Pakistan Army and Martial Race

From Express Tribune:

Lieutenant General Raheel Sharif was appointed as the new Chief of the Army Staff  (COAS) and Lieutenant General Rashad Mehmood was appointed as the new Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff Committee (CJCSC) on Wednesday

So this is what head of Inter Services Public Relations Gen Asim Bajwa tweets from his personal account:

 

One can also find the bio-data on ISPR page here.

Since it was stated in the first line, a lot of people wondered what is martial stock. And here Wikipedia comes to help:

Martial race was a designation created by Army officials of British India after the Indian Rebellion of 1857, where they classified each caste into one of two categories, ‘martial’ and ‘non-martial’. The ostensible reason was that a ‘martial race’ was typically brave and well-built for fighting, while the ‘non-martial races’ were those whom the British believed to be unfit for battle because of their sedentary lifestyles. However, an alternative hypothesis is that British-trained Indian soldiers were among those who rebelled in 1857 and thereafter recruitment policy favoured castes which had remained loyal to the British and diminished or abandoned recruitment from the catchment area of the Bengal army.

The British regarded the ‘martial races’ as valiant and strong but also intellectually inferior, lacking the initiative or leadership qualities to command large military formations. They were also regarded as politically subservient or docile to authority. For these reasons, the ‘martial races’ theory did not lead to officers being recruited from them; recruitment was based on social class and loyalty to the British Raj.

Whereas Martial Race theory continued to be abandoned every where, Pakistani military continues to hang on to it

English: Flag of the Pakistan Army
English: Flag of the Pakistan Army (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Though seldom used in today’s context, it has been alleged that Pakistan Military believed in the concept of martial races, and thought that they would easily defeat India in a war, especially prior to the Second Kashmir War Based on this belief in martial supremacy, it was popularly said that one Pakistani soldier was equal to four to ten Hindus or Indian soldiers, and thus numerical superiority of the foe could be overcome.

The Pakistan Army was also accused of bias and racism by the Bengalis of East Pakistan who felt humiliated by this dubious theory that was being floated in West Pakistan, that they were not ‘martially inclined’ compared to the Punjabis and Pashtuns. Pakistani author Hasan-Askari Rizvi notes that the limited recruitment of Bengali personnel in the Pakistan Army was because the West Pakistanis “could not overcome the hangover of the martial race theory”.

Defence writers in Pakistan have noted that the 1971 defeat was partially attributable to the flawed ‘martial races’ theory which led to wishfully thinking that it was possible to defeat the Indian Army based on the theory alone. Author Stephen P. Cohen notes that “Elevating the ‘martial races’ theory to the level of an absolute truth had domestic implications for Pakistani politics and contributed to the neglect of other aspects of security.” Since then, the ‘martial race’ theory has rarely, if ever, been used by Pakistan.

Probably Wikipedia writers didn’t get the ISPR bio-data of COAS Gen Raheel Sharif. I have gone and edited the above entry to incorporate Pakistan Army still believes in Martial Race theory. Lets see if it gets accepted.

To summarize, Martial Race theory was devised by British Raj to define races that will remain loyal to British. This view is also propounded by Shuja Nawaz in his book Crossed Swords.

The point here is not to belittle the valor and sacrifices of soldiers of Pakistan Army. The point here is Pakistan Army continues to hold the dubious theory as absolute truth that their former colonial masters floated to keep them as a loyal subject.

It is now forgotten but this is how British treated brave men such as Tipu Sultan by calling stray dogs as Tipu. As quoted by Mushtaq Yusufi in his book Aab-e-Gum:

Profit before Pakistanis: A case of mangoes, potatoes and bottled water

Last year I visited Madina Munawwarah and stayed at a five star hotel which had a bed and breakfast deal. They had a large breakfast buffet in the morning comprising of Arabic, Oriental, etc breakfast options. To cut the long story short, they also a had a fruit table where all kinds of sliced fruit were available in ready to eat format. I was amazed at their watermelon pieces. They must have cut around 50 to 100 watermelons to fill the various trays on multiple tables. The surprising part of it that there was not a single bad water melon. All the watermelons were red-dark pink and sweet. Whenever we go to a shop to buy water melons we have to check for sweet and red ones and occasionally we end up with unripe or non-sweet water melons. But in that hotel all the water melons pieces were ripe and sweet and red. Why can’t we get such delicious water melons every time?

This reminded me of an earlier event. Around 2004, a colleague of mine who used to work in the same bank branch as I did in Karachi was traveling to his home town Mirpurkhas. It was mango season and as Mirpurkhas lied in mango country, I asked him to buy me some delicious mangoes from Mirpurkhas. When he came back, he was empty handed. I asked him why didn’t he bring mangoes for me. He said the quality available there was not good. I told him that it is not possible that the good quality mangoes didn’t grow in Sind. He said that I misunderstood him. It is not that good mangoes don’t grow in Mirpurkhas rather good mangoes are not sold in Mirpurkhas. They are packed and sent to Karachi for consumption and export as they get higher prices. It is a tragedy that the people where the fruit is grown are not able to buy it because people in far away places like Karachi or abroad are willing to pay a much higher price for it.

Around 2008, a friend in Karachi was advising on merger between makers of Lays chips and Kolson snacks. He was sitting in one of the meetings between the two companies and discussion of potatoes came up wherein the Kolson guy told the Lays people that you don’t leave any potatoes for us. At this, the Lays people just laughed. When the meeting was over, my friend asked the Kolson team what is this about potatoes.

Kolson team told him that Lays has reached an arrangement with major potato farmers in Pakistan that they will get the first pick of all potatoes grown in the country. Once the company fulfills its quota or has rejected the produce, then the farmers can sell the potatoes in the market. So in a sense, the Pakistani nation buys and consumes that potatoes that have been rejected by Lays. Our best potatoes are used to make chips.

Nestle has also been involved in such practices. From the petition page Nestlé: Stop draining Pakistan dry!

Nestlé’s aggressive water grab is already descending like a plague on parts of Pakistan. In the small village of Bhati Dilwan, villagers have watched their water table sink hundreds of feet since Nestlé moved in. Children are getting sick from the foul-smelling sludge they’re forced to choke down.

I remember there was time in late 1980s that we used to drink water right out of kitchen sink. Now the media campaign with respect to bad quality of water in our water pipelines and disease associated with it get so much coverage that every one is forced to buy expensive water (something which is supposed to be cheap and readily accessible). From the study funded by Swiss Coalition of Development Organisations, Swissaid, Catholic Lenten Fund, Bread for all, Helvetas Caritas, Interchurch Aid “Drinking Water Crisis in Pakistan and the Issue of Bottled Water: The Case of Nestlé’s ‘Pure Life’” (ironically Nestle is a swiss company):

The aggressive market strategies of Nestlé went astray when “awareness seminars” about bad water conditions turned out to be counterproductive. Nestlé asked its Lahore ad agency, Interflow Communications Ltd., to organize public information events about water hygiene issues. Participating officials of health and water agencies announced that tests had determined that urban water was unsafe for drinking and even existing bottled water was unhealthy. Nestlé discontinued the seminars immediately after it was reproached for unethical marketing practices. For instance, a representative from the Lahore Water Supply Company alleged that Nestlé was “misleading the people to make money”. Regardless of the discussion and temporary fall back from Nestlé, it became clear that bad news was also good news, and Nestlé gained public attention as a safe option for bottled water. In the end, Nestlé successfully stepped into the market andfilled a need, but turned water from a danger into a luxury.

Furthermore

After five years of operation, Nestlé faced its first opposition when it announced that it would build a second production plant in Karachi. On October 25, 2003, the Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology sent a writ petition to the Sindh High Court (Karachi), saying that the 20 acres leased out to Nestlé were carved out of the 300 acres of land allotted to it previously. The lawsuit has been joined by Sindh Institute of Urology & Transplantation, Aga Khan Hospital and Medical College Foundation, Sindh Madressahtul Islam, Newport Institute of Communication & Economics, Sir Syed University of Engineering & Technology, Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital & Research Centre, and Ziauddin Medical University — all land allottees in the said area. The property is located in an area spread over 15,500 acres, given to 30 different parties, believed to be designated for various educational and health purposes, and declared “Education City Karachi”. Nestlé bought the property for a price of PKR 500’000, double the price paid by the other parties, with the intention to invest USD 10 million and extract 306 million litres of water annually, for the sale of 228 million litres of bottled water. Ironically, the plant was not planned to meet the needs of the people of Karachi or the South of Pakistan, but for US forces at Afghanistan’s Kandahar Air Base.

The plaintiffs argued that Nestlé’s industrial ambitions defeated the very purpose of the area. Nestlé argued that the property was allotted after approval of the provincial cabinet and the department of industries. Furthermore, Nestlé claimed at the end of the dispute that the area was never declared for a single, non-industrial purpose, and the company presented various public officials to promote this position. The plaintiffs, however, could prove that the area was dedicated to education and health services since 1999, and the Sindh High Court (Karachi) held that water extraction by the proposed bottling plant would “diminish water deposits in the aquifers rapidly and shall adversely affect the plaintiffs’ right to use the underground water according to their genuine needs ”. The case is still open, regarding the plant and the investment, since Nestlé continues to legally challenge the decision of the Sindh High Court (Karachi). Nevertheless, one has to keep Nestlé’s self – commitment in mind, namely that it “consult[s] with local communities on water issues”, which was obviously not the case in Karachi.

The losers in this game are the poor

Insufficient water quality mostly affects the poor, who have little power to change policies and priorities and who cannot afford alternatives, such as bottled water, filtering and boiling. The Government of Pakistan officially admitted that “richer households are substantially more likely to have water piped to a tap in the household”. Furthermore, the Government of Pakistan acknowledged that the engagement of corporations, which extract groundwater and sell it as bottled water, might be one of the factors working against water quality improvement because it has reduced the political pressure for improvement by this part of society whose voices are valued and heard.

In conclusion,

Even Nestlé confessed before it started to produce ‘Pure Life’ that “the fact that everybody can’t afford ‘Pure Life’ is unfortunate, but does that mean we shouldn’t sell it at all?”. From this perspective, it is reasonable that Nestlé focused its marketing on urban centres, railway and bus stations and highway stops. To conclude, one has to say that Nestlé ‘Pure Life’ in Pakistan is not an affordable alternative for the great portion of the population without access to safe drinking water. Rather the introduction of bottled water in Pakistan is an attempt to initiate the bottled water culture, where water is a status symbol and a way of life for the rich.

So whether you grow potatoes or mangoes or sitting on water reserves, if you are poor, you will not be able to enjoy these fruits of nature.

Coming back to watermelon story, it was like the five star hotels have made a deal with watermelon growers to sell them the best watermelons and once the hotels have bought as per their requirement, then the farmers can sell the remaining watermelons in the market.

  • Further reading:

If you are interested in reading more about scandalous bottled water campaigns, please read this Mother Jones expose about Fiji water: Spin the Bottle. (It is worth reading in the full)

Obama sips it. Paris Hilton loves it. Mary J. Blige won’t sing without it. How did a plastic water bottle, imported from a military dictatorship thousands of miles away, become the epitome of cool?

Nowhere in Fiji Water’s glossy marketing materials will you find reference to the typhoid outbreaks that plague Fijians because of the island’s faulty water supplies; the corporate entities that Fiji Water has—despite the owners’ talk of financial transparency—set up in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Luxembourg; or the fact that its signature bottle is made from Chinese plastic in a diesel-fueled plant and hauled thousands of miles to its ecoconscious consumers. And, of course, you won’t find mention of the military junta for which Fiji Water is a major source of global recognition and legitimacy.

During the 2000 coup, a small posse of villagers wielding spearguns and dynamite seized on the chaos to take over the bottling plant and threaten to burn it down. “The land is sacred and central to our continued existence and identity,” a village spokesman told the Fiji Times, adding that “no Fijian should live off the breadcrumbs of past colonial injustices.” Two years later, the company created the Vatukaloko Trust Fund, a charity targeting several villages surrounding its plant. It won’t say how much it has given to the trust, but court proceedings indicate that it has agreed to donate .15 percent of its Fijian operation’s net revenues; a company official testified that the total was about $100,000 in 2007. (For perspective, the trade journal Brandweek put Fiji Water’s marketing budget at $10 million in 2008; it recently dropped $250,000 to become a founding partner of the new Salt Lake City soccer stadium.)

Who is responsibe for violence in Karachi? It’s Sattar Buksh

I had written a few posts earlier about killings in Karachi and if anyone is interested in serious study or resources about it, I refer you to my earlier post Resources on Karachi Killings. Its has links to very rich and in-depth studies on violence in Karachi. But they all miss the angle that has come to light recently while I was browsing through a Karachi food forum on Facebook.

Karachi is a dichotomous city and probably Pakistan is dichotomous as well. There is a part of society that though complains of violence and inflation yet throngs to new food outlets in Karachi that “are popping up like windows on Macbook screens.” and has no qualms spending 5 to 10 thousand rupees on a lunch/dinner or even a snack out for four. It is customary to add here —> for 5 to 10 thousand rupees, a poor family of four can manage to feed themselves for a month.

One of those outlets is Sattar Buksh, a play on Starbucks. Sattar and Buksh are pretty common names in parts of the country.

The owners even got the low standard newspaper Express Tribune to report on its opening as a news.

Everyone’s talking about Sattar Buksh

Sattar Buksh is the latest addition to the list of cafes opened up to cater to the insatiable Karachi appetite, which is ready to engulf everything as people reach new heights of desperation in the entertainment-starved, terror-stricken metropolis. The new place has opened up in Clifton Block 4, that is fast picking up as the next swanky lane catering to the discerning and privileged. It has restaurants such as China Kitchen, Hook, Line & Sinker and the newly opened, Monte Cristo. The Sattar Buksh team says it wasn’t their first venue choice; the cafe was supposed to be in another location in Clifton.

You can read the whole article by clicking on the header. It makes for interesting read. Do not miss the comments as they provide an interesting perspective.

There is also a very active food forum on Facebook known as SWOT’s Guide for Karachi’s Restaurants, Cafes, Dhabas, Khokas and Take-outs and where people critique these food outlets. They can be brutal. Probably Sattar Buksh received one such brutal review which resulted in this

 

But probably that wasn’t enough. So he went on defending it with these arguments

 

All this time we have been looking for political, ethnic or financial reasons for people being killed mercilessly in Karachi. But now we find out that its rich entrepreneur kids who are opening eating outlets for rich people but upon receiving negative reviews go on a killing spree.

Bloody hell.

Post script: I didn’t know Pakistanis were giving HEADs to foreign outlets. That is why service at recently opened Burger King in Karachi was so bad as all the servers were busy receiving head.

Resources on Karachi Killings

I had linked to the below resources earlier but for anyone interested in doing some serious research or study about killings in Karachi, below links provide very useful resources:

As and when I come across new sources, I will update the list.

Is Bahria Town Karachi a good investment?

Bahria Town

I have already written a very detailed post about Malik Riaz and his shenanigans at Bahria Town. I have also tweeted about it a lot. However, I keep getting inquiries from friends and colleagues asking me if it is a good investment.

How do you analyze if anything is a good investment? When you ask what will you get in return for what you are paying for. So for Bahria Town, we will be paying Rs.15,000 (5,000 registration fees plus 10,000 credit towards first installment). What will you be getting in return? No one knows. The location of the project, size of the project, sizes of plots, price of the plot, number of installments etc is all guess work. Rather guess work is limited to location of the project. With respect to the rest of the information, no one has a fking clue.

So it is pretty hard to tell if it will be a good investment.

But what do we know about it. We know that we will be paying Rs. 15,000 per application. People are submitting 2 to 3 applications each and investing from all over the world. So I estimate that there will be 100,000 applications which I think is pretty conservative considering the hype surrounding it.

I did some back of the envelope calculation.

  1. At 15,000 per application, that is Rs.1.5 Billion for 100,000 applications.
  2. Lets assume that processing and booking and balloting and allotment etc takes a while. Can take up to 6 months but conservatively assume it will take 3 months
  3. Assuming he has negotiated a rate of 8% interest, Rs. 1.5 Billion in the bank will earn him Rs.30M in 3 months
  4. Add to it, Rs.5000 per application that he will not be returning and that is another Rs.500M
  5. So that makes a total of Rs.530M
  6. Deducting around 50-75M that he spent on advertisement, and that leaves him with Rs.455M
  7. Not a lot of money for him but still a handsome amount as it comes with no strings attached.
  8. If we add money he will be getting from other two projects and probably he might be able to get upto Rs.600M of money absolutely free.

I don’t know about the investors but for Malik Riaz and Bahria Town entity, this is pretty good investment. Against an advertisement campaign of Rs. 75M (ok lets make it Rs.100M by including future expenses), he will be getting Rs.600M. That is a 600% return in 6 months.

Only illegal Ponzi or gambling schemes guarantee such returns. And yet Malik Riaz gets it all legally.

Where is Bahria Town Karachi? Is it a scam? Is it Naya Nazimabad?

Bahria Town

Bahria Town has opened registration for three projects in Karachi

  • Bahria Town Icon
  • Bahria Town Tower
  • Bahria Town Karachi

The registration fees are range from Rs. 15,000 for Bahria Town Karachi to Rs.100,000 for Bahria Town Icon. In case of former Rs.5,000 is non-refundable processing fee and in case of latter, processing fee is Rs.15,000. Balance of payment can be used towards installment credit if you are successful in booking yourself an apartment. This is a registration fee and not booking fee as Bahria puts a disclaimer on its website

Disclaimer: This is not the sale of the project but entitles you to the right of booking at the time of project launch.

Emaar Properties Logo
Emaar Properties Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The registration process is right out of Emaar’s sales strategy or may be Emaar picked it up from Bahria Town as I recall a similar run for Bahria Town application forms somewhere in 2003-2005. The form used to have a five rupee note attached to it with serial number of rupee note matching the serial number of the form and the form alone used to sell at premium. I used to work in a bank in Pakistan at the time and I remember receiving requests from many corporate clients who were millionaires themselves if I can get them an application form.

You can read about Emaar’s abuse of such tactics in Dubai and its role in Dubai bubble here.

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Compared to rest of country, Karachi has a few peculiarities:

There is real shortage of affordable housing in Karachi. Most people find themselves in a position that they cannot afford a decent house or flat in cash or even on mortgage. There are no reputable builders working in Karachi that have a track record as Bahria Town for delivering projects in Lahore and Islamabad. So when Bahria Town announces a project which people deem would provide them with affordable housing or even a quick buck by flipping it to people who are genuinely searching for affordable housing, everyone jumps on the bandwagon.

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Malik Riaz, owner of Bahria Town, is a crook when buying or occupying land but when it comes to selling houses or projects to its clients, I have only heard good things about Bahria Town from its residents. But that has just been the experience of people I know. Other people might have had a different experience.

However his crookedness knows no bounds:

Bahria Town encroached 1,400 kanals of CDA land: Report

ISLAMABAD – Though the Capital Development Authority (CDA) has submitted a report to the Suddle Commission which states that around 1,400 kanals of civic agency’s land located in Zone-IV has been encroached by Bahria Town…..

“In the report we have mentioned two ways how CDA would resolve the encroachment issue with the Bahria Town. Bahria Town will be given two options, either to vacate the land or pay the price of encroached land,” said an official who prepared report.

“Bahria Town will be charged Rs 12 million per Kanal. It is the same price that the Authority has earlier charged against one kanal of land in the Park Enclave,” official said. This shows that according to CDA’s estimates Bahria Town has encroached land worth Rs 16.8 billion.

Official sources said that Bahria Town had already started selling commercial plots carved out on encroached land.

Then there was a time when Malik Riaz duped even the rulers of Abu Dhabi and Pakistani nation into believing that he will be building world’s tallest tower in Karachi.

Abu Dhabi Group to invest $45 billion in Pakistan

ABU DHABI: Former chairman and present consultant of Bahria Town, Malik Riaz Hussain has signed an agreement with His Highness Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al Nahyan, Chairman Abu Dhabi Group, Union National Bank and United Bank Limited under which $45 billion will be invested in Pakistan.

The investment will be made in various construction projects, and is the biggest-ever foreign investment in Pakistan. Out of the total investment value, $10 billion will be invested in Islamabad and Lahore whereas $35 billion will be invested in Sindh.

The story was given critical examination only by Amir Mateen in The Spokesman as Malik Riaz had bought all the other newspapers with full page announcements and advertisements

The biggest-ever media con

Is this funny, sad or simply stupid. The clarification by Abu Dhabi Group about their alleged $45 billion investment in Pakistan may have exposed lots of things — and lots of people. One Malik Riaz of Bahria Town for sure.

He virtually conned the Abu Dhabi Group, Pakistani media and the public. We already knew about his hold on the Pakistani media….The Bahria advertisements worth billions of rupees have simply blinded media owners who ensure that nothing is published against Bahria Town.

The announcement of a whopping $45 billion investment in Pakistan was a dream-come-true story. This too at a time when nobody wants to invest a penny in Pakistan, and half of my foreign friends want to send their mothers-in-law for ‘sight-seeing’ in FATA.

It was simply mind-blowing. The UAE sacrificed its pride for having the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa. And because Malik charmed them so well, they let Karachi have the honour. Apart from building the world’s tallest building in Karachi, the other attractions included a financial hub, sports city, international city, media city, educational and medical City, miniatures of the world’s seven wonders. It was amply flashed that “these projects would employ more than 2.5 million people and boost more than 55 industries like cement, bricks, iron, steel and glass.”

The so-called most credible English newspaper went a step ahead by giving a joint dateline of Karachi and Islamabad instead of Dubai. It added colour to the story by quoting a Karachi magnate, of course on the condition of anonymity, that the construction site would be “Kutta Island,” which is 3 to 4-km off the coast of Karachi. It went a step further than what Malik Riaz had claimed, informing readers that “the Abu Dhabi Group-Malik Riaz would, apart from the above mentioned projects, also launch into building of 125,000 houses on the island.” (sic)

Not a single journalist bothered to even check if there was any news of this sort on any website of the UAE companies or whether Sheikh Nahayan had actually said those words. The half-page advertisement on newspapers’ front pages, showing Malik shaking hands with the Sheikh seem to have blinded everything. Or perhaps they were told not to test their editorial discretion.

My Dubai friend, knowing Bahria’s leverage on Pakistani media, could understand that the news got carried on the first day. “But how about the five days after that,” he asked, confused. “Why nobody followed-up on the story that was supposed to be the biggest investment in the country’s history.”It turns out that the Abu Dhabi Group and the UAE government was aghast at the development. But since they have lots of investment here they did not want to embarrass Pakistanis.

Obviously, the Dubai rulers knew they were duped into that photo-up and their reputation was being used for petty benefits. It is easy to understand the benefits. This kind of news changed the scenario for Malik Riaz. He was being hounded by the courts in numerous cases, some of them seriously heinous. He was in conflict with LDA over opening new housing schemes in Lahore without permission. He was also in conflict with the army for land dispute with DHA that affects thousands of former army officers and jawans. All of this may have shaken the public confidence in his housing projects. In monetary terms this could mean a loss of billions of rupees for him. Such news about building the tallest building in Karachi is worth a lot though.

But you don’t get to where Malik Riaz is without having nerves of steel. The Abu Dhabi group story is dated 16 Feb 2013. IWhen the story finally broke down that there was no Abu Dhabi Group behind the fantastical project after a week, Malik Riaz went and got himself another savior. The following story is dated March 12, 2013.

Pakistan’s 1st Island City: Bahria Town signs $20b deal with US tycoon

ISLAMABAD: American real-estate tycoon Thomas Kramer and Bahria Town CEO Ahmed Ali Riaz Malik signed a $20 billion agreement for Pakistan’s first-ever Island City, Bundal & Buddo Islands, Karachi.

A joint consortium of international investors will join hands to develop this project and the deal with Kramer is the first level of this agreement. Announcement of other global investors from the Middle East and around the globe will be made soon.

Covering 12,000 acres of land, this project will be developed in a span of 5-10 years but the residential communities will start being handed over to people in 2016. The global attractions of the project comprise world’s tallest building, world’s largest shopping mall, sports city, educational & medical city, international city and a media city – all having the most modern facilities and amenities and the most advanced infrastructure.

So the project moves from Kutta Island to Buddu and Bundal Island yet still no newspaper questions its credibility. However, Malik Riaz had wisened this time. He even involved Thomas Kramer in this scam as evident from Thomas Kramer’s own website. It is reproduced in full below just to give you a flavor of what happens when one con artist meets another con artist (they may have been successful developers earlier but recently both Riaz and Kramer are acting more like con artists).

Karachi is getting the Biggest Island Development in the World!

A bold step was made for the future of Pakistan: Its biggest real estate tycoon Malik Riaz was able to convince the US-German real estate visionary Thomas Kramer to jointly develop the first Island City off the coast of Karachi, named Bundle & Buddo Islands.

A spokesman of Bahria Town expressed what an honor it was to join hands with a entrepreneur of Thomas Kramer’s caliber: After all, the “quick change artist,” as Thomas Kramer is described in a recent New York Times article, has a reputation for knowing how to get impossible things done.

In the early 90’s Thomas Kramer took a helicopter ride over South Beach and had a vision: to create an international hot spot on the Southern tip of Miami Beach. What happened there, in less than a decade is absolutely mind boggling. The area was then a slum and full of dilapidated buildings. Thomas Kramer invited 11 world-renowned architectural firms to his world famous Charette. With his vision and foresight, he pioneered luxury living in Florida by transforming the once-blighted neighborhood of Miami Beach “South of 5th” into a sophisticated world-class destination.

Newspaper Karachi Master 2 Karachi is getting the Biggest Island Development in the World!

Thomas Kramer’s South Beach Vision and South Beach today

Almost five years ago, Thomas Kramer met Malik Riaz in Islamabad where he invited him to visit his developments in South Beach.A year and a half later, Thomas Kramer was able to welcome Malik Riaz to 5 Star Island, his luxurious mansion. Malik Riaz was highly impressed by the degree of efficiency, innovation and quality that he saw in Thomas Kramer’s projects. Actually seeing the realization of a world-class development is better than any PDF presentation.

Newspaper Karachi Master 3 Karachi is getting the Biggest Island Development in the World!

Mailk Riaz and TK visiting Apogee Towers in Miami Beach in front of Portofino Tower

Convinced that he found the right man for the job, Malik Riaz invited Thomas Kramer back to Pakistan where he offered him the use of a helicopter to spot potential development sites along the coastline. After days of inspection flights, Thomas Kramer was most impressed by the beauty of a chain of unoccupied islands, roughly 16,000 acres, located 2 miles outside of Karachi and just 12 miles away from Jinnah International Airport.

Most striking to him are the similarities between the Island of Karachi and Miami Beach in terms of climate and vegetation – obvious when comparing historic Miami Beach pictures, prior to its development in the early 20th century, with the Island of Karachi today.

Newspaper Karachi Master 4 Karachi is getting the Biggest Island Development in the World!

View of the Island of Karachi today and Miami Beach in 1910

 Finally, through unwavering persistence, Malik Riaz was able to secure a 100-year lease with an automatic additional 100-year lease renewal option on this land. Having signed the initial contract in March 2013 (The Express Tribune), both parties are now ready to bring their vision a high-end, self-sufficient waterfront hot spot to life.

Newspaper Karachi Master 5 Karachi is getting the Biggest Island Development in the World!

Ali and Malik Riaz signing MoU with Thomas Kramer in March 2013

The deal is worth USD 20 billion and the project is expected to be completedwithin 10 to 15 years. The first committed financier was Abu Dhabi. At the deal signing, Thomas Kramer stated that this project − along with boosting the region’s economy and garnering the interest of international investors in the realty sector − will likely help eradicate terrorism in Pakistan. Furthermore, he believes that this is a unique opportunity that will put Pakistan back on the map of leading nations in the world.

Newspaper Karachi Master 6 Karachi is getting the Biggest Island Development in the World!

Birds view of Miami’s South Beach and Bundle & Buddo Island

The project covers 16,000 acres of land. The global attractions of the project include the world’s most sophisticated marina, some of the world’s tallest buildings, the world’s most beautiful shopping arcades, a Sports city, an Educational and Medical city, an International city and a Media city. Each will have the latest in modern facilities and amenities as well as the most advanced infrastructure. Like in Miami Beach, Thomas Kramer was able to negotiate a connecting highway, 12 mile long and 8 lane wide, from the Island City to Jinnah International Airport.The entire city will be a “high security zone” with its own desalination plant that will convert sea-water into potable water. Power generation plants will enable it to be completely self-sufficient. Moreover, the project will have mosques, cinemas, spas, golf clubs, schools, hospitals and other global standard amenities to furnish a modern lifestyle. The first phases of the development will be available in 2016.

And again it was only Amir Mateen of The Spokesman who did some excellent work and ask pertinent questions:

Kramer versus Malik Riaz : Not Again

Malik Riaz has pulled another rabbit out of his Bahria hat. As the Abu Dhabi Group backs out of the $45 billion deal that never existed in the first place — enter Thomas Kramer.

Again, the same dazzling picture of the world class retreat, encompassing the world’s tallest building 3.5 km off the Karachi coast was painted. Only the protagonist of the fairy tale was changed from the Abu Dhabi Group to US investor Thomas Kramer. Geo TV quoted Bahria Town spokesman claiming that Kramer had committed $15 to 20 billion investment in developing “Bodha Island city,” which will have “Net City, Education City, Health City, Port City and other infrastructure projects.”

The spokesman claimed, “the worlds’ most modern shopping mall will also be built” and link Karachi to the Island through a six-lane bridge.

Interestingly, the same group had published news on Monday, quoting the same spokesman, who bragged about an investment of 15 to 20 billion ‘rupees.’ During the day, rupees turned into dollars. 

Transparency International says Bahria could not be given the project as it was declared as “cheats and frauds” by three statuary and regulatory authorities -the Federal Tax Ombudsman (FTO), the Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and the Lahore Development Authority.Transparency quotes the State bank of Pakistan and the SECP which issued advertisements on February 23 warning that “the public should beware and not be misled by the fraudulent activities of deposit, loan, and investments through such advertisement.”

Bahria Town, it says, took advance money from investors illegally, besides the tax evasion of Rs 119 billion as mentioned by the FTO. The report lies with the FBR and may be taken up by the next government to recover this huge amount from Malik Riaz. May be!

Transparency mentions numerous cases where Malik Riaz was found involved in, to name a few, “corruption, black-mailing, extortion, land-grabbing, forgery, fabrication of evidence.”

So where does this leave the glamourous project? Frankly, it suits everybody. Malik Riaz got the island through dubious means and will not mind to give a huge stake to the American investors. Money will come from the public who are already being shown the dreamy image of the recreated Miami. The media story flashed on Monday shed light on the dazzling projects that Kramer had accomplished in Florida and how he turned around the pirates’ den across Cuba into one of the priciest real estate in the US. And why should Kramer not be interested. He gets a good deal — the island, the naive public dying to book an apartment in the dream world, the official approvals — for just showing up. 

Who was investing $20 Billion? Was it $20 Billion or Rs.20 Billion? As a follow up to above story, I am at a loss to quote first the Kramer story or Buddu Island story. Let me start with Kramer story:

Thomas Kramer’s South Beach Story Ends With $200 Million Court Judgment

That morning marked a new low in one of the most incredible rise-and-fall stories in Miami Beach’s storied history of booms and busts. In the 1990s, Kramer was SoBe royalty, the man who’d spearheaded the South of Fifth revival and ruled from a waterfront mansion where wild shindigs sometimes turned into outright orgies. More than anyone, he symbolized an era of glamour, decadence, and carefree excess.

Now it was all over thanks to a Swiss court ruling in January that Kramer had to repay nearly $200 million to a German currency-printing dynasty. His appeals were up. Everything had to go — the house, the staff, the jewelry, the extensive cellar of vintage wine, even the taxidermied giraffe that greeted visitors in the hallway. Because of my job in Kramer’s mansion, I had a unique front-row seat for his last days in Miami Beach. I saw one man’s desperate efforts to salvage his name and his livelihood, afraid but hopeful that some last-minute opportunity would save him from financial ruin.

In fact, by the time he dismissed his staff, Kramer had already found the man he believed could be his long-shot savior: a scandal-tarred Pakistani plutocrat named Malik Riaz who wanted a partner to build a $20 billion island city in Karachi. Riaz, Kramer said that morning between sobs, was his last best hope.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to bring Pakistan back on the map of the leading nations in the world,” Kramer later said of the project.

If he succeeds in Karachi, Kramer could pull off the ultimate coup in a career full of remarkable comebacks. If he fails, though, it’s anyone’s guess how low he could fall.

Excuse my french, but you would be right in asking what Chutyapa is going on here. Now for the Island story

PQA, others stopped from working on twin islands

KARACHI, June 13: The Sindh High Court on Thursday restrained the Port Qasim Authority and other respondents from carrying out construction or any other activity on islands located at the western end of the Sindh coastal zone near Karachi.

The petition was filed by Shahid Hussain Soomro, a worker of the Pakistan Muslim League (Functional), who impleaded the chief secretary, port and shipping secretary, PQA chairman, senior member of board of revenue and the chief executive officer of the Bahria Town, Islamabad, as respondents.

The counsel stated that the PQA was an authority of the federal government that had nothing to do with the allotment of valuable lands and islands belonging to the provincial government. He said it was a matter of record that the then chief minister had in 1974 approved the summary for allotment of 13,000 acres for the PQA. However, he said, it was clearly mentioned that the PQA would not use the allotted land for commercial purposes.

The counsel argued that the deal between the PQA and the Bahria Town was contrary to fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19-A read with Article 4 of the Constitution.

The petitioner prayed to the court to declare that the allotment of the islands to Bahria Town was illegal, unlawful and ultra vires of the law and without jurisdiction. He also prayed to the court to restrain the respondents from carrying out any construction and agreement on the impugned property.

It wouldn’t be Malik Riaz if he stayed out of news for long.

SC directs FIA to probe Rs40 bn EOBI scam
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday ordered to bring the looters of the public money to book, directing the Director General of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to probe the alleged Rs40 billion corruption in the Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) and submit a report to it within 10 days.

At the outset of the hearing, former director Town Planning, Defence Housing Authority DHA, Col (retd) Tariq Kamal alleged that some 400 kanal land near Rawalpindi was handed over to Bahria Town without any financial consideration and the land was later purchased by the EOBI for investment purposes.

*********************************************************

So far we have established three things:

1. Karachi has a real shortage of housing

2. Malik Riaz as a developer has reputation of delivering to clients

3. Malik Riaz is a criminal (but then everyone is. Here is ‘PAF forcibly occupied CAA land & convert it into private housing society‘. PAF acquired that land in national interest to build a radar station but ended up selling it as a residential housing society.

So where does that leave the current projects in Karachi. I have a few issues with them.

1. Above is a logo Bahria Icon Tower. How an under construction tower be a SUCCESS? On what basis did the tower won the property award? Who gave it an award and based on what: architectural drawings?

2. Above is one of the term of registration of Bahria Town saying that size of the house, plot, its price and rest of the details would be finalized at the time of booking.

Registration fees that you are paying is for the privilege of being invited to the booking event. Why would any investor put up money for something for which he has no idea he is buying or whether he can even afford to or would like to buy.

3. Finally, there has been no infomration where is this Bahria Town located.

One must be crazy for putting money for a project for which we don’t know where it is located, what is the size of the project, what is the shape of project, what are we buying in the project. Even small projects need approval from municipal development authorities but in Karachi whose infrastructure is already creaking, a project of this size would need major approvals for bringing in water, gas etc to the development but no one seems to care.

A friend who works in foreign bank in Karachi says colleagues around him are going crazy filling in multiple application forms. Friends in other banks also told me similar stories. People are calling in from up country even overseas (one friend received four phone calls from his friends and family abroad in one day inquiring about how to invest in the project).

But no one is asking where is the project located?

Talked to a few people and they don’t care about the project much. They are in it to make a quick buck by flipping the property to the next sucker. Most of them also know that this might be a game of “pass the parcel” with the last one holding the parcel being the ultimate sucker. In the words of disgraced Citibank CEO

“When the music stops, in terms of liquidity, things will be complicated. But as long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance. We’re still dancing,” he said in an interview with the FT

And then music stopped and we all knew what happened to Citibank.

1. Arif Habib couldn’t sell the project because of its location. However, by duping in people with Bahria name and probably with significant cash, Bahria Town may just be able to kick-start the project

2. For the project of this size to be located anywhere else in Karachi, lot of approvals will be required from KBCA and KDA and other agencies for provision of utilities. There has been no record of Bahria Town seeking any approvals from civic agencies or negotiating with utility and infrastructure companies in Karachi. This means two things: either the project is outside Karachi or all those approval have already been obtained. For the latter case, only Naya Nazimabad qualifies as they have all such approvals.

3. Sources within Arif Habib tell me that Arif Habib has already sold its significant stake in Naya Nazimabad.

What does Google do to our brain?

The question was first raised by Nicholas Carr in his landmark piece for Atlantic magazine Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Key takeaways from his essay were

And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

……

“We are how we read.” Wolf worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace. When we read online, she says, we tend to become “mere decoders of information.” Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged.

….

The Net’s influence doesn’t end at the edges of a computer screen, either. As people’s minds become attuned to the crazy quilt of Internet media, traditional media have to adapt to the audience’s new expectations. Television programs add text crawls and pop-up ads, and magazines and newspapers shorten their articles, introduce capsule summaries, and crowd their pages with easy-to-browse info-snippets.

…..

Maybe I’m just a worrywart. Just as there’s a tendency to glorify technological

Cropped image of a Socrates bust for use in ph...

progress, there’s a countertendency to expect the worst of every new tool or machine. In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing.He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.”Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).

*********************

Recently, Clive Thompson attempted the question again in Slate by asking Is Google Wrecking Our Memory? and he answers it in this way

The short answer is: No. Machines aren’t ruining our memory.

The longer answer: It’s much, much weirder than that!

And he goes on to explain this as

What’s really happening is that we’ve begun to fit the machines into an age-old technique we evolved thousands of years ago—“transactive memory.” That’s the art of storing information in the people around us. We have begun to treat search engines, Evernote, and smartphones the way we’ve long treated our spouses, friends, and workmates. They’re the handy devices we use to compensate for our crappy ability to remember details.

And frankly, our brains have always been terrible at remembering details. We’re good at retaining the gist of the information we encounter. But the niggly, specific facts? Not so much.

…..

Wegner suspected this division of labor takes place because we have pretty good “metamemory.” We’re aware of our mental strengths and limits, and we’re good at intuiting the memory abilities of others. Hang around a workmate or a romantic partner long enough and you discover that while you’re terrible at remembering your corporate meeting schedule, or current affairs in Europe, or how big a kilometer is relative to a mile, they’re great at it. They’re passionate about subject X; you’re passionate about subject Y. So you each begin to subconsciously delegate the task of remembering that stuff to the other, treating one’s partners like a notepad or encyclopedia, and they do the reverse. In many respects, Wegner noted, people are superior to notepads and encyclopedias, because we’re much quicker to query: Just yell a fuzzily phrased question across to the next cubicle (where do we keep the thing that we use for that thing?) and you’ll get an answer in seconds. We share the work of remembering, Wegner argued, because it makes us collectively smarter.

…….

And as it turns out, this is what we’re doing with Google and Evernote and our other digital tools. We’re treating them like crazily memorious friends who are usually ready at hand.

……

If there’s a big danger in using machines for transactive memory, it’s not about making us stupider or less memorious. It’s in the inscrutability of their mechanics. Transactive memory works best when you have a sense of how your partners’ minds work—where they’re strong, where they’re weak, where their biases lie. I can judge that for people close to me. But it’s harder with digital tools, particularly search engines. They’re for-profit firms that guard their algorithms like crown jewels. And this makes them different from previous forms of transactive machine memory.

*********************

Like Socrates, I am tempted to extrapolate the above examples to say that transactive memory provided us a shared knowledge about our relationships and a means of connecting and interacting with each other. With the ubiquity of Google we will be interacting with our relationships lesser which may be harmful to our relationships as already 24 hour TV, MOMPRPG videogames and tweeting/facebooking have wreaked havoc with our relationships. And like Socrates, I will be shortsighted in saying that.

We cannot stop the march of technology. People might not have liked writing, TV, mobile phones, texting, social media but the fact remains that these services have become part of our social fabric and we can not tear them away from our lives. Google as a ubiquitous search engine is here to stay and with time will become stronger, more intrusive and omnipresent. As a company it may disappear as many “build-to-last” companies have disappeared before it but then some other company will come to fill in the role. The ubiquitous search engine be it Google or any other one in future, is part of our social and mental make up. Our brains have rewired themselves to live with it.

However, there is no free lunch. So there will be some costs associated with this. The costs that come to my mind are that we will not be able to make connections between different events unless Google makes those connections for us like the one Sherlock Holmes makes in BBC’s The Hounds of Baskerville.

There will be much less serendipity. Though Clive Thompson mentions the following hypothetical example,

In fact, as transactive partners, machines have several advantages over humans. For example, if you ask them a question you can wind up getting way more than you’d expected. If I’m trying to recall which part of Pakistan has experienced tons of U.S. drone strikes and I ask a colleague who follows foreign affairs, he’ll tell me “Waziristan.” But when I queried this online, I got the Wikipedia page on “Drone attacks in Pakistan.” I wound up reading about the astonishing increase of drone attacks (from one a year to 122 a year) and some interesting reports about the surprisingly divided views of Waziristan residents. Obviously, I was procrastinating—I spent about 15 minutes idly poking around related Wikipedia articles—but I was also learning more, reinforcing my generalized, “schematic” understanding of Pakistan.

Now imagine if my colleague behaved like a search engine—if, upon being queried, he delivered a five-minute lecture on Waziristan. Odds are I’d have brusquely cut him off. “Dude. Seriously! I have to get back to work.” When humans spew information at us unbidden, it’s boorish. When machines do it, it’s enticing. And there are a lot of opportunities for these encounters. Though you might assume search engines are mostly used to answer questions, some research has found that up to 40 percent of all queries are acts of remembering. We’re trying to refresh the details of something we’ve previously encountered.

but I don’t think it will hold in majority cases. Moreover, this is a case of misplaced example. It may also have happened when people used book Encyclopedias for researching a topic or read books in search of quotes etc but now that since Google will be providing us information in the first link that it generates, there is a very little chance that will be click on the second link or be moved to read something that we were not looking for. The instantaneous gratification that we expect from Google will ensure that we do not learn any new thing unintentionally.

I occasionally teach GMAT to local Kuwaiti kids who have been raised on calculators from young age. Some of these kids are totally incapable of adding triple digit numbers. When I do multiplications and/or divisions in front of them on whiteboard, its like I am teaching them Greek or rocketscience as it goes over their heads. These are no illiterates. They work in mostly financial institutions and are there to prepare for GMAT so that they can go to US or UK to do MBAs etc. Yet their brains after having not used that faculty for so long are no longer capable of doing those simple sums.

 

 

 

Going off the grid

In the first few days of Ramzan (or Ramadan), my satellite TV subscription ended. I didn’t renew it believing TV to be an unnecessary distraction during the holy month. Before Ramzan, I watched political news shows about Pakistan as aired on GEO, DawnTV etc and also occasionally also tuned in to watch the hourly news. Since the set-top box was provided by the satellite TV company, when the subscription ended, it stopped showing free-to-air channels too. As such, I couldn’t even watch such channels as CNN, BBC etc.

It had a positive impact on me during Ramzan. Part of it may be the blessings of holy month but mainly it was because I had stopped watching depressing Pakistani political shows which only highlight the problems and or get the invited guests to argue with each other. However, I am not sure if such programs have been instrumental or even helpful in resolving the problems highlighted by them. Sometimes they bring in members of opposing factions in the parliament. Though the programs always end in a handshake and a resolve to sort out the issues, over time the public has come to learn that nothing really happens. Hence, what we get out of these programs is awareness of the myriad problems facing the society and the country yet not a solution in sight. Hence, only outcome for those watching the programs daily is cynicism and depression.

There has been no good news out of Pakistan for last many years except for the election that went smoothly and at least a lesser evil was brought into the government. When it comes to rest of world, last few months have not been good for the Ummah (muslim nation) either. The events/protests in Turkey, Egypt and Syria presenting a very bleak picture. If one is plugged into media and social media like I was till Ramzan, what I was getting 24/7 was depressing news with respect to issues that were close to my heart.

Though due to cancellation of satellite TV subscription, I was saved the ordeal of watching political talk shows, however, I was still pretty much plugged into my twitter feed and continued to get my news and depression fix from it.

Then I took a two week Eid break and traveled to Pakistan. I don’t change SIM of my iPhone and keep keep the phone on roaming just in case someone needs to reach me for work related matter. I carry a local cheap phone when I go out and keep my iPhone in the kitchen (centrally located in our house) so that if there is a call on it, someone can immediately tell me that it is ringing. This meant I couldn’t check my twitter timeline frequently.

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...Then massacres in Egypt started and my father asked me if I knew about them. I picked up my iPhone and didn’t let it go for next one week. Finally, my father complained that why am I always playing with my iPhone and I realized the addiction it had become. So I left it at the kitchen counter once again and didn’t pick it up (except for checking office emails) till the time my trip was over.

I picked up two books meanwhile and finished them during this period. Occasionally I came across a good quote or passage and had an urge to share it on facebook and twitter. But I resisted. I knew that once I logged into my facebook or twitter account, I will do much more than just sharing and may even end wasting few hours on it. With result that I was able to finish the books.

Now I am back. I have bought a new satellite subscription. However, this time its only for football and other sports (though no cricket). I check in to my twitter timeline twice or thrice daily but not for minutes or hours, Just for a few tens of seconds to read at most ten tweets that are on top.

I stopped caring about Ummah and Pakistan issues. As if my caring mattered. Even my tweets and links I share on facebook have slowed down to a trickle. My klout score which peaked at 60 just before Ramzan is coming down at a fast clip.

I was sitting with a few friends Friday night and having a reputation as plugged-in source-of-information they wanted my opinion on Karachi operation, NATO containers, Mohajir Republican Army, Syria attack, Kerry statement etc. I had an idea about these but since I just read the headlines or few tweets never bothering to go into details, I didn’t have much to add. Rather I asked them to fill me in.

Honestly, the temptation is strong. When you are the source of all information and  theories etc people seek you out for your opinions and information. They listen to you and probably may be swayed towards a particular political viewpoint because the way you presented the information. However, by not remaining that source anymore, you are losing that power, and losing it fast.

Yet the power beckons you, like the ring beckons everyone who comes across it in Lord of The Rings. The question therefore remains do I have the strengthl to resist the temptation of power in light of the costs (from being center of attention to nobody). So far I am resisting.

Egypt causing instability in Saudi Arabia?

Unlike Egypt or Syria, Saudi Arabia does not receive much coverage in international media. Except for few reports appearing occasionally about repression of Shiites in eastern region of Saudi Arabia, there has been very little coverage of ripples being created in normally sedantry Saudi society due to brutal military crackdown and massacres by Egyptian Army led by Al-Sisi.

Whereas Saudi government or rather monarchy has decided to put its weight completely behind the Egyptian military, it is not going down well amongst some strata of Saudi society.

Best overview is provided by Marc Lynch in Foreign Policy

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia issued an unusually rapid and strong endorsement of the Egyptian military crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood’s sit-ins, calling on all Arabs to unite behind a crackdown on terrorism, incitement, and disorder. Bahrain, the UAE, and Kuwait rapidly backed his stance. But many of the most popular and influential Saudi and Kuwaiti Islamist personalities disagreed vehemently and publicly. Indeed, a popular hashtag quickly appeared on Twitter: “King Abdullah’s Speech Does Not Represent Me.”

When I started tweeting about these responses, a lot of Saudis quickly pointed me to Mohammed bin Nasir al-Suhaybani. Suhaybani had delivered a sermon at the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina denouncing the crackdown, and arguing that whoever supported the coup bore the responsibility for the bloodshed and had God’s curse upon them. The video, posted to YouTube, has received hundreds of thousands of views. His rapid banishment quickly generated a popular hashtag in his defense (“Shaykh Suhayban Represents Me”) — which resonated uneasily with the hashtag “King Abdullah’s Words Do Not Represent Me.”

Few have been more outspoken than the influential Saudi Islamist Salman al-Awda, who tweeted in English on August 15: “Whoever helps a murderer – whether by word, deed, financial support, or even a gesture of approval – is an accomplice. Whoever remains silent in the face of murder to safeguard his personal interests is an accessory to the crime.” Surrounded by dozens of Arabic tweets blaming the Egyptian military for said crimes, the implications for the official Saudi position were difficult to miss. “It is clear who is driving Egypt to its destruction out of fear for their own selves,” he tweeted. “I am with those whose blood is being shed and against those who are blindly going about killing people.”

That seems to be in line with the most popular responses among the politicized Islamists of the Gulf. Examples abound. Ibrahim Darwish, in a video posted two days ago, was particularly incensed by the “monstrous crime” of Muslims killing Muslims. The Saudi professor Abd al-Aziz al-Abd al-Latif on August 16 complained about the official framing: how could it be that “supporting the coup and financing butchers and traitors is not fitna and not terrorism and not intervention in the affairs of Egypt, but fitna is calling for the rights of the downtrodden?” Another popular Islamist personality, Hajjaj al-Ajmi, declared “there is no doubt that the Gulf regimes participating in shedding the blood of Egyptians deserve the curse of God.” Others were more careful in their criticism, or focused on the need to avoid bloodshed, but their sympathies seemed clear. Mohamed al-Arefe declared himself on August 15 to be “with Egypt in my heart and my position and my preaching,” calling on Egyptians to “avoid violence, preserve the calm, do not wash blood with blood.” A’idh al-Qarni pleaded for all sides to show restraint.

But that is not all. Fearful of democracy gaining roots in the gulf neighbourhood, Saudi government got their grand mufti to implicitly endorse the coup, the brutal crackdown and the massacre.

The Grand Mufti Abdulaziz Al Sheikh has stressed the need to adhere to the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah to unify the Ummah and to avoid conflict and division.

He said that deviating from the teachings of the Qur’an, the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his companions is the reason behind current tribulations and calamities, in addition to deviating from moderation and issuing fatwas without knowledge.

He stressed the role of scholars to warn people against the dangers of sedition and show them the right path by disseminating accurate Shariah knowledge derived from the Qur’an and Sunnah. He also warned against reverting to tribalism, extremism and conflicts over control that will cause the Ummah “great calamity.”

But in this age, one may be able to control the electronic and print media but social media is a totally different beast. The Grand Imam of Makkah Holy Mosque is a revered figure amongst Muslims but on August 23rd he delivered a friday sermon lambasting the Syrian Bashar Al-Assad but supporting the coup in Egypt. Saudi twitter went up in flames with this hashtag#خطبة_السديس_لاتمثلني i.e. the sermon of Sudais doesn’t represent me

Its just a start. Saudis are taking to twitter quite aggressively

But one should not read too much into it because in the end, “protesting on internet is effortless therefore worthless.”

A fight broke out between Egyptian expats (Muslim expats more often than not support autocracies in home countries) and locals in Riyadh mosque when preacher in Friday sermon instead of toeing the official line of supporting the coup started lambasting Al-Sisi. From Al-Arabiya (visit the link for the video)

The report said the Saudi cleric had been praying for the downfall of both Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and General Sisi, prompting uproar from the Egyptians who were in attendance.

And with anything happening in Saudi, it resulted in a hashtag #عراك_جامع_الفردوس. Seems hashtags will do for Saudis now. However it seems that such hashtags are causing jitters to the Saudi authorities

300 hashtags targeted KSA in one month, says official

Over 300 Twitter hashtags targeting the Kingdom and its people have been registered in just one month by the Sakina program combating extremist and terrorist ideology, which is run by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, according to the program’s director.

Speaking to Al-Watan newspaper, Abdul Monem Al-Mashooh said: “The hashtags were made by unknown people who know what they are doing and are following up closely the current events in the region.” He said over 17,000 tweets reacted to these hashtags.

“This number should be taken into consideration and should not be ignored even though it increased suddenly before vanishing. Although these hashtags failed to achieve their goals, they succeeded in stirring a limited number of people, a matter which should be dealt with carefully,” he added.

He regretted the fact that several accounts on Twitter acknowledged and interacted with the hashtags without verifying their sources and real purposes.

“Everyone should realize very well that this is a battle against the Kingdom and it should be fought with great wisdom. Our religion, security, unity and minds are targeted. Reforms and advice are a must but those who wish evil to this country and hate us should not play any role in the process of reform and advice.” Al-Mashooh said the hashtags were made from unknown Twitter accounts that are run by people who want to wreak havoc and chaos in the Kingdom in order to achieve their goals.

“They care about nothing but instigating sedition, exaggerating mistakes, and filling people’s minds with hatred. They have been trained to create an environment conducive to chaos,” he warned.

Al-Mashooh said most Twitter users in the Kingdom realize that such hashtags come from foreign sources.

“Most people refuse such hashtags because they go against the Shariah. People realize what happened to other countries whose people listened to the calls for chaotic revolutions,” he said while emphasizing the importance of countering such hashtags with wisdom.

The Sakina program plays a weak role in countering such extremist ideologies on social networking sites because it does not have enough capabilities, Al-Mashooh pointed out. He called for setting up a center to study such hashtags and other posts on social networking sites.

Internet and elusive search for truth

Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves. – Eric Hoffer

It was believed that with the advent and ubiquity of internet and the huge information resources that internet puts at everyone’s disposal, creation of propaganda will become hard as people will easily seek out truths and will easily separate fact from fiction. However, recent events have shown that is hardly the case. Moreover, the arrival of social media such as Facebook and Twitter actually adds to the problem.

This was most notable in Pakistan during the Elections 2013 season. Columns were fabricated under the names of well known columnists and political analysts and shared via email, Facebook and Twitter. In pre-Internet times such fake news stories or columns circulated as faded photocopies. Very few people had access to news archives to be able to verify themselves whether such news item or column was ever written.

Now newspapers have their archives online and all one has to do is to visit the newspaper website and verify for oneself if such a column or news item had ever appeared on its pages. If recent experience has taught us anything, no one makes the effort of doing so. Whereas in earlier cases, spreading such false information required us to expend money and energy by photocopying and then delivering such papers, now it can be just done with a simple click of send or share button.

However, Pakistani nation eventually caught up to it as shown by election results and the supporters of political party that were faking such news items and columns lost sympathy of these journalists.

In case of Pakistan, the propaganda remained affected or deceived the Pakistani population. Probably because it was being done by a few die hard media savvy supporters of a particular political party. However, recent coup and subsequent events have shown that if there is a state machinery and intelligentsia behind a propaganda campaign, one can almost fool the whole world.

The campaign against the incumbent president started by “Tamarod” (arabic for Rebelion) by claiming that they have collected 22 million signatures nationwide from people demanding that the president step down. Whereas doubts were raised about authenticity of the signatures or even the numbers, they weren’t taken seriously. June 30, 2013 was announced as a day of protest against the president. A large number of people did come out and it was reported by local media and subsequently picked up by international media that more than 30 million Egyptians are protesting against the government which was also claimed as largest number of people protesting together in history of the world. This was repeated so much by the protestors themselves and the local channels sympathetic to them that they started believing it themselves.

From BBC

Pro-coup claims of 30M people is “gross exaggeration” and “impossible”

It has been claimed that Egyptians staged the biggest uprising in history in the last few weeks. It has been claimed that 30 million people took to the streets.

“I think that’s a gross exaggeration,” says Middle East correspondent Wyre Davies, from Cairo. “I think nationwide there were millions of people this time protesting against the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, but nothing like the 30 or 40 million people some people quoted. That’s 45% of the population – that’s impossible; there are too many young people in Egypt for the maths to work.”

So where has the figure of 30 million protesters come from? It’s difficult to find a source for it, or for any of the other estimates for that matter.

“What we saw last week was a military coup – there’s no two ways about it,” he says. “And therefore the only justification for that logically is that this was a popularly-backed military coup. So it’s in the interests of the people who supported the overthrow of the president to say that they had these millions of people supporting them.”

The BBC website above does not allow for comments. When the absurdity of such huge numbers protesting was pointed out on other websites or blog posts, the authors were branded as stooges of Muslim Brotherhood or USA who do not want to see Egyptians progress. Moreover, unless someone goes to the original source of the estimate and checks its credibility, it is very hard to verify the numbers.

Finally, award winning journalist Max Blumenthal does a deep dive and proves it the numbers were fabricated and social media was used to full affect to forward this.

People, power, or propaganda? Unraveling the Egyptian opposition

Among the first major Egyptian public figures to marvel at the historic size of the June 30 demonstrations was the billionaire tycoon Naguib Sawiris. On June 30, Sawiris informed his nearly one million Twitter followers that the BBC had just reported, “The number of people protesting today is the largest number in a political event in the history of mankind.” Sawiris exhorted the protesters: “Keep impressing…Egypt.”

Two days after Sawiris’ remarkable statement, BBC Arabic’s lead anchor, Nour-Eddine Zorgui, responded to a query about it on Twitter by stating, “seen nothing to this effect, beware, only report on this from Egypt itself.” Sawiris seemed to have fabricated the riveting BBC dispatch from whole cloth.

On June 30, one of the most recognisable faces of Egypt’s revolutionary socialist youth movement, Gigi Ibrahim, echoed the remarkable claim, declaring on Twitter, “I think this might be the largest protest in terms of numbers in history and definitely in Egypt ever!” Over 100 Twitter users retweeted Ibrahim, while a BBC dispatch reporting that only “tens of thousands of people [had] massed in Tahrir Square” flew below the radar.

Some Egyptian opponents to Morsi appear to have fabricated Western media reports to validate the crowd estimates. Jihan Mansour, a presenter for Dream TV, a private Egyptian network owned by the longtime Mubarak business associate Ahmad Bahgat, announced, “CNN says 33 million people were in the streets today. BBC says the biggest gathering in history.”

There is no record of CNN or BBC reporting any such figure. But that did not stop a former Egyptian army general, Sameh Seif Elyazal, from declaring during a live CNN broadcast on July 3, just as the military seized power from Morsi, “This is not a military coup at all. It is the will of the Egyptians who are supported by the army. We haven’t seen in the last — even in modern history, any country in the world driving 33 million people in the street for four days asking the president for an early presidential election.” CNN hosts Jake Tapper and Christian Amanpour did not question Elyazal’s claim, or demand supporting evidence.

Three days later, Quartet’s Middle East special envoy Tony Blair hyped a drastically different, but equally curious, crowd estimate. In an editorial for the Observer (reprinted by the Guardian), Blair stated, “Seventeen million people on the street is not the same as an election. But it is an awesome manifestation of people power.” The former UK Prime Minister concluded that if a protest of a proportionate size occurred in his country, “the government wouldn’t survive either.”

Like the massive crowd estimates, Tamarod’s signature counts were impossible to independently verify. Increasingly it appeared that the numbers were products of a clever public relations campaign, with the Egyptian army and its political supporters relying on the international press and Western diplomats to amplify their Mighty Wurlitzer.

As stated above, it is important to go to the original source to verify numbers, facts etc. Though CNN and BBC carried themselves quite respectively above, however, in these days of Breaking News and ratings game, even they can fall victim to such propaganda.

Osama bin Laden corpse photo is fake

An image apparently showing a dead Osama bin Laden broadcast on Pakistani television and picked up by British newspaper websites is a fake.

The bloodied image of a man with matted hair and a blank, half-opened eye has been circulating on the internet for the past two years. It was used on the front pages of the Mail, Times, Telegraph, Sun and Mirror websites, though swiftly removed after the fake was exposed on Twitter.

In addition, our searching habits and Google ensure that we continue to believe in the propaganda. In his book, Filter Bubble, Eli Parser makes a very convincing case that Google is our gatekeeper to the information. As such, we now see the world through Google. If Google chooses only to show us results skewed towards one viewpoint, it will be swaying our opinion on that issue towards that side. It is a very powerful power that Google exercises over us and we freely allow it to exercise it.

Moreover, in order to improve its search results, Google continuously strives to personalize the search results for us. As such, when we are logged in at our personal or office computer, through cookies Google has an idea of our tastes, viewpoints, location etc and throws up the results that it thinks we want to see. By showing us those results that it considers we are looking for, it plays a crucial role in reinforcing our beliefs about certain topics by not showing opposite opinions or showing them in further down the results list.

Google’s filtering systems, for example, rely heavily on Web history and what you click on (click signals) to infer what you like and dislike…. it’s that behavior that determines what content you see in Google News, what ads Google displays—what determines, in other words, Google’s theory of you.

…According to the New Republic’s Jon Chait, the answer lies with the media: “Partisans are more likely to consume news sources that confirm their ideological beliefs. People with more education are more likely to follow political news. Therefore, people with more education can actually become mis-educated.”

Even if Google does not engage in personalization, websites and activists by using such processes as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or Google Bombing can ensure that for some search terms, certain results always appear on top thus creating a false image of websphere and consequently the world.

Whereas in theory Internet, social media and world’s most power search engine should have been making us better informed and bringing the world closer, the truth is that its actually quite an efficient medium to spread information and to reinforce our wrongly held notions.