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2021, snakes and ladders and a virus exposing virulent buffoons

2020 has ended, at least by the Gregorian calendar. As always, we are fooled by the time buffoons. Hope springs eternal. This turn of the year, I, for one, am part of this clan, though albeit, reluctantly. 2020 for me was the year of snakes and ladders. Chance pitted morality and malice in a game of realization; conspiracy theories aside.

It was not who did it, but rather what happened, that decided the outcome of 2020—it did not take much to expose the neanderthal within, and the global community was exposed for its posturing and conflict. The earth won.

It showed us the power of regeneration. The Earth made a comeback and reminded us, much as Claude Lévi-Strauss alluded to in Tristes Tropiques, that it was here long before we came and will be here long after we are gone.

The sheer banality of the human, especially the so called human leaders’, discourse in 2021 left me wanting to retch, which I did with abandon. No multilateral claims, nor bilateral ones or unilateral ones, stood any chance in the face of a microcosm of a beast—the COVID-19 virus. We were all exposed as selfish nations, as selfish global communities. Let there be some cheer in that.

Cheer, for now we can, if wise, set a course where technology and this realization should allow us to set a new path for this century and beyond. Will we be doing that? Not much gives me hope. All I see is a hope to get back to what we were doing. Sad, indeed, for this pandemic has shown us how to re-write the basics of global interactions if we want a better future for our children.

Who cares about children, for, virulent buffoons, driven by a false sense of community and wealth, are driving us insane? That we are still unable to build a global governance structure post Westphalia and the World Wars, and the emerging humanity submerging in the nexus of disaster and conflict, is a clear indication that we have no game-plan.

From a cry-baby in the largest democracy on earth to the chest thumping racist pig leading the second largest one, and the self-presuming rats running the game of prosperity, we are nowhere.

The market of human emotions is being played by Bretton Woods multilateralism sloganeering, while we, the people of this world, are behaving like innocent chumps and crying hoarse and befooled into Black Fridays of desires and deprivations.

Indebted nations and indebted people are the harbingers of much that will be at play this year. No degrees or CEOs or pretend leaders can save us. Only a collective bargain amongst humans using the technology platforms of social media can bail us out. Will they organize?

Leadership itself must be rethought. We need a collective and inclusive mind with a desire for action. I sense that if we do not take charge the artificial intelligence, we so nurture, may well beat us to it.

Before I close, a thought about Pakistan. Time has come for rebuilding a national consensus through plebiscites and by delinking election of representatives from election of ideas. The problem here and the problem globally is the same. We must take on serious thought and discourse as a building block and let the rat-race die. I know, you will say, dream on! But dreams are the builders of hope and good cheer! Blessings for 2021.

Pakistan Motorcycle Stories – Speed-brakers, Pulpit, and Pakistan’s Writ!

August 4, 2020

From Sultanzai in Tirah to Peshawar, KP, 2020

The speed breaker, also known as the speed bump, was invented in 1950 by Arthur Holly Compton when he noticed that drivers frequently sped past Washington University (https://www.acplm.net/5-things-didnt-know-speed-bumps/). I think, the man should have kept to what he knew best, his discoveries in electromagnetic theory, for which he received the Nobel Prize. Just as IK should have stuck to cricket and left Prime Ministering for someone else in the party—aka Sonia Gandhi model.

We, today, in Pakistan have the damn speed breakers flagrantly challenging the writ of the government and reinforcing the writ of the pulpit in this land of the pure (https://empowerpakistanbyazd.blog/2020/08/02/pakistan-motorcycle-stories-corruption-pulpits-and-injustice/).

What, you might ask, is the problem. Slowing down the free and pure and aplenty should be considered a national service. Keeping them tamed and unable to get to where they are going without dying of speed and haste and killing a few locals on the way should be a good deed in the eyes of the state and citizens and of course God.

Well, let me be clear, that is not happening for the those who can achieve those speeds on our roads, the rich and the public and goods transport drivers do not really stop for them. They fly over them. One testing their expensive SUVs and the other because they do not give a damn in the haze of whatever mental stimulant—read “hash”, they find to keep them awake and insane while making ends meet.

What the speed breakers are doing is either killing or slowing down common folks like us. Killing for they are never marked with a road sign and slowing for we either think about the repair bill of our motor vehicles or are beset with guilt at the plea of the pulpit. Here the challenge by the pulpit comes in.

It is not that I am the only one complaining about the speed breaker after speed breaker after speed breaker. Just ask Google Aunty and she will tell you about the plethora who are like wise not bemused! Read story after story pleading the authorities to do something about it and you will find a common thread. The authorities either justify the need to slow down the denizens or accept the flaw and commit to removing them or simply ignore the request. The last one is often the case of pulpit.

Just like we celebrate outlaws who shoot people in court we seem to have a soft corner for every pulpit that decides to block the road and have innocent children and elderly and challenged folks begging the screeching and halting vehicles for monies. Monies to sponsor more pulpits, grander pulpits, and pulpits that fan the rot in our Pakistan. The state, Pakistan, seems to again be impotent against these false claimants of our beautiful Islam and Pakistan. Love it or hate it, admit it and ride on, Pakistan!

On the way from Booni to Mastuj, Chitral, 2019

Pakistan Motorcycle Stories – Tourism, Cleanliness, Trees, Roads and post COVID-19 recovery!

August 3, 2020

Deosai Plain, October 9, 2019

Distances and destinations define tourism. Tourism brings in revenue—both local and foreign. Local economies around destinations and along the distance thereto, grow. The same can also deteriorate if tourism is not entrenched within an overall “circularity”. The economic system which ensures use of resources such that waste is eliminated is nowadays called “circular”—this is in stark contrast to the “take, make, and dispose” model of the existing linear economic systems. Pakistan, so far, seems to still be on that linear model in tourism; the world, as always, having moved on.

Riding through Pakistan it is evident that in yearning for tourism we are sacrificing the very sustainability and attraction of the destinations and the paths to them. At the core of this is the waste generated and scattered by tourist. It hurts to see this degradation and even more to see that the native dwellers themselves are insensitive to this degradation. It is not uncommon to walk to serene woods only to find trashed bottle of various kinds of drinks and wrappers and containers of food. Cleanliness being next to godliness has gone by the wayside like most godly things in Pakistan.

Climbing to Deosai from Sadpara, October 9, 2019

In the longer term much can be done to eradicate this first tier waste—we must work with all FMCG retailers operating in tourism areas to revise their packaging strategy. In the shorter term, the governments (national, provincial, and local) can use workfare programs to clean up these areas. Local jobs will be generated along with awareness. If the government can pay people to plant trees, they sure as hell can pay them to keep their environment clean. Such program if done properly can be subsidized to some extent by the waste collected and disposed “circularly”.

Roads to tourist destinations in Pakistan need to be rethought. A road cutting through a landscape or a forest essentially divides an otherwise contiguous eco-system. This we all know now. Roads to and through fragile ecosystems—at the very core of tourism—can be slightly more ‘natural’ and less permanent. Lower standard and ‘natural’ roads—like gravel roads—tend to be easier to build and maintain with more involvement of human labor than of machines. More jobs and more awareness! Again, workfare programs can deliver and maintain roads to far flung tourist destinations and most of us riders enjoy tearing down dirt roads anyways.

There is no harm in people making an effort to get to where they want to go—this is what adventure and tourism is all about. It is not shiny roads that bring tourists but clean and secure natural ecosystems protected by their owners! Nature is balance and maintaining that balance is good tourism. Ride on, Pakistan!

Lower Kachura, Skardu, October 8, 2019

Pakistan Motorcycle Stories – Corruption, Pulpits, and Injustice!

Jul 24, 2020

Riding out to Tirah over the weekend before Eid-ul-Azha, reminded me about all what is right and wrong about Pakistan.

Tirah valley stretches through Khyber, Kurram and Orakzai Agency, in our beloved Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. While deciding this to be a destination for a weekend adventure ride from Islamabad our aim was simple—get back on the road and discover a part of Pakistan which by all research and intel was breathtakingly beautiful and not spoiled by tourism, yet. Hidden in that was a subliminal desire about looking at how people of the area are rebuilding lives after the insurgents have left. Returning people and returning lives are stories best read with one’s own eyes.

Yes, Tirah Valley is beautiful! Yes, the people are busy rebuilding lives. Yes, security, or a modicum of it has returned. Yes, the army and the local lashkars have done a great job in clearing out the insurgents. Has normalcy or a semblance of it returned? No.

Look below the veneer and you see three things knowing at the roots of life and peace and prosperity returning. Corruption, pulpits, and injustice. The same three things eating the roots of Pakistan.

The roads that lead you there are littered with corruption. Corrupt institutions in cahoots with more corrupt institutions being manipulated by even more corrupt people. It is not the heady scent of a bumper Marijuana crop that exalts your senses rather the stench of rotting human souls which makes you wonder how the denizens breath and carry on normal lives. That, Pakistan cannot even ensure proper road to its citizens a few hours from its capital and cannot smell this stench is telling evidence of a failed state and its derelict and dysfunctional institutions.

Scattered aplenty amongst this stench and poverty are gleaming mosques—each outdoing the other’s splendor. There seems to be race to adopt bespoke personal interpretations of religion and gather the largest flock. Easy to do, given the absence of education—the sheep! Dig deeper and you find that there is no Pakistani narrative, only that of the local pulpit. The pulpit that pits its followers against the neighboring pulpit. Pakistan, the land of the pure and the nation formed in the name of Islam has no writ on these pulpits. Yes, these pulpits are multiplying, and their mosques are gleaming just like fool’s gold, built with monies that add to the stench in the name of salvation hereafter. Life is a living hell.

The people trying to rebuild their lives are sincere and the youth still have the heady euphoria of a victory recently past. They struggle to find a narrative and even more to find justice which protects their dreams and their yearn for their land. The corrupt road builder is in cahoots with the corrupt policeman who present corrupted facts to the corrupt judge who takes bribes from the youth while the local imam bows to all the corrupt gods and chastises the youth—for their desire to be alive! The people live in hell. The hell of insecurity and injustice. Where is the government, they ask? Check post after check post after check post after check post—of corruption, of pulpits, of injustice.

They wake up one day and fight with the local army check post, being sold the night before to the only unifying narrative—that of the injustice that Pakistan has done to their lives. You know the rest, and so does Pakistan.

Pakistan’s COVID-19 Response: Pro-activity, Impact and Needs Assessment, and Using IT Proactively

The Government of Pakistan should be carrying out a Covid-19 Impact and Needs Assessment (CINA), in accordance with the global practice. [https://empowerpakistanbyazd.blog/2020/03/27/pakistans-covid-19-response-and-the-international-financial-institutions-where-is-the-rapid-needs-assessment-and-a-national-action-plan/]

The tool preferred for the required COVID-19 CINA in Pakistan is a Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) and Recovery and Peace Building Assessment (RPBA) hybrid, without delving into the tedious Damage and Loss Assessment (DALA). Essentially in this desired CINA, there should be three components: service delivery, social cohesion and economic impact.

While some may rebut this idea, this can be an enormous management tool for the government during, and post crisis, and can be done by a dedicated team in parallel with the reactive measures that are being taken to manage the pandemic.

In aid of developing this impact and needs assessment for Pakistan, we should opt for an off the shelf information technological analytical tool system that assists in the information gaps for COVID-19:

a) ability to react in real time to media (both informed and disinformed and its ratio) based on a knowledge about the public understanding (and source of formation of the public understanding) of the disease and associated pandemic;

b) general public’s preparedness for any potential longer-term societal disruptions;

c) knowing how public perceive available health care and access the same;

d) how is work being delivered from home and how is workforce being disrupted by the same;

e) how are small and medium enterprises being disrupted;

f) disruptions in the transports and logistics and essential services.

This tool can then also be utilized to do real-time monitoring as follows.

  • Monitoring for compliance with stay-at-home and quarantine measures.
  • Monitoring to identify population flows to hospitals and pharmacies.
  • Monitoring of hospital infrastructure to understand staff readiness and hospitalization rates.
  • Forecasting of hotspots within urban zones as identifying latent areas for further monitoring due to population out-migration.
  • Developing of assistance (rations and cash) tracking system to integrate COVID-19 countrywide efforts.
  • Integrate monitoring and forecasting insights with assistance tracking system to facilitate actionable and agile decision-making.
  • To assist in COVID-19 related CINA.

All this can be achieved by combining real-time data from social media, newspapers, and other digital public opinion streams with traditional survey data, by algorithms and geospatial analysis. One can integrate insights from social media analytics, Internet of Things data, financial transactions, and Human Movement data to assess both national and hyper-local social disruption associated with COVID-19.

In summary, there is a dire need for setting up effective monitoring of quarantine compliance and local healthcare capacity coupled with actionable reporting and forecasting of disease hot-spots. The daily monitoring snapshots and forecasting outputs can be seamlessly integrated into an assistance monitoring system to support decision making.