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Pakistan Government’s Phone Tax Policy and its Implications for Travellers

Introduction

According to the most recent Phone Tax Policy of the PTI government in Pakistan, all those entering Pakistan, both citizens and foreigners, must register their phones and pay a phone tax to be able to use their phones while in Pakistan.
At first glance, this seems to be a just policy aimed at generating revenue from those who import expensive phones to Pakistan. But the phone policy enters the realm of the stupid when one finds out that it applies even to the single personal-use phone that one might have brought along.The experience gets Kafkaesque after you try to register your phone. I share here my own story with a brief overview of the implications of this stupid phone tax policy on average Pakistanis and on aspiring tourists to Pakistan.

The Process to Pay the Phone Tax

The website of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), provides you a convenient link to register your phone, a link that I followed.
You are then prompted to create an account, which I did.
After that you fill in your information including your passport number and the IEMI number of your phone.
After you have filled in all this information, you are prompted to add a contact number to which a confirmation number is sent.

This cannot be just any phone number: it has to be a phone number that still is using the SIM card of the company you had bought your original phone plan.

Let us assume you have a friend who has one such phone number and you receive the confirmation code and you enter it and hit submit.
You are now ready to pay your phone tax and register your phone.

But not so fast. In my case, after more than four attempts I kept getting the same message: “This phone does not qualify for tax exempt registration . . .”

Surprisingly, there was no other information provided or no course of action suggested by the PTA website.

A Visit to the PTA Office

In my case, since I am from the Rawalpindi-Islamabad area, I decided to go to the PTA office in Islamabad. After getting in line and waiting for about thirty minutes (I was lucky, as I could get in the “foreigners” line, the native Pakistanis had a much longer waiting time) I was ushered into a room where young men sat behind their laptops, helping many eager phone registrants.

The kind young man who assisted me entered the same information that I had entered and finally told me that my entry into the country was not yet processed and the “system” was not recognizing my credentials, which meant that I had to wait a couple of days before my phone could be registered.

I asked him about the charges for the use of my personal phone. He gave me the following breakdown for an IPhone Xr:

  • To register the phone for sixty day use during my visit, I had to pay Rs. 37, 000.
  • To register the same phone permanently, I was required to pay Rs. 67, 000.

This was a huge shock to me, especially since this WAS my personal use phone and I had already paid taxes on it when I bought the phone in the US. Furthermore, before this policy came into effect, I was able to use an unlocked GSM phone by replacing my US SIM with a registered Pakistani SIM, which meant that the moment I added a load to my phone, I started paying the usage tax to the phone company and thus to the government of Pakistan.

Now, I was told, I had to pay a huge tax, on an already taxed phone, simply to be able to use it with a Pakistani SIM!

The Problems with New Phone Tax Policy

To me this new phone tax policy is wrong at many levels. Legally, this is double taxation on an item of personal use and seems highly irregular and might even be illegal under international law. More importantly, it sends a wrong message to any aspiring tourists to Pakistan (It’s not like people are lining up to visit Pakistan anyway), for this is yet another hurdle they have to cross simply to be able to visit and travel in Pakistan.

Furthermore, this policy adds an added layer of bureaucracy to the process of visiting Pakistan. The PTA office that I visited was already filled with harried travellers, all trying to ensure that their phones would work in Pakistan. In an economic climate where it is absolutely essential for Pakistan to increase inflow of foreign exchange, tourism being one important sector for this, this additional trip to the PTA office is not likely to endear Pakistan to any future travellers.

The Classic Deflection Argument by PTI Supporters

When I mentioned this experience in a public talk, an ardent PTI supporter countered it through a classic deflection: “Same happens to us when we go to the US; We are not allowed to use our Pakistani Phones.” This assertion is wrong on at least at two levels:

First, the US phone system is not based in the pre-paid model. Most people purchase their phone from one of the large phone companies and then sign up for a two year contract. This way, while the companies can provide them phones at an affordable price, they can also lock in the customers for at least two years (I am not suggesting this is a better or just system). So, if the Pakistani phones do not work in the US, it is because the way people purchase phone services in America is different.

However, if you have an unlocked GSM phone with you, there are small local vendors that do sell you a local SIM and do also offer prepaid national and International calling plans.

But there is nothing in the US law that forces visitors to REGISTER your phone and pay a TAX to register it!

Please bear in mind that I am not suggesting that the US system is better than Pakistan; I am just challenging the deflection offered by many a learned PTI stalwarts. Furthermore, the US economy is not necessarily desperate for foreign exchange and does not depend upon the number of tourists who visit the United States. The Pakistani economy needs the tourism industry and changing this extoritionst phone policy could help make Pakistan more tourist/ Visitor-Friendly!

 

Please also read my other, more positive, blogs about Pakistan!

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Commentaries

Getting Approved for Media Net in Two Days

Lately, I have been trying to monetize some of my websites and blogs. As I was looking for the best Adsense alternative, I was pointed to Media Net as a wonderful alternative by several online articles. One of the bloggers explained the main features of Media Net as follows:

  • Contextual advertisements: As mentioned above, ads will be showed based on the context of the page.
  • High revenue: Quality of ads are high, and various optimization techniques will help you to make a significant amount of money from your hosted ads.
  • Mobile ads: One of the key features of Media.net is the hosting of mobile ads. This feature is currently in beta, but with the growing number of smart phone users, mobile ads are the future of advertising for publishers. Media.net mobile detection technology automatically detects mobile and smart phone browsers, and serves mobile ads which will help you to earn additional income. (Source: Harsh Agarwal: https://www.shoutmeloud.com/media-net-yahoo-bing-ad-network-review.html)

Needless to say, I was deeply impressed by the reviews and decided to give it a try. Since this site is already monetized by Info Links and it also contains articles in languages other than English, media net prefers English as the main language, I decided to apply for my educational website: Postcolonial Space. I mostly followed the guidelines provided by Harsh Agarwal HERE. (By the way, his suggestions are spot on!!)

The site already has a lot of good original content and also qualifies as a niche academic site, so I hoped that it will stand a better chance at getting an approval. But before I submitted the site, I also did the following:

  • I made sure that it is a secure website, so I purchased an SSL certificate for it. [This was not required by Media Net, but it is good to have it for the better security of the website)
  • I  made sure that the landing page and other pages look professional and are not cluttered.
  • I also made sure that the site does not have many other ads on it and since I am only going to run media net ads on it, coupled with my Amazon Affiliate Links, I completely removed all traces of contextual ads from all other sources.

Sure enough, within twenty four hours, I got a message stating that my site had been approved. I must admit that I like the dashboard and the elegant way in which the ads display on the site.

While I work on integrating the new contextual ads to my site, I though I should share this experience with you all out there. So, if you have any such related stories or experiences, please feel free to share in the comments.

To take a look at how the ads display, please visit Postcolonial Space.

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Commentaries

Driving While Brown: Fast Food Chains as Safe Places?

I have been thinking about writing on this topic for quite some time now, but never really got around to doing so. Maybe, I had to get over my implicit bias against all things corporate to write something that, in literal sense, gives the “devil” his due.

Over the last few years, my wife and I have had to drive across US for several reasons: to visit her family, to visit friends, or to attend a conference. Ours is a mixed race marriage and while my wife could literally qualify for the daughters of American revolution membership, I am, to be precise, a brown man with a foreign accent and a sort of hippy look with long hair and all.

My wife and I are both foodies and also love to travel on the side roads and state highways: Probably not a safe habit for a biracial couple in Trump’s America. My wife also loves to find locally owned diners and restaurants on our route and we have often taken long detours to avoid eating at fast food chain restaurant.

A few years ago, though, I started noticing that I was not really comfortable entering and eating at small independently owned restaurants in small towns (This did not happen in minority-owned  restaurants). I somehow felt hyper conscious about my own self and how it must come across to the owners, workers, and patrons of these niche diners or restaurants. I mean I became suddenly conscious of the “white gaze” directed at a brown man walking into a country restaurant holding hands with a tall, exquisitely beautiful “white” woman. I don’t know what precisely caused this hypersensitivity in me; I mean, come on, I am a war veteran, a former infantry officer, and a doctor of philosophy:) I am not supposed to be worried about such things! But I WAS worried about such things and these cosy little places no longer felt welcoming to me.

So, without explaining it to my lovely wife, I started requesting that we should stick to the freeways and stop at chain food stores: Macdonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s etc etc. She is an exceptionally perceptive woman and immediately understood my reasons. “You don’t feel welcome in rural, independent restaurants?” She asked.

Yes, I said.

“I feel the same way,” she added.

So, that brief conversation was enough. Trust me we are not a taciturn couple: We actually HAVE the kind of informed and stimulating conversations that people assume about academic couples. But in this instance, Jenny and I both realized that these small gems in the heartland of America were no longer the places for us, and, maybe, they never really were but we were unaware of it.

So, why did I feel safe and welcome at chain fast food stores? I think the reasons are both rational and irrational.

Rationally, these are usually very well-lit places with a diverse staff and an even diverse clientele. For MacDonalds by a freeway, it is not the local regulars but the road travelers, who represent the rich diversity of America, are the target demographics. The Macdonalds, therefore, has to be hyper attentive to creating a space where all feel welcome. They must also train their staff to be culturally sensitive to the different demographics that they serve. Furthermore, since Macdonalds usually hires young people, their workers also represent the general diversity of the nation. Most importantly, if you do encounter any racist attitude at a certain M store, I have never experienced it, chances are if you report it or post it on twitter or FB, the corporation will have to pay some attention to it.

So, to seriously acknowledge what is good about these chain store, in my estimation one is less likely to encounter any kind of regional or implicit racism at any of these chain stores. And to be honest, on the road when I walk into any of these chain stores with Jenny, I absolutely do not feel anxious or uncomfortable. I rather feel like a part of this beautiful fabric of the most diverse and, despite the racists and white supremacists, hopeful national experiment in human history.

So, despite my serious reservations about corporations, in this particular case I would like to send my sincere thanks to Macdonalds of the world for giving us safe spaces to stop by during our travels across America!!

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The Kashmir Issue and the Problem of Advocacy in America

Only then perhaps will people realise how great the tragedy was that so many lives were lost and so much time and money wasted arguing about ownership of land, which would have prospered far more if its people had been allowed to live peacefully, moving as geography determined their passage, long before political divisions were created to circumscribe the inevitable interaction of humanity.

(Victoria Schofield 246)

 

The concluding passages of Victoria Schofield’s exceptional book on Kashmir, represent Kashmir as a geography suffering from the enactment of national cartographies. Maybe, that is the problem of Kashmir for Kashmiris: A people who have a historical narrative of having shared the same geography and its attendant cross cultural broader regional identity, which now finds itself overwritten by political cartography of the immediate past and the present. In this overwriting, the Kashmir subject, in all its complicity, is overwritten by the competing interests of two major nation-states and thus, in the end, the Kashmiris are silenced and their spokespersons take over the all-important function of representing Kashmir as mediated through their own national discourses. On the Pakistani side of the conflict, by and large, Kashmir is often seen either as a future Pakistani territory or as a territory that should have been originally a part of Pakistan and is represented, in often repeated refrains, as the “jugular vein of Pakistan” (Ahmad)

While the Kashmir issue figures prominently within Pakistan and within the larger political dynamics of India and Pakistan, it seems to capture much less public attention in the United States. This, in my view, is caused by the lack of cultural representations of Kashmir and also because of Kashmir’s linkage with the interests of two powerful nation-states: India and Pakistan. In this brief paper, I aim to highlight the importance letting Kashmir and Kashmiris speak for themselves.

In pretty much all public representations of Kashmir in Pakistan, the issue of the rights of the Kashmiris, both in the Pakistani-held and Indian-held Kashmir, are always broached from the point of view of Pakistani national interest. Thus, one often encounters policy statements that claim Kashmir as part of Pakistan and then claim to lobby for this cause.

Similarly, on the other side of this divide the Indian nationalist claim Kashmir to be an integral part of India and see the Pakistani-held Kashmir as an occupied territory. These claims, to my view, are often bizarre considering that it is the Kashmiris in Indian occupied Kashmir who are fighting and sometime dying for their right to self-determination.

Living in the United States, I have noticed that when Pakistani leaders or activists talk about the Kashmir issue, they fail to garner the kind of public or official support as other global issues such as the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict or others. The main reason, in my view, is that the Pakistani politicians, officials, and activists always lobby for Kashmir to be a future part of Pakistan and do not necessarily only talk about the rights and aspirations of Kashmiri people themselves. By connecting the fate of Kashmir and Kashmiris to the symbolic and political power of Pakistani nation-state, they, thus, also transcribe the intrinsic value of the Kashmiri freedom struggle to Pakistan’s own political weight within the international arena. And to be honest, if both India and Pakistan are arguing for Kashmir to be a part of their nation, then, at least in the United States, India has a definite advantage. India, both as a nation as well as a cultural concept, has a huge advantage in its political power and symbolic value in the United States.

The case of Kashmir and Kashmiris is likely to get more attention if the argument was made under the regime of human rights and if Pakistan only focuses on the plight of Kashmiris themselves. For as long as Kashmiris are represented as Pakistani-citizens-in-waiting, the Pakistani advocacy for Kashmir in the US would keep faltering. It is important to remember that the main reason Kashmir is still prominent as an issue in the world forums is because of the internal struggle of Kashmiris themselves. By focusing on the autonomous, peaceful struggle of Kashmiris in their own right, Pakistan can more effectively build a case for the Kashmiri right to self-determination,

Yet another aspect of Kashmir problem and its representation by Pakistani media and scholars is the question of militancy. There is no possibility of getting any traction with the West, especially the US, by offering any militant groups as “freedom fighters,” as the public is normally hostile to any organizations that may, even accidentally, end up killing the civilians. So, instead of counting on the militants as representatives of Kashmiri struggle, it would be more pertinent to point to those who seek peaceful and negotiated settlement of the Kashmir issue, and this also must be done from the point of view of Kashmiris alone and not from the vantage point of Pakistan’s national interest. It must also be noted that in most of the media accounts here, Pakistan is seen as using Kashmiris as proxies in their larger conflict with India, and if this perception is not challenged and revised, then Pakistan’s attempts on behalf of Kashmiris would be further hampered.

The Kashmir issue has some similarities with the Palestinian right to self-determination. Until the early seventies, the Palestinian conflict was often referred to as the Arab-Israeli conflict. This larger and generic representation of Palestinians usually bunched the Palestinians under the larger register of the Arab world and hence made Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan the sovereign speaking nations of the conflict. It was only after the Palestinian struggle made it possible to claim its own autonomous designation as a national struggle that the conflict came to be called the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Part of it also happened because the Arab nations either signed peace treaties with Israel or stopped lobbying for the Palestinian interests. Now, post Oslo accords, no one but the Palestinians themselves represent the Palestinian nation. Now, they do need Arab and international support, but their own identity as autonomous and sovereign people of a future Palestinian state is no longer disputed.

Similarly, the Kashmiris must be acknowledged as autonomous people fighting for their own independence and not as either proxies to Pakistan or India and certainly not as people who can be spoken for by either Pakistan or India. I think acknowledging this basic national identity of Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control is a necessary first step in gaining more symbolic and material international support for the Kashmiris.

If the Kashmiris are treated as a nation-in-the-making and if then Pakistan lobbies for their interest on human rights and under other registers, then the chances of garnering a larger international support would be higher and I am pretty sure the Kashmir issue, as an issue that affects the lives of Kashmiris, would gain more traction in the public and official imagination of United States. Of course, this step alone will not solve the problem, but it, at least, assures that both India and Pakistan acknowledge the existence of Kashmiri people as autonomous and capable of deciding their own national destiny according to the wishes and aspirations of all the varied regional, ethnic, and religious constituencies that form the Kashmiri people.

(Note: I presented this paper at a conference at National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad in 2017)

References

Ahmed, Adeel. “Who said what about Kashmir in Last one year.” Dawn. July 20,   2016.

Schofield, Victoria. Kashmir in Conflict. Revised edition. London. I B. Tauris, 2010.

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Waltzing with Bears: Fahkar Abbas and a Conservation Miracle in Pakistan

(Note: This was previously published on The Pakistan Forum, but since that site will soon be retired, I am republishing it here: First published on October 24, 2014))

As you enter the office building of Dr. Fakhar Abbas’s Bio Resource Centre, the first thing that hits you is the exceedingly efficient use of space in this Islamabad house that serves as office space, a biological lab, and as a space to study endangered bird species.

We often visit Dr. Abbas to get the news about his ambitious project to rescue endangered bears from bear-baiting events, but also for the best cup of coffee that he makes and serves you himself.

That this one person, with a dedicated team of workers, has saved more than forty bears from abuse and has been instrumental in changing the Pakistani law is not what one thinks of when we meet him. Sadly, while our mullahs and politicians have their pulpits and megaphones, Dr. Abbas works mostly unnoticed by the otherwise voracious media of Pakistan. But, maybe, it is this anonymity that gives him the strength and the vision to do what he does. For to save animals in a country where millions of humans are suffering the vagaries of every day life, is something that would only occur to someone unique and special.

Bear baiting, or bear fighting, is a cruel sport that entered our culture, probably, because of the British colonialism, for it used to be an established sport in England. The fact that rules applied to the sport in Pakistan are pretty much the same as elaborated and enacted by our erstwhile colonizers further supports my claim that the sport, if we could call it a sport, is  not native to northern India but was introduced here by the British. One can also assume that it were the native elite sympathetic to the British who adopted it in order to offer it as entertainment to their British masters. This must have been the case, as the current supporters of ” this traditional right” to cruelty are the Tiwanas of Sargodha, most of whom were pro-British touts until the end of British colonial rule in India.

There are two camps against Dr. Abbas: the powerful zamindars (the old pithoos of British) who want to defend their right to stage bear fights under the garb of tradition and

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wspacanada/4523852454/

some of the wildlife officials, who, in their wisdom, attempt to hinder rather than support his efforts. But Dr. Abbas plods on, or should we say Waltz’s on, to save the bears from these torturous fights.At a typical bear baiting event, a bear is tethered to a post in the middle of a stadium.  The rope or chain is between 2 to 5 meters long.  The bear’s claws have been blunted, his/her canine teeth removed and a nose ring inserted. At least two dogs are then let loose to attack the tethered bear. The dogs are removed when the bear submits; this is seen when the bear rolls on the ground to avoid further attack by the dogs.  The bear is forced to do this up to as much as seven times per day.[1]

The fights are not fair: in most of the cases a bear’s claws are shorn and his teeth removed and then he is made to fight two or sometimes four British bull-terriers. It is a miracle that even against these odds, most bears survive the ordeal, to fight another day. Thankfully, due to the efforts of Dr. Abbas and his supporters all over Pakistan, bear fightings are now illegal in Pakistan. But in the rural heart of Pakistan, in the territories of these so-called feudals, the law is not so seamlessly implemented as it should be. That is where Dr. Abbas and his team come in. The vast network of their sympathizers informs them of an impending bear fight and that is when, Dr. Abbas, along with the police (if the police are willing, for sometimes the zamindar is too powerful for the police to interfere) move to confiscate the bears. The confiscated bears are then brought to the sanctuary. I am not providing the address of the sanctuary here, because that is the best way to keep the place outside the public eye and also safe from anyone who may not like Dr. Abbas’s initiative.

Visiting the sanctuary was a moving and unique experience: There I was, standing by the fence, when a brown bear walked up to me, just inches away on the other side of the fence. He looked happy, but you could discern the writ of human cruelty all over his body: his face and muzzle were scarred, he walked precariously on his twisted paws and when he opened his mouth to yawn, you could see the missing teeth, removed by human hands. It is at moments like these when you come face to face with the nobility of a wild animal that you realize how cruel, callous, and destructive we humans can be. It is also at moments like these when you want to reach out to grasp some shred of human goodness just to remind yourself that, maybe, there is some hope for us as a species and that is where figures like Dr. Abbas become crucial, for they restore our hope in our human future.

Everything about the sanctuary is emblematic of native innovation: the transport cages, the rooms with enclosures where the bears are first rehabilitated, and then eventually the large fenced reserve where the bears are eventually released. As we sat and drank tea at the central command center of the sanctuary, we could hear the bears move around in the holding pens, waiting to be released while those already released in the sanctuary roamed the land in pairs or alone. Two of them, one a Himalayan brown bear and the other a black bear, stayed closer to the fence and as we drank our tea they played in the shade, like two carefree retirees.

Sitting there in the yard, I could not help but wonder at the nature of this fight for conservation: on one side of it was Dr. Fakhar Abbas, this taciturn unassuming man, and on the other the feudal lords of Pakistani rural heartlands. One man against the monstrous power of those for whom holding the unjust spectacle of a bear fight was more than just the event: it was a display of their material and symbolic power to their constituents and their captive labor force.

While Dr. Abbas claims to defend the bears in the name of Pakistani law and general human decency toward other species, the zamindars claim their legitimacy under the general guise of tradition. In a nutshell, they claim, that they have the right to hold bear-baiting events as they are part of our tradition. But as I suggested earlier, bear-baiting is not OUR tradition: it is a basterdized version of the practices introduced by our erstwhile British masters. Those still enacting this so-called tradition were the supporters of our former masters and now want to continue the same cruel “tradition” as a status symbol. Just how does being cruel to animals become our tradition is beyond me? Right now there are four bears at the sanctuary whose future is uncertain. The bears were handed over to the sanctuary for safe custody until the court case is decided.

In the court, the fight is between Dr. Abbas and his supporters and the powerful zamindars of Sargodha. While one side hopes to preserve life, the other wants to maintain the right to destroy life. The case is extremely crucial, for the future of bear conservation in Pakistan depends on it. I do hope that the bears win and the zamindars lose, but in Pakistani politics these powerful zamindars have always been able to protect their privilege under all kinds of regimes and governments. This is where some public support for Dr. Abbas and his project would be crucial and while Dr. Abbas himself shuns the limelight, this brief article is an attempt to highlight the current fight and is written in solidarity.

Beyond its literal function as a conservation project, the bear sanctuary also has a deeply symbolic value for our culture. Its mere presence as a functional and laudable initiative, assures us that despite the troubles that besiege Pakistan, there are people and places in Pakistan that give us hope, for if we can accomplish something such as this under harsh circumstances, imagine what we could do if the material circumstances were more favorable.

This is not a story of one man against all odds, even though the will of this one man drives the entire project; it is rather a tale of one man in solidarity with so many others engaged in an intricate power struggle to save some of the most magnificent animals of Pakistan. The project had started with three rescued bear cubs that Dr. Abbas and his staff had hand-raised years ago. The previous sanctuary was destroyed by the 2005 floods, but that destruction also provides the most moving story that Dr. Abbas narrates. After the floods, he says, the team went back to the sanctuary fearing the worst. Most of the bears then in the sanctuary had been carried away by the sixty feet tall waves of flooded Indus, so the team was not expecting any miracles.

As soon as they reached the site, Dr. Abbas saw some movement at the top of a lofty pine. Soon, the black dot on the top descended downward and sat down in the lowest branches, his head in his paws, waiting to be rescued: this was the first of the three cubs that Dr. Abbas had hand-raised. Soon, his other sibling was found hiding in the water tank, and the third was found crouching in an intact bathroom. This miraculous survival of the three cubs, hence became the beginning for the new sanctuary, the one that houses more than forty bears rescued from torturous fights from all across Pakistan.

We all live in a world of unspeakable injustices, a world that seems to be OK with majority of its population living in misery. In such a world, it takes extraordinary vision and will to dedicate one’s life to saving non-human animals. Saving bears, therefore, is not just a conservation project: it is a testament to our collective humanity. This conservation miracle is, therefore, worthy of our support as a nation, as Pakistanis, and as members of the human race!

 

 

 

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Whirlwind Speaking Tour of Pakistan

I just reached Dubai International airport after concluding an extremely rewarding visit to Lahore.

The main purpose of my visit was to deliver the keynote address at a humanities conference organized by the University of Lahore, department of English, but, as is always the case with my Pakistan trips, I ended up giving three additional talks at different universities.

The conference, entitled Geographies of Resistance, was a wonderfully organized two-day event with a dual focus on literature and linguistics. I found all sessions to be extremely well organized and very well attended. Some of the major figures of Pakistani higher education were present during various sessions and I was lucky enough to meet Dr. Mujahid Kamran and Dr. Tariq Rahman and had the chance to see some old friends and mentors like Dr. Shahid Siddiqui and Dr. Waseem Anwar.

I think even more delightful part of this whole experience for me personally was the chance to meet and interact with the young and emerging scholars. People have often asked me as to why I agree to visit for such short visits, especially considering that it usually takes me two days to reach Pakistan from Dallas. My usual answer is always that it is my way of giving something back to Pakistan, which is an honest answer. But I think for me personally, all such visits are also always spiritually and professionally invigorating and I always return home with some new ideas and always after having made some new friends. So, in this sense, the University of Lahore conference wasn’t just a professional opportunity but rather also an event that gave me a chance to meet some brilliant young scholars and enabled me to share my own current thoughts on humanities with a curious and eager audience of fellow learners. I am deeply grateful to the conference organizers for inviting me as their keynote speaker.

I would like to personally thank the Dean, Dr. Muhamamd Shahbaz Arif, for his hospitality and the two conference organizers, Dr. Farah Kashif and Arjumand Bano, for their kindness and care during my visit.

As always happens with my visits, this time too I ended up doing more than what I had planned. My other activities included a lecture on postcolonial studies at UMT, which was organized by my friend Dr. Naila Sahar. I enjoyed the wonderful questions that her students asked during the session.

Yet another session was organized by Aisha Ahmad, another dear friend, at Lahore Leads University where we mostly talked about theory, post colonialism, and scholarly writing. My friend Shaista Zeb, Chair of English at NUML Lahore, organized yet another sessions on scholarly writing. So, even though physically I was pretty much exhausted by the time I left Lahore, I was, however, intellectually and spiritually invigorated.

Just seeing the degree and intensity of interest in learning, often under trying circumstances, is what I find the most impressive about Pakistani students and scholars.

I hope to return this summer to have some more of these enriching exchanges.

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Publishing a Kindle Writing Guide

Recently, I wrote a series of blogs about academic publishing in humanities. These articles did not dwell much on the nitty gritty details of writing but on specific strategies of planning, writing, submitting and publishing a paper.

After I finished writing the four article series, I decided to also make it available on Kindle. I had never used the Amazon publishing platform before, so I was slightly apprehensive. The whole process, however, went really smoothly.

Since I already had a Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) account, all I had to do was to log in and create an entry for the new project.

After that, it was a matter of filling up the metadata, and uploading the word file. I used Amazon’s cover generator and used a freely provided stock picture.

KDP first requires you to prepare files for a Print on Demand (POD) book and they will transform your word file to appropriate size and format.

After you have uploaded and finished the POD book, you get the option to create a Kindle version.

I prepared both. While the POD is still being reviewed (Note: the print book had to be 24 pages or more) my kindle version is already alive!!

Overall, this has been a good experience in sharing my public writings with a wider audience.

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My Planned Talk at University of Lahore

In a couple of days I will travel to the historic town of Lahore to give a culminating Keynote address at a conference being organized by the English department of University of Lahore.

Entailed Geographies of Resistance: Literature, Language, Culture, this conference has the following general theme:

Since the middle of the twentieth century, resistance in literature, language and culture has been closely associated with the anti-colonial and national liberation movements in the Global South. The neoliberal globalization wih its attendant economic and socio-political ideologies, however, transforms registance to a more global form. Geopgraphics of Resistance:Literature,Language and Culture seeks to explore how resistance is reconfigured in contemporary aesthetics, linguistics, and cultural practices of contemporary forms of globalization. The conference aims to explore not only the various forms of resistance but also investigates the interrelation of all aspects that make up culture including class, race, gender, media, language and power. Discussions may focus on how these elements traverse the spaces of resistance that tend to counter late modern globalization, which is largely responsible for national and trasnational conflicts, socio-economic inequalities, and ecological disasters. In addition to sites of resistance, the conference hopes to highlight discourse on the coercive and repressive policies of neoliberal practices in the Global South.

I consider it a great honor to be invited to give a talk and I hope that my words and thoughts would be of some use to the audience.

I will be speaking about the role of humanistic education in shaping our individual and collective subjectivities in contemporary times.

I have always maintained that a truly humanistic education, when delivered through an informed pedagogy, can help us educate our students to be more compassionate, generous, and caring. Of course, these are not my ideas: many a philosopher and theorist have argued for this kind of regard for our local and global others.

Similarly, many scholars in my own field have argued that humanities can perform this function of “training the imagination” (Spivak) of our students.

So, in this talk I will mostly focus on critical pedagogy, for without an informed pedagogy humanities are not likely to deliver on any of their transformative possibilities.

This is just a brief note to share the news about this exciting conference. I will post a detailed account of the event after my visit.

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Commentaries

Library Systems and Labs for Tier 1 Universities

Introduction:
While the HEC Vision 2025 document does mention the need for libraries and labs for research institutions, it seems prudent to recognize the integral connection of libraries and labs to the long-term mission of innovative research. This brief document offers a few insights, gleaned from my experience of research universities in the US, about library systems and labs that could be useful for the future planning of HEC
Libraries
In the US university rankings, the library holdings (print and digital) along with the availability of trained staff is crucial to maintaining Tier 1 status. Most research Universities have one major main library and several other subject-related libraries. My campus, for example, has one main library and five other subject-related libraries.
Research Librarians:
A research university must have highly trained research librarians. At UNT, for example, each department has a liaison research librarian. During our research, if we need information on any materials not held in our library, we send a query to our Liaison librarian, and she not only finds the sources for us but also procures them from other libraries.
The research librarians also train our students in how to use the library resources, and also help each department develop the collection according to the needs of the department.
Inter-Library Loans:
The inter-library loan system allows our library to request books throughout the United States. In this way, even if our library does not have a book/ paper they can acquire it from us at any time. The online library catalog allows us to request a book through the loan system simply by logging in and requesting the item.
HEC could encourage this initiative at regional level and maybe one such program could be piloted first to see how it materializes.
Libraries of Record;
Quite a few Tier 1 libraries also act as libraries of record either for state government documents or for the local government documents. UNT, for example, is the library of record for the state of Texas. All public state documents and proceedings are therefore housed and archived in our library and becomes a resource for local, national, and international researches interested in Texas history, culture, or politics. HEC could also test this practice to see if it would be viable at national level.
Special Collections;
All research libraries also have a special collections section. These could vary from collection of rare books [Like the collection of Islamia College University Library] or archives of authors, scientists, leaders, and other local or national figures/ projects. The special collections can provide a university the opportunity to develop a niche research resource that draws a lot researchers if they are writing about the topic related to the special collection holdings.

Research Labs
There are usually two kinds of labs in tier 1 research university. General purpose labs that the students use during their education and the research labs of science professors who are active researchers. Generally, when a tenure track professor is hired at a research University he/ she is provided his/her own lab so that they can develop their r research and also train their respective graduate students in their lab. Only those hired as teaching professors only have no labs of their own. This could be enormously expensive, but HEC could try it on a limited scale and then, depend on the finding available, extend this practice to all major universities. Of course, this could also be done in research clusters, and I know that it is already being done at some major universities.

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Commentaries

Brief Guidelines for Applying to US Universities for Doctoral Studies and Post-Doc Research

Introduction:

This draft document elaborates the general application process to US research universities. For a more detailed understanding of the process, the candidates should research the application criteria on the particular University websites. These draft guidelines are prepared voluntarily to aid the aspirational guidelines of Higher Education Commission as contained in the HEC Vision 25, Section D and are primarily focused on the Pakistani scholars interested in applying to US PhD programs or Postdoc research projects.

Applications to Doctoral Programs:

General:

Most US universities require certain general qualifications that apply to all Doctoral candidates regardless of their discipline of study. Please bear the following in mind before applying:

  • Most US universities only consider PhD application for the fall admissions (Starting in August or September).
  • The application deadlines are usually in December or January: For example, if you are applying for admission for Fall 2019, your application deadline could be either Dec 31, 2018 or January 31, 2019.
  • US universities very rarely admit doctoral students in the Spring semester.
  • The reason for this schedule is connected to funding. The Universities decide their graduate funding once a year, and thus all funding is made available for the fall semester as the beginning semester of the academic year.
  • Admission to a good US university, therefore, is almost a one year process.

Basic Requirements:

The admission at all universities is a three-tier process and you will be dealing with three entities on any US university campus: The Office of International Studies; The office of Graduate Studies/ Admissions, and the College or department to which you are applying.

First Stage (Required by the International Office/ Graduate Admissions Office to Move your application to the College/ Department

  • An Official TOEFL score (Unless you have masters from an English-Speaking Country (Pakistan does not qualify for this).
  • Transcripts of all your previous work
  • A GRE/ GMAT Score depending on your area of study.
  • A statement of Purpose (Usually up to 700 words)

Second Stage: College/ Departmental Requirements

  • Three letters of recommendation
  • A Writing/ Research sample

Final Stage: (After Admission has been granted)

The Office of International Studies will ask you to provide proof of Payment ability. Usually a bank statement or a letter stating that you have a scholarship. [Note: Ability to pay is not considered in making a decision about your admission; that is why you are asked for finances only after you have been admitted]

Issuance of I-20 Student Visa Form.

Transition to US:

Here are some of the important steps:

  • Accommodation: if the institution provides graduate housing, immediately apply for it through their online request forms.
  • If you cannot get University accommodation, contact the International Office to suggest any off- campus accommodation. Reach out to Pakistani/ South Asian Student associations on campus to see if they can help you find a place to live.
  • Arrange with the International office to see if they will arrange picking you up at the airport; most universities will make this arrangement.
  • Get in touch with the Grad advisor in your future program to seek guidance about registering for classes etc.
  • Bring all your credentials in original to the US.

Post-Doc Applications:

The US universities do not charge a bench fee for post-docs. The post-doc students come under the J1 visa program. In order to get the visa, you may follow the following steps:

  • Contact a specific faculty member who works in the area of your interest.
  • Send them a query email, clearly stating your research interests and ask if they would be willing to work with you as a mentor.
  • If they agree, then send them your research proposal.
  • It takes only a few days for a faculty member to fill the necessary forms and refer you to the Office of International Studies.
  • The office of International Studies will gather more of your information including your ability to bear the cost of your stay [usually calculated based on cost of living statistics of the state]
  • After you have proved the ability to sustain your stay, they will issue you a J-1 visa.
  • As a J-1 scholar, you can also work on campus for up to 30 hours per week.
  • Your spouse can also accompany you on a J-2 visa if you can prove your ability to pay the cost of his or her stay.
  • You will also need the proof a health insurance plan that meets the J1 Visa stipulations.

Useful Links: