Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Crosswind Landing at Allama Iqbal International Lahore

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Thursday, September 2, 2010

I feel sorry ...

I feel sorry for myself, and my fellow countrymen ....

When the suicide bombing phenomenon started a couple of years back, it used to make headlines and would haunt everyone of us when going out of our bunkered houses. Those incidents used to leave deep impressions on our minds. Almost being the topic of conversation for so many days among family members, friends, colleagues etc. But then everyone would again get busy with usual day to day activities. Another bomb would detonate, with thick clouds of smoke and fear to hover on minds and skyline for another sometime.

We are a nation with an interesting history. We rose from the ashes of Decca, we got away with the barbaric military rule of '80s and so on. We've a history to suffer, but also have a history to take it in our stride. Pakistan's largest city Karachi has always been the battlefield of ethnicities, various sects, various ideologies, but somehow the society has managed to make progress despite all this.

In my view, thats the problem. We may call ourselves great for it, but I think it'll be stupid to call ourselves great. We're positive, and always positive which is the best thing. Hope is what carries us. But we're not great. Know why? We have always turned our face away from problems. Problems that have affected our country, nation, ethnicities and all segments of society, we've been putting them under the carpet. This was the lesson we got from our forefathers, but the problem now is that British Raj is over. At least in books, yes its over. Putting issues on back-burner and by staying away from them, we've let those problems grow into full-scale national issues. They've grown as cancer, and we couldn't treat the cancer in earlier stages. So, all this doesn't make us a great nation, rather stupid enthusiasts. We can do anything for Pakistan, but don't know what to do! Having energy and no direction is much worse than having direction and no energy.

We learned to suffer from our forefathers. We have never acted responsibly to stand up and fight for what is right. Fight to make the issues identified which continue to haunt us. We have lived a life of denial. Sab achha hai! Our forefathers were first the subjects of a kingdom which had hardly any contact with the public. So, we learned to suffer and act as everything is fine. Then came the Farangi! I mean British. They had an agenda, and continued to do what was important for them while living in cantonments away from general public. The distance has always been there between the ruled and the rulers. This is the truth of our society. We inherited this distance. Only that the distance increased with every generation.

Few people along with police and district administration have beaten two brothers to death in Sialkot last month. When I heard the news, it was a little shocking, but then I didn't pay much attention. Its been appearing in the news but I hardly paid any attention. Now, its established that the brothers were innocent and had not done anything to have been subjected to such a brutality. My question for myself is , why did it not shock me in the first place when I heard all the detailed news report? I think I've a clue. I'll have to admit that I've become insensitive. Insensitive at violence of any type.

I feel sorry for myself, my countrymen that we're so insensitive and blind to what is right or wrong that everything is fine with us now as long as it doesn't come hit us. I don't feel like living in a human society, it seems more like a jungle ....

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Then and Now

                     30-Jun-10     30-Jun-09
 PKR-USD                 85.51          81.46
PKR-EUR                   105            115
FX Reserve ($bn)        15.78          11.84
KSE-100                 9,122          7,162
T-Bills 12M (%)         12.38          12.09
KIBOR 6M (%)            12.37          12.76 

Friday, June 18, 2010

'90s Replay

Last night, I was pissed off watching news, movies channels so decided to watch something different. I came across this Boomerang channel. Ladies and Gentlemen! I watched Scooby Doo, Popeye the sailor man, Tom and Jerry. It was different this time. Tom and Jerry looked stupid to me in childhood, but it was funny this time. Popeye the sailor was different too. His accent was funny, and the way he would eat his spinach and do everything, it was hilarious. Scooby Doo is a classic, another version of our Imran series.
The best comment was when all the group enters a haunted place, and start searching for the monster. Now, there are two guys, two girls and one scooby! So, the guy says to Shaggy ... 'OK. I'll go this way with girls' - and Shaggy returns with an equally amusing statement 'I know, I'll be going with the dog'
It was a hilarious experience. I'd recommend all of you go watch it. Its worth it. Its a great reminder of the innocent sort of cartoons we used to watch in '90s compared to the violent and sophisticated types today.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Economy 2010-2011 - Neutral to Bleak

As I am writing this, we've just made our way in June, 2010. We're going to have budget speech on 5th of June this year. Some salient features expected in upcoming budget are here:

  • VAT (Value Added Tax) regime to be enforced.
  • Electricity subsidies to be abolished.
  • Fertilizer subsidies to be abolished.
  • CGT (Capital Gains Tax) to be enforced on stock market for the first time.
  • Taxation target to be revised upwards by 20%.
  • Debt Servicing outlay to be around 800 billion rupees.
  • Defense expenditure to be revised upwards to 442 billion rupees.
  • Government's regular revenues projected to go beyond 2000 billion rupees.
VAT has become a controversial bill, and above all, government has so far not been able to come up with some clear understanding of how and where it'll be levied. There's been a confusion since some time, and the debate is still on for whether it'll be levied on Health and Education sectors. Government is apparently of the view that it should be applied across the board other than eatable items. However, critics argue that VAT enforcement on Health and Education sector only makes sense if government provides enough of these facilities in Public Sector, which is not the case. Education budget has been decreasing as compared to the GDP, which means people are forced to opt for private sector education. If VAT is applied on private sector education, it means that it is going to be a luxury now. Same goes for health.

VAT on petroleum sector means something disastrous for the industry in general. Inflation figures which are already hovering around 13% will have enough room to cross 15%, thereby causing State Bank to hike interest rates by another 100 or so basis points.

Electricity subsidies abolishment will also be another factor of driving inflation upwards beyond 15%. Another thing to keep in mind regarding inflation is the lower base effect from around this time last year, which means there's a good reason to believe that the interest rates will be hiked by another 100 to 200 basis points. I see a strong case for that.

Taxation target is being revised upwards to go over 1700 billion. I think its a very optimistic target. I do not expect CGT to be a very lucrative avenue for the government in FY11. Stock Market apparently will remain under pressure because of government's excessive taxation from already taxed sectors and consumers' buying power will also remain subdued because of obvious price-hikes. VAT will also take a month or two to get enforced which means lower taxation in FY11 than projected.

Debt servicing will be around $10b, plus more than 400 billion for defense expenditures. All this means that State Bank's currency printing will have to pick up like all the previous years. Government doesn't seem serious as such about cutting back on its non-development expenses. Defense will apparently never reduce its royal incentives. Deficit is a norm, but the way it is getting out of proportions now is perhaps unprecedented. Early in this decade, Musharraf government had the opportunity of tapping in foreign aid and rescheduling debt programs, also privatization proceeds helped keep the reserves at a stable level, but now it seems its high time that Islamabad starts finding the solution in itself instead of looking out.


Frankly, here are my projections for coming year:

  • I see North Waziristan operation just around the corner, and keeping in view all the humanitarian crisis expected out of that, defense expenditure can cross 450 billion and hover around 500 billion. I do not have enough stats to come up with a reasonable figure of IDPs expected, but I expect it'll give the government a dent of around 25 billion.
  • North Waziristan operation also means deterioration in law & order situation, which means further reduced foreign investment inflows. Rather, we might start witnessing outflows.
  • Inflationary pressures are bound to come in. 10-15% inflation for coming year cannot be ruled out. Main inflationary drivers would be rising oil prices, lack of subsidies on electricity, fertilizer. Government borrowing from State Bank is also bound to pick up in coming fiscal year which will be another major inflationary driver.
  • Interest rates might increase by 100 or 150 bps to 14%. However, there are chances that it comes down below 11% by FY11 end.
  • Banking and LSM (Large Scale Manufacturing) sectors will remain under pressure.
  • KSE-100 (Karachi Stock Exchange's benchmark 100 index) is hovering around 9200 points. At this level, it is offering some real good bargains. If things improve a bit, there's a good chance for it to cross 11500 level, but conservatively, 10,000 to 10,500 wouldn't be a bad level to sustain.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Provoke to Anger; Anger to Provoke

We're living in amazing times, a button click might be unheard in the room next-door, however, very meaningful in some other part of world. Digital revolution, digital divide. These were the buzz words at the start of this millennium. Ten years down the road, we're now faced with new issues, new problems after the 'Digital Iron Divide' has started falling down.

Internet has evolved, and matured, where now supposedly everyone has a voice. Every person can make a difference. A cartoonist in Denmark can provoke muslims round the world in minutes, and then the anger is channeled in mysterious ways. Admittedly, most of times, self-destructing ways. Raging with anger because of the obvious reason, partly because of the physical distance between the provoked and the provoker.

Free society is perhaps what internet is all about. But is it really free? I believe its another trick that nature has played on us. We're told its a free society, where freedom of speech is all we look for. Perhaps we forgot, there's nothing called free lunch in this world. Playing on someone's turf, and expecting the world be flat - ahh ... fool's paradise.

Social networking, obviously, has revolutionized in many ways. Communication has become much faster. We can stay connected with people in much much better way than we could before. Thanks Miss. Technology, thanks Mr. Bell, and yes thanks to Mr. Tim B. Lee.

Found with new media, and new opportunities, we now have a new breed of multinationals. Yes, I cannot drink twitter like I do Coca Coca, but we're not in 1970 either. This is 2010. Mc Donalds, KFC, Coca Cola, Pepsi have become part of common jargon, what to say of a privilege. Different world, different checks, different liberty, different freedom. Nixon went to China in '70s 'asking' them to embrace Coca Cola and let it do its business, but its 2010, now Obama, a black president in white house, goes to China 'pleading' the government to let Google do its job, save the US economy from suffocating by adjusting appropriate currency valuations. Different world, different actors, same characters. Its an era of Google, Twitter, Facebook shaping the world opinion, no more rhetoric by BBC, CNN, Reuters taken on the face value.

You must be thinking I've distracted and gone a little far from the topic, but no. We're talking of provocation and how it works now. How anger is channeled to provoke new trends.

I've a friend who was a big time supporter of all this freedom because of internet. He didn't say it, but I could sense that after God, the only thing he found worth worshiping was the 'revolution' according to him brought about by internet and 'free media'. To be fair, when he'd say it, I hardly had any solid argument to counter his appraisal of this so-called 'free media'. But times change, and one day he tried logging into his heavenly Facebook account where he was free to network, do all sorts of 'cool' things, the website posted a message saying your account is blocked because someone reported. He was shocked, surprised, taken aback with this, but thought maybe there's some problem or misunderstanding. He emailed them explaining his case, and didn't receive any response even after days. Then he requested them to give him access so that he can download all his personal photographs, videos and other data that he had shared on Facebook. Facebook never bothered to respond. I've not gone through their terms and conditions, but I know very well that terms and conditions of Facebook keep changing, and have gone from moderate to very harsh for a loyal user/'Facebooker'. This guy went very angry at all this, he'd just been stripped off all his personal data up there on facebook, which served as his virtual hard-drive for backup too. He's a good friend, and a very loyal customer, so Facebook gave up on him, but he didn't. My friend created a new account, and started his activities again. He still has that account and is enjoying, and will continue to do so untill the next time he encounters another message.

This case tells us about the concept of identity in this free world. This concept has been blurred to the extent that it hardly exists now. One person can have multiple identities. Above all, there's no standardization which sets the rules of business and the terms and conditions of agreement between a user and the website.

Recently, some organization launched a Facebook page, running a contest to draw caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). This proved to be much more than that. A full-fledge, aimed campaign started against that page, and Facebook at large. It was seen as a direct attack on Islam, and to hurt the Muslim community's feelings at large. All this climaxed to a point when Lahore High Court, Pakistan instructed Pakistan Telecom Authority to block Facebook, and allegedly other such websites which were running such anti-Islamic content.

This was reported in media all over the world, as some sort of weird occurrence and an attempt to barricade the free flow of information across the physical boundaries that separate us in real. It surely has affected many of my countrymen's internet activities but has given birth to many new philosophical debatable questions. Some gossip at least. Amusingly, Lahore High Court wanted us to be more close to our family members, than sending 'pokes' to people we've never met and who're least interested in us - same conclusion reached by many when electricity shutdowns peaked last summer in Pakistan.

Facebook couldn't resist speaking out, coming out with a statement this morning

"We strongly believe that Facebook users have the freedom to express their opinions, and we don't typically take down content, groups or pages that speak out against countries, religions, political entities, or ideas".

However, in the policy statement of this Palo Alto, California based organization said

"we want Facebook to be a place where people can openly discuss issues and express their views, while respecting the rights and feelings of others".

Can you people point out the inconsistency between the two statements? Do you think they contradict? I leave the conclusion to readers, but just for information, both are statements issued by the same organization.

This was the latest in the series of provocations in the so-called free media. Revolution. Everyone has a voice. Do you've a voice? Don't you think one day someone will report you and your account will be blacked out, and you be ripped off all your electronic belongings residing on someone's server? and if someone has been involved in such activities, does it mean he wouldn't do it again with a new account, new email?

My friends, a common man is at the end of day a common man. My phone conversations, my emails, my internet activities, are all being recorded. I've been ripped off my privacy more than ever before. Anyone can conduct surveillance on me. Your identity can be put in question because of someone else's conduct just because he used your name.

Let's not go between provocation and anger like having been stuck between rock and wall, we should understand what we're doing. Where we stand. We should be more aware of the fact that there're more triggers to cause trouble with all this free media than before. There're many questions that I've tried to bring forward in this blog, but I leave them to you to find out, and answer.

Q U E S T I O N M A R K S!