Friday, September 26, 2008

Zardari - Just what the Doctor ordered

In New York City, the melting pot of the world, where tourists get a 360 of what the world has to offer on one tiny island packed with over 9 million residents, Pakistan was being represented at the UN session by Asif Ali Zardari, one of the many rats we have fostered in our gutters for years. 

I can't spend a whole post dedicated to Mr. 10%, but he demands attention so I will honor his request. Instead of proposing that he has the potential to actually be our president and show some finesse and class,  he goes and hits on the Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin, less than a year after his wife was killed in a suicide attack. It is times like this one should pity Benazir and wonder how she tolerated him all the years that she did. Her policital turmoil aside, she had a hell of a journey being married to a man who was less educated than a GED from the US. Clearly he is incapable of civil interaction with people. The whole world is making fun of us, but we are all happy because he represents what we want in a leader, a jackass who can smile his way through allegations of corruption that are eventually thrown out in the bin. How does he do it without a college degree? Man, if you figure it out, I'd love a slice of that pie.

When he returned to Pakistan late last year after his wife died, he promised never to be in a political chair. Instead, he gets a fake degree from up north, puts a puppet Prime Minister in place, breaks his many commitments to his political alliance with PML-N, and to top it off, he somehow becomes the President of Pakistan. That last one is the fault of the donkeys in parliament who voted him in. 

There is an image going around showing his inscription at the grave of Pakistan's founder, Qaid-E-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah (perhaps the greatest man to touch the soil of this God forsaken country). He spelt God and Strength incorrectly, but made sure he gave it his full signature to ensure people knew he visited the site. I don't think I need to go on.

At the end of it all, I can't believe people think there is hope for Pakistan. This is one of those situations where you cut your losses and move on. Unfortunately, you can't cut this loss; all you can do is sit and wait for it to bleed dry until another one comes along to cut another, deeper wound in the system. 

Zardari is the epitomy of Pakistani mentality (the majority at least), and I'm talking about the people who live in the interior parts of the country, not the ones reading these posts. He is the man who represents the land lords who have prevented Pakistan from stopping the fuedal system, the ones who own most of the land and the people on it. The ones who don't have much of an education, but tons of money - showing that there is no correlation between the two since money is the ultimate purpose of life. Our basic level of education has deteriorated so much in the last 30 years that there is no way to measure it any more. When literacy rates are calculated, they are based on how many have completed secondary education, not accounting for the actual quality and content of that education. Falacy has allowed our literacy rate to increase over this period, yet we are dumber than ever. How is that so? Visit any interior region of Pakistan and you will find a majority of your youth either hanging out by tea shops smoking cigarettes, or whatever else is available, without worrying about being something bigger, better. Schools are empty, teachers don't go to teach because they aren't paid, students don't go because teachers arent there and yet here we are... 

I think we have but ourselves to blame and if we think that by funding NGO's and encouraging foreign aid to help our poverty stricken people, we are sadly mistaken. It only feeds the hunger that is inevitible self-destruction. There are some great examples out there that we can try and follow like the Acumen Fund and Kiva but only people who aren't already part of the system can see as clearly as they do. We only sit and pray to God to give us while we sit on our asses doing nothing. Shezad Roy, a famous musician from Pakistan, recently released a song called Laga Rahe (Keep it up) where he mocks the people who are metaphorically asleep and unaware of the damage they are doing by...doing nothing. There are messages, but are they enough for us?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hollywood - Storytales that send a message

Not so long ago, the US apparently invaded Pakistani soil while chasing after O-Sam and his Bearded Brigade. Entering a country without any prior permission, especially for a 'war' that Pakistan, under General Musharraf's rule, was to be fighting themselves within their borders. The US was only supposed to be offering financial aid.

Under normal circumstances, if a country is invaded, there is inevitable retaliation. However, in the case of Pakistan the only retaliation is that of our own people. How are we progressing as a "developing nation", since that is what the term developing refers to?! By blowing humans up at public locations where, for the most part, a general audience of innocents are gathering for some sort of merriment. Unbeknownst to them, there is a man, probably no more than 24 years of age, who has been training for months, perhaps years, to blow himself up into itty bitty pieces of human carnage while taking an oath in exchange for a possible first class ticket to Heaven where a bunch of nekkid virgins are to greet him and maybe give him the golden handshake of love (no
, not his hands). Why not just give him a real ticket on KLM and send the kid off to Amsterdam where he can have both nekkid ladies slobber him with their lusty love, while he meets other like-minded people who can exchange some sort of intellectual debate about how Mr. Blow Myself Up has a farm back home where he grows the best damn opium known to man.

Wrapping the two points together, if you watch enough propaganda and drama courtesy of Hollywood and the global media, you come to realize that there is a majority of death, decay and damage incurred by people around the world on an hourly basis. This is historically significant because it's always the same stories and all it does is make viewers immune to the mess we live in, while sheltering the truth of the matter.
A man who is raised from a young age by people who feed, cloth, house and educate him will learn to respect and listen only to his foster parents. In exchange, the parents will ask him to groom himself to a point where one day he can wrap 10 kg's of C4 around his waist and become a human firecracker in a crowded place to make a point. I will express my feelings a bit later, but at this moment, the rest of the world asks why he is doing what he is and what drives him and how he can be so insane and thoughtless and so forth. Part of the reason, I believe, is because he knows no better. Alternatively, because it's already easier to criticize and condemn. This guy, who probably spent his early years in maggot infested conditions, was later moved to a slightly better environment where he only sees his saviors looking out for him. He isn't thinking at the age of 10 that there must be a catch, one that he may not remember for a second longer than it takes to push the red button. His incentive, perhaps the juggies he will see in heaven; or maybe even the possible PKR 50,000  wire transfer to his parents bank account to somewhat better their lives provided he succeeds in his mission. Consider the fact that if he fails, he may well get his head chopped off unless he agrees to try it again. 

Everyone remember WWII? That little 'ol period when Jews were persecuted as they have been throughout human history. The time when Hitler was at his Zenith and the Allied forces were using any means necessary to stop the invasion and later the seepage of communism from the Soviet Army? Well, then we may also remember the 5 foot nothing super pilots from Japan known as the Kamikaze Fighters. No one called them terrorists. Their actions were viewed as nationalistic pride and courageous. I think they were just as crazy, regardless of their purpose. They had the same vigor and passion for their purpose - to destroy the enemy by making themselves dispensable. Suicide bombers are no different, nor should they be mistaken to be anything else. They believe in a cause, so much so that they are willing to take their lives for it. The Kamikazes did what they did because they wanted to destroy potential disaster by stubbing it at the root. The Fundoos (Suicide bombers who claim to be doing so in the name of God) have the same purpose. It may not seem that way to us, but try their perspective if you can.

Now, my opinion? How can anyone, I mean ANYONE be so Fucking stupid?!?!?! Fucking Nuts man! However, be it as it may, they have their reasons and all we see is the end result, not the events leading up to the psychotic behavior causing the death of many innocents. I do NOT condone anything these bastards do, nor do I sympathize. Frankly, I think the extremists need to justify what they are doing in conversation rather than use indefinite aggression as their only tool of communication. I respect people, but only when they respect themselves. When you take yourself and others with you to death, and do so while BELIEVING that God will give you a chocolate chip cookie, a glass of milk, pat you on your back and tell you to be on your way to the pearly gates of juggy land, you need to be locked up in a room for a few days, then taken out and beaten till your eyes bleed, then put back in and then eventually asked..."Was it worth it?" Eventually it will knock sense into the SOB and put him straight. In the meantime, media needs to control their tongue and people need to watch more of the History Channel to learn about how shit ended up being the way it is today.

The Taleban and Al-Qaida happened for a reason. I learnt about it while in College in the states and so proving that information is available everywhere. Use your noggins and do a little research then form an opinion to condemn the assholes who created these Frankensteins in the first place. If you keep a dog chained up all his life and then expect him to be friendly with your buddies, you are sadly mistaken. You will only see that when he rips your best friends arm off. Prevention is better than an insurance claim after the damage is done. 

WAKE UP WORLD! Global warming, terrorists and suicide attacks, natural disasters, plane crashes, WAR, genocide, starvation, education (or the lack thereof) are all products of our own disregard for history and our fellow man. The ice is melting, people are dying and there still isn't a cure for the deadliest of cancers. Don't wait for science to come up with a practical medicine that the FDA will approve one day and recall the next. Use your own hands, don't encourage poverty by giving money to beggars to forgo your own guilt. 

Monday, September 8, 2008

Zardari - A fruitcake? Call the Men in white coats!


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Asif Ali Zardari, the man poised to become Pakistan's next president, is still known as "Mr. 10 per cent" because of corruption allegations. Now his own lawyers say he may have suffered from mental health problems within the past year.

That has left many Pakistanis wondering: Is this the best man for the job?

"People have short memories, but not that short," said Rafat Saeed, 42, as he parked his car in the bustling city of Karachi following a week of political turmoil and relentless violence by Islamic militants.

"His name is synonymous with corruption!"

Friends and family say Zardari, widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, is fine now and fit to rule. But the questions over his psychological state are not likely to go away soon.

The United States and other Western nations nervously watched the ruling coalition collapse this week after the two main parties forced Musharraf - a close ally in the war on terrorism - to resign as president rather than face impeachment.

Zardari's party is now in a position to dominate the five-month-old civilian government, especially if the 53-year-old Zardari, recently cleared of all graft charges, is elected president by lawmakers in a Sept. 6 vote, as is widely expected.

If he wins, he will be one of the most powerful civilian leaders in Pakistan's 61-year history, retaining many of the powers accumulated during Musharraf's nine-year rule, from the right to dissolve Parliament to appointing heads of the armed forces.

But he has many demons in his past.

With $60 million in a Swiss bank account, corruption allegations dating to his wife's time in power will not go away any time soon. Then, in recent days, questions emerged about the state of Zardari's mental health.

In a corruption case brought against him by the Pakistani government, Zardari's own lawyers told a London court last year that he recently suffered from dementia and other psychological problems - an apparent attempt to delay proceedings.

They claimed it was the result of years spent in Pakistani jails - where Zardari says he was placed in solitary confinement, tortured and living in fear for his life before he was released in 2004. The claims of mental illness were first reported in the Financial Times.

Friends, family and party members insist, however, that he's healthy now and fit to rule.

"He was under stress, no doubt," said Wajid Hasan, Pakistan's ambassador in Britain and a longtime friend of Zardari's, adding that the diagnosis is now more than a year old.

"He was never prescribed drugs, he only received counselling," Hasan said. "I have spent long periods of time with him in the past two years ... He's been alert. He's been steady."

But his political rivals disagree.

"A 'patient' shouldn't be allowed to run for president," argued Sadiqul Farooq, spokesman for the party headed by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the junior party in the coalition that walked out this week.

Zardari, who earned the nickname "Mr. 10 per cent" while serving as minister for investment and environment when Bhutto was prime minister, was accused of pocketing commissions on contracts - from Polish tractors to licenses to import gold.

He says the allegations were part of a smear campaign to keep Bhutto from returning from self-exile after her government collapsed in 1996.

Pakistani investigators accused them at one point of spiriting $1.5 billion out of the country.

Swiss prosecutor Daniel Zappelli said Thursday that some $60 million that had been in Swiss bank accounts since the 1990s would be unfrozen, following a request by Pakistani authorities.

He declined to identify the owner of the funds, citing privacy rules. But Hassan Habib at the Pakistani Embassy in Bern said he believed it belonged to "the late prime minister Bhutto, or her husband, or it was a joint account."

Among the skepticism, some in Pakistan are willing to cut Zardari some slack.

Imran Ibrahim, a 27-year-old stockbroker, notes that few Pakistani political leaders are squeaky clean, either using their position to line their own pockets or to help enrich family and friends.

"No one is free of flaws," Ibrahim said. "I think he's better than many of the others out there. Plus, he was the husband of Benazir Bhutto, who dreamed of a prosperous Pakistan. He'll live out her dream, or at least he'll try."

Bhutto was killed in a Dec. 27 attack as she was campaigning for parliamentary elections. Zardari immediately took the reins of her Pakistan People's Party, surprising many as he rallied supporters.

A former polo player from a wealthy landowning family, Zardari had shown little interest in politics, but quickly proved it wasn't due to lack of skill. By forming an unlikely alliance with Sharif, a bitter rival, they forced Musharraf from power.

The moment the former military ruler was gone, however, rifts in the coalition emerged.

Sharif accused Zardari of breaking promises to immediately restore judges ousted by Musharraf or to dramatically scale back the powers of the presidency.

Eventually, Sharif quit the coalition, saying his party would prefer to sit in the opposition.

Zardari's People's Party has begun forging new partnerships with smaller parties in Parliament, which could make it even more dominant.

In March, Pakistani courts acquitted Zardari in the last case still pending against him, involving the import of a German luxury limousine. When the government told judicial authorities in Switzerland and Britain that no crime had been committed, the European courts had little choice but to end their proceedings.
Associated Press reporters Stephen Graham in Islamabad, Ashraf Khan in Karachi, Babar Dogar in Lahore, Khalid Tanveer in Multan, Paisley Dodds in London and Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.

WSJ View on Mr. 10%

Pakistan's Next President 
Is a Category 5 Disaster
September 2, 2008; Page A21

If there's a case to be made against democracy, few countries make it better than Pakistan.

On Saturday, Pakistani legislators will elect a new president to replace Pervez Musharraf, the general-turned-strongman who resigned the office last month.

In one corner there is Mushahid Hussain Sayed, a former journalist and one-time political prisoner of Mr. Musharraf who is nonetheless running as the candidate of the general's old party. Mr. Mushahid, probably the best of the bunch, stands next to no chance of winning.

In another corner there is Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, candidate of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's party. Mr. Sharif -- whose record includes bankrupting his country, presiding over a disastrous military campaign against India, and attempting to implement Sharia law while awarding himself near-dictatorial powers -- has made it clear he intends to gut the powers of the presidency should he return to office.

And then there is Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and leader of the Pakistan People's Party. Mr. Zardari, who has compared himself to Jesus (an innocent accused of crimes he did not commit), is easily one of the most notorious figures in the long parade of horribles that make up the country's political history. He is, of course, expected to win Saturday's ballot handily.

Just how bad is Mr. Zardari? It would be a relief if it were true that he was merely suffering from dementia, a diagnosis offered by two New York psychiatrists last year. But that diagnosis seems to have been produced mainly with a view toward defending himself against corruption charges in a British court.

Mr. Zardari -- who earned the moniker "Mr. 10%" for allegedly demanding kickbacks during his wife's two terms in office -- has long been dogged by accusations of corruption. In 2003, a Swiss magistrate found him and Mrs. Bhutto guilty of laundering $10 million. Mr. Zardari has admitted to owning a 355-acre estate near London, despite coming from a family of relatively modest means and reporting little income at the time it was purchased. A 1998 report by the New York Times's John Burns suggests he may have made off with as much as $1.5 billion in kickbacks. This was at a time when his wife was piously claiming to represent the interests of Pakistan's impoverished masses and denouncing corrupt leaders who "leave the cupboard bare."

It's an open question whether Mr. Zardari will be more or less restrained in his behavior if he's elected: His return to politics has meant the dropping of all charges against him and the release of millions in frozen assets. (The presidency will also confer legal immunity.) That may make him one of the few men in Pakistan to get richer this year: The economy, which grew in an unprecedented way under Mr. Musharraf, has tanked under civilian management. The Karachi stock exchange has lost about a third of its value and the currency about a fifth in recent months. Markets often have better memories than voters.

It's also an open question whether Pakistan's increasingly dire security outlook will focus Mr. Zardari's mind on the urgent tasks of governance. Mr. Zardari has sought to parley himself internationally as a pro-Western candidate, and maybe he is. Yet over the weekend the Pakistani government agreed to stop its air strikes on the Taliban, in exchange for which Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, a religious party, agreed to throw its support to Mr. Zardari. The Taliban has used previous cease-fires to regroup and re-arm for operations against both Afghanistan and Islamabad.

Then there is al Qaeda, now openly endeavoring to use its last redoubts in Pakistan to take over the country. Last month, Ayman al-Zawahiri issued a long broadcast (in English, no less) denouncing Mr. Musharraf as an American tool and calling on Pakistan's army to come over to his side.

That call was unlikely to be heeded against Mr. Musharraf, who could count on the loyalty of his troops. But Mr. Zardari is a caricature of everything that's morally bankrupt with the country's Westernized elite, and thus an inviting propaganda target for al Qaeda and the Taliban. It doesn't help, either, that they are working fertile political soil: 71% of Pakistanis oppose cooperating with the U.S. in counterterrorism, and 51% oppose fighting the Taliban at all, according to a June poll.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban feed on chaos, and a Zardari presidency will almost certainly provide more of it. For Pakistanis, this is a self-inflicted wound and a rebuke to their democracy. For the rest of world, it's a matter of hoping that Pakistan will somehow muddle through. For now, however, this looks like a Category 5 hurricane, dark and vast and visible just offshore.

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Friday, September 5, 2008

Start-Ups vs. Up-Starts

So for many people who know me, they are privy to certain reasons why I moved on from my previous life to a new one. Without saying too much, some things happened that forced me to move on and start again.

A lot has happened over the last two years, some of which was captured in photographs over the course of 2006/2007 but for the most part, I believe a majority of my avid readers have floated on since I managed to keep such a fantastically dry blog. One of my favorite readers, who celebrated her birthday the same day as myself is no where to be found and so my incentive to keep writing has gone from 0 to 100 in order to regain what I had once towered over.

My sense of humor may have changed, but then that is for the audience to decide. No, it has nothing to do with getting married. Quite frankly, I have definitely become more of the person I would want to be after getting married (make sure the wife is reading this one), but my desire to conquer the world, one low-income family at a time is still under progress.

Somehow, I find myself in start-up companies and I think whether I like it or not, my forte is now officially working in early stage start-ups that have some slight mandate towards affecting people's lives. With that said, each mandate may or may not be driven by profit-bearing incentives.

However, I have also come to realize that start-ups are not all they are made out to be. One must remember that the inherent risk of working with a start-up is failure due to poor management. While working with Acumen, among the many essential business tools I acquired, the one that holds the roots together is water-tight management. The product can be the most inspirational, the most useful and needed, the coolest or even just some modification of an existing product/service. Regardless, it's not the product, it's the realistic strategy taken by the management that drives the business.

The agri-business venture in Sindh has recently been invested in by Acumen and that to me is a success story. I can sleep so much better knowing that the hard work I invested in building the company, the team and working together to build the tracks for the train is all worth something more than theory. The investment readi-ness stage from 0 to 100 took a total of just under 2 years.

On the other hand, a recent venture dealing with mobile payments, has taken an opposite direction. After nearly 5 years of flip flopping with business objectives and revenue streams, while others such as Obopay have successfully raised nearly US$70 Million, Pakistan's version has barely touched US$ 1 Million in just about the same amount of time. One of the key requirements to working towards success, especially in a market as difficult as Pakistan is to make a decision, work towards it and stick it through with everything provided you have everyone's vote (everynone = board directors). The second, yet more tangible requirement, is a financial manager. This is pretty easy to find since Chartered Accountants are a dime a dozen in Pakistan and finding one who is good with financial forecasting and financial management is their key job. If you don't, you can fiddle about with budget sheets and hire a basic accountant and sink your business and the hard work everyone put into to get it up on it's feet.

The signficant difference between Agri-Business and Mobile payments are:
1. Agri products are more expensive to import, warehouse, install and sell
2. Agri industry players are cutthroat, highly experienced and very wealthy so competition is always on the high side
3. Agri-Business target market is dependent upon seasonal income which is hard to come by in regions of little or no rain fall so income is scarce
4. The telecom industry is booming so any value-added product has a 100% success factor if its managed and market correctly, especially if it's free!
5. Getting an investment from a partner is not difficult unless the requirements are rigorous as they are with all of Acumen's investments
6. Consistency with your message to the public is essential. If you change your strategy like one does underwear, there is something already wrong

Please note that I recognize agriculture and IT have little to do with one another, but from a business management perspective, although the caliber of the professionals required to run the business are different, the basic premise of running a business remains the same; to sell, you must first identify a target audience and market your presence and product(s), then ensure you have water-tight management in place for close budgeting and financial control - the most essential part of running a business, especially at an early stage.

I believe that Obopay succeeded primarily because they launched in a market that is conducive to out-there financial solutions. The FED is tough with companies and there are lots of banks willing to work with mobile financial solutions thanks to the precedent set by Paypal. When trust is an enormous issue, one must look to the avenues where you can establish the product and business before taking head-first risks that have very few mitigants, if any.

In principle, if you want to succeed with a start-up, try launching it with a simple approach and push hard but also be ready to cut your losses when you know you are sinking faster than you are floating. For your crew to stick through the storm depends upon how you treat them and how driven they are to succeed. The days of fuedal land lords or bunya seths where one man runs the show are over and it's time to look at models that work.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Ramadan - Pakistan's version of Twisted Metal

Let me start by reiterating things that I have heard from many others...Ramadan is a time of peace, tranquility and patience. A time when you slow down, reflect, make amends, and diet (or try to).

For me the purpose of Ramadan, although I am not an active participant, is to achieve a sense of calm with oneself and one's surroundings. The concept of fasting, I believe, is intended to teach those who have the fortune of having all that they have and to appreciate the pain and strife of those who don't have. This would all be in reference to the Have and Have Not theory, which is actually not just a theory but a real life epidemic. It's ironic that the Have's are associated with the benefit of money and the Have Not's are associated with not having the money. In practical life, the Have's don't have the pain and strife, which the Have Not's do, so it turns out to be a sort of oxymoron or a paradox, whichever you like more.

Getting to the point, I realize that the beauty of Islam's Pillar of fasting has sort of gone amiss to the average Pakistani. I took to the streets today, the first day of this beautiful month of restraint and detox, and found myself lost in a jungle with what appeared to be baboons driving cars. I am not generalizing, rather speaking of a specific few who find it convinient to disregard any sense of law and reason during Ramadan. The purpose of law is sort of an incumberance on the frustrated youth of our country. One cannot blame them since we have a Macleans Spokesperson as our apparent future President among the many other highly educated faction that has decided to take our country in the right direction...right into their bank accounts. Har Har Har.

We now realize that while the purpose of Ramadan is one in theory, the practical application has somehow skewed in a completely wayward direction, making them significantly disjointed from one another. Come the first of Ramadan next year, I shall purchase a cast iron Hummer H1 and riddle it with chrome protection bars all around and take to the streets as have the other bretheran of our fading cinderella of a city and turn it into yet another session of Twisted Metal, where everyone is out for themselves and the purpose is to drive irrationally and at high speeds to unknown destinations with no particular schedule but to appear as though we are late for perhaps the most important meeting of our life, while making way using highly explosive weaponry. This is because, well, to drive the way we do, it must be worth our lives since that is what is at stake each time we take to the streets.

Go be a good Pakistani and drive like a good bureaucrat's child with a free car and unlimited petrol while the others starve for lack of basic necessities. That is your duty, that is your purpose.

Ramadan Mubarak

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