New Age Islam Edit Bureau
20 November 2017
The Desert Storm And The Ideological Shift
By Faraz Ahmed
Getting To Bangladesh
By Zaigham Khan
By Syed Talat Hussain
No Space For Equality
By Irshad Ahmad
Pakistan’s ‘Middle-Class’ Future
By Umair Javed
Tackling The Misinformation Ecosystem
By M Ziauddin
The Ticking Population Bomb
By Hasaan Khawar
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
November 19, 2017
On 4th November, a sudden anti-corruption sting using the gambit of a consolidation of power in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia witnessed the swift arrests of high-profile royal princes and businessmen and sent shock waves through the Middle East and the world. Among the long list of detainees was Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, the minister of the Saudi National Guard since 2010 (son of the late King Abdullah who commanded the National Guard from 1962 to 2010) which is widely considered as the most important security apparatus, responsible for the personal security of the king, royal family and the kingdom’s internal and external safety.
Others detainees included Prince Waleed bin Talal, a renowned businessman, Bakr bin Laden, Waleed al Ibrahim, Saleh Kamal and the Naval Forces Minister Abdullah al Sultan. This was significant and indicated future changes in the political and economic landscape of the kingdom. Some of the businessmen arrested over charges of corruption might be offered an amnesty package later by paying hefty “fines” for violating laws of the kingdom, which will be used for budgetary expansion. But the same proposition seems difficult for the “political detainees”.
There is little doubt left that the young Crown Prince, Muhammed bin Salman, is making his way up swiftly to the throne to implement his ambitious agenda of transforming the Kingdom according to his own vision in which he views Saudi Arabia as a moderate and innovative state. Soon the Kingdom may witness the abdication of the current King Salman in favour of his son to further strengthen and fortify the succession process under his keen watch.
Historically, the conservative state has never witnessed such a swift and convulsive set of actions in a bid to secure the position of absolute rule. This is indeed miles apart from the traditional method of a family consensus approach of ruling in that country. The current rift between the al Sudairi [Sudeiri brothers], known by the patronymic of the late King Abdul Aziz bin Saud’s wife Hussa bint Ahmad al Sudairi’s sons (the late King Fahd, Princes Sultan, Abdel-Rahman, Nayef, Turki, current King Salman, and Ahmed) and (Sudeiri) grandsons (Muhammad bin Naif deposed crown prince and his cousins) is unprecedented and was unthinkable just a few months ago.
Muhammed bin Salman has announced many positive measures. The recent establishment of a religious body in Madina to vet and certify Hadith and the appointment of erudite and moderate scholars and the termination of thousands of extremist muttawas are daring and positive beginnings.
The crown prince is not only making headway to open up the entertainment sector in Saudi Arabia, he is also encouraging the youth especially women to participate fully in public life and managed to garner support for issuing the royal decree which will allow them to drive cars from summer 2018 onwards. He has also taken steps to motivate them and aid wider participation in more professional, social, economic and sports-related activities in the country. These steps in the ultra-conservative society like Saudi Arabia are stupendous. Only time will determine the efficacy of these measures.
The latest drive of purging the hardline muttawas from the strong religious establishment and replacing them with moderate scholars clearly suggests that Saudi Arabia has finally understood that the ideology of Wahhabism is simply not compatible with the interdependent and progressing world. Hence the crown prince publicly announced plans to go back to the moderate interpretation of Islam which promotes religious harmony and coexistence.
Extremists and hardliners all over the world paradoxically contribute support and legitimacy to one another. When a few weeks ago, while addressing the UN General Assembly Donald Trump threatened to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, he was, in reality, offering a tight embrace to the clergy in Iran by providing them reason to assert their claims before their domestic audiences of not trusting the US and at the same time weakening the reformists who built the narrative of trust and workable relations with the West and the US.
The perennial distrust, conflict and wrangling between the KSA and Iran emanates from their ideologies.
The ideological shift in Saudi Arabia (if it is true as projected) presents an ideal opportunity for the world and especially Muslim-majority countries like Pakistan and Turkey to play a conciliatory role to prompt both the KSA and Iran to resolve their complex and problematic issues through dialogue. This paradigm shift in Saudi policy also provides the opportunity for the reformists in Iran to start considering the option of dialogue with their arch-foes in the region. Things are currently very complicated between the two countries but when the collective welfare of millions of people is at stake, bold and visionary leaders need to take tough and unpopular decisions by keeping the common benefits of their people in mind.
Getting to Bangladesh
November 20, 2017
Before we become a Britain or a Germany, I am inviting my dear countrymen to become a Bangladesh. Before we become the least corrupt nation on the planet, I am suggesting to descend a few steps down, provided we do some other things right. Our narrow political narratives may have their advantages, but they also carry a huge cost. These narratives are giving us tunnel vision, forcing the nation to bark up the wrong tree.
Corruption is a curse and we must do whatever we can to ensure transparency. But is it our only problem? Are we even defining it properly? Do we know what it takes to minimise corruption? Will we become a developed country only by electing a saintly leader as our prime minister, whose mere presence on the Pride Rock will rid our country of corruption within days?
We remain obsessed with what many development professionals refer to as the problem of ‘getting to Denmark’ – ie how to turn a developing country into a developed one. Unfortunately, there are many complications associated with this agenda. The people of developed countries themselves don’t remember how they got there because it took them such a long time. Not only this, the institutions of a country reflect its cultural values. So, be a bit careful when someone tells you that he has cracked the code just by playing cricket in a developed country.
Dealing with this problem, Mahbubul Haq and Amartya Sen suggested a faster and more efficient route by analysing the way Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan) covered centuries of distance in a few decades. We have had the advantage of observing them while they took the leap. The two South Asian economists gave us the development approach known as ‘human development’.
Our opportunity of learning from changes in our neighbourhood has not ended. There are other nations around us stealing the march right now and it will do us no harm to learn a thing or two from them.
Identical twins are favourite subjects of psychologists studying the great nature vs nurture question. Pakistan was born with a congenital twin, surgically separated less than five decades ago. Bangladeshi is a Muslim South Asian country equally unstable and more chaotic than Pakistan. What is even more interesting is that it is far more corrupt than the Islamic republic it separated from. And yet it is making progress by leaps and bounds, overcoming its birth defects including a narrow resource base, very small land mass and vulnerability to extreme natural hazards.
According to the Corruption Perception Index prepared by Transparency International, Bangladesh is almost on the bottom of the heap of corrupt countries. It ranks 145 on a list of 176 countries. Pakistan is proudly 29 notches up and is placed at 116. Not a great place really, but I am making comparisons here. What’s even better, Pakistan has improved its ranking sustainably during the last decade. In 2006, Pakistan was at 142 out of a list of 163 countries listed that year.
Yet Bangladesh’s GDP is growing at a whopping 7.1 percent , creating jobs, throwing up a vibrant middle class and reducing poverty – things that will soon work against corruption in that country. It was the sixth year in a row that GDP growth in the country was greater than 6 percent and most analysts expect this run to continue.
What is even more impressive is that Bangladesh’s rapid growth is reaching the poor. In 1991, well over 40 percent of Bangladeshis lived in extreme poverty. Today, according to a World Bank estimate, extreme poverty has gone down to less than 14 percent; so about 50 million fewer Bangladeshis are in extreme poverty as a result of the improving economy.
We have barely touched 5.3 percent GDP growth after a decade. Contrary to the popular narrative, Pakistan’s economic development went down as it became less corrupt. I am not saying that the co-relation is a causation here. I am merely saying that we did not pay attention to other equally important factors.
In fact, some of the measures aimed at fighting corruption might have caused serious economic harm to Pakistan. For example, the way our superior courts dealt with economic matters has inflicted a serious blow to foreign direct investment (FDI) and the overall business environment in the country, while also attracting billions of dollars of international penalties we may be forced to pay very soon.
Bangladesh’s exports during 2016-17 were $34.02 billion, while Pakistan’s exports during the same period stood at $21.938 billion. Bangladesh’s GDP per person is now higher than Pakistan’s. Converted into dollars at market exchange rates, it stands at $1,538, while Pakistan’s is about $1,470. That means that a common Bangladeshi is slightly better off than a common Pakistani.
I am not claiming that I have cracked the Bangladesh code because I have been there four or five times. I only know that Bangladesh is not making progress due to a messiah or because it has become a very clean country. I wish our experts would take a break from their tours to Europe to study their neighbourhood better. In my opinion, three factors stand out.
First, while Pakistan’s economy has been stuck with crony capitalism – sugar industry, spinning and real estate – Bangladesh has been able to promote value addition and exports through Small and Medium Enterprises and by unleashing entrepreneurship in the country.
Secondly, Bangladesh has made great progress on many social indicators. Bangladesh is on the top of the South Asian countries in gender equality. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has ranked it 72nd among 144 countries in the Global Gender Gap Report 2016. Pakistan was placed on 143rd.
Bangladesh has been able to bring down its population growth rate to 1.1 percent while we are growing at 2.4 percent. It means that in all likelihood, our indicators will get worse in comparison to Bangladesh. Such improvement in population growth rate cannot happen without improving women’s health, bringing down infant mortality, empowering women and raising level of awareness.
NGOs have played a great part in Bangladesh’s social development. They have organised rural communities, empowered women, set agenda for social development, put demands on the government and tried to fill the gap in the delivery of different services. Bangladesh’s powerful civil society runs much of its education and health services. In Pakistan, NGOs are being treated like criminals. They often require written permission from the DC sahib to carry out a small social survey in a village.
Third, despite being a deeply religious country, Bangladesh has not turned religion into a millstone around its neck. Though religion is the only thing that differentiates it from Indian Bengal, Bangladesh does not rely on religion for its national identity. It remains a secular country and has been able to deal with religious extremism better than Pakistan.
There is a chicken and egg relationship between transparency and development. Transparency helps economic development, but economic development plays a bigger role in bringing down corruption. Since the government of a prosperous country can pay its employees well, it can set aside administrative and technological resources to end corruption. On a social level, as the middle class expands and becomes influential it makes a stronger demand from the government for transparency.
A demagogue may promise to put Pakistan on Mars but the problem of corruption cannot be solved simply by putting a clean man on the top. Perhaps Liaquat Ali Khan was the most honest head of the government in our history. However, the allotment mayhem during his period corrupted the whole society to an unprecedented level and set the precedent for large-scale corruption in the country. While our leaders are selling us dreams of turning us into a Britain, we may be losing our chance of becoming a Bangladesh or a Sri Lanka.
Let us admit it. It is not the fault of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) that the millions of citizens of this country that commute between Islamabad and Rawalpindi or those who come from other areas have suffered excruciating pain and suffering for two weeks.
Yes, the religious outfit, which has been duly registered with the Election Commission after its surprise arrival and performance in the Lahore NA-120 by-election, has held a nuclear country’s capital hostage this long. It caused business losses worth billions. It besmeared our national image in the world. But they are not to be blamed. Their shenanigans – beating up commuters, attacking school buses and vans, smashing private cars, taking over public property, causing deaths by blocking roads to hospitals, inciting violence, abusing and threatening etc – are not really theirs either.
The group and its fantastic rise to the point where it could paralyse state and governance institutions is essentially an outcome of a system that has allowed (and in more than one instance engineered) weaponisation of street sentiment (WSS) in order to achieve short-term goals.
In the list of all the lethal weapons (robot killers, oxygen sucking bombs, resource-ravaging organisms, machine swarms knocking out thousands in one go) that the world has invented, or is in the process of inventing, our creation – Weaponised Street Sentiment with easy triggers – must be most the unique. Not the least because this weapon can create mass trouble without anyone being able to truly question its use. It is so also because unlike other weapons of mass impact, this one is created, tested, perfected at home and deployed against ourselves. There aren’t many examples from across the world that anyone can quote where a home-made lethality is used with such brutality against the home itself. But then we have always strived to be different and this is another example of how well we have done.
To be sure, long years of sweat and research have gone into producing WSS. The more recent testing ground (rather, firing range) was the Imran Khan-led and Tahirul Qadri-fed dharnas 1 and 2, and later on dharna 3. In the vast labs of D-Chowk, just in front of the parliament, and the presence of hundreds of cameras the various designs of this state-of-the-political-art masterpiece was put to use. The results were astounding. A few thousand people could occupy one road and create a mass impression of the imminent collapse of an elected government. The research also showed the weapon’s capacity to totally block parliament and make the formidable judiciary shrivel to a non-entity forced to plead with the protesters to at least allow the honourable judges to reach their chambers without additional inconvenience. The three tests also revealed that the government was inherently incapable of dealing with mass protests and was so weak in its knees that the mere thought of being accused of using excessive force made it cringe and crumble in fear of being taken apart by the media.
The dharna tests in Islamabad’s heartland – the smaller version was on display earlier when Mr Qadri brought his tribe to the city during the PPP government – also established without any doubt that the citizens of Islamabad, soft and rich, had no stomach for raising their voice against the abrogation and infringement of their rights. The results had another interesting conclusion: that once people are brought onto the streets and given a cause of sorts (rigging, corruption etc) they can perpetuate themselves in changing climatic conditions and, depending on how much local support is available, can be driven to the point of attacking government buildings etc.
In other words, mob rule could really rule. Inspired by the Model Town massacre, the dharna model testing also reinforced the lesson that, by sheer stupidity of law enforcers or through some dark mechanism, the possibility of a catastrophic event taking place becomes real.
But perhaps the most important lesson from the dharnas related to the damage they could cause to the target: the government. Made to look like it would fall at a touch, the whole arrogance of being ‘mandated’ could also appear like a joke. The weapon could throw everything out of gear and turn part of public sentiment against elected members so incapable, so impotent that they could do little other than to moralise and speak hollow words of taking action without being to even lift a finger. The idea of elected representatives – and with them the elected representation system – being bogus and farcical could be easily promoted when the weapon was in use.
With remarkable success having been proven through repeated cold tests in the lab of D-Chowk, the weapon is now ready to be used in various forms and categories. The TLYR model is different only in the nature of the payload it carries. It is loaded with religious sentiment rather than with a propagated desire to bring democratic revolution or make a ‘Naya Pakistan’. Every other part of the weapon has been the same as used in the previous tests in Islamabad. Because of the nature of the payload (finality of Prophethood) the TLYR model is particularly deadly. It can kill without mercy and claim great rewards for shooting the victim. It is technically protected against being challenged in a national debate because debate is impossible when there are a dozen self-issued fatwas already out there justifying murder.
More important, once deployed, the TLYR model then operates on the network available in the shape of nearby mosques and shrines – the main means by which the protesters sustained themselves for two weeks. The possibilities are immense of the TLYR model getting activated in every district in the country (in heartland Punjab at least) in case extreme action is taken. This was the primary concern that most government ministers spoke of while explaining their policy of inaction. “We don’t want to touch them because they will come out of every mosque in Punjab and that would be a nightmare”, said a federal minister when I asked him what made them wait for a court directive to move to break the siege. “The protesters were deployed very smartly and they relied on local political and other support to survive a dozen or more nights. Their food, medical requirements and shelter were all taken care of. It was an explosive situation. We frankly had no answer,” he candidly confessed.
This last quote sums up the real lethal potential of WSS. It can cause major injury to sitting governments, blunt any counter-charge, and ruthlessly justify destruction and debasement of core values that sustains democracy. What’s more, it can easily mutate from a tool to annihilate democracy to a participant in the democratic process. Whether the PTI-PAT combined dharnas, or the PAT’s solo flight or the recent TLYR deployment, the common factor in the use of WSS has been its threat of destruction while claiming to be totally constructive. These and others of similar variety are lethal political weapons of the present, the recent past and the future. You will see more modifications in their production as elections time nears. They will be deployed without fail – and repeatedly.
The only problem with the deployment and use of WSS is the blowback, the side-effects. Sometimes, more than the target (the government in this case), WSS ends up inflicting irreparable collateral damage on the country and the people. While the government and its ministers have survived with minor bruises, the real wounds WSS’s TLYR model deployment has inflicted is on the country’s image and on the lives of the people.
The incident of a girl who was forcibly stripped to and paraded through her village in DI Khan has principally unmasked our weak and fragile criminal justice system (CJS).
For the time being, let’s put aside questions about who is currently running the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and if the KP police are exemplary. Let’s ask only one question: in the state of Pakistan, do the poor and the rich get equal treatment in the eyes of the law? Does our criminal justice system – which comprises the police, the judiciary, prisons, the prosecution and the parole department – successfully delivering equal, cheap and affordable justice to all people regardless of their gender, religion, class and affiliation or vice versa?
We can observed this in our courts, where thousands of people file petitions under Section 22-A of the Criminal Procedure Code to request the court to direct the police to register an FIR. These petitions often reach the high court and the Supreme Court. We have hardly ever heard of police officers, who are duty-bound to register FIRs in every cognisable offence, being penalised on account of their lapses. The question is: can all Pakistani citizens afford to engage lawyers to represent them in the courtroom – even if it is to register FIRs.
Let’s assume an FIR was registered with no trouble. The question that then arises is whether our investigating officers are fully equipped with modern forensics and technologies to pursue these cases. Do they investigate every crime with absolute neutrality? Or, do they use a different yardstick for the rich and the poor or, for that matter, a separate benchmark for lawyers, journalists and political figure and the ordinary person. We have been far too busy making our police a combatant force. Has anyone ever asked about the basic duties and training requirements of a police force in civilised states?
Let’s assume that an FIR was registered with or without the court’s intervention and the investigation was also completed by an honest police officer. Do people trust a public prosecutor or are they more inclined towards engage private lawyers? Still, our conviction rate in criminal cases is between five percent and 10 percent and is the lowest in the region. Does every Pakistani citizen manage to pay for a private counsel?
Another indispensable component of our criminal justice system is the judiciary. Are our courts so efficient and error-free that there is no room for improvement or has no one dared to optimistically comment on its performance?
Are the rich or the poor and, for that matter, senior and junior lawyers equally heard in a court of law? Are the cases registered by ordinary people and those who are comparatively more powerful expeditiously heard in the same manner? We should have an answer as to why it takes between 20 and 30 years for courts to reach a verdict and why there are around three million cases that are still pending in the courts?
Are ordinary people and our elite kept in the same cells in prison and provided the same facilities or are jails a place of rest for the rich? Can poor prisoners manage to obtain temporary release through parole or is this facility is only for powerful Pakistanis?
Incidents like the one that surfaced from DI Khan recently are not limited to a specific area. Honour crimes are committed almost everywhere in Pakistan, but only a few are brought to attention. There are some tribal areas where journalists are not allowed to report such incidents. In other instances, journalists have agreed not to report honour killings and domestic violence and tacitly protect these customs. However, the state has also ignored these incidents. Has the introduction of anti-honour killings legislation reduced or controlled such instances?
Pakistan should legislate in this matter at the earliest and ensure that every report is compulsorily registered. Complainants must be penalised for registering false reports. Investigators and the prosecution need professional training and must have forensics and equipment for evidence collection. The police force must be free from corruption and external interference by bringing the duty hours of officials and their remuneration at par with international standards. The prosecution should be trained to perform their role in order to curtail the custom of engaging private lawyers in every case.
Similarly, prison systems need an overhauled and the judiciary must play a vital role in this regard by making the process of obtaining bail more productive and workable. The judicial system must also be improved. The judges of the trial court must have adequate experience before they are deputed to run the courts. These judges should go through not only extensive professional training but their judgements should also be regularly analysed by the superior courts.
The D I Khan incident has been nationally condemned by the media, human rights activists and various institutions – including the KP Commission on the Status of Women. But will only condemnation be enough in this regard? Such cases can only stop if we reform our criminal justice system by making everyone equal before the law and guaranteeing cheap and affordable justice for everyone. We must reform our criminal justice system in order to save our society from further destruction.
By Umair Javed
ON Oct 31, the Consortium for Development Policy Research and the Washington D.C.-based Urban Institute hosted a discussion on Pakistan’s emerging middle class. There is a broad agreement among those on the panel, as well as within the larger research and policy community, that Pakistan has witnessed considerable growth in its middle-income population.
One classification of this particular demographic is those with incomes between $11 to $110 per day. Using this measure, Pakistan’s middle-income population is around 50 million individuals, or just under 25 per cent of the total. Other definitional parameters will likely change the figure, but the trend we expect to see over the next decade is continued growth in this segment.
The second point of consensus is that of growing consumption. With more disposable incomes, Pakistan’s middle-income demographic exercises — as Homi Kharas puts it — choices in a number of domains. These include expenditure on food (what and how much to eat and drink), housing, services (schooling, health), future occupation, and entertainment and leisure. This is what distinguishes this segment from those below, who’re compelled to make difficult choices in circumstances not of their creation or control, and from people above, who face few trade-offs given largely limitless resources.
We can see middle-income groups exhibiting great variation in terms of their political and social positioning.
The third fact is that such households are more likely to be found in urban areas, and are more likely to invest in educational attainment. This has historically been true for male members in middle-income households, and is now increasingly true for female members as well. Enrolment rates for girls in schools and colleges across urban Pakistan show remarkable improvement from just a couple of decades ago, and the bulk of this can be traced back to upward mobility into the middle strata. This particular transformation, however, has not translated into significantly greater female participation in the labour force. Nor, as researchers from the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives have shown, has it improved the gender gap in political participation.
Beyond these three facts, every other projected or current ‘trend’ is an anecdote or a generalisation. There are several that tend to re-emerge every now and then, the most popular being the middle class will demand better public services and thus broad-based improvements in governance. By the same logic, some argue that it will push for greater and ‘purer’ democratisation.
The reason why these views are built on relatively shaky ground is not just because people cherry-pick data and history, but also because the demographic at the centre of this conversation is wrongly thought of as a unified group and as one interested in universal change. Talking about a middle class (instead of a middle-income strata) automatically forces people to think along the lines of a monolith that simply does not exist. The image most conventionally attached to a middle class is found in just one constituent portion of the middle-income population, ie the educated, white-collar, ‘striving’ demographic. However, a far greater portion lies in other occupational categories, such as farming, retail-wholesale trade, construction, and small-scale manufacturing.
Moreover, household income is merely one of several characteristics that impacts social and political positions. Other determinants include ideology and moral-ethical disposition, ethnic and communitarian affiliation, and even sense of place and belonging. All of these factors have, in a wide variety of country contexts, been found to impact an individual’s worldview and their life choices contrary to what their income position or consumption patterns would dictate.
Going by Pakistan’s own recent history, we can see middle-income groups exhibiting great variation in terms of their political and social positioning. For example, as researcher Ghazala Mansuri points out, while middle-income groups are generally thought to be more vocal in demanding services, this demand may not extend beyond their immediate selves. Karachi’s example is instructive in this regard wherein significant sections of the middle-income population have engaged in a politics of ethnic rights or targeted delivery of services, rather than some broad-based improvement in urban governance. The same holds true for urban Punjab as well, where middle-income groups who’ve supported the PML-N since the 1990s demand particular kinds of service delivery, but are content to obtain it through patronage, rather than programmatic politics.
The idea that growth in some type of middle-class will improve particular long-standing problems in Pakistan is a seductive one, largely because it assumes a degree of automation. It is assumed that the demand compulsions of this class will naturally precipitate it towards seeking greater accountability. This view is increasingly put in favour of the PTI, which is seen as an organic outcome of this compulsion. While the PTI’s rhetoric does dovetail with what some consider ideal middle-class values, its organisational shape reproduces many of the same conventional hierarchies and variants of elite factionalism seen in much of Pakistan’s history.
Across the world, groups historically locked out of political power or upset with the status quo have sought to impact the world by mobilising and contestation. Whether it was the industrial working class in 20th-century Europe, or late 19th-century reformers looking to overthrow gilded age corruption in American politics, a major component of their efforts required forming autonomous organisations that were driven with clear ideological goals. Eventually, the strength of these groups propelled their ideas into the political mainstream.
As of now, middle-income segments in Pakistan have created no such reform-oriented platforms, except of the Islamist variety. The other variants that do exist primarily seek to advance sectional or occupational interests, such as the Young Doctors Association, bar associations, or a myriad array of trader/business organisations. While further growth in the middle-income population is a near certainty, there is little in the present that can tell us about its eventual impact on political and social life.
November 18, 2017
Social media and the digital sphere offer a great new opportunity for journalism, enabling reporters to tell stories in different ways, while working with data to create better experiences for their audiences, says Caroline Scott(3 common myths about disinformation your newsroom should know) in a post for Journalism.co.uk this month.
However, propaganda activists are also doing this successfully, deliberately fuelling the misinformation ecosystem to push their own agendas, leading to a loss of trust in the media in the process.
“The media are a target, a target in a way that many journalists don’t realise they are, in a way that they are actively aiding propaganda and purposes of political activists,” said Ms Scott quoting Lisa-Maria Neudert, researcher, Computational Propaganda Project, Oxford Internet Institute.
The computational propaganda uses algorithms, automation, and human curation to purposefully distribute misleading information over social media networks.
For the Project, Neudert’s team had carried out a big data analysis, researching the use of social media for public opinion manipulation.
Among other findings, results showed that 50 per cent of shared news in America was misinformation, with every piece of authentic, professional journalism matched with a piece of ‘fake news’, while the UK and Germany had 20 per cent of their social ‘news’ shared as misinformation.
Neudert listed three myths that need to be understood in order for journalists to work against the misinformation ecosystem. She warned journalists to be critical of the information that they are seeing online, as failure to do so will lead to journalists and news organisations becoming part of the problem and thus fuelling the spread of disinformation.
Myth #1: All bots are stupid
“There are bots on social media that are communicating just as well as a human can, while distributing fake news on a scale that no human can do,” Neudert said.
Many bots are so well designed that users on social media cannot identify them as being such, she continued.
“Bots are getting smarter. A lot of money and resources right now in technology are being invested in technology interfaces — just look at Google Assistant, Siri and Amazon Alexa.
Myth #2: In data we trust
“Yes, data forms a key part of any newsroom and helps journalists understand what is going on and which issues are important right now, but the problem is often that the data we are seeing is being gamed,” she said.
“A lot of bots don’t focus on communication, they drive metrics — likes, views and shares, which manipulate your metrics. When it is on a large scale, it is very difficult to detect those bots.
“It is becoming problematic for both algorithms, which use metrics to see what is trending, and for journalists to see what is happening, particularly during political elections. If journalists are taking those manipulated metrics, and are carrying out the agenda and inflating it, then that is a big part of the problem.”
Myth #3: The fake news era will pass
“I think we are still in the situation where we are repeatedly being fed the information that fake news is an over inflated problem, but it is a difficult trend that will pass.
“But it’s not something that is going to go away,” she said.
She advised newsrooms to focus on educating their audience to be aware of disinformation, and being vigilant themselves not to run quickly with what is trending — to think twice before they set the news agenda.
Meanwhile, a Unesco report, World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development highlights such positive developments as civil society mobilising to push for greater access to information, media houses cooperating with fact-checking services to push back against a torrent of disinformation, and more and more governments adopting freedom of information laws.
Pakistan is now the world’s fifth most populous country with a population of 207+ million, depicting a 2.4% annual growth since 1998. Seemingly, the country’s family planning approach has failed to create a serious dent in the population growth. Many blame ‘deep-rooted religious beliefs’ and cultural impediments. But apparently that’s not true.
Let’s look at other countries. India and Bangladesh have a population growth rate of 1.2% and 1.1%, respectively. But what’s happening in other Muslim countries? Iran, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia have growth rates of 1.2%, 1.5% and 2.2%, respectively. We have outpaced them all.
Let’s dig a bit deeper. Future population growth depends on fertility rates, depicting average number of children born alive to a woman during her lifetime. Pakistan’s fertility rate stands at 3.8, according to the Demographic and Health Survey 2012-13. And there is not much difference across provinces, with Punjab at 3.8 and Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa at 3.9. Balochistan does have a higher fertility rate of 4.2 but due to small population size, it has little bearing on our national fertility rate. India and Bangladesh, on the other hand, have fertility rates of 2.4 and 2.14, respectively, whereas Iran, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia are at 1.68, 1.93 and 2.71, respectively.
Even more interestingly, if it were not because of our poor healthcare service delivery, our population growth would have been even higher. Average life expectancy in Pakistan is merely 66 years, as compared to 72 for Bangladesh, 74 for Malaysia and Saudi Arabia and 75 for Iran. If we somehow improve our life expectancy to Bangladesh’s or Iran’s level, our population growth rate would be way higher at present fertility rates.
How can fertility rates be lowered? Through increasing contraceptive prevalence rates (CPR), which depict percentage of women who are currently using at least one method of contraception. According to the last reported figures, CPR in Pakistan stands at 35% amongst married women of reproductive age, compared to an average of almost 53% for South Asia and 77% for Iran.
Data shows that 99% of ever-married women and 95% of ever-married men in Pakistan are aware of at least one modern method of family planning. While the uptake of contraceptives is definitely a challenge, the real problem is poor access.
One in every five women wants to space her next birth or stop childbearing entirely but is not using contraception, depicting a very high unmet need. Assuming that married women of reproductive age represent 16% of total population, there are 6.6 million women with unmet need out of a total 33+ million. Adding 3.3 million more using traditional contraceptive methods, we can very well understand that a large part of our failure can be attributed to non-availability of services. Even if we only focus on this segment of 10 million women with clear demand, we can easily exceed India’s CPR and significantly reduce our population growth.
A Population Council report on low modern contraceptive use in Pakistan and neighbouring countries blamed ‘supply-side factors, including poor access to services and lack of counselling and technical knowledge of unmotivated providers’ as primary reason behind low uptake of contraceptives.
Given our poor track record with family planning, there is a need to adopt out-of-the-box approaches. Punjab is the first province to realise the limitations of existing family planning service delivery and has established Punjab Population Innovation Fund to address the unmet need in rural, poor and un-served areas. Other provinces need to follow suit.
Looking at past trend, we’ll touch 450+ million by 2050 but even if we assume that our growth has slowed down to 2%, we’d still be at 400 million. A large population base with a high growth rate is a ticking bomb. It’s high time to acknowledge this.