Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Senseless Sensationalism

You probably heard about the tragic incident in Russia a couple days back, over a 100people died after being trapped in a night club. Russia is in a state of mourning. The government, the people, the media, all are sharing this time of great agony, the country is weeping. There are about 15000 deaths caused by fire in Russia each year. However the staggering number of arson related deaths in Russia fails to dim this country’s strong reaction to this latest incident. The Russian media has stopped its regular broadcast and has devoted most of its programming to this tragic incident.



Now, by contrast, several hundred people have died in Pakistan in the last couple of months, as the Taliban militants have unleashed a massive series of bombings in various cities of Pakistan including Sawat, Peshawar, Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Multan. It is impossible to obtain the actual death toll, as the number seems to rise with each passing day. The Taliban campaign is in response to the on-going military offensive in Sawat, North Waziristan and other areas.


The Pakistani media for the most part, however continues to go about its usual ways. Albeit the fact that recently, the Pakistani media outlets have replaced their usual self complementary ‘promos’ with patriotic messages which mourn the lives lost in these barbaric bombing. There is no trace of widespread condemnation of the religious extremism and their acts of terrorism on the general public.


The general programming still goes on unaffected, the soaps, the song and dance competitions, the music masti shows, continue on as though nothing has happened. We lose more and more people every day to terrorism, while the mainstream journalists unload their radical views on the backdrop of bloodied bodies. We lost 17 children in the attack last Friday which adds to the several hundred more who were killed in these senseless attacks. Have we lost the ability to feel?



What’s particularly disturbing is the international programming aired by the biggest media outlets in Pakistan. One of the largest T.V. channels in Pakistan recently started a campaign to host a ‘Peace Concert’, yes… you heard me right.. a peace concert… which is aimed to demonstrate national unity and denounce terrorism. This is disturbing on a lot of different levels. This peace concert is happening amongst mass killings. People are being killed mercilessly each day, and what’s the media’s response? A quick and greedy scheme to make a few extra bucks.


This show was supposed to be held in Pakistan as the earlier adverts suggested however now this peace concert will be held outside of Pakistan, in Dubai! It will feature 12 hours of non-stop music marathon in Dubai …. With the objective of bringing about peace in Pakistan!!! Wow! Who ever thought of that is a genius, how do we fight terrorism in Pakistan? We sing songs in a foreign country, while our fellow countrymen die on the streets! Shame on you.


What’s also interesting is how the political guru’s of Pakistan are analyzing the situation. Barring a handful of mainstream T.V. journalists, no one else seems to call out the Taliban and the other religious extremists for their ruthless acts of terror. Instead, the blame is on the Government, Pakistan Army and of course the United States.


The Taliban don’t even make the top 3 lists of factors responsible for this brutality. The media flunkey’s are often seen concluding in their assessments that it is the insincere and corrupt Government, the heavy handedness of the Army and the United States which is responsible for this Taliban whiplash, suggesting that the Taliban are actually just retaliating against the ‘establishment’ by killing innocent civilians.


The military frays are blamed as the reason for the amoral acts committed by the Taliban. So it’s actually the military’s fault for going after the terrorists, and thus the whiplash!

What kind of twisted minds would come to this conclusion and actually to accept it as a plausible course of action for the extremists to choose!?
There is also a barrage of conspiracy theories surrounding the recent surge in violence. The fatuous T.V. journalists (most of whom have no formal training in journalism or in media ethics) were no more than tabloid reports in their prior life. The Pakistani people on the other hand still helplessly continue to turn these reporters and analysts fueled by their faustian search for the truth, only to be fed conspiracy theories and more ridiculous and unsupported views than the next guy!
As the attacks on common Pakistanis by the Taliban are increasing with each passing day, so is the frequency of the exacerbated claims made by the main stream journalists.

It is extremely unpopular amongst the ranks of the journalists to berate the Taliban, they find other popular targets such as the Government, the military and the United States to explain the ‘rationale’ for these attacks.

The capricious nature of these attacks seems to have numbed the media, making it devoid of reason and to analyze.


While it’s futile to try and analyze the situation in a vacuum, it’s extremely critical for the media to do its job. The media helps form national consensus through factual reporting, not by presenting the Taliban and other militant elements as the ‘victims’ and flout at the country’s efforts to root out terrorism.


There is no question that the solution to the current problem needs to be political. However legitimizing terror and accepting it as an instrument of Taliban policy will take us to a point of no return.


Terrorism, beheadings, hangings, floggings are their values, not ours. We need to strengthen our resolve to protest, to show strength, to gather and speak-up and to speak-out. We need to stop them with our hands, with ours actions with our guns and with our pens. We will prevail.


There are a 160 million Pakistani’s and just a few thousand terrorists, do you really think they can continue to hold us hostage?

Protecting the protectors

The terrorist’s reaped havoc this Friday inside a mosque in the military garrison city of Rawalpindi. So far according to the news reports, forty lives have been claimed, 17 of the dead were children. Nine of the killed were military personnel, including a major general, a brigadier, two lieutenant colonels and two majors.

The Parade lane mosque is located within the highly protected ‘Red Zone’ and is a short distance away from the Military general Headquarters.


This fresh attack claimed by the Taliban in Pakistan, is another severe blow to the military and to Pakistan’s security. Just a few weeks back, the Military General Headquarters was the target of a separate terrorist attack, this attack outlined major security lapses and the perversity within the otherwise highly coveted Pakistan Military.


Investigations carried out by the Crime Investigations Department (CID) of Punjab, a civilian organization, had learnt (some of the details) during its investigations of the Sri-Lankan team attack in Lahore, that "terrorists belonging to the Pakistan Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), were planning to attack the GHQ. According to the news reports the (CID’s) investigation report also included reference to the Taliban militants using Army personnel uniforms and vehicles which may mimic vehicles frequently used by Pakistan Army to by-pass security at the GHQ. Despite these warnings, there was little communication between the CID and the relevant Military intelligence agencies. The GHQ was subsequently attacked by the Taliban and company in the exact manner as outlined in the CID report.


The war-fatigue within the Pakistan Military is at the highest level within the recent years. The Army is tired after the travails of its recent and on-going campaigns in Sawat and North Waziristan. The military is continuing to claim control of these areas, the collateral damage has been considerably less compared to what was expected due to the scale of the operation and the Army along with the local government and federal governments aid, has done an impressive job in getting the majority of the internally displaces citizens back to their dwellings. The situation is still chaotic, but given the nature of the beast of war, it is difficult to ask for much more, presently.


The task at hand for the Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani is difficult and consuming. The wallops of the Taliban attacks have left the military vulnerable; there is a developing consensus within the Pakistani people that the current military leadership is incapable of cleansing itself of the Taliban cronies within its ranks. This is a serious problem.


It is a known and documented fact that the American CIA with the help of Pakistan Army propped-up and propelled the Taliban movement in 1980’s, as the Taliban movement has taken a life of its own. It’s mutated to a point that it is now directly challenging the Pakistan Army and its writ in the capital of Pakistan. The situation is grave.


General Kayani, on his own resolve (which was supplemented by United States encouragement and the developing public opinion in Pakistan) has engaged with the Taliban and its Al-Qaeda allies on the front-lines. However the General is yet to take any concrete action to break clear of Pakistan Army’s past relationship with its current foes, the Taliban.


The questions is, is General Kayani, the former chief of the Pakistan Clandestine Service (ISI) and the current Army Chief, willing to hold himself accountable for the lapses in security, the break-down in communication, the lack of or co-ordination between security agencies, and the meaningful translation of security data into actionable intelligence?


The current situation is undermining Pakistan Military’s credibility, not only in Pakistan but across her borders. Is he willing to hold himself to the same standards of integrity, discipline and effectiveness which his organization has so often used an excuse and as a tool to march into the corridors of power?


The discussion here is not aimed to ‘blame’ the lack of civilian leadership on the Army. The question is, does the General in charge of the military, has what it takes to get the job done? Is he willing to take on ‘anyone’ and investigate and correct the problems facing his organization?


The siege of the Military GHQ and the attacks on the top leadership of the Army is begging to do exactly what the Taliban want, to undermine public confidence in the Army, the Army which is thought to be the last functioning and the most powerful organization in Pakistan.

The people of Pakistan are standing by their military in this time, albeit the fact that time and again the double dealings have left little faith for the nation to believe in anything.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What about us?

It’s only been 20 months since the current government of Pakistan was ‘popularly elected ‘during the almost immediate aftermath of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Already there is noise on Capitol Hill and in Islamabad indicating the possibility of a legislative coup against Zardari and his cabal in the first quarter of next year. The ‘National Reconciliation Ordnance’ (NRO) which was propelled by the Musharraf government in 2007 expired on November 28th.


The NRO ‘hibernated’ the criminal prosecutions of 8000 individuals including President Zardari. With the NRO now expired, Zardari’s opponents and their obduracy is growing by the day.


Fuelling the speculations of another ‘regime change’ is the deteriorating relationship between the Military and the Zardari government.
Incredulously it was only last January (2008), when the Army Chief of Staff General Kayani passed a directive which ordered military officers not to maintain contacts with politicians. On 7 March 2008 General Kayani confirmed that Pakistan's armed forces will stay out of politics and support the new government. He told a gathering of military commanders in the garrison city of Rawalpindi that "the army fully stands behind the democratic process and is committed to playing its constitutional role." The comments made were after the results of the Pakistani general election, 2008 where the Pakistan Peoples Party won the election and began forming a coalition government who were opposed to President Pervez Musharraf.


That love affair between the PPP government and the military is now over. A series of events have widened the gap between the incumbents and the military establishment.



In July 2008, the Pakistani government announced that the Pakistan clandestine service (ISI) will be brought under the control of the interior ministry, but revoked its decision within hours. Constitutionally, the agency is accountable to the prime minister. But most officers in the ISI are from the army, so that is where their loyalties and interests lie. This hasty announcement and the immediate back tracking was seen by observers as a weak attempt by the Zardari government to bring the ISI under the control of his government.


Shortly after the terror attacks in India, in November 2008, the Pakistani Prime Minister called his Indian counterpart to offer condolences and offered to help with the terror probe. The Indian Prime Minister demanded that the Chief of the Pakistan clandestine service (ISI) must visit India. Astonishingly the Pakistani Prime Minister, hastily agreed on sending the ISI Chief to India while on phone with Manmohan Singh! Within hours of this phone conversation, President Zardari, and his Prime Minister was reprimanded by the Army leadership for their agreement to send Lieutenant General Shuja Pasha to New Delhi. This decision too, was subsequently reversed which further discredited the Government, and deepened the rift with the military.


Historically it’s the top brass of the military which engages in negotiations with the United States when it comes to military assistance, the current government however temporarily curtailed this link by allegedly contributing to some of the language contained within the Kerry-Lugar Bill. Specifically allegations have been made against the Pakistan’s Ambassador to United States, Hussain Haqqani who is reported to have contributed to section ‘SEC. 205. REQUIREMENTS FOR CIVILIAN CONTROL OF CERTAIN ASSISTANCE’, a portion of which reads ‘For fiscal years 2010 through 2014, any direct cash security-related assistance or non-assistance payments by the United States to the Government of Pakistan may only be provided or made to civilian authorities of a civilian government of Pakistan.


The state of democracy in Pakistan has unfortunately been a derisory story. Between the 1988-1999 period, Pakistan hosted the musical chair of 8 Prime Ministers, which included 4 care-taker Prime Ministers, a bit too much ‘caring’ wouldn’t you say?

The current ditherer state of the country mandates that steps must be taken by both the political parties and the military to work in concert with each other to strengthen and re-build this nation of 160 million and to weed out differences, you both are old enough now, start acting like adults.

Every delay in truly reconciling differences is much more angst for the people of Pakistan.

In essence the political instability in Pakistan is a virulent trend and it continues to threaten the solidarity and the existence of the country.
The people of Pakistan are tired, war torn and inflation-ridden, they demand stability, they deserve better than this constant bickering and back and forth between landed feudals, family politicians, generational soldiers and the new emerging media king makers.


STOP. THINK. ACT.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thought leadership - Leading your business to innovate and succeed

Thought leadership - Leading your business to innovate and succeed
Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.Steve Jobs, Founder of Apple Computers Inc.


Thought LeadershipTraditionally leaders define and set course for change to happen. Generally if you go high enough the decisions boil down to one person, the leader. We know leaders have certain characteristics courage, commitment, vision and so forth, but as the business world grows more mature, there is an added focus on ‘thought leadership’. Leaders today need to be futuristic, forward moving, courageous and focus on innovation.Today our workforce is more specialized, better equipped and more trained than ever before. Twenty years ago an employee may have just been hired to complete their ‘to do’ list and be done. Today professional services firms, consumer goods companies, banks, and any other sector you can name pays their people to do one very private function ... to think!Leaders must not form a team of blind sighted followers but an intelligent, evolving team of leaders, who have the freedom to think beyond now. After all, we all are leaders ….we have at least one person to lead….our self.While leaders define the direction, those who follow also define the leader. The quality of people a leader is able to retain within their team has a direct impact on the quality of output produced. This is not just true for businesses, it is also true in governments, political campaigns and life in general.InnovationHell, there are no rules here-- we're trying to accomplish something. – Thomas Edison.This is the age of innovation, now that management has officially been named as one of the sciences, innovation too is fast moving from an abstract art to a defined science. Innovation and leadership go hand in hand. Without futuristic, forward thinking tone from the top, it’s hard for any business to innovate. Breaking free from their past often plagues’ otherwise usually successful businesses. In a flat world, keeping outside forces from influencing research and development is becoming increasingly difficult and detrimental to growth.More often than not, we still somehow try to fit everything we see in a box. Categorize it for the sake of remembering it, assigning it a label in our mind But what about the ideas and thoughts which haven’t been labeled yet?As services and products, and deliverables in general get more customized, there are very few rules which can not be challenged. There is very little room for that comfort statement that ‘it’s always been done this way’, that notion today, it’s unacceptable.Any thing that matters gets measured. So innovation too should be measured and is being measured at businesses worldwide. Jorma Ollila, non-executive chairman of both Nokia and Shell, argues that it is a mistake to measure innovation by the number of patents issued by a company or the extent to which new technologies are introduced. He suggests that most the most fertile area of innovation today can be found in management. One reason for that maybe that creating an idea is the easy part, the transformation to a real ‘thing’ is tough. As Thomas Edison put it, genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.Google claims that its constantly reinventing itself and googler’s proudly say that ‘Google is an innovation engine, not just another search engine!’ the company grants its engineers with permission to spend 20% of their paid time on pet projects unrelated to their daily job.Open innovation has been talked about for decades. Professor Henry Chesborough, a business professor at the University of California laid out the very foundation of open innovation in his books ‘Open Business Models’ and ‘Open Innovation’. He argued that companies need to be open to change, no matter where it comes from. Large scale R&D labs may not be the answer for all innovation, companies need to think faster, and get all the help they can to get the answer right …very early on.P&G is a good example of a traditional company which for decades guarded its research and development activities carried out in CIA style secrecy, all the innovation came from within. No more. P&G now welcomes ideas from the outside and works on a profit sharing model for innovation, encouraging participation. In less than a decade P&G has increased the proportion of new-product ideas originating from outside of the firm from less than a fifth to around half, its bosses indicate that it has also grown at a 6% annual rate every year from 2001-2006., tripling annual profits to $8.6 billion.While all this is encouraging, argues Harold Sirkins in his book ‘Pay Back’ that firms are jumping on the innovation bandwagon and are in-turn creating a bottle neck of ideas. He suggests that its critical for companies to recognize and separate the ideas which may work from those which would not, very early on. Businesses will have to become efficient, and faster in recognizing the idea which is worth working on. The race has already begun.

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Stuff I have to say: The views expressed here are solely my own. My employer, clients, colleagues, neighbors, family, have got nothing to do with this….although I am thankful to them for putting up with me!