather than lining the pockets of the corrupt, we could have something. It was nice to hear though people with experience from all over the world, singling out the philanthropy of Pakistanis as something that inspires them.
At the end of the day, things are bad in Pakistan. Talking about the poetry of Faaiz or the informal economy is not fooling anyone. The level of discussion was poor from the representatives of Pakistan. They were speaking as if the audience was a bunch of rednecks who can’t separate Pakistan from Yemen. That was not the case. The World Bank crowd is trained at identifying bullshit from corrupt nations so that they don’t waste their funding. Hafeez Sheikh in particular gave no reason for anyone to believe things are brighter in Pakistan. The approach, in my view, should have been to recognize the trials facing the country and chart out a plan to tackle them. Instead the focus was on trying to ignore that and point out a few rosy facts about Pakistan. That is the problem with the PPP government. Ask anybody, literally anybody, what they think about their performance in office and without hesitation they will tell you it is utterly awful. However, everyone in the PPP seems to think they have done a damn good job. Sure, they did a few good things, but just about every leadership system in Pakistan minus Zia has done something positive in 4 years of power. If the takeaway is that they are better than Zia, then we are doomed.
This article is a little uncharacteristic for me, as I like optimism, especially about Pakistan. However, the views expressed by Sherry Rehman and Hafeez Sheikh in particular border on denial of the current state of affairs. Problems aren’t fixed by ignoring them. Anyway, that is enough grim stuff for now, it was still fun to get to see policy makers in action while being so far from home, and there were a few good takeaways too. I hope this article gets us on our way, Emad is off from class this summer and will return home so will have more time to write, and my harassing will certainly help him get out of his rut. Umair I see every week, so he better write soon. Those two are far better writers and too intelligent to not have their voices heard.
Monday, January 23, 2012
Cheesy analogies aside, I couldn’t help but write something this past weekend, for something monumental has happened in the last week that simply cannot be ignored, not even by us lazy rickshaw writers. If you haven’t heard, England is paying a visit to the United Arab Emirates. After smashing the former No. 1 side in Tests, i.e. India, 4-0 at home, England took their place at the top of the perch, and were keen to show the world they can do it in Asia as well. Of course, Pakistan has been in good nick as well, though beating Bangladesh is never really anything to write home about; Sri Lanka are quickly getting worse as time goes on; and we didn’t even manage to beat the woeful West Indies outright. Still we had some form coming in, and were relishing the test.
The fact that we managed to beat England inside 3 days by 10 wickets is beyond amazing, for many reasons. The problems of Pakistan cricket with the spot-fixing scandal are well documented. Added to the mix was a crazy captain who retired from cricket only to return months later, a mad Chairman of the Board who finally got replaced, a coach who quit because of the mad captain, and jail sentences for the Pakistani cricketer involved in the spot-fixing crisis. What you end up with then is the normal stew of Pakistan cricket: power politics, inconsistency, and wacky decision-making. It has to be said, though, that this team has been different. Misbah-ul-Haq may just manage to pull of the most incredible feat in the history of Pakistan cricket: being forgiven for losing a match against India in the World Cup. Under his leadership there is a calm and stability amongst the team that I certainly have never seen, and I doubt few have. Even in the days of Imran Khan there was an element of drama. Yet at 37 years young, Misbah has managed to do what so few Pakistani captains have done before him: get his boys to play as a team.
Now comes the sad part. The test match was played in front of a few hundred supporters – a pity because this performance by the Pakistanis deserved a much better audience. Pakistan has been stripped of its rights to host cricket since the infamous shooting on the Sri Lanka cricket team. Cricket has always been an escape for us, and we have never needed a victory more than we do now. With corruption, inflation, gas shortage, electricity shortage and terrorism only a few of the things tearing the country apart, we really needed a lift like this. But imagine for a second, instead of the winning being runs in front of a few drunken Barmy Army supporters and the odd unemployed Pakistani in Dubai, that the match had instead been played in Lahore. Offices would be flooded with sick leave requests, school attendances would be at an all-time low, stores that open around noon normally wouldn’t even bother opening. Instead, the whole of Lahore would be making its way over to Gaddafi Stadium (which surprisingly has not been renamed after Bhutto like everything else this godforsaken government has gotten their hands on). The last time I saw a test match at Gaddafi, I had to sneak away in the trunk of my cousin’s car to get out of boarding school. This time around, I’m sure the my housemaster would have chartered buses to get the boys to the ground
At the moment, the buzzing of Gaddafi stadium upon the return of cricket is simply a romantic notion in my head. It shouldn’t remain that way, however. Pakistan has a list of issues longer than the Nile, Ganges and Indus put together. That does not mean we should overlook the lack of international cricket on home soil. For all the shit that we go through, we certainly deserve the opportunity to be able to take a break from it all and shout at the top of our lungs for a team that for the first time in my life at least is consistently good in the Test arena.
Wishing the return of cricket won’t make it come true. The PCB and the Government both have a role to play in ensuring that Pakistan once again hosts the greatest game there is at the international level. Bangladesh are set to tour Pakistan in April, in essence after being bribed to do so. The security for that visit needs to be far better than what it was for Sri Lanka. Speaking of which, the culprits of the Sri Lanka shootings need to be apprehended. Easier said than done, I’m sure, but it should have been of the highest priority to start off with to track down the reason behind the shootings. The domestic circuit of cricket also needs to be strengthened. Pakistan needs to be able to host domestic tournaments successfully before thinking about inviting teams other than Bangladesh or Zimbabwe. Perhaps the absence of international cricket can give the PCB an opportunity to figure out a way to get crowds to the Quaid-e-Azam trophy. These are only a few of many steps that can be taken to get us back on track to re-enter the fold of international cricket. Let’s hope that if Imran Khan is able to continue his ‘tsunami’ and gets to the top, he won’t forget about the game that got him there. In the meantime, we can all continue to enjoy the phenomenal rise of Misbah’s men!
Friday, April 8, 2011
Let me start by highlighting a few things HEC has done since it’s inauguration in 2002. Perhaps the most prominent stat is the incredible number of Ph.D. students that the HEC has helped produce. Between1947 to 2002, Pakistan produced roughly 3000 Ph.D. students. After the HEC was founded in 2002, Pakistan produced 3280 Ph.D. students in 8 years. That, of course, has helped research output grow six-fold since 2002. Second, while there have been accusations that HEC has over-invested in Punjab, the biggest investment by share has been in Khyberpakhtunkhwa. New universities have been set up in Bannu, Kohat, Malakand, Swat and Mardan. Balochistan has also seen an uptick in higher education, with 4 universities added to the 2 that already existed in 2002. Finally, there are currently over 7,500 HEC-funded scholars pursuing their Ph.Ds locally and abroad. All of these scholars are now in jeopardy of losing their scholarships as the governments tries to deal with the mess they have created. This is just scratching the surface of what HEC has accomplished, for a more comprehensive list of achievements please refer to this document, which has provided the basis for most of the facts in this article.
Moving on, let us get to the part where the government dissolves the HEC, despite opposition from almost all other major political parties including the PML-N, MQM, JI and PTI. This is being done under the direction of Raza Rabbani, the chairman of the implementation committee of the 18th Amendment. To clarify, HEC is not against devolution per se; it had, for example, already started to devolve many important tasks like faculty training to the provincial level. That, however, is only a small part of what HEC does: most tasks simply cannot be devolved efficiently. The 18th Amendment recognized this and put in place many provisions to protect the functions of HEC. An example is the following exerpt from the 18th Amendment, which highlight integral functions of the HEC:
- Fourth Schedule [Article 70(4)]: Federal Legislative List Part I
- Item # 16: Federal agencies and institutes for the following purposes, that is to say, for research, for professional or technical training, or for the promotion of special studies.
- Item # 17: Education as respects Pakistani students in foreign countries and foreign students in Pakistan.
- Item # 32: International treaties, conventions and agreements and International arbitration.
- Item # 59: Matters incidental or ancillary to any matter enumerated in this Part.
As alluded to earlier, one of the many drawbacks of this dissolution plan is that the funding and studies of Pakistani scholars studying abroad through HEC programs would be in jeopardy. This is another function of HEC that is not being devolved, but simply being moved to the Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination, where Raza Rabanni himself is the minister. These programs are under jeopardy because they are being funded through loans coming from the IMF and World Bank, as the government allocated zero funding towards the HEC in the past fiscal year. The World Bank and USAID came to the rescue, giving HEC loans of US $300 million and US $250 million respectively. These loans are contingent on the assumption that HEC stays as it is, so Raza Rabanni’s recent assurance in the press that these scholars would be unaffected by this move is simply untrue.
This is only the beginning of our defense of HEC here at the rickshaw. Hopefully we will have more literature up for you in the coming days about all aspects of the dissolution of HEC. For now, please join the movement to stop this madness on Facebook at: http://www.causes.com/causes/597948.
Thursday, March 31, 2011
So come the day, finally, and my guess that not too many fair weather fans would show up at 4 am was way off. The Michigan Cricket Association did a brilliant job organizing the screening of the match on campus, and an hour before the match started the crowd started to trickle in. By the time of the toss there was a good 150 odd people in a room not built for more than 70, but what good would a India-Pakistan game be if we weren’t packed like a can of sardines. The noise level was incredible, with the Indians accounting for a good chunk of that. In our crowd which eventually grew close to 300, Indians outnumbered Pakistanis by, I’d say, at least 4:1. That didn’t deter us one bit, we were being heard as well. No one had a hope in hell of hearing the toss, our crowd was just too raucous.
With such a momentous occasion it was hard not to be a bit nervous about things perhaps going south with some of the animosity that can naturally exist between the two nations. However, MCA did a brilliant job of making sure everyone was able to watch the game in the right spirit. There, of course, were a few incidents that in hindsight should have been avoided but really nothing more than a blip on the radar. For the most part the atmosphere was sublime. The Indians cheered every boundary with amazing fervor, and not two overs passed with a chant for the god of batting: ‘saaccchiiinnnnn sachin!’ Of course, we did our best, amusing the Indians with our ‘tara-rere-roro-ra’ chant. The best part was that everyone was joining in, from unknown grad students who randomly stopped by to freshmen still finding their way: no one was holding back anything. I must admit I tried to stay calm but when Wahab bhai shattered the stumps of Yuvraj Singh, I was overcome with sheer elation. I beat my chest so many times and so hard I knocked my own breath out, but thankfully no one noticed in the commotion! The Pakistanis overall were a joy to watch the match with. They were all well behaved, kept their cool and showed incredible grace as our team headed towards the exit door.
The second innings was a much calmer affair. We shifted to a larger room and there was more segregation. People were also losing steam, as the all-nighters start to catch up and the voices slowly disappeared. However, they came roaring back on the Indian side when Kamran Akmal got caught at point for about the 10,000th time of his career. Hafeez’s dismissal brought more noise in anger from the Pakistanis than it did in joy for the Indians. The match was close enough that the Indians were nervous till the end, but the balance shifted with one magic ball. Bhajji came round the wicket with the newer ball after the mandatory change and Umar Akmal played all around a delivery that crashed into his off-stump. Pakistan may still have had a chance if we took that damn batting powerplay early. People may blame Afridi all they want, the real culprit in my eyes is Waqar Younis. As the coach, he is responsible for the poor tactical decisions made right throughout this tournament about the timing of the batting powerplays.
Take nothing away from the Indians. They were the better team and deserved to win on the day. Sachin may have been lucky to win the man of the match, but if anyone deserves a bit of luck, it is the batting god himself. Dhoni was spot on with all of his bowling changes, and only had to use 5 bowlers. The contest was fitting for the hype, and sets a stage fit for two legends to bow out. I don’t think Sachin is about to retire but I highly doubt he is going to be around when he is 41 although you never know, but it’s a safe bet to say this is his last World Cup. The other legend who is in my eyes equally great is of course the one and only Muttiah Muralitharan, whose spelling changes as often as Razzaq’s so forgive me if I don’t have the updated version of his spelling. Where Sachin has 99 tons, Murali has over 1300 wickets. Sachin is the leading runs scorer in both firms of the game, Murali is the leading wicket taker in both forms of the game. The difference is of course Sachin is at home while Murali already has a World Cup title. Whatever the outcome at least one great will end his stellar career right on top. I am going to watch the game as a true neutral. Sri Lanka has always been my second favorite team since the days of the magical Arivinda de Silva which is why I may lean towards them. I will not however root against India, some might and that’s fine, but I have no qualms about enjoying good Indian cricket.
But this is not about a preview of the final or a breakdown of the match. What moved me to write this article was the camaraderie between two amazing countries. Over the last four years at college, I have developed the most fantastic relationships with Indians stretching from Delhi to Bangalore and beyond. This match did not for one second jeopardize those friendships, in fact it strengthened them. When the final wicket of Misbah fell, before celebrating, Nirmit Agarwala, the president of MCA and the leading voice on the Indian side came over to the Pakistani side and congratulated and consoled each one of us. This was followed by my normal gang: Anant, Varun, Aaron, Baliga and many more. There was no taunting, no jeering, just cheering for a great victory. The experience of losing to India with 200-odd other Indians remains a shattering one, and the pain is here to stay for some time. However, as long as I have friends like these on both sides of the border, it is a pain I can live with.
Friday, January 28, 2011
10. Red hawk: A quiet bar which normally caters to an older crowd, Red Hawk actually has a bit to offer for college students. If you are looking for a place to go chill out, play some cards and have some nice conversation, Red Hawk is the place for you!
X-factor: They have root beer on tap. ON TAP!
9. Scorekeepers: An honorable mention to my past employers, Skeeps is not exactly the most upscale place in town but it can be loads of fun. Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday nights it’s the place to be if you are looking for a crazy time with lots of people.
X-factor: Best staff in town. Fact.
8. Jolly Pumpkin: I really liked this place in my inaugural visit a couple of weeks back. It would be rude not to include them since they have a special section on their menu for non-alcoholic beverages.
X-factor: The ambiance. The lighting is simply fantastic, surprisingly rare for bars around here as Ricks and Skeeps so aptly demonstrate.
7. Connors: No town in America would be complete without an Irish bar, there is one on every block in new york for crying out loud. Connors is good for catching a champions league games, the food is great and reasonably priced.
X-Factor: Bread pudding. Amazingly good and at a couple of bucks a real bargain!
6. Bab’s: A less known bar located just behind Main Street on Ashley’s, this place was quite the discovery for me. It is underground with two layers in the bar and a unique ambiance inside. There are pool tables to chill out or at the lower level a nice social area to mingle.
X- factor: It actually is a cigar lounge!
5. Heidelberg: The restaurant itself would make this place worth visiting, the bar underground just adds to the appeal. Even on slow nights the atmosphere down there is alive, I attribute that to the unique architecture. My housemate tried to explain how it had some awesome acoustic set-up, all I know is that it works!
X-factor: This place has the best Wiener schnitzel this side of the Huron River.
4. Bar Loiue: if there is a straight laced honest to goodness Muslim in this world it’s my father, and I took him to Bar Loiue when he came to visit me two years ago. He loved it. The food is awesome, and their virgin pina-colada reminded me of Papasallis back home in Islamabad.
X-factor: Dollar burger Tuesdays. Need I say more?
3. Charley’s: Everybody’s favorite college bar, Charley’s is the place to be. It has by God the greasiest food I have come across since Blimpy, and it is so good. The burgers just drip with deliciousness (except for the veggie burgers, please don’t try it, I did, took me weeks to get the taste out). The root beer float is nothing fancy, just IBC and ice cream but something about the atmosphere makes it taste so much better!
X-factor: Pizza sticks. Whether you go for the non-pork option like me or the pepperoni sticks like the rest of the world, you can’t go wrong. I should probably warn you that you might die of a heart attack eating these things, but you will die in bliss!
2. Rush Street: No root beer. No food. No worries. If you want to get down tonight, go to rush street. It has the most insane beat going through the club. And the crowd there is high class, none of that Rick’s garbage. I used to be a shy dancer, barely busting a move. Then I went to rush street and could not help myself.
X-factor: Live drums on the dance floor. There is this guy playing the bongos and some other drums and the cymbals, matching up the beat to what the DJ is spinning. Insane.
1. Ashley’s: The best of the best, Ashley’s will always be my No. 1 bar to go to. The BBQ burger is about as good as I have ever had, the pesto fries are delicious but way better are the curry fries. The only way I can explain them really is if someone poured haleem on fries, what a bloody brilliant idea!
X-factor: You guessed it- root beer! The root beer from the gun is awesome, cheap and refills are free! If you are in a fancier mood as I sometimes am, root beer is also served of some brand I can’t remember. It is expensive at just over 3 bucks but wow is it worth it!
Friday, January 21, 2011
Hearings of Asif, Aamer and Butt: After months of speculation and venting, we finally get to the point where the three musketeers were supposed to be dished out their punishment. Oh wait, the damn verdict was delayed to the 5th of February. Now I am not in favor of allowing any of these three to play in the World Cup, but this delay basically all rules them out of our World Cup Squad without any conviction which is just stupid. Zaheer Abbas called the delay ‘absurd’ and I have to agree with the master batsman. The funny thing is that during the hearings the three started to turn on each other, each of them having a different version of events and Butt seemed to come off the worse; he is now the only player to be under investigation for the Oval Test as well as the Lord’s Test. I have no idea what is going to happen, but it looks like Aamer may get off easier than the others, which a lot of people are okay with. Personally, I would like to see some remorse from him and a public apology but whatever, as long as the other two morons get put away I will be happy, especially Butt!
New Zealand Tour: In the midst of the madness of the hearings Pakistan cricket continued in traditional fashion. Martin Guptill, who no longer has to deal with his worst nightmare Aamer, put Pakistanis to the sword in the first two T20s as the kiwis easily won the series. In the last T20, though, Pakistan murdered and I mean MURDERED the kiwis. Never in all my life have I seen a scorecard like this one, the first 4 batsmen had ducks! Typical. Moving on, Pakistan managed to win its first test series since 2006 as Misbah has just caught fire lately. Well done Pakistan! Shame on those who say test cricket is dead, I love every second of it! Anyway that ODI’s start later today, and a strong looking Pakistan start as favorite, what do you know!
Rafa Slam: Finally our eyes turn to the Down Under where Rafael Nadal is going for the ‘Rafa Slam’. Rafa has won the last three majors and will go for an unprecedented fourth in a row, being the first guy in a lonnggggg time to hold all 4 majors at once. My personal favorite, Federer, looks a shadow of his old self, needing 5 sets to get through some no name that he already lost to twice. Things are looking good for the Spaniard!