Aman ki Whatever

The advertisement starts with an old man’s fingers raised in air; a subtitle explains that it is set up at India-Pakistan border. A poor Pakistani, cheered on by a group of people sitting outside tents, is making some weird gestures to a group of well-dressed Indians observing him through binoculars. Indians finally understand that the old man is trying to play dumb charades and they decipher his gestures for a request for an Indian song. They run back to their houses, use a phone to call All India radio which plays the requested song – leading to jubilation in Pakistani tents where everyone starts dancing around a radio set from 1950s. A YouTube description from publisher explains that this ad and other initiatives around it are being done by Pakistan’s largest media outlet and a major newspaper from India. We are told these initiatives will bring Pakistan and Indian nations closer together

Except that, factually speaking, this ad is more inaccurate on per second basis than anything else you have seen in your life:

(i) Let’s start with the poor Pakistani part. It turns out that you are twice as likely to meet a poor Indian than a poor Pakistani. India has 42% of its population living under poverty line of US$ 1.2/ day, while only 22% Pakistanis suffer this hardship

(ii) About Pakistanis living in tents vs. Indians living in houses? 17% of Indian population is homeless while in Pakistan the number is a rounding error[iii]. When it comes to slums, while there are no numbers available, a trip to any Indian city will remove your doubts on which country suffers more. (The ad is being aired since before floods, so there is absolutely no excuse of showing tents on border).

(iii) About Pakistanis relying on Indians grace for listening to a song? Pakistan has universal radio coverage since middle of last century, and FM channels which are allowed to broadcast Indian content have been there since 2001. Only in 2007, did India move to issue FM licenses beyond strongly controlled 21 limited channels.

(iv) That radio set from 50s? More than 80% of Pakistanis have access to TV, only 60% Indians have this luxury.

(v) And my most favorite one of course, Indians using a phone while Pakistanis have to dance around to convey their message – Indian telecom penetration is a paltry 50% while for Pakistan its 65%.

We could have dismissed this ad as a one-off poetic license, a literary excess to invoke emotions between two countries – but it’s not. It’s a part of a running strand of events focusing on showing Pakistan as Ethopia and India as Scandinavia by the same group of people for couple of years now. Each news report on geo will basically start by showing people crying and dying because of load-shedding in Pakistan but will end with bollywood stars rocking it in a Bombay that looks more like Paris. And oh, by the way – Indians get twice the amount of load shedding than what Pakistanis face[vi]! And they have been facing it since 2002[vii]. Did you even know that?

I wish someone can count the hours Geo spent on 2 guys killed in Sialkot and compare them with the length of coverage of dozens killed in Kashmir by India?

I am not trying to say that we have made it in Pakistan economically or infrastructure wise– all I am saying is we are far better than India in almost every aspect. While Indians are drumming up “Shinning India” in a country with no toilets, some amongst us are just persistently draining out all hope and positive energy from the nation.

This is not just a rant, it is not a simple irritation to watch this pack of lies shoved down our throat, it has very real business and economic implications. Take, for example, global competitive index 2009-2010, a bible for those who want to decide to invest in Pakistan or a competing country like India. It ranks Pakistan at 101st and India at 49th. You probably already know that, Geo must have told you this. Well, I took the pain of going to their website and digging out on how did they reach this number. It turns out they evaluate countries on some 150 variables and then rank them on each one of those. Some of those variables come from hard data (marked by an asterisk on site), and others come from an executive survey of perceptions of people. You probably have already guessed what I found there. In most of the variables where hard data was available, Pakistan was beating up India flatly, and absolutely everywhere in perception of Pakistanis about their country, India was beating them.

Number of procedures required to start a business – Pakistan wins (rank 99 vs. India rank 111),
time required to start a business – Pakistan wins (rank 67 vs. rank 82),
tax incidence on business – Pakistan wins (rank 22 vs. rank 118).
But in the subjective question of “business impact of country rules on foreign direct investment” – Pakistan loses!!

Excuse me! So you can start business easily in Pakistan, pay less taxes, repatriate money easily but Indians think their rules are better for foreign direct investment!

Same pattern repeats again and again all through the report paints a painful picture of a Pakistan which is far ahead in infrastructure and competitive environment but is being dragged back by a resigned overly self-critical population, and a picture of a really staggering India being pushed forward by a rally of misplaced optimism around them. Unfortunately the report relies much more on perceptions rather than factual data.

These perceptions might end up being self-fulfilling faster than we can imagine. Collin Powel once said “perpetual optimism is a force multiplier”. Pakistan will soon be an example of what perpetual pessimism becomes and media will have to take blame for it.

Look at companies which have directly invested in both countries in last 10 years. I know about Telecoms. Orascom invested in Pakistan and is running a flourishing business. They invested in India and were glad to pull out in a year. Telenor invested in Pakistan and is loving it financially, and they have recently been asked by their investors to think of getting out of India only after two years of operation.

Take another favorite index of Pakistani media “transparency international”. Both Pakistani and Indian media took a lot of joy in reporting that Pakistan has slipped 5 slots in becoming the most corrupt nation in the world and is now 28th. This statement is incorrect of course. Transparency international does not measure how corrupt a country is, it measures how corrupt are you “perceived” to be by your own people. They dont call themselves a corruption index, it’s a corruption perception index – measured again by interviews in each country. Imagine a transparency guy walking up to a Pakistani who is being subjected to Kamran Khan show every day and asking, “Do you think your country is corrupt?”. I am surprised there are countries below us in that perception.

I have personally experienced business in a lot of countries and let me tell you clearly and squarely – many more countries in the world are much more corrupt places than Pakistan and still rank far better in that list.

Again, I am not saying we are as honest as Swedish, all I am saying is that a lot of investment is going in countries more corrupt than us because they are saved from a media which has decided to attack its own country because of some misdirected but too obvious venom.

Transparency International does not and cannot measure corruption, it only measures how badly our media has screwed up.

I am typing this while Geo is telling me more about Aman ki Asha, which is supposed to bring two countries closer. Really? We tried doing that earlier remember? Musharaf thought that if we dance together and play cricket and call Indians over for Basant we will become friends. Well, all we got out of that was a headline in Indian magazine which declared Lahore to be a “bitch in heat”. That coming from someone based in Mumbai (which has 100,000 sex workers[viii] at last count) is unfair to say the least.

Problem between Pakistan and India is Kashmir, it is water, and above all it’s the insistence of Indians that we are same people. We are not. Our aspirations for future are different, our interpretation of history is different, our friends in the world are different, our culture is very different (despite some Pakistanis guiltily liking Bollywood movies – which reflects nothing more and nothing less than a failed lollywood), our values and manners are very different. Our reason of existence as a nation is different, or more accurately Pakistanis do have a reason of existence as a nation– which makes us different.

I feel much more at home in UAE, Turkey, Iran, Egypt or other middle-eastern countries then I do in India or in rest of SAARC. Frankly I would like us to invest much more in our friends in west then in India. Why couldn’t we have a similar program with Turkey? Why India? For heaven’s sake have you ever read Times of India? Have they ever had a single day without an extremely ugly anti-Pakistan news on front page? How can you start to think that working with them will get you peace?

Which brings us to the final difficult question:
Why would a business house like Jang group which is so sensitive to commercial benefits waste so much money and airtime on a dead-on-arrival concept like aman ki asha? They are bound to lose credibility in Pakistan with this, some serious airtime is being wasted on this and I am sure they are not idiots to not realize what this is doing to their country. This is their longest running campaign with no end in sight despite hue and cry from all over the country. I don’t have an answer, as I keep my standards of allegations very high (I guess I still have to learn from Kamran Khan on how to believe and repeat unsubstantiated rumors so easily).

So I called this new telephone number Geo is advertising these days. You are supposed to call there and condemn the allegation of PPP’s minister that Geo is an Indian agent. I said in that call that while I can’t agree with the minister because I don’t have a solid proof, I now find it more and more difficult to just brush this allegation off as ridiculous also!

They never played my message on TV like they play others. Must be because of my bad accent.

By: Asher Yaqub Khan
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