Nascent Ideas

Even after six decades of its existence, Pakistan has failed to realize the original promise of its creation. Founder of the nation, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, presumably envisioned Pakistan as a modern, democratic state which would provide welfare and security to all its citizens. Despite possessing world’s oldest and largest integrated canal system and one of the largest labor forces in the world, Pakistan’s governance record has remained abysmal. Commonsensical argument bearing considerable emotive appeal to the masses in Pakistan is that the political elite of Pakistan due to its inherently corrupt nature and collusion with foreign, anti-Pakistan (used almost synonymously with anti-Islam) elements ought to be blamed for Pakistan’s lack of development. While political actors in Pakistan certainly bear great chunk of responsibility, the above argument no matter how popular it happens to be, is reductionist.

Pakistan’s political economy remained deeply implanted in the interests of non-elected, non-representative institutes such as military and civil-bureaucracy. Non-productive expenditures on defense procurement as well as bureaucratic staffing prevented Pakistan to pursue a truly development-oriented economy. Pakistan’s political structure has been overshadowed by a feudal oligarchy and an emerging capitalist aristocracy. Genuine representation of professionals and workers in the echelons of power has remained unfulfilled. In this backdrop, Pakistan’s political economy remained influenced by feudal class which obstructed all attempts towards land-reforms and taxation of agricultural income. These politicians often extended their support to military dictators. In this way, the persisting inequities in country’s pre-dominantly agrarian economy continue even after six decades of decolonization. Political parties in Pakistan, for the most part, remained elitist with strong dynastical patterns and weak gross-root structures.

Pakistan has been intermittently ruled by powerful military dictators with politicians having little say in national affairs. Even during quasi-democratic phases, the security establishment has tended to monopolize country’s policies at least in the affairs of national security. Dispute with India over issues such as boundary settlement in Kashmir and access to water resources led the state to adopt what may be referred to as ‘the economy of defense.’ A significant portion of nation’s resources was thereon diverted towards the military. However, army further plunged Pakistan into an unnecessary struggle for strategic parity with India and created a discourse of territorial survival to legitimize its hegemonic position within the state apparatus. Besides, the military tended to maintain a veto over defense expenditures. Every year, defense expenses consume the major chunk of national budget leaving paltry sums for social development.

Furthermore, military started undertaking a wide array of corporate interests. In Pakistan of today, military operates thousands of businesses and undertakes massive investments in key economic sectors such as real state, banking, insurance, retail, higher education and manufacturing. Military’s unregulated accumulation of private wealth and unchecked acquisition of public resources certainly added to its influence in the socio-political sphere. Military in Pakistan almost always acted beyond its role as a professional service with its unabated political meddling and repetitive usurpation of civilian command. Besides that, dictatorial policies of military leaders prevented the consolidation of participatory institutions for political mobilization. This directly obstructed the path of the post-colonial state towards national integration and economic development.

Politicians and military leaders also saw it expedient to forge an alliance with the external US-led capitalist block so as to seek international patronage for their subservient domestic ambitions. Defense-centered economic framework made Pakistan’s social sector conspicuously dependent on foreign aid. Thereby, international actors were able to impose their conservative neoliberal agenda in the form of structural adjustment, deregulation and privatization programs. In 1960’s, Ayub Khan’s military regime sought to shape a populist perception that democracy was ill-suited to Pakistan due to high illiteracy rate and lack of political consciousness among its populace. Ayub regime vigorously pursued growth-oriented, hyper-industrialization policies patterned on the US-led neo-liberal model.  Despite impressive growth results, these polices did not translate into better quality of life for the poor masses. On the contrary, income differentials and regional disparities became greater. Unfortunately, the legacy of Ayub era continues to shape Pakistan’s development trajectory even in the twenty-first century. Pakistan’s dependency on US-led neo-liberal financial institutions has considerably increased. Development policy in Pakistan till date remains geared towards capital accumulation and industrialization at the cost of human development and social upliftment.

The country, right from its inception, has also faced multiple existential threats emanating from within its borders. It may even be argued that the very task of nation-building in Pakistan has not been fully actualized. Here again, the short-sided policies of the ruling political and military elite are to be held responsible. The ruling elite failed to realize that the challenges of economic development in Pakistan were closely related to the struggle for a constitutional political system. Given Pakistan’s immense diversity in terms of ethnicity, language and culture, it was imperative for the state to constitute an accommodative, all-inclusive governance system. However, the political and military elite in Pakistan chose to do the opposite. The ruling elite made voracious attempts to enforce a monolithic national identity at the expense of regional aspirations for ethnic autonomy. Pakistan’s national identity was constructed on a narrow frame of Islamic ideology which demanded unfaltering allegiance to the state. Consequently, the project of nation-building faced dissent from different ethnic groups who prioritized their centuries-old cultural consciousness over arbitrarily drawn and externally enforced Pakistani identity.

Pakistan for greater part of its history remained marred by political instability. State’s exclusionary policies in its nation-building project were ultimately reflected in its development strategy wherein a highly centralized, bureaucratic system was put in place. As a result, Pakistan’s development program focusing on high growth rate was never completely owned by its political units. Centralized development devoid of fiscal justice further complicated the question of federalism in the post-colonial scenario. Resultantly, the people in the marginalized peripheral regions became increasingly resentful. Arguably, state’s development project collapsed due to the policy of political non-accommodation adopted by the ruling politicians and generals.

To sum it up, my major contention is that the failure of development must be attributed to the ruling elite of Pakistan which not only includes politicians but also the military and civil-bureaucracy. Years of military dictatorships and continuing influence of colonial legacy have served to perpetuate authoritarian strains in public institutions. The only way-out for Pakistan is to redraw the fundamental contours of its development policy by pursuing uncompromising commitment to democratic governance and conceiving a pluralistic self-image. The role of military-bureaucracy oligarchy and feudal elite can only be curtailed if genuine participatory institutions are constituted. First-ever successful democratic transition in the country leaves hope that consolidation of democratic governance is not without possibilities. The locus of development has to be shifted to the people of Pakistan. To that end, envisaging an equitable federal arrangement between different political units would be of paramount importance.

Our political elite has recently developed a consensus that the nation must talk to the militants in country’s northwest. In a way, this political consensus is reflective of our collective mindset of denial under which we externalize the threat posed by terrorism to the existence of the state.

The narrative that characterizes the psyche of our right-wing political leadership is that Pakistan is facing terrorist attacks only because of its cooperation with the US in the war against terrorism. Another simplistic explanation offered by these Taliban-apologists is that terrorist attacks in Pakistan are carried out by revengeful victims of American drone campaign. This thesis essentially builds upon the illusion that Taliban are our own men who have been betrayed by the state and need to be incorporated into the mainstream.

This narrative lacks substance at many levels. Pakistan’s experience with the Taliban particularly in the post 9/11 security environment suggests that negotiations have never worked. The Taliban have an expansionist agenda based on a hateful extremist ideology. They have never signaled their intent to disarm themselves and accept the writ of the state. Past experiences suggest that when military action was taken with firm political backing, many desired outcomes were achieved. In fact, Taliban were successfully ousted from some of their strongholds.

So, in that case, why are our democratically elected leaders bent upon appeasing the Taliban? We are living in Pakistan of 2013 where the nation has witnessed a successful democratic transition for the first time in its history. Taliban’s agenda is the direct antithesis of what a democracy stands for. To begin with, Taliban do not accept constitution of the country. What is then left behind to negotiate on? Or is the state prepared to relinquish a part of its sovereignty?

The current proposal for talks with militants has already failed its litmus test. For one, the Taliban have made no clear indication of being interested in having talks with the government. Taliban have lately claimed responsibility for callous murder of senior security officials in Dir. This clearly shows that no amount of concessions from government’s side would persuade the extremists to pursue negotiations. Taliban have, in fact, demanded a complete pull-out of Pakistani troops from tribal areas. They have also demanded absolute impunity for their prisoners before any talks start. In other words, Taliban have chosen to dictate their own terms. For Taliban, the very invitation for talks amounts to a victory cup. What they are demanding from us is, therefore, nothing short of absolute surrender. Taliban do not hold any political legitimacy. Their control is based on fear and forceful submission. The people living under their despotic rule in FATA are the ones who have been betrayed by the federation of Pakistan. Taliban have no plan of renouncing their vile agenda of death and destruction. There is no rational argument in favor of negotiations. This would be akin to surrendering the political will of a nation of 180 million people.

Our political leaders need to be at the forefront of our security policy. It is time to be clear on our engagements with extremist outfits. We have no other option but to fight this formidable threat head-on. The menace of extremism has to be countered; there is no way to evade it. After the recent attack on a Christian church, there is no moral justification left for lingering the stalemate. It is time for the newly elected political government to send a stern message to all militants. PML-N government must undertake a sincere effort to garner political will and mass-level support for conducting a targeted operation on Taliban hideouts in the tribal belt. It is time for another consensus- a consensus for the use of force against the militants.

In past, Taliban have killed our soldiers using some of the most bestial methods. They have repeatedly attacked the civilian populations. Taliban have blood of tens of thousands of Pakistani citizens on their hands. Taliban are the kind of savages an established democracy like Pakistan should not talk to. Keeping in view the track-record of negotiation attempts with Taliban, there is almost zero probability of any success as a result of talks.

In the backdrop of these events, Army Chief has spoken emphatically. He proclaimed that Pakistan’s armed forces were fully capable of taking on the militants and under no condition terrorists could be allowed to dictate. This is precisely the level of clarity we need as a nation to proceed with the evolving nature of threats to our national security. This is the essential starting point on the basis of which we would be able to reincarnate our security apparatus to survive the challenges of a non-traditional security scenario. Perhaps, thereafter, we would renounce our traditional search for strategic depth and develop a more inward-looking strategy.

Pakistan Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud (L) is seen with his arm around Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud during a news conference in South Waziristan in this May 24, 2008 file photo.
Source: Reuters.com

An English actor, Christopher Parker said and I quote, ”Procrastination is like a credit card, it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.” Procrastination is simply the act of replacing high priority tasks with low priority tasks. Procrastination has, at times, affected my productivity. So, I took time and effort to understand what it means to be a procrastinator and how one could stop doing that. So, I’ll be ranting here as to what strategies have personally worked out for me during past few years. Procrastination takes a heavy toll on our success and is one of the most common problems faced by college students.

First we need to analyze why procrastination is a problem. Is delaying your tasks always a bad thing to do? After all, we often postpone our work until tomorrow when we can actually do it today. As a matter of fact, we need to establish thresholds. A delay does not always count as procrastination unless it is irrational and intentional.
Procrastination is like preferring smaller and sooner rewards over larger, later rewards. It is a weakness of will and can seriously impede one’s way to success and happiness.
College students often find their course work burdensome and unpleasant. According to a University of Nottingham survey statistics, 90 percent of college students procrastinate. Nearly 23 percent of these students were chronic procrastinators i.e they would nearly never meet their deadlines. Such chronic procrastinators often stay up late to complete their assignments. This unhealthy tendency may ultimately lead to stress and depression. Once they have fallen into habit of procrastination, it becomes their lifestyle.
There are various behavioral tendencies that may cause procrastination. Sometimes we tend to avoid the task because it seems plain boring or overwhelming. We may spend hours upon hours watching television and browsing internet. Thus, we tend to seek pleasure in immediate satisfaction. Sometimes we experience ‘‘fear of success’’ or ‘‘fear of failure’’. We do not want to be judged. We think too much about the outcomes – ‘‘what if I fail despite putting in my best effort?’’ or ‘‘I don’t want to be in the limelight and accept more responsibilities’’. Other causes of procrastination are perfectionism, lack of prioritization, rebellion and skill deficit. Perfectionism may lead to procrastination because a perfectionist wants everything to be flawless. If we have a lot of things to do, lack of prioritization may lead to procrastination. Sometimes we procrastinate to react against imposed expectations and standards. At times, we do not finish our tasks because we want to rebel or resist against our parents or teachers. Some tasks require additional skills. If we do not invest proper time and energy to learn the prerequisites, doing the task will not be possible.
How can we beat procrastination practically? Unless someone suffers from chronic procrastination, OCD or ADHD, they can beat procrastination on their own without counseling or psychotherapy. Do positive self-talk. Analyze your case. Know the motives behind your acts of procrastination. Stop looking at your task as a whole. Break down your task into small parts and tackle them one by one. This technique is called ‘‘chunking’’. It is important that you are not constantly blaming yourself. Do not try to do it perfectly. Just put in your best effort. This is called 80/20 principle. Know your weaknesses and strengths. Go slow and steady if task seems too overwhelming. Do not over pressurize yourself. Taking control of your environment is very important for avoiding procrastination. When you have started working, make your to-do-list ready. This will help you stay organized and focused. Your surroundings should be free from distractions. Take control of your thoughts and overcome your temptations even if causes a little stress. It may seem ironic but sometimes it is necessary to take mini-breaks and delay your work to beat procrastination. It is when you are constantly losing your focus. Take a break, do something that may energize you like stretching, having a quick walk or taking a nap.
Summing things up, procrastination is the lack of self-regulatory ability and can develop into a serious problem if ignored. Gerald Vaughan rightly said, ‘‘Procrastination is something best put off until tomorrow.’’

Born on the Fourth of July is a real life story of renowned peace activist Ron Kovic. The film has been adapted from Kovic’s memoir published with the same title. The film is the second of the three Vietnam War movies directed by Oliver Stone. Oliver Stone himself served as an infantry soldier in Vietnam. Thus, he had personally experienced the horrors of war. The film won him an Academy Award for best direction. Tom Cruise, who played the lead in the movie, gave one of his best performances. The role was very demanding as there were many transitions involved at physical, psychological and emotional levels.

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Ron Kovic as shown in the film grows up as a proud, patriotic American youth. He belonged to a devout Roman Catholic family that believed in American dream and hated communism. The family regularly attended the customary July 4 parade in the town. Ron Kovic’s birthday coincided with that of his country. That explains why the film has been titled ‘‘Born on the Fourth of July.’’ Kovin grew up in an environment of institutionalized militarism where war against communism was seen as holy and heroic. Kovic had learned to romanticize war since his childhood. He used to play war games with the children in his neighborhood. His school experiences and family teachings further acted to reinforce the same image. In his youthful ambitions, he surprised everyone by deciding to enlist himself with the US marines as a volunteer combatant in Vietnam. His decision was accepted by his parents without much deliberation. After going through rigorous trainings, he was sent to Vietnam. The film then moves on to depict two ghastly incidents Kovic had to go through during his second posting in Vietnam. His platoon massacred a village on the basis of inadequate intelligence information. During hasty retreat from the operation site, Kovin became disoriented and accidently killed one of his own men. These two experiences would continue to haunt Kovin for the rest of his life. He came to see the naked reality of war and became disillusioned with his earlier beliefs. During another patrol mission, he got shot down by NVA. He was rescued and taken to the hospital. Kovin had to live the remainder of his life being paralyzed from the mid-chest down. Once back home, he found it immensely difficult to readjust with his family and decided to go to Mexico.
Many peace-oriented and anti-war messages can be derived from the film. The movie portrays militarist American mindset as a fatal indoctrination. It was deliberately set up at institutional level by the US government to pursue its war-mongering expansionist policies. American children were systematically taught to hate communists often with the Christian justification that communists do not believe in a deity. As Kovin’s mother used to tell her children quite unwittingly that communism was an insidious evil. Besides that, Kovin while growing up had learned to believe that Americans were the best people on the face of Earth and Russians wanted to overtake their country. The movie clearly shows how militarism was actually inbuilt in the American culture and psyche. Kovin became a victim of the jingoistic environment in which he was raised.
The movie shows how religious ideologies can be employed to provide moral justifications for war. Religious nationalism is itself a recipe for disaster. When Kovic made an untimely decision to go to war, his mother fully supported his decision as she said, ‘‘Ronnie, you’re doing the right thing! Communism has to be stopped! It’s God’s will that you go and I’m proud of you.’’ Clearly, she invoked religion to bash communism as if communism was nothing but an anti-thesis of Christian faith. When he came back from the warfront, Kovic’s relationship with his friends and family gradually worsened. He was also unable to reconcile with his religious mother. Once, on returning home from the bar room, he started yelling at his mother while being drunk. He started blaming her, rejecting God and hurling profanities, ‘‘tell her God’s as dead as my legs. There’s no God and there’s no country. It’s just me… and this …… wheelchair for the rest… of my life.’’ The very value system of the family was now jeopardized. His mother started crying and telling him that she had not forced him to go to war. She was probably right. But, nevertheless, the way religion was being politicized in America had something to do with Kovin’s decision to go to Vietnam.
Another significant peace message to be drawn from this movie is that patriotism should be about loving one’s fellow countrymen. Governments and militaries do not hold monopoly over patriotism. Their definition of patriotism should not be accepted at face value. If the US government asks its people to participate in overseas wars and kill defenseless women and children, it is not patriotic. This kind of ‘‘patriotism’’ does not serve the interests of ordinary Americans. It is manipulative, hateful and coercive agenda of a few powerful people. It is quite possible that one is patriotic and pacifist at the same time. As Kovin said while protesting at 1972 Republican Convention, ‘‘They’ve deceived the people of this country, tricked them into going 13,000 miles to fight a war against a poor, peasant people who have a proud history of resistance, who have been struggling for their own independence for 1,000 years – the Vietnamese people.’’
The movie demonstrates that war is not glorious. It sets naked the gruesome and ghastly realities of war. War should always be seen as a crime committed against humanity. It is a mass slaughter. There is nothing heroic about taking human lives whatever the context might be. Thousands of soldiers like Ron Kovin incurred casualties in Vietnam. Some of them returned amputated, crippled or mentally retarded. Every other day, Americans received dead bodies of their soldiers in bag packs. War turned out to be a massive brutality. Kovin, in 1972 protest at Republican Convention, speaking to the news camera, exclaimed, ‘‘Do you hear me when I say this war is a crime? When I say I am not as bitter about my wound as the men who have lied to the people of this country? Do you hear me?’’
Another prominent feature of the movie is that it does not portray war veterans including Ron Kovic as heroes. It presents them as victims of ill-conceived mass disaster. These survivors of the war are the ones who fought at the battlefront and were made to experience ghastliness of war as closely as possible. Some of them like Ron Kovin could never get over the fact that they had killed innocent children and women. They would live their lives with guilt and shame. Some of them would even commit suicide. Their lives would never remain all the same. They would not get over psychological and emotional traumas of war. Their relationships with friends, families and loved ones will remain disturbed. Kovin’s previous love interest, Donna, did not even come to see him once he was back home in his wheelchair.
Finally, the movie leaves the audience with a powerful message that instills hope. The movie, in a way, tells the people that power lies in their hands as long as they are willing to exercise it. War is everybody’s problem, so no one can simply sit back and watch his countrymen dying in thousands. People can unite in the name of peace and fight their governments. In the US, a successful anti-war movement erupted in the late sixties and early seventies. Many veterans joined the movement to show what actually war was like. This mass movement was ultimately successful and provided the basis for pull out of American troops from Vietnam. The movie shows Kovic addressing the American nation at the 1976 Democratic National Convention when the war was already over. This, somehow, brings a happy ending to what was an anti-war emotional roller coaster ride.

There can be conflicting views regarding the very purpose of education. Universities are the centers for higher education where students are expected to add to the existing body of knowledge. There is no denying the fact that education has an economic aspect. Quality education costs a lot of money and the students or parents have to be constantly cognizant of the market needs when they are exploring a set of university courses. We live in a world where resources are scarce and social justice is wanting. Education, however, is not just a tool for employability. There is always a human element attached to the value of education. Education should be seen as a force for protecting human rights and preserving human dignity. To that end, we not only need the people who can become productive members of the society but also the ones who are able to think freely without any prejudice and bias.
I am not writing this blogpost as another desperate attempt to lecture on the merits of education. It is one of the posts where I am interested in sharing my experiences as a Global-UGRAD fellow in the United States. One of the components of this program requires the fellows to complete one semester of academic studies at a US college. I was placed at the Troy University, which is a flagship college in the South. I completed five university courses during my stay at Troy. There is absolutely no doubt that American public education system is among the best in the world. I have been studying at public schools all along and have a fair idea of the challenges in the life of an ordinary Pakistani college student.

Coming to Troy University, I would confidently say, has been the best thing that happened to me in my entire academic career. I moved to Troy after I had already completed a part of my university education at my home university. I did not expect that I will adjust to a different academic system so easily. Here, I am interested in explaining why I absolutely loved my American college experience. Since, no one back home is willing to listen to me and many of them have even asked me to ”get over it”, I decided to write it up and reach out to the people who might care.
Overall, the depravity of public education in Pakistani can be described in one word, ”corruption”. It is an open secret that from marking proxy attendance to getting favors from the teachers in class assignments, all you need is paisa, power or patronage. These practices are unheard of in the United States. One has to earn the respect they desire, it is not simply something that is always out there for sale. Nepotism and cronyism in Pakistani universities is so rampant that you would come to see family trademarks associated with educational departments. There are even reserved seats for the children of university employees which are filled in irrespective of the inductee’s merit. To that extent, corruption has been institutionalized in Pakistani schools. And if your parents have strong connections in the industry, you can also hope to get into the respective school through personal recommendations.
In Pakistan, we have more or less a one-size-fits-all educational model in place. Students are made to mold into a highly stratified system that provides little opportunities for participation and self-expression. In contrast to that, American classrooms are more student-friendly. The teacher does not play the role of an autocrat shoving information down a student’s throat. Students can openly voice their opinions . As a matter of fact, group discussions and class participation are actually accommodated in the grading criteria. Though this practice does favor those having an extroverted personality type and many reticent students may actually find it as discriminatory. But still, American colleges are far more flexible. Counseling and writing centers in US colleges are actively engaged in helping students sort out their worries and have a smooth transition towards college. Pakistani colleges are less accommodative towards students with special needs. Counseling is only a recent phenomenon in universities and is non-existent in high schools where the students have to make decisions that would have consequences for a lifetime. In Pakistan, the vocational purposes of education always over-shadow the more humane side of education. This is something terribly wrong with Pakistani education. Pupils are made to believe they are worthless unless they study science and mathematics. I have been following the press interviews of high achievers in board exams for many years and one thing I have been consistently observing is that they rarely aspire for a career in humanities or social sciences. This is also reflected in our collective attitude towards social or political education. Children from an early age are socialized to visualize themselves as would-be-doctors or engineers. From what I have seen, schools in the US do make effort in determining a students’ aptitude, strengths and weaknesses rather than imposing the choices made by parents or teachers.
My academic adviser had sent me an academic catalogue weeks before I left for the United States. I had ample time to decide upon courses, time tables and professors. It turned out to be a hard decision since I could select no more than five courses and I had hundreds of options. Since I very well knew that my home university is not going to recognize my semester-abroad experience let alone give me credits for the courses studied, I decided to follow my heart. I picked up the classes which I thought would help me better explore the people and culture of the place. Does it sound too obvious that people would always customize their school plan according to their specific needs? Well, not for me. It was the first time I experienced the joy of making my own schedule. Back home, I was merely handed over a list of courses that were to covered in that particular semester. I could never decide the timings. If I had been placed in a course that was being offered in the morning, I had no option but to get up early and go for the class. I am late-sleeper whose body-clock does not tend to sync with the rhythm of the nature. I just cannot imagine being focused and attentive in an 8’O clock class. Sometimes, I got caught up with a bad professor with whom I simply could not work. But there was little I could do. In the US, however, the same course could be available at multiple times taught by different professors. I could simply go onto Ratemyprofessor.com and known more about the teacher before taking up their class. This is why I thoroughly enjoyed all the courses I took because the system enabled me make informed choices. I wish we could foster some freedom in our system here in Pakistan. This would probably never be possible unless we do away with political interventions in universities which allow the administrators accumulate unlimited powers.
In the US colleges, a lot of emphasis is put on academic integrity. Plagiarism is considered a serious academic offense for which a student may face expulsion from the college. In Pakistan, I have gone through harrowing experiences when it comes to class assignments. Students more often than not copy-paste on their work and teachers usually know it too. One of my course instructors at a Pakistani school commenting on our class’s performance on a book review assignment lamented, ”I know that most of you have simply copied the material from websites and some of you have not even read their books; but still I do not want to fail everyone in the class. I cannot do that, you see!” She was probably telling this to the small number of students who actually took time to read the book and write their own commentary. ”You guys were being stupid”, this was the intended message. Ironically, Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission has prescribed very strict rules regarding plagiarism and cheating on college assignments but then again all those rules exist only in the books. Most students would not even realize that copy-pasting from sources on the internet is wrong. In US schools, they do use plagiarism softwares to authenticate the originality of the submitted works. Since creativity is not valued, Pakistan colleges promote mediocrity. That is why sometimes sub-par students achieve better grades simply because they are better able to adopt themselves with the system.
The US collegiate system has a very flexible evaluation criteria that caters to a range of assessment methods. Students write papers, make presentations, take quizzes, participate in group discussions and before taking finals, they get a chance to evaluate their professor too. The exam is mostly patterned on multiple-choice questions or short-essay questions designed to test critical learning skills. You are marked for providing to-the-point direct answers. Here in Pakistan, unless you beat about the bush and fill in sheets and sheets of paper, you are not going to make an A. I believe we can rectify many problems with our education system if we train our teachers to use better and more efficient means to assess the students. After-all, essay-type written exam is not the only way to test students’ knowledge. Throughout my experience in the US, I never took a test which would require me to reproduce textbook contents. I could finally relieve myself of rote-learning.
Pakistan is a poor country with inadequate funds for educational institutes. While the ongoing campaign in Pakistan for greater budgetary allocation to education is commendable, we should also be concerned about efficiency and utility of the system already in place. Pakistan does not spend much on education and most of our schools remain under-resourced. But will simply allocating more resources solve the incumbent crisis? Many of our problems have their roots in our attitude towards education. We need to change the bureaucratic culture of our institutions. In our schools, students who happen to be the largest stakeholders, have no voice. A school should be seen as any other social institution with a broad-based, participatory and open system. Under the guise of discipline, we have created a tyrannical system in which authoritarianism is institutionalized. The present repressive system, in effect, speaks of years of autocratic military rule our nation has been subjected to for the most part of our history.
To sum it up, my American college experience provided me many valuable take-home lessons pertaining to education. Most important of them is that restrictive, outwardly controlled institutions leave little room for innovation and creativity. Education should be free from authoritarian controls. No one should be able to hold monopoly over the system. Everyone who form a part of the system must have an active role to play. Education can flourish only in an inclusive and open environment. I had a very memorable, interesting and rewarding educational journey during my exchange program in the US. I, as a would-be academician, would always consider it my ethical obligation to play my part in bringing positive change in education. The educational culture in Pakistan can be recreated; it would just take time and collective will.

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Recently, I was introduced to the concepts of Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment  in my Political Science class. In that context, I was moved to read this book which is a treatise on secular ideas and their validity. I, in no way, identify myself as a Marxist or socialist and this work by Sibte Hasan is, in my opinion, not inspired by his ideological affiliation with a Marxist group.

Sibte Hassan is known as one of the most renowned Communist writers in the subcontinent. He was a graduate of Muslim University Aligarh. He wrote extensively on matters of politics and ideology. He worked as an author and editor for numerous magazines and journals. He was affiliated with Communist Party of Pakistan (that was later banned by Ayub Khan’s regime) and Progressive Writers Association. Sibte Hasan was attached to the political philosophy of scientific socialism. His best known work is ‘‘Moosa Se Marx Tak’’ which has been considered as the best Marxist work in Urdu.

Sibte Hasan started writing polemical articles in a major English daily in support of secularism and rationalism. This enraged many elements in the right-wing Urdu press. Sibte Hassan’s ideas were lampooned by the orthodox writers. However, this debate inspired Sibte Hasan to compile a book in the form of a treatise. This book was titled as ‘‘The Battle of Ideas in Pakistan’’ and it is divided into nine chapters, each exploring one specific area. The writer has systematically falsified the ‘‘ridiculous’’ claims made by some Islamists against secular and liberal ideas in the very first chapter. The next three chapters deal with development of secular thought in the ancient societies which were dominated by monarchs who often propagated their divine right to rule. The author effectively exposes the resemblance between the religious obscurants of the past and the forces of orthodoxy that are prevalent in our society in twenty-first century. The author also reflects upon the relationship between state and religion in ancient world.  Medieval monarchs, in order to keep themselves in power, propagated the ‘‘divinity of rule’’ and ‘‘nobility of birth’’ doctrines. Writer, then, takes on the task of explaining the evolution of modern secular governments in the East vis-à-vis Western Imperialism. While explaining the history of secularism in Turkey, writer effectively relates it to the situation in Pakistan particularly after the so-called Islamic regime of General Zia-ul-Haq. The writer exposes the battle between traditional revivalists and progressives in modern Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The author also points to the relevance of struggle of Kemal Ataturk against imperialism and Pan-Islamism to modern day Pakistan. The writer also foresees that the victory of progressive ideas in modern day Pakistan is inevitable. A major bulk of the book deals with the unfolding of secular ideas in Indian subcontinent especially with reference to secular credentials of the Mughal empire. The writer throws light on the services of modernist writers and reformers in the subcontinent in the British era. The western political philosophy came to India with the advent of East India Company and it had a profound impact on minds of Muslims and Hindu intellectuals. Here is where the battle between traditionalist and modernist Muslims took a new turn. Author presents a case that the idea of Pakistan was secular in its nature. It was instituted to protect the rights of minorities in India particularly the Muslims. Writer portrays that Jinnah was a secularist and he wanted a truly democratic, liberal and secular Pakistan based on socialist ideals of Islam. A whole chapter is dedicated to ‘‘expose the conspiracy that Allama Iqbal was a revivalist’’. The writer explains how Mullahs have conveniently adopted a selective approach to Iqbal’s ideas to justify their orthodoxy. These same Mullahs who use Iqbal’s stanzas in their sermons used to label him an infidel and an apostate during his lifetime. Writer’s explanation in this regard seems impeccable when he maintains that we need to differentiate between Iqbal’s metaphysical emotional approach and his political rational approach.

Overall, Sibte Hassan’s book is no doubt a major contribution to liberal literature in Pakistan. It is a complete package as in it comprehensively covers the historical framework of secular thought and its relevance to Pakistan of this day. It debunks the false claims made by some apologists of political Islam. It hints upon the true essence of secularism which is antithetical to militant atheism. Writer addresses the challenges to secularism in Pakistan posed by a feudal aristocracy, self-interested civil-military bureaucracy and obscurantist religious organizations. It is an attempt to defend secularism keeping in view the unique circumstances of Pakistan. Writer presents the case that secularism can help Pakistan overcome its political problems and become a more harmonious and stable society.

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