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The Lahore that I grew up in was a great place

I grew up in Lahore. All my life I lived here except for the seven years in the army and ten in Karachi. I returned again in December 1988 and have lived here since. I knew a Lahore that was a very beautiful city. It was a city of people who ere cultured, courteous and with a sense of humour that was sharp without being vulgar. This was a city of the most magnificent Mughal buildings and gardens. It was also a city where you could actually get into the countryside without going anywhere. The urban sprawl of what is now Johar town was a place of mango orchards and fields where one could hear the song of more than a hundred different species of birds.

Lahore was a city where the gates of your house were always open, except when you turned in for the night. It was a city where armed robbery or rape was unknown. Lahore was where a traffic accident did not mean you were lynched. It meant people got out of their cars and quietly resolved who was to pay for the damages. Here a young man and woman could walk hand in hand without being accused of ‘obscenity and vulgarity’.

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PNS Mehran under siege in Karachi

P3 Orion aircraft on fire at PNS Mehran - Source: Dawn.com/AFP

Gunfire and explosions rocked Pakistan Navy’s PNS Mehran base in Karachi last night. Recent reports have confirmed at least 8 casualties and two aircrafts destroyed at the high security facility. P3 Orion aircrafts are operated by Pakistan Navy for maritime surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

Navy has become the most targeted wing of the armed/security forces in Pakistan with four terrorist attacks spanning over the last two months. All four have taken place in Karachi targeting buses carrying Navy personnel and now an air-base. The first ever attack on naval interests in Pakistan during the current war on terror took place on March 4, 2008 when the Naval War College in Lahore was attacked by two suicide bombers killing at least 8 people.

Our prayers and thoughts are with the affected families and friends of our brave military men who’ve lost their lives in this incident. Inna lillahe wa inna illehe rajioon.

We all pray in unity for peace in Pakistan!

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Management of the Pakistan Economy

The Lahore School of Economics Seventh Annual Conference on the Management of the Pakistan Economy [May 4th, May 5, and May 6th] concluded  at the Burki campus today. The theme of this year’s conference was “Financial Sector Development and Management’. The conference brought together a group of distinguished researchers and policymakers from across Pakistan and internationally. The underlying objective of the conference is to promote discussion on key policy issues in financial sector development and in macroeconomic management. The conference was opened by Dr. Shahid Amjad Chaudhry, Rector Lahore School of Economics. Mr. Shahid Kardar, Governor State Bank of Pakistan will deliver the inaugural address. Researchers from PIDE, Quaid-e-Azam University, NUST, IBA Karachi, IBM Karachi, LUMS, Lahore School of Economics as well as a number of international universities participated in the conference.
The conference span three days and consist of five sessions. The first session covered matters concerning macroeconomic management and the role and effectiveness of instruments of fiscal and monetary policies in controlling inflation while ensuring growth. The second session included papers that evaluate the impact of financial sector reforms on the efficiency and effectiveness of financial intermediation and in reducing financial repression. The issues of the linkages between financial sector performance and monetary policy were the focus of the third session, while capital markets, their governance and performance were discussed in the fourth session. The last session brought together a group of international academics to discuss development experiences in other growing countries and their relevance for Pakistan.
The papers presented at the conference and the discussions held shed light on the policies and practical measures that can help the country to develop an effective monetary management system and an efficient and inclusive financial sector, for supporting sustainable growth in the future. [On the side line of conference]

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Groupin.pk introduces group-buying in Pakistan

Those of you who keep a track of evolving e-shopping trends around the world must be aware of Groupon. ‘Groupon.com’ is an e-business that offers group discounts to users on it’s network of partner merchants. In easy words, shops and businesses register with Groupon and offer a group deal to customers. The group deal comes into effect only after a minimum number of customers sign up for it.

Following the success of Groupon in the West and similar sites like SnapDeal in India, a Pakistani company Allainet has recently launched Groupin.pk.

This platform is based on the principle of up to 90% discounts offered on group activities. For instance, if there’s a deal on Groupin.pk, you can get its alerts after an easy 3 step subscription process i.e. via email, Twitter, Facebook and SMS. Once you register for that deal, you’ll be issued with a coupon via either of these mentioned means.

If successful, this model will create an interesting channel for merchants & small businesses to achieve scale and offer their products and services to a wider audience. In addition, more established businesses will also benefit by reaching out to customers by offering customized deals to specific segments.

Groupin.pk is currently offering it’s services in Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar & Quetta. You can try it by registering at their website and get a chance to win an iPhone.

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Birds taking flight from the city

I came across this article in Dawn by Nuzhat Saadia Siddiqi on how once popular species of birds are becoming alien to Lahore. She writes,

“Not a very long time ago, the city of Lahore woke up to birdsong and chirping. These sounds, however, are being silenced by unchecked and unsustainable development and human settlement. So much so that now, as compared to the 240 bird species that were recorded in Lahore in a study conducted in 1965, only 101 bird species were recorded during a study conducted in 1992. Ornithologists estimate there are currently only 85 bird species left in Lahore, including resident and migrant species.” Read full article here.

Birds of Lahore - Pigeons & Sparrows - Image Source: Wildlife of Pakistan

Sadly, she is right as there were many species of colorful birds and migrant creatures from Siberia that used to enrich bird watching in and around Lahore. All of these are becoming a rare sight due to unrestricted human development and unplanned urban expansion of the city’s boundaries. As for every other aspect, environment is going through extensive degradation in Pakistan and urban built ups like Lahore and Karachi are the most affected areas. I hope someone in the right state of mind notices and guides the urban planners as well as officials that run this city in order to prevent further loss of nature around us.

There’s a very comprehensive article on the Birds of Lahore by The Birdwatchers Club of Pakistan. You can learn more about the Birds of Lahore here.

Blog re-posted from Mubarakpur.

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‘Unleashing Change’ with the Revolutionaries of Pakistan – TiECon 2010

All three chapters of The Indus Entrepreneurs (Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad) are organizing TiECon 2010 Conference this Saturday at Royal Palms Golf and Country Club, Lahore. The theme this year for TiECon 2010 is ‘Unleashing Change’.

Official promo of TiECon 2010 – ‘Unlashing Change’.

TiECon 2010 - Unleashing Change - Rect

TiECon 2010 Pakistan is an annual flagship event of TiE and it is the first time in history, it is being organized in collaboration with all three TiE Pakistan chapters. As the theme explains, this years event focuses on unleashing the change about Pakistan and its tremendous potential in growth.

At a time when a significant gap exists between the vast opportunities that Pakistan has to offer fearless entrepreneurs and the perception of the country abroad, TiECon 2010 Pakistan brings together global thought leaders on home soil. Together, through the power of ideas, the conference aims to catalyze entrepreneurial minds to unleash change and create opportunity.

The aim is to expose the potential in Pakistani human resource and explore the opportunities for the entrepreneurs of the country. This is how Monis Rahman, CEO of Naseeb Networks was able to win trust of the venture capitalists to get the funds approved for its flagship product Rozee.pk even when the investors had reservations regarding the less known country of the world… Pakistan. Read the story of Rozee.pk and how other successful entrepreneurs are doing good for not only themselves but for their country, at Meet Pakistan’s Real Revolutionaries.

The conference brings together a mix of leading local and international entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders. Collectively they will inspire, motivate and create inertia for change in their respective areas of expertise. This year’s TiECon will be organized into a diverse yet equally critical group of sessions including riveting success stories of entrepreneurs, government as a facilitator of entrepreneurship, the societal need and impact of social entrepreneurship, media’s role as a change agent and creating entrepreneurs through high quality and ubiquitous access to education.

Hosted in Lahore, TiECon 2010 Pakistan will provide delegates with a rich cultural exposure to what is often called South Asia’s cultural capital. The conference agenda incorporates carefully designed segments to sample Lahore’s historical magic, captivating music and infamous cuisine.

TiECon 2010 - Unleashing Change - Banner

The event details are as follows;

Date: Saturday, October 30, 2010
Time: 08:45 AM (sharp) – 06:30 PM.
Venue: Royal Palms Golf and Country Club, Lahore

REGISTER yourself to attend this mega event of the decade at http://www.tiecon2010.pk/register.php. (Seats are limited so HURRY UP!)

The event will be live streamed on the TiECon 2010 website whereas, you can also track the event via Twitter at #tieconpk. The official TiE Twitter account to follow is @tieconpk. If you want to, you can also follow TiECon 2010 on Facebook as well.

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Pakistan mourns the loss of 152 on Airblue flight ABQ-202

Pakistan will raise it’s flag to half mast on Thursday, July 29 as the whole nation mourns the loss of 152 passengers flying from Karachi to Islamabad on Airblue flight ABQ-202.

Inna lillahe wa inna illaihe rajioon!

Scene of the Airblue A321 crash site - Source: AFP via DAWN.com

At 9:40 AM Wednesday morning, the ten-year old Airbus A321 aircraft, flown by Airblue since 2006, plunged into the Margalla Hills about 8 KM from Islamabad’s Benazir Bhutto International Airport after making an earlier unsuccessful attempt to land. The weather was torrential as it poured heavily enough to hamper rescue efforts and emergency relief operation. All 146 passengers and 6 crew were unfortunate to have boarded the flight as there were no survivors of what became the worst air disaster in Pakistan’s history. A list of everyone on board is available here.

May the souls of the deceased rest in peace and may God grant patience to their family and friends. Please pray and recite Dua-e-Maghfirat for everyone.

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TEDxLahore – new ideas swarm L-town!

Amid all the chaos and disillusionment that our country is going through right now, all we can and should do is talk about hope. After all, this is our country and we have to bring things in order on our own by uniting our minds and sharing ideas that can bring change for the good.

TEDxLahore is just about one such opportunity that shows hope for Pakistanis that there still are people who can turn things around for our society, country and the greater world at large by using the power of collective genius. Yes, ‘Collective Genius’ is the theme for this year’s TEDxLahore.

For starters, TED (Technology, Entertainment & Design) is a non-profit organization that has provided a platform through their annual conferences, talks and website for sharing ideas that can bring change in this world. Notable speakers at TED talks over the years have included Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Gordon Brown, Bill Gates and various notable individuals. In addition to TED talks, the movement encourages independently organized events hosted by colleges, communities and people across the world to share ideas worth spreading in their own context. These events are termed as TEDx.

Into it’s second year, we are glad to have another TEDx event happening right here in Lahore on 31st of July 2010. Being supported by the Planning Commission of Pakistan, TEDxLahore 2010 will provide an opportunity for individuals of the highest caliber to express their views and share their ideas for change.

To give you a tentative idea about things to expect at this year’s TEDxLahore, the list of speakers is as follows:

Arif Hasan - An architect, teacher and social researcher.
Dr. Nadeem ul Haque - Head of the Planning Commission of Pakistan.
Omer Sheikh and Jabran Rafique - Super Mappers (Google MapMaker)
Dr. Zeeshan-ul-Hassan Usmani
- A researcher on the effects of herd behavior on impulse shopping
Ajmal Kamal - Editor of AAJ journal for Urdu literature
Dr. Asher Hasan – Founder and CEO of Naya Jeevan
Saima Zaidi - Author of ‘Mazaar, Bazaar’ – an exhaustive review of Pakistan’s visual culture.
Rafay Alam - A lawyer & environmental activist.
Mudassir Zia - Founder & President of Message Welfare Trust.
Beena Raza and Noor Zehra Kazim - Artists, Sitar players and teachers.
Dr. Aamir Khan - Epidemiologist, founder and Executive Director of IRD since 2004.
Zubair K. Bhatti - Ex-DCO Jhang & The Asia Foundation’s Director of Programs, Pakistan.
Dr. Tariq Rehman
- Professor of Sociolinguistic History & specialist on Language Change.

You can find a detailed profile of all the speakers here, which will be more than enough to increase your excitement & eagerness to be a part of TEDxLahore as a present or virtual audience this year.

Let’s all look forward to what TEDxLahore brings for everyone on 31st of this month. Till then, keep following…

Website: http://www.TEDxLahore.com

Twitter: @TEDxLahore

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TEDxLahore

Live Viewing Parties: (click for more details)

Karachi – T2F

Islamabad – Civil Junction

Den Haag (The Hague) – Pakistan House

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Muharram: living under fear of the known

Every year, the occasion of Ashura brings mourning and remembrance for the shuhada of Karbala across the Muslim world. But sadly, in our country, it is almost synonymous with further killing of the innocent souls that marks the end of first ten days of first month of the Islamic New Year. History of sectarian violence in Pakistan is old, and everyone knows what non-state actors or agencies incited hatred between two communities of the faithful to further their own interests in the battlefield called Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

However, the fear of such incidents happening obviously compounds when our country and society is literally at war with extremism and radicalism. The killers did not think how many Shias would be there when Moon Market blast happened in Lahore. Nor did they consider sectarian association of thousands of innocent civilians and security forces killed in our cities, towns and the tribal agencies across the country. In such a state of war, it was a treat for terrorists to get an opportunity of inciting violence, hatred and killing amongst the very people who they have lost support from. It was their good chance of taking revenge against the common Pakistanis for defying their version of beliefs. There are no versions of this religion; Islam is only peace!

And it happened. Two incidents one after another, significant and deadly, in Muzaffarabad and Karachi, caused havoc by killing more than 50 mourners while injuring more than a hundred. Arson attacks in Karachi after yesterday’s suicide attack has led to burning of more than 2,500 shops damaging goods worth 2-3 billion rupees while crippling the country’s economic hub.

Who’s partying and raising toasts as we bleed in heart and soul? Who’s celebrating new year with resolutions to kill as many innocent Pakistanis as possible? Who is making claims of defending a religion that they themselves have drifted so far away from? We know them, don’t we? And we also know, it’s not only them as only the blind could not see who’s benefiting from this war and anarchy in our backyard.

Prayers for the martyred in Karachi and Muzaffarabad… People of Lahore and rest of the country stand by you as you are not alone; we are also bleeding from your loss!

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Say a little prayer for Lahore

Canal IIThe only thing as incredulous as the recent announcement by the Government of Punjab — it intention to construct a highway through the heart of Lahore — was the recent statement of the CEO of Fashion Pakistan Week that their glorified display of clothes was a “gesture of defiance towards the Taliban.”

Our fashion industry is as much of an industry as the Holy Roman empire was holy, Roman or an empire. Our designers are talented without doubt; but to suggest that parading scantily clad men and women down a runway behind the bunkers and barricades of a five-star hotel in Karachi is an act of defiance is, well, really stretching the limits to which the “security situation” can make a fool out of us. The foreign media took to the sound bite like a starving man to a steak and now, once again, Pakistan is portrayed as two-dimensional: a country teeming with brave designers, fighting Islamic militancy. My friend and critic Faiza S. Khan said it perfectly in her column at openthemagazine.com:

“One designer lamentably laid claim to being ‘a very brave woman’ for displaying her clothes on a catwalk at a five-star hotel in a country where women have been known to be murdered, maimed, mutilated and on occasion buried alive, where girls’ schools are routinely attacked and where, even at the best of times, women’s rights, outside of a tiny income bracket, are limited at best. Another designer called it an act of defiance in the face of the Taliban, glossing over the fact that fashion shows do, in fact, take place with some regularity in Pakistan, and if one must intellectualise this, then it could more honestly be described as a display of affluence in the face of a nation torn apart by the gaping chasm between rich and poor. Why the foreign media can’t ask Pakistani designers questions about their work and why they, in turn, yield to the temptation, like Miss Universe, of providing a sound bite on world peace is beyond me.”

Over the weekend, the Chief Minister of Punjab announced that he was allocating Rs3.15 billion for a project to widen Lahore’s Canal Road. The decision can only be described, at best, as a reckless adventure and, at worst, a catastrophe waiting to happen.

In 2006, the Traffic Engineering and Planning Agency (TEPA) of Lahore Development Agency (LDA) proposed to widen the Canal Bank Road, purportedly to reduce traffic congestion in the city. Because the project was over Rs50 million, the provisions of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act,

1997 kicked in and TEPA was constrained to engage the National Engineering Services Pakistan (NESPAK) to carry out an environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the project. This was done and the EIA was presented to the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), Punjab, in a public hearing where hundreds of Lahoris gathered to protest against the decision to deprive the city of one of its last surviving environmental heritages: the 14 kilometres of green belt that line the canal and make the street one of the most unique avenues in the world.

The EPA, Punjab approved the EIA but before the project could go any further, the Lahore Bachao Tehreek (an umbrella organisation of dozens of grass-root NGOs as well as WWF-Pakistan) challenged the veracity of the EIA as well as the approval granted to it by the EPA, Punjab. The case remains pending before the Lahore High Court.

The announcement by the mhief minister, giving the go-ahead for the project “after completion of design”, raises some important points. First, it is clear that the project approved by the CM is not the project that the TEPA had originally proposed in 2006. For one thing, the cost of this new project is nearly five times the cost of the original design. Also, according to news reports, the new project is set to incorporate new features along the Canal Road (like “beautifications” which, I must hastily point out, in the context of roads means nothing).

What this means is that the Government of Punjab cannot use the EIA approval granted to the original TEPA project. According to our laws which, the last time I checked still apply to everyone including the government, road projects in excess of Rs50 million must have an EIA carried out and should be approved by the EPA.

But the observance of legal and procedural formalities is not the primary concern that most Lahoris have about the road widening project. It’s an open secret that the Government of Punjab is operating on overdraft. In such a situation, it would seem bizarre that the provincial government would choose to spend Rs3.15 billion — nearly 10 per cent of the allocations it made last year to the three heads of health, public health and education — on one road in one city of the province.

Less than 20 per cent of Lahoris have access to cars. For the vast majority of the over eight million people who try and live and work in this city, transport and mobility are dependent on motorcycles, cycles and what is euphemistically referred to as “public transport” (there are less than 1,000 buses that ply the city’s streets). Ever since the previous tenure of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, when the Punjab Road Transport Corporation was shut down, neither this nor the PML-Q government of Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi have spent a rupee on public transport, which, by the way, is the only way to reduce traffic congestion in a city. Now we are told that a seriously broke government is about to spend billions of rupees it doesn’t have on a road it doesn’t need for people who don’t want or use it. Remarkable indeed.

In a presentation made by NESPAK on August 31 this year, the various options of widening the Canal Road were presented to the CM. According to NESPAK, all the road widening projects would “fail” by 2020 — meaning thereby that if the government didn’t do something to invest in public transport, and soon, the billion-rupee road widening adventure is, at best, a 10-year frolic. Is the Government of Punjab serious? Does the chief minister not know that, according to the Punjab Economic Survey of 2005 carried out by the Planning and Development Department (P&D), over 50 per cent of Punjabis live in slums? Who is this road being widened for?

All too often our politicians harbor the mistaken belief that infrastructure development is the only thing that will make our cities “modern”; that infrastructure is the only thing that will attract the foreign investment necessary to bring economic prosperity to a developing nation. But where are the examples of the success of this model? Our own urban Guru, Arif Hasan, in his brilliant essay “The world class city concept and its repercussion on urban planning in the Asia-Pacific region” demonstrates that our preoccupation with a modern city is also the root of our urban decay. But who in the government reads? Oh, save a little prayer for Lahore.

From The News, 13 November 2009 (http://www.thenews.com.pk/editorial_detail.asp?id=208278)

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