Category Archives: Information

Arms and the man

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE sense of insecurity that hangs heavy in the air in Karachi is almost palpable. Even when life is following its near normal routine — the jostling crowds, the unruly traffic and the noise — the uneasy feeling persists.

For me this normality is not reassuring. Unpleasant memories of traumatic experiences of yore lie hidden in the subconscious. The sight of an armed guard reminds me of the gun-driven violence that stalks the city. It is the gun that has been held twice to my head to rob me when the day was so beautiful. The last time this happened was a few years ago when my peaceful morning walk was interrupted by three armed youths on a motorbike, out to steal my pedometer — worth not more than Rs100. Everyone I meet has a ‘gun story’ to tell. Continue reading Arms and the man

Assistive technology

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN a recent interview, Prof Stephen Hawking, the famous astrophysicist, said that the full development of artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. He added that technology would eventually become self-aware and supersede humanity, as it developed faster than biological evolution.

Prof Hawking who can be termed a rare miracle personifying courage, spirit and natural intelligence, is a beneficiary of modern communication technology. He suffers from motor neuron disease and according to the doctors’ prognosis should have died 50 years ago. He has not only defied those predictions but has led a productive life contributing to his field. Continue reading Assistive technology

No science culture

By Zubeida Mustafa

PAKISTAN’S first Nobel Laureate, Prof Abdus Salam, constantly lamented our failure to promote science. His contributions to theoretical physics apart, he was a powerful advocate of science and research. For decades, even after he had left Pakistan in protest, Salam’s love for his homeland and concern for his government’s failure to promote science was undiminished. He continued to plead the case for science through his speeches, writings and the institutions he founded, till he died in 1996.

It is a pity that 18 years after his death, science in Pakistan continues to languish as the neglected stepchild of state and society. It never recovered from the severe blow it suffered under Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation and anti-education policies. Not that science and research had received preferential treatment at any stage, but today their survival is endangered. Continue reading No science culture

O the rankings again

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings released last week offers some food for thought — that is, if we do not dismiss this annual exercise as a Jewish conspiracy. For Pakistan the bad news is that none of our universities figure in the first 400 institutions of higher education ranked globally. Pakistan failed to make it even to the top 100 Asian institutions.

Using carefully selected criteria, THE ranks universities across the globe according to their “core missions — teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.” As can be expected, American and European universities have the highest ranking — the California Institute of Technology, Harvard University and the University of Oxford are the top three. Asia also boasts of 20 universities that are part of this prestigious global list — the University of Tokyo was judged as the best in the continent, and China, Korea and Singapore are making remarkable headway. Continue reading O the rankings again

Media in the spotlight

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE two-member media commission’s recommendation for consultations on the review of all media laws and codes could not have been more timely. The fact is that lately a lot of concern has been expressed vocally by discerning observers about the damage the media is inflicting on our society.

Any forum, which is even distantly related to the press or television, invariably turns into an occasion to condemn their waywardness. TV receives a greater share of the flak because of its higher visibility/reach and potential to influence people’s mindsets.

The issue of ethics in journalism has been around for quite some time but has evaded all solution. Those of the older generation who have struggled for press freedom for years are naturally reluctant to hand over powers to the government to regulate the freedom of expression which a code can accomplish.
Continue reading Media in the spotlight

Weapons and information

By Zubeida Mustafa

IT is exactly 12 weeks to the day when Perween Rahman, director of the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) Research and Training Institute, was gunned down in Orangi when she was returning home from work.

Two months later, another activist of the OPP who ran a school, Abdul Wahid Khan, was killed outside his home. A few days later on May 18, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf leader Zahra Shahid Husain was assassinated by armed men.

These were not the only people who were victims of target killing in Karachi. Approximately 259 other people met a violent death in the city in the same period. We mourn them all. Above all, we mourn our own helplessness to save these precious lives.

Zohra Yusuf, the chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, was spot on when she once commented that in Karachi a person championing a human rights cause, who dies a natural death, is indeed lucky. Continue reading Weapons and information

Enigma of voters’ list

By Zubeida Mustafa

PRIME Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has said that fair and free elections offer the only way out of the present constitutional crisis. He is right, but only if the elections are truly fair and free.

Given the state of the recently released electoral rolls it is difficult to believe that the exercise will be flawless. No one doubts the integrity of Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Fakhruddin Ebrahim, who has an impeccable reputation. But how much can he do? The mantle of the CEC has fallen on his shoulders so late in the day. I.A. Rehman of the HRCP had a point when he reminded us that authentic electoral rolls are basic to adult franchise. The numbers game is baffling and political parties are disinterested. Continue reading Enigma of voters’ list

The false face of reality

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

AT a time when image building is the buzzword in Pakistan it would be interesting to note how others are faring in this exercise. In this age when capitalism, the brand name and consumerism have emerged as the salient features of a market economy and the so-called free society, image is the key factor that determines the worth of an item and also of a person or an institution.

If a brand has a good image in public perception, it will sell, even though it may not actually have the qualities it is supposed to have. Sometimes the image makes a product/institution/personality a status symbol which one must be seen with.

Similarly, a person who manages to project a certain image of himself will find himself to be acceptable irrespective of his true values. Conversely, if a country or a product or a personality has a negative image, it loses out on the advantages its forte should offer. But doesn’t all this presume that one can fool everyone all the time? This, we know, is not possible even if the government in Islamabad tries to sweep all the dismal aspects of our national life under the carpet. Be it Mukhtaran Mai, the low literacy rate or the prevailing poverty, each of these is bound to surface at one time or another and bring a bad name to Pakistan.
Continue reading The false face of reality

The flip side of information

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

IT was some time in the early nineties when the high commissioner for New Zealand in Islamabad said, while launching a book his mission had funded, that the coming decade would be the age of information.

Those were days when information technology had barely picked up in this country, cell phones were a rarity and a status symbol of the elite, only the CNN had started its round the clock worldwide channel and not many knew about the wonders of the Internet. But the high commissioner’s words were prophetic.

Today, it takes no time at all for news and information to travel from one end of the globe to the other. E-mails, satellite television, modern phone services equipped with cameras and the worldwide web have made the world a global village. Communication has enabled people to cross boundaries with ease and has broken down cultural and language barriers. This has brought people closer and promoted greater interaction between them than has ever happened before in human history.

Technology has also changed the shape of the media. It is now more interactive. Viewers can ring in to ask questions on talk shows and the Internet allows people to send in their feedback instantaneously, without much of a hassle. Anyone can, making a small payment, set up a website which can be accessed by anyone. These are positive developments because they have stimulated human interest in information.
Continue reading The flip side of information

A new actor in world politics

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN the aftermath of the   horrendous bombing of   the World Trade Centre   in New York, the most significant   development to   have taken place is the   war psychosis, which is   calculatedly being whipped   up. This could spin   out of control, bringing   devastating consequences   not just for the region   around Afghanistan, but   also for the whole world.

The media, both electronic   and print, national and foreign,   have played a key role in creating   this climate of hatred and   fear. They got the cue from the   Bush administration’s strong   response to the events of Black   Tuesday. One could have hardly   expected the American president   to have reacted differently   in the initial moments of the   tragedy, given the magnitude of   the devastation and the   grave implications of the   breach   of American intelligence.

What comes as a matter   of   deep concern is the   emergence of the media as   a new actor in international politics. From a tool to disseminate information (at times also a propaganda weapon), the electronic media are virtually using their newly-acquired power to propel inter-state relations in the 21st century. This is frightening, given their enormous reach and ubiquitous presence in the age of cable and satellite television. Continue reading A new actor in world politics