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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Alvida Sachin from across the border

Today, the 23rd of December 2012, hundreds of millions of cricket fans around the world woke up to the news that the legend that is Sachin Tendulkar has announced his retirement from One Day Cricket, bringing to an end a 23 year old career. He retires from One Day International cricket as the leading run scorer in the format having scored over 18000 runs across over 400 one day games. This includes his 49th ODI century which he scored in the Asia Cup match against Bangladesh in Dhaka earlier this year. It will be a long while before cricket is able to produce a legend like him or some one challenges his run record in the game. 2012 can be labeled as some what a year of departures, just recently another legend,'punter' Ricky Ponting, the former Australian captain called it quits after the test series against South Africa.

For some time now, especially since the end of the 2011 Cricket World Cup in which India was triumphant that there have been calls by many for Sachin's axing from the Test and One day squad in light of his decline in form. Many of his supporters believe he was under pressure from the BCCI and his fans to go for one record after another, the record of reaching his 100th international 100th was the most talked about one, it was something that was expected out of him, every time he came out to bat the commentators debated whether this was the match that Sachin would reach his 100th international century. It finally happened in Dhaka during the Asia cup this year. It is entirely possible that maybe Sachin himself might have wanted to call it a day many months back, but the pressure of the fans and the cricket board to keep playing made him stay around. He after all had the reputation of being undroppable, he was after all the legendary little master, the one batsman tens of thousands of people flocked to stadiums to watch bat. The biggest evidence of that is the enormous support that the IPL franchise the Mumbai Indians got from opposition supporters at all of the grounds they played their IPL gaames. Sachin Tendulkar was not just for the Mumbai walas but for all of India and most of the cricket watching world.Some of India's home series where Sachin chose to sit out of such as the ODI series against England in 2011, the BCCI recorded lowest attendance of all time among home ODI series, confirming how much of a crowd puller Sachin was.

I have seen Sachin bat on the television for as long as memory serves me correctly. My earliest memories of Sachin while growing up were from the 1992 World Cup in Australia, followed by the Hero Cup in India. It wasn't until his 78th ODI that he scored his first ODI century, if I remember correctly this was in 94-95, and from then on it seemed as if they just kept on coming. My most memorable experiences of watching him Bat, include the One Day Century he scored against Sri Lanka in the 96 World Cup, the 141 he scored against Pakistan in Rawalpindi, his destructive batting in the 2003 World Cup and his first One day Century on Australian soil at the Sydney Cricket Ground. The last of which I had the privilege of watching first hand, I was present at the SCG, when the little master scored his first ODI century down under to ensure victory for the visiting Indian team against hosts Australia in the final of the Tri-Series. Being a Pakistani, Shoaib Akhter dismissing him for a first ball duck in front of a crowd of a 100,000 at the Eden Gardens is certainly up there.  The same Shoaib Akhter he tore apart in the 2003 World Cup at the Centurion. We were also hoping for final go at him in the upcoming series, alas that is not to be. The legend hat is Sachin Tendulkar has done a great service to the game, and legends of this magnitude do not come around every now and then, it may be another generation before we see the next little master be it from India or some other big cricket playing nation. He has out played and out lasted many legends that debuted around the same time as him, the likes of Lara, Akram, Inzi and the Waugh brothers. He cites his greatest moment, when India lifted the World Cup last year in Mumbai, his team mates lifted him up and paraded him around the Wankhede.

There will always be debates over whether this was the right time or not for Sachin to retire, for many of his die hard fans he should have kept going for a few more years, while some of his critics he should have signed off years back. His critics also kept emphasising that his presence in the team acted as an obstruction for many youngsters who were ageing while sitting on the bench. Like the legends Rahul Dravid and Ricky Ponting who also retired, maybe from Sachin's personal point of view, this was time to call it a day. He is yet to call it quits in the longer version of the game, but one can sense now that maybe that too is just a matter of time, maybe he is looking for that one final hoorah at his home ground, the Wankhade Stadium in Mumbai. Sachin you are already being missed and when ever you play your very last, that will indeed be a very day for cricket lovers around the world.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Lobbying as a Public Relations tool

The concept of lobbying is not a new phenomena by any means and was first used in the early 19th century in the United States. In simple terms lobbying can be described as a sort of advocacy carried for the purpose of influencing decisions, particularly with respect to politics and state level decisions, as off today such forms of lobbying practices are still the more prominent of the lot. Some lobby groups have taken up social causes as a part of their agenda to promote knowledge sharing and different types of social welfare causes. On the other hand prominent lobby groups in the United States proactively make use of lobbying to influence the decision makers at state level to serve their respective interest groups or stakeholders. These include lobbyists to influence foreign policy, in favor of a certain foreign country or to increase the amount of foreign aid a respective country is receiving. Such lobby groups can also support improved ties with a certain nation for the purpose of improving trade and commerce.

The use of lobbying is not just restricted to the political arena and the realm of international relations, it has significant relevance even for the businesses in the commercial sector as a fairly effective public relations tool. This can exist in the form of engagement between corporations and the public sector, as well as between corporations and consumers. Lobbying by corporations happen when they are trying to influence policies and regulations at the federal, provincial or regional level in an attempt to achieve policy changes suited to them. These policy changes come in the form of reduced taxation, infrastructural support or increased government assistance with regards to industry expertise.

The use of lobbying as a public relations tool is not just restricted to western countries like the United States and those found in the European Union, but the use of lobbying to influence policy can also be found in a country like Pakistan, even though the trend of using lobbying as a public relations tool or using public relations as a whole is far from becoming a common sight. By lobbying for policy change, corporations regardless of their sector are able to engage with relevant authorities directly and develop their public relations with wider audiences. Business lobby groups in a country like Pakistan have successfully managed to get the federal and provincial government in the country to develop policies that encourage and promote the development of trade. Such policies can also include the protection of certain industries to give them a competitive edge relative to their competitors.

 A good example is the lobbying done by the Auto Industry in Pakistan which successfully managed to get the government to introduce high tariffs on imported vehicles so as to make the locally manufactured vehicles more competitive for the end consumer as well as preserve the thousands of jobs the industry provides.  Examples of these trade lobby groups include the Karachi chamber of commerce and the Lahore chamber of commerce and industry. Some lobby groups exist to counteract the bad press that certain industries and improve their public relations. A good example is the tobacco industry which has often been accused of causing lung cancer and the deaths of thousands of people, they have managed to use their lobby groups to engage with wider audiences and build positive public relations for the industry as a whole. Even employee unions can be classified as lobby groups that work for the interest of their members with respect to matters of employee relations across their relevant industry.

Lobby groups in Pakistan are also very proactive when it comes to fighting for social causes such as women's rights and the treatment of minorities in this country. It was women's rights advocacy groups that played a significant role in getting women's protection laws passed by the federal government in Islamabad. The Pakistani media as a whole has been collectively functioning as a lobby group to influence Government level policies with respect to increased freedom of the press, as well as encouraging government spending in sectors like education and health care.

A lot has also changed as far as the dynamics of lobbying and the methods adopted by lobby groups are concerned. We live in an era of social media, which has played a significant role in the empowerment of of not just businesses on an individual individuals i.e. members of the public also around the world. A lot of lobbying activities are now beginning to take place online using social media, as social media makes it easy to reach a wider audience spread across the globe. A good example would be the online lobbying done by major corporations in the pharma sector who try to promote their patented drug globally while at the same time influencing health policies in certain countries into making it an acceptable drug.

Regardless of the benefits of lobbying as a public relations initiative, there are many challenges that lobby groups face and it will be a while before lobbying as a full fledged activity can develop and flourish in a country like Pakistan. First of all lobbying to a great extent involves shaping or changing public opinion off wider audiences, low literacy levels and the inability to reach the rural masses can create limitations for lobby groups in getting their message across. Alongside these limitations there are also concerns with respect to public safety, poor law and order, corruption and inefficiency of public sector institutions that make lobbying for commercial or social causes even more challengi

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

This Non Mehram business has to stop

 Seriously people, this whole non mehram business has really got to stop in Pakistan, it has gone off for far too way and this whole attitude business is seriously way past its use by or expiration date. O yeah I mean every word of it, so if any one who does not want to use their common sense and accuse me of being blasphemer please kindly go right ahead. In any case for you lot anything short of the rigid 7th Century Wahabi and Taliban version of Islam, everything is completely unacceptable and down right respectful if people choose to follow a life style that deviates even slightly from those two extremist schools of thought.

For Non Muslims and those in the Western world, who do not have a clue what I am talking about, let me give u all a quick summary. Basically according to the religiously sensitive right wing school of thought especially in Sunni Islam, women are not permitted to have any sort of engagement or interaction with men deemed Non Mehrum. Non Mehrum being men, who are not their father, husband or their blood brothers. In some cases even step brothers are counted in the fold of  Non Mehrum men. The religious right uses an array of references from religious scriptures, texts and traditions to back it up. The most common argument they put forward is that this is necessary to prevent fornication and also argue that any form of interaction is haram (forbidden) period.

I even remember a fictionalized tale some some one told the audience at a Friday prayer sermon when I was a university student in Australia. If I remember correctly the story was something like, a guy and a girl both Muslim lived next door to each other. Everything was fine and harmonious till the guy took the initiative to go and get to know his neighbor. At first there was the formal exchange of greetings and introductions, as time went by acquaintance ship turned into friendship which turned into socialising which turned into bonding, which turned into attraction, and one thing leading to another, it resulted in fornication, and the resulting fornication resulted in an unplanned pregnancy, which led to an abortion blah blah blah. In short that fellow was trying to communicate a lot of grave sins would happen if the two genders interacted. When you hear stuff like this you begin to wonder what God was thinking when He labeled us Ashroof ul Makhlooqat (Urdu for the highest of all living mortal beings). Has common sense escaped Human kind?

Not only does this further exasperate gender segregation, but it also creates a mindset of misunderstandings, fear and even paranoia about the this opposite sex. In a society heading towards intolerance and extremism, there are many who are willing to go any measures possible to ensure both genders are kept as far away from one another as possible. Some examples of these measures include the reluctance of many families including those from the urban elite to educate their daughters because higher education usually involves co educational classrooms and male instructors. People also boycott mixed gatherings because they think social exposure of the two genders is Haram. If you even spot a Non Mehrum Man or Woman, you have committed a grave sin for which you will have to pay for in God's court in the after life or so is the argument put forward, mostly by men, but believe it or not even by quite  few women. These women are usually followers of ultra conservative extremist right wing schools such as the Al Huda School for women. They are notoriously famous for dis empowering women and radicalizing society among the urban elite of Pakistan. Trust me it has become a very common sight in Pakistan, where close relatives have boycotted weddings and family gatherings because they were not segregated or seen people walk out of them upon discovering the genders were not kept rigidity apart. Do not surprised if you walk in to a room and the burqa lot immediately hide their faces or show expressions as if all hell will break loose and the apocalypse is due any moment now.

Very very recently, a blog featured on the Express Tribune blogs, about how just a guy and a girl, probably somewhere in their mid 20's got harassed by law enforcement for just being in the presence or company off one another. The law enforcement officials harassing them demanded they show their marriage certificate the absence of which would make their presence with one another unacceptable. Even when the girl's brother arrived and presented identification the law enforcement officers refused to accept it simply on the basis of different mailing addresses on both identity documents. Again common sense missing, people do shift houses hence mailing addresses do change.

Firstly we are not the Wahabi Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, were Pakistan,  a country with a Pre-Zia era history of moderate Islam, a land of Sufi's and shrines etc, so lets not try and become like the corrupt wana be custodians of the Holy Land. If anything when visiting the kingdom we get mocked for our version of Sufi influenced Islam which manages to even bridge the Shia Sunni divide. Secondly are we even remotely thinking of the social consequences of our actions by such rigid gender segregation. You are creating stereo types and misunderstandings about the opposite sex in the minds of both genders, your terrorizing people through fear inducement and guilt exploitation, your damaging female education and empowerment, hence a waste of talent. You are also giving a potent tool to the chauvinistic men in the country, who will have a religiously backed excuse to persecute and oppress the women in their lives and will influence others to do the same. We are also depriving close family members from interacting with one another. A time will come we will never get to know who our aunt's and uncles some who are no different from our mothers and fathers and our cousins who are like an extension of our siblings? With such rigid gender segregation, not only are we deprived from social interaction with close family it also becomes impossible for us to find spouses to fulfill our God given Sharia compliant right to marry with our choice. I have heard it all too commonly now, among religious families, guy gets to see the girls picture for the first time when the marriage is suggested athe and meets the girl for the very first time on the night of the wedding. I am not sure that sounds like a recipe for a successful marriage. It is high time we open our minds, open our eyes and open our hearts and resist this Wahabi influenced radicalization of our thought and the massacre of our common sense.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Good Day for Pakistan

Photo: Cricket returns to National Stadium and i am a going!!! Cmon Karachietes lets support cricket's return

It seems like just yesterday that I last visited the National cricket stadium in Karachi to see a cricket match that involved foreign players. The last such incident was way back in the winter of 2007, which would make it a good 5 years in the past. The last time this stadium in the city by the sea hosted foreign players was during the ill fated 2009 Sri Lankan tour of Pakistan, that match was when Younis Khan scored his triple ton and that very tour was one that sent Pakistan into cricketing isolation. Hailed by the media as the first step towards the return of international cricket in Pakistan, it was definitely something that tens of thousands of people in Karachi, as well as Pakistan were looking forward to.

It wasn't the most impressive line up of foreign stars that descended on to the National Stadium, most of them were retired international cricketers from the West Indies and South Africa, led by the Sri Lankan legend Sanath Jaysuria. The only current international players in the International playing XI line up were two Afghan players.Pakistan's all Star XI was led by none other than Boom Boom Afridi, along with other well known names in Pakistani cricket such as Imran Nazir, Wahab Riaz and Umar Akmal. Some noticeable absences included current T20 Pakistani captain Muhammad Hafeez, Saeed Ajmal and test captain Misbah Ul Haq, though i highly doubt Misbah was really missed. He after all carries the burden of being nick named 'Tuk Tuk', which I think is a brand of Auto Rickshaw i think, I am not sure so do not take my word on that.

Getting into the stadium was probably the hardest part of the evening. I had forgotten how disorganized match day outings were in Pakistan, particular at the National Stadium in Karachi. Very different from a match day experience at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Australia or the Oval in London, where you have the concept of assigned seating, logistically well coordinated entry into the ground enabling one to even show up seconds before the toss and claim their rightful seat. Since the concept of assigned seating is non existent here, would be spectators have to reach the stadium hours before the toss. Even upon reaching the stadium, there is no guarantee of entry regardless of holding tickets with all the chaos, it almost feels like all hell is about to break loose. Thousands of fans also had to bear the brutal brunt of the Sindh police deployed at the venue who were definitely not reluctant to use their clubs at ticket holders. I am so fortunate I just marginally missed out on getting clubbed.

Our entry into the ground was made possible by a kind family who assisted us on entering the venue alongside them, as it was relatively simpler for families to walk in, as opposed to groups of men. The stadium was packed beyond capacity, as the normal capacity of the stadium is around 40,000, yet they were 70,000 spectators in the ground. The sheer volume of the spectators reflects, how eagerly this city of 20 million awaited the return of international cricketing action to their fair city. It was a sea of green as far as the eye could see, though one did occasionally witness the odd spectacle such as spectators climbing the very long metallic fence like they have been bitten by a radio active spider. These fences are usually designed for the purpose of security and for ensuring spectators stay within their respective enclosure. From time to time one days feel as if they are cooped up in a cage.

The match was pretty much a one sided affair, Pakistan's all star XI racked up 222 runs for the loss of 7 wickets in a span of 20 overs courtesy of some power hitting by Shazaib and Umar Akmal. It was beyond the reach of the veteran stars of the International XI who fell short by a huge margin of 84 runs. There was good news in the making even some 1000 miles up north. In Pakistan's second largest city of Lahore, tens of thousands of spectators had gathered at the national hockey stadium on the opening ceremony of the Youth festival to break the Guinness World Record for the largest audience participation in singing of the national anthem and that they did. All in all, a good day for Pakistan, here is hoping some foreign cricket boards make some gusty decisions and make the initiative of sending their teams for a proper cricketing tour of Pakistan. To the foreign players who showed courage and made the journey here, we thank you, we hope to see you and others from your country again in the future.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Start closer to home

There is often talk, especially by the liberal ultra left circles of urban Pakistan of the need to empower and  educate young women in rural and remote areas. The recent attack by the Taliban on Malala Yousufai has once again brought a magnified focus on the issue of women's right for education and empower, especially with regards to the risks they have to face in order to seek out knowledge. It is indeed a noble cause to fight for the education and empowerment of what is generally seen as the weaker of the two genders and such efforts are indeed commendable, however one interesting observation needs to be brought to attention, especially to the same pro women's rights groups who are making these efforts. That being that their efforts are focused too much on women in rural and far off communities, while women closer to home, i.e. in the urban centers that they hail from are also at a severe disadvantage. One doesn't need to wander out to the country side of Sindh and Punjab or the remote regions of KPK to find young women that are not just deprived off education, but also deprived off the idea of 'choice'.

The idea of choice is essentially knowledge or the presence of knowledge that many human beings have with respect to choices in life and the fact that they have a choice in life. A choice for a better life, a choice to have an education, a choice to live their life how they deem fit and so on. The absence of the idea of choice plays a big role as an obstacle in the empowerment and education of not just young girls, but our youth in general.

Coming back to the issue of female education and empowerment, since these rights activities are usually based in urban centers such as Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, it would be fair to the citizens of their fair cities that they begin their efforts with the women and the young girls that are closer to home, for many do not realize that disadvantaged young girls live closer to home, or they are just simply conveniently overlooked. These women's rights group might argue that socioeconomic disparity would hinder their efforts in reaching the masses and creating awareness of education and female empowerment among the lower socioeconomic groups. However at the same time, they do not act, when many young girls even from privileged back grounds, their own socioeconomic group are deprived off the opportunity for an education.

A lot of people fail to realize that even among Pakistan's urban upper middle class and affluent circles, there are countless young girls that fail to receive a proper education and this practice is found among many many communities in cities like Karachi and Lahore. There are many reasons given by such families or such communities as to why they do not educate their daughters. The most commonly given excuse is that pious girls do not engage in such worldly non sense, they stay at home and learn the skills necessary for managing a home. Building on that some argue, that what is the purpose of educating our daughters when their purpose is to get married, have children and take care of their homes and in laws. You even hear arguments such as girls should be married off young or that few families want an educated daughter in law who can think and speak for herself, a big lot of them want submissive obedient domestic daughter in laws for their sons. While some communities and families even among Karachi's elite circles treat their daughters as commodities in building relationships with other relatives or within their own communities, they give away their daughters hands in marriage to demanding prospects as if they are exchanging a commodity and in return they will benefit through an improved network. It is not uncommon even for educated mothers out of social and community pressures to give away their daughters hands in marriage in order to build ties with others or to consolidate existing ones. Many will give the excuse that this is how things work in our community so it is all justified, etc etc etc.

This completely removes the question of whether the family can or can not afford to educate their daughters due to resource constraint, but other factors are coming into play making them deny their daughters of not just fundamental rights, but also off the knowledge that they have certain rights which includes a right for an education, the right for making a choice and so forth. The Question that comes to one's mind is there a deeply held rigid belief that women are inferior, or is there a deep down terrifying earth shattering fear among  families especially men with regards to female empowerment through education. To those fighting for women's education and empowerment in distant areas, my sincere request to them is kindly also help those that are closer to home, those more accessible to them. Just take a trip down memory lane, and go back to your school days, go back to the time you were between the ages of 16 and 18, think of those girls who were married off straight after high school and think of those whose parents made them drop out of school even before they could finish to marry them off. Think of those 16 year old's who should be spending their teenage years studying for exams and enjoying hobbies similar to their friends instead they have mehndi on their hands and a new life in a new house. Think of those 18 year old's who some how manage to finish their high schooling, but the yeas that they should be spending seeking out knowledge, wisdom and developing skills are spent learning and managing domestic responsibilities sometimes in the back drop of over bearing in laws. Many of them do not even know deep down that they have a right to live like other girls, girls they went to school with, girls they made life long friends with and so on. Let's not forget these young girls also, their education, their empowerment, struggle for their rights also deserve our attention. Just spare a quick thought for them, it is so much simpler to reach out to them,

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Pak Sur Zameen Shad Baad... (2012)

I consider myself very fortunate that I was back home on what is one of the most important days of the year for myself. A few months ago I was under the impression that I would be sitting on a rain drenched Island some 3000 miles away from home,  and would be experiencing this moment as just another member of the diaspora. That day is the independence day of my beloved nation and Today is that day the 14th of August, 2012, Independence day in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, it is now 65 years since that midnight on the 14th of August in 1947 when Pakistan came into existence and the whole world witnessed the dream of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Dr. Allama Iqbal and millions of Muslims of the Indian subcontinent coming to a reality.

For many of us Pakistani's, the birth of the nation came at a great price paid by ancestors when the Indian sub continent was partitioned by Great Britain. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims from through out the subcontinent left their homes and made the journey to the new promised land. Pakistan was to be the fruit of years of hard work and political struggle a sort of Utopian dream for millions. The barbaric violence and atrocities that followed the announcement of partition meant many could not make it to the promised land. There were also those that were sole survivors of the treacherous journey from their large house holds. A very large number of those migrants came from East Punjab, which saw itself get completely ethnically cleansed of Punjabi Muslims, while the Urdu speaking lot was a diverse bunch hailing from all over the Indian sub continent. The Urdu language became a natural choice as the national language of the new nation since apart from Islam, this language was the lingua franca for millions of Muslims in the sub continent from Khyber to the Bay of Bengal.

Minar-e-Pakistan is sparkling in Green colour against the dark background of night

I remember my time abroad, between 2004 and 2010 I have spent many independence days living on foreign shores. As an undergraduate student in Australia, there was little air of the Pakistani spirit and patriotism owing to the small size of the diaspora, none the less Pakistani students from universities across New South Wales used to get together and try and organize a get together. Such was the size of the Pakistani student community there back in the day that it required pooling together of Pakistani students from across multiple universities to make up a sizable lot. Now that I am back in the land of the pure the feeling of being surrounded by the white and green on the streets of my home town Karachi over whelming and I find myself facing a scarcity of words with which to describe my feelings of being home.

Even now, every time the national anthem I get some what emotional, be it right here in Pakistan or be it some where overseas. Not long ago in the British capital, I was at a Shakespearean play organized by a Pakistani theater company in the Urdu Language. Prior to the start of the play, the on stage musicians also from Pakistan played the national anthem. It was a really nice gesture on part of the audience as a whole which included many non Pakistanis to stand up in respect for the national anthem of a nation that was not there. It was touching moment, and one I will cherish for many years.

Though I have always been a patriot, my patriotism and my commitment to Pakistan has been questioned by many people over the years. The reason most commonly thrown at me growing up was that I am culturally too distant from Pakistani culture, there is nothing culturally or socially Pakistani about me. Upon reaching adulthood, I was witness to Pakistan's religious transformation, which added a religious element to accusations of my lack of patriotism where I got accused of cultural and national insensitivity due to my values differing from predefined societal norms and conventions. The latest addition to that has been my political support, some have accused of me being unpatriotic because I am not a supporter of a cult like personality who is trying to make inroads into mainstream politics. Not for a moment, did I let that push me away from feeling the way I do about my beloved home land, if anything such narrow minded accusations have made me value my unique individuality far more, and value my home land and my identity as a Pakistani. Even now when as the plane was making its descent into Jinnah International Airport after a long 7 hour journey from London, it felt that there was patriotic music playing in my ears. It could have been my iPod but all I could hear was Amanat Ali's 'Aye Watan Pyare Watan' followed by the relatively lighter 'Dil Dil Pakistan' by Vital Signs. I know very well who I am and who I am not, I was, I am and I always will be loyal and patriotic.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Tragedy in the UK & an unhealthy obsession with honor and kinship

Wikipedia describes the concept of kinship as the web of social relationships that forms an important part of lives of most humans in most societies. One can say that is very true and applicable to a society like Pakistan where the sense of kinship is very strong, in fact among the strongest in the world, this could be owing the assumed collective nature of our Asian culture and society. Even western writers and historians have been amazed by the amount of importance given to kinship in our society, how much people value social relationships, be it relationships with  people that they are related to by blood or simply those in the wider community. It is not uncommon to hear people around us very regularly make use of the word 'biradari' which is the Urdu word for community, and how important it is to maintain our position within that biradari.

To get a good idea and understanding of this very kinship concept from an outsider's perspective, I would recommend reading 'Pakistan: A Hard Country'. This book by professor of History at King's College London, Anatol Levien in a way serves as a biography for the great nation of Pakistan. In a lot of those chapters, especially those covering the provinces he has significantly highlighted how important community ties are for Pakistani's especially those with some rural connection. Considering the majority of the population of Pakistan still lives in the country side, and a significant chunk of the urban population having some recent or distant roots in the agrarian backdrop, it is entirely possible that this strong sense of kinship and the issue of honor associated with it has become a reality for not only Pakistani's in urban centers such as Karachi and Lahore, but also in the diaspora.

This is off particular relevance to the United Kingdom, where today more than a million of its citizens are off Pakistani heritage with the number continuously on the rise. Some members of this community have done exceptionally well to prove themselves integrated and worthy parts of a free British society, however at the same time Pakistani's in the United Kingdom also feature in the news for a lot of very wrong reasons.

Very recently British Pakistani's were in the news again. The murder of the 17 year old British Pakistani girl Shefilia Ahmad dating back to 2002-3 has been in thee news all over again, with significant coverage given to it by both the British as well as the Pakistani media. A murder that happened almost a decade ago was brought back to light because this past week, a British court just handed out prison sentences to the parents who had murdered their own child. Based on evidence, testimonials and investigations that had been on going for the last several years, Shefilia was murdered by her parents on account on honor. They believed that she had dishonored the family by refusing to marry a cousin back in Pakistan and for developing a westernized life style while growing up. Her younger sister who is now 23 had testified to the court that she had witnessed the abuse that her sister experienced growing up. It must have certainly taken a great amount of courage for that 23 year old to come out and testify against her parents knowing that by doing so she puts herself at significant risk if the court decides that the parents are found not guilty.

Let us assume for a moment,  that both Shefilia's refusal to marry her cousin as well as her westernized life style was what dishonored her family and brought shame on them. Let us analyse this for a few minutes. Suppose it is the former, her refusal to marry her cousin, what her parents tried to do was force her hand in marriage to a relative back in Pakistan. Not uncommon among Pakistani circles, as there is an unhealthy obsession among Pakistani's to  treat their children like commodities especially with respect to the issue of marriage. Shefilia's refusal or resistance must have upset her parents who were probably deeply concerned about upsetting their relatives back in Pakistan who had asked for their daughter's hand in marriage. The fear of damaged social ties and inability to look at blood relatives in the eye created feelings of being dishonored. The need to maintain such ties are given so much importance by Pakistani adults that they end up treating their children like objects or tools for personal public relations, easily illustrated by the case of Shefilia, where her parents first offered their hand in marriage to a relative, then murdered her in cold blood as if she was an invaluable human life. Take for example the social dilemma in Pakistani societies related to the marriage scenario.  For example you are a Pakistani couple with children, boys and girls of marriage age, and one of your siblings or first cousin approaches you and asks for your children in marriage for their own children, what are you supposed to do? It might seem easy on the surface to say No or to say the option will be considered, but here is how our Pakistani psyche works, even the hint  of refusal in such matters can be taken as a matter of personal insult which carries enough weight to damage the original social relationship, i.e. between the parents and their siblings or cousins. In a way you could say it would create disruption of a social relationship network.

 Assuming it was the latter that brought them shame i.e. Shefilia's westernized lifestyle, let us see why it would be a source of dishonor for her parents considering the family lived in a free western society in the United Kingdom.? Well this also comes down to the whole scenario of kinship, in this case it would be about kinship closer to home i.e. within the Pakistani community in the UK. It is possible that Shefilia's liberal westernized lifestyle attracted too much unwanted attention among other Pakistani parents who were probably concerned that seeing Shefilia their daughters and sons might start demanding similar freedoms and liberty. This would particular be a cause of concern if their trying to raise their children according to the picture perfect that they have off them and one which might be very divergent from what an organic up bringing for them might be. Let us not forget it is also a Pakistani obsession to ensure that our children grow up and develop in their lives according to the picture perfect image that many parents have.

The tragedy of Shefilia's untimely death has brought to highlight a very important issue that is deeply prevalent in our society, one that is damaging and destroying a lot of lives, in some cases prematurely ending it. Shefilia did not deserve to die at the hands of the two people on earth who are supposed to unconditionally love their children till death does them part. Courtesy of British and Pakistani media, we still came to learn about the story of Shefilia and her tragic death, how many more Pakistani youngsters are out there who we never hear about? How many more Pakistani boys and girls living in the diaspora as well as Pakistan's major urban centers have been forcibly married off against their own will all in the name of honor, all the name of maintaining these social relationships, and how many have just ended up as a statistic in the name of honor killings?

We as a society should be truly ashamed of ourselves. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Role of Publications and Merchandise in Public Relations

We live in a day and age where the use of public relations tools and initiatives are gaining prominence because of their ability to engage the desired audiences. At the same time Public Relations initiatives allow two way communications between the company and its audiences, this not only generates important feedback that can be used for business intelligence, but it also generates stakeholder loyalty. It is important to remember always that there are always two types of stakeholders associated with the company, firstly the internal stakeholders which comprises of employees and shareholders, and external stakeholders which includes customers, as well as the wider community in which the company is operating.
Marketing material in the form of the publications and merchandise plays a significant role in public relations initiatives for organizations with respect to both their internal and external audiences. Publications usually come in the form of company profiles, magazines and newsletters. In today’s digital internet based world, a lot of such publications have moved online to keep up with changes to our everyday environment. The company newsletter or the e-newsletter in particular plays an important role in engagement with both internal and external stakeholders.
The role of company newsletters is to provide important information and news alerts to their relevant audiences both internal and external. The information contained them includes news regarding company events, achievements, new product launches and even information about the role that the company is playing in the wider community. For example, the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives that the company might have in place would be something that they would like their stakeholders to know about. This is more than just publicity, since through this channel the organization not directly communicating messages with respect to their products and services, rather with respect to wider role as an organization that they are playing. Information about such organizational initiatives can play an important role in generating good public relations and improving corporate brand equity. The newsletters are also far more economical to run as opposed to conventional publications such as magazines, since they are shorter, providing specific and relevant information that can be easily compiled and distributed by the relevant department. With magazines it becomes important to also provide the audiences with content that is at least mildly interesting and entertaining in nature. With a diverse set of stakeholders both internal and external, this might prove to be a rather daunting task. What also makes newsletters economical is that they can easily be digitised and distributed, for magazines not only does the content need to be rich, but also to go digital, they would require a proper web portal as per current popular trends in industry.
Company merchandise also plays an important role in engagement and motivation of external and internal audiences. This however would be dependent on the nature of the company and the type of products and services they offer. With the respect to external audiences, it might be more appropriate for companies to have a brand focused as opposed to a company focused approach when engaging with external audiences through merchandise. A good example of a brand which has successfully managed to engage both internal and external audiences is Coca Cola. Coca Cola is not just the world’s largest brand; it is also a beverage which is part of everyday life for the hundreds of millions of its users around the world. Fans of Coca Cola, whether they are internal stakeholders or the consumers of their soft drinks proudly use ‘Coca Cola’ branded merchandise. Coca Cola in particular is a very good example of a ‘Star’ company that has always leads the way in how to engage with their audiences. Not only have they been an important part of major global events, but they were also among the first companies to adopt online technology and other internet based tools. They were among the first brands to have a smartphone application which revolved around the theme of the Coca Cola user experience.
For employees among internal stakeholders, it also reinforces a sense of commitment and motivation for being part of that company or the brand as an everyday experience. It contributes also a great deal towards employer branding through word of mouth, making such organizations also a popular destination for the bright talent seeking out careers of choice. By being able to attract the best talent out there, companies and brands can successfully shape their future in the manner they seek and achieve their objectives.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Adaa e Shakespeare in London

Adda, it is a simpler and shorter Urdu language word for style and mannerism. It's use has become somewhat popular over the years relative to the conventional Urdu word for Style which happens to be 'Andaz'. So when I use the expression Adaa-e-Shakespeare, it would mean the style and mannerism of Shakespeare. On this occasion though my focus is directed not to the theatrical story telling style of Shakespeare, but the recent Shakespearean festival that was held in the British capital at the iconic Shakespeare's globe theater in London's South bank. I would say this was a fitting venue for what was a remarkable, multicultural and multilingual theatrical festival, where thousands of spectators in London were audience to various Shakespearean plays including Twelfth Night, Hamlet and As You Like It.

The Non English language adaptations of the plays were more than just a linguistic adaptation, they were a complete cultural insight and experience courtesy of the visiting theater company performing and organizing the play. I had the opportunity to watch two Shakespearean adaptations during this festival, which included 'The Comedy of Errors' in the Dari dialect of Farsi which is spoken in Afghanistan. The Afghan theater company behind the play gave the story of two lost twin brothers and their twin personal servants an Afghan twist. Since Afghanistan is next door and we are home to a large Afghan diaspora, their culture is not too distant and alien to my own native culture in Pakistan, so there was some degree of cultural familiarity. This made for a remarkable evening at the theater even though I could not speak a word of Dari.

I also had the opportunity to watch in this festival a Shakespearean play in my native language 'Urdu' which I am deeply passionate about. For me, my native tongue is more than just a language of communication, for me it is a part of who I am. The Urdu adaptation that I had the good privilege of seeing was 'Taming of the Shrew' which was organised by a theater company based in Pakistan and featured some well known theater and television acting talents from Pakistan, which included Nadya Jamil.

This Urdu language adaptation was given a localized Pakistani flavor to it, and an ideal back drop with which the story proceeds. The Urdu version of the play is set in inner city Lahore which makes for an idea setting since the city is regarded as the cultural capital of Pakistan. The story of this version revolves around the character 'Kiran' (adopted from Katherine in the original English language version) who is the elder daughter of a wealthy native of Lahore. In the play, Kiran's father is shown as a man troubled by the fact that because of his elder daughter's loud mouth and outspoken attitude, he can not find a suitor for her, this results in delays with respect to the settling down in life of the younger daughter Bina, who as we come to know has no shortage of potential suitors.  As it so happens, a Khan saab of Mianwali happens to visit Lahore and comes to learn about the fiesty red hot Kiran and that her father will offer a generous dowry to who ever would dare to ask for her hand in marriage. The more this man learns about Kiran's fiesty attitude, the more interested he becomes in courting the woman known through out Lahore for being the one no wants to court. The character makes it his personal mission, not just to ask for Kiran's hand in marriage, but will also show a thing or two to the world that even the biggest 'shrew' is indeed tamable.

I am not going to go into further details of the play or the story, as knowing myself I am likely to give a lot of spoilers away. What I will say is, being some one who is a regular follower of Urdu Language theater, this was truly the greatest theatrical experience of my life. I could never in my life ask for a more complete Theatrical experience in the British Capital, a Shakespearean comedy play at the Globe theater in London in my native language, and to compliment all of that, it was a beautiful warm sunny day in London. Considering such weather is a rarity in London even during the summer months, the weather provided the perfect setting to make it my perfect outing at the theater. As my time in this dynamic city comes to a close in a few months, this experience is likely to be one of those I will treasure for many years to come, this for me is more than just one of the wonderful experiences of life that one can experience in a city that rightfully deserves the title of being the World's capital. After all great global experiences from great global cities. If only the weather was amazing as the memories this city leaves you with.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Food for thought part II : Religious people love to Discriminate

Discrimination it seems is a bitter and unpleasant reality of every day life in the land of the pure. Every day whenever so many of us wake up to the morning paper, or log onto news websites or social media, we are routinely bombarded by news and information with respect to discrimination and abuse that Pakistanis are facing in some way or the other. Tales of discrimination faced by religious minorities and sectarian minorities (the smaller sects in the Muslim community) has become fairly common in Pakistan.

It all starts with discrimination before it leads to scenarios that are far worse, and those that initiate a form of discrimination feel no kind of remorse for their actions. Many of those practicing discrimination on religious grounds think it is a justified practice since it is their responsibility as those that have accepted the right path to bring others to their fold, using hard or soft tactics. Religious minorities and minority Islamic sects are not the only ones who face a fair degree of discrimination, even among the followers of the dominant Sunni Islam sect, the non practicing Muslims or those that identify themselves as not-religious face a great deal of discrimination and harassment in some form of the other.

I have previously written about how many employers across Pakistan in Pakistani companies discriminate employees based on their religious affiliation of whether they practice or not. Companies have been known to avoid recruiting religious minorities and Muslims from minority sects, this practice is far too common and has gone on to include even non practicing Sunni Muslims. Non practicing Sunni Muslims face discrimination and marginalization at work from such employers, they are often overlooked for career opportunities, and often face harassment or poor behavior and performance reviews based on solely on their so called lack of religiousness.

It just confirms that religious Sunni Muslims who have picked up on some Wahabi influence and are some what right leaning finding the idea very unbearable that there are other Sunni Muslims out there who are not full fledged practitioners or as religious as them, in fact they are even at discomfort when other Sunni Muslims do not share the exact same sentiments as them, which in some cases are very xenophobic and intolerant in nature. Recently I was messaged on Facebook by a former Math teacher of mine from school with insulting messages, I am guessing inspired by the nature of my activities on Facebook. I can only assume the latest thing that might have incited him was probably my Facebook status where I condemned the decision of the Pakistan Telecom Authority to temporarily block the micro blogging website Twitter from Pakistani Servers for alleged blasphemous content circulating online. These religious nut jobs in the past have advocated for bans on Facebook, YouTube and Blogspot also.

He accused me of being too westernized in my orientation and accused me of being some one who is ashamed of being a Muslim. His message included accusations of me trying to be 'Caucasian' and he openly said to me that he prays that I get kicked around and mistreated by Europeans so that I might see their true colours and then will proudly embrace my Muslim heritage. He kept implying that Europeans/Caucasians are on a mission of sorts to mistreat us purely because of our faith and sooner or later we will all get what is coming to us. He was not the first of his kind, and will certainly not be the last, as due to the content of my Facebook activities I have also been subjected to death threats by a religious person in the past, who argued it was justified to his 'ishq-e-Sunnat-e-Rasool' sentiments. I also see this as a failure in our society as a whole to recognize human individuality that establishes that all of us are unique individuals that differ from one another, it establishes the failure of our society to allow people to live outside of compulsory group cohesion. Those that show a diversity of views, attitudes, opinions are shown a great deal of intolerance as if it is a crime to have an individual identity as well.

People such as these will always be there in big numbers and that too for many many years to come, if we can't silence them, the least we can do is stand up to bullying, discrimination and harassment from the right leaning religious people. They are not worthy of our compassion, their not worthy of being overlooked again and again. There is risk involved, in some cases even our lives might be at stake for speaking up, but voices need to be raised before its too late, we have the biggest thing going in our favour, Islam itself which is a religion of peace and the fact that our Creator, the Almighty has given us the greatest gift of Freedom of thought, it is because of this very Freedom of thought that there is no compulsion in Religion.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Public Relations, no one does it better than SBC

The month of may by far has not been the best of months for cinema goers with only a few major film releases hitting cinema across the United Kingdom and the rest of the world. Usually most big banner or major up and coming block busters are held back for the summer months so as to take into account the summer holiday season, when people take their annual leave from work, and the young people attending school, college or university have time off.

One of these movies that hit our cinema screens this month of May was the eagerly anticipated 'Avengers Assemble', which brought together some of the iconic super hero's of Marvel comics including the likes of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America and Thor, with an equally formidable star cast. However another eagerly awaited movie to come out this early summer was British actor Sacha Baron Cohen's latest venture 'The Dictator'. By now this legendary Cambridge educated actor is a house hold name among English Language cinema goers, for those still unfamiliar with him, he was the genius behind the rather controversial and mildly difficult to watch  films such as 'Borat', 'Bruno' and 'Ali G'.

I was fortunate enough to be in the British Capital when this movie hit cinema screens and be able to have the opportunity to watch it in the cinema on the day the movie was released to public a few days following its premier red carpet event in Central London. That event was not your conventional red carpet event either, Sacha Baron Cohen managed to give it the touch he has become very popularly known for, keeping in line with the theme and the characters of his latest venture. His latest venture 'The Dictator'. The plot of this comedy film revolves around the character of Admiral General Aladeen, who is the supreme leader of a fictional oil rich country in North Africa by the name of Wadiya and is seen as tyrant dictator by the West. Well the real story happens after the character arrives in New York City to deliver a speech at the United Nations on the demands of the Western leaders.

The plot of the movie aside, the cultural stereotyping aside, the political and social themes aside, even the subliminal messages of the film aside, one can certainly no one does public relations than Sacha Baron Cohen, the man himself. When ever he develops a fictional character for himself as he previously developed Borat, Bruno and Ali G, he takes his character(s) which he himself also portrays to the next level. SBC not only lives his character in the movie itself, but also lives in the character off the silver screen. In the case of 'The Dictator' he has managed to do exactly that by showing up dressed as Admiral General Aladeen not only for the Red Carpet premiers of the movie in major cities across the globe, but has stayed in character as Admiral General Aladeen for interviews he has given to well known television channels and talk show hosts such as John Stewart. In those interviews on television, he has appeared not only dressed up as Aladeen, but has been in full character as Aladeen himself, almost kind off serving as a continuation of the movie story or an extension of the story line. This gives the audience a feel of how real the character is, when they get to experience the character on the screen beyond the film, and out and about in major cities like London and New York in the disguise of his character.

This makes for an excellent public relations exercise, as it gives Sacha Baron Cohen the opportunity to personally interact and engage with his audience, while at the same time adding an element of innovation and creativity in his approach. This also provides SBC with a platform and an opportunity to communicate his social, political, economic and cultural views to the wider audiences in the disguise of his character, and since the characters he plays such as Admiral General Aladeen are fictional in nature, even though some of his humour might be marginally offensive in nature for so many people, it is taken in good humour. These measures contribute a great deal to the brand equity of SBC as an actor and displays his genius talents before the world. This unique and innovative approach to public relations is indeed remarkable and note worthy, and can be a source of inspiration for innovative thinking for others, not just in the field of showbiz and television, but also in media, academia and the corporate world. For now, some of these interviews can be caught up with on Youtube, my favourite one is as follows:

Friday, May 18, 2012

Public Relations and the Value chain

Corporate organisations have come a long way since the era when their day to day operations were all about pleasing their shareholders. Since shareholders were responsible for providing the necessary capital and finances through ownership they were regarded for many years as the only stakeholders involved that the organisation needs to engage in a relationship management exercise with. Over time the definition of stakeholders has gone onto include all the relevant parties involved in the complete value chain process associated with the organisation. Stakeholders now comprises of employees, suppliers, end customers, supporting industries as well as the wider community as a whole. The importance of maintaining and managing relationships with all the relevant stakeholders has given rise to the practise of public relations management as well as relationship marketing.
A lot of organisations engage in public relations activities through the development of Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives (CSR) that add value to the organisation, and in some cases can also become the source of competitive advantage. This is particularly when it comes to competitive advantage in the form of corporate perception. This is just one of the types of Public Relations exercises initiated by organisations and there are countless practices that are undertaken and they vary by organisation to organisation, since most organisations differ from one another through some way or the other, hence their needs for a strategic public relations plan differs as well. Some organisations try and ensure that they already have a proactive public relations campaign in place in order to be well prepared in case they in the future due to some reason or the other face a public relations nightmare. Most importantly public relations is about developing and maintaining an important line of two way communication between the organisation and its stake holders, since this line of communication also is a valuable source of stakeholder input and feedback, which can lead to innovation, improvement and development of new ideas.
Managing a public relations nightmare can be quite a daunting task for many organisations regardless of their size and industry and those engaged in a proactive public relations campaign do it mostly for the purposing of preventing damage to corporate reputation or minimising the extent of possible damage. Most however have a reactive approach to managing public relations, which implies their activities are in response to a public relations crises that has either suddenly emerged or is on the horizon. A commonly found approach in the industry is the use of well-known or local celebrities to endorse the product or brad by acting as a spokesperson for the organisation in Question. The choice of celebrity would be determined by not only the budget that the organisation is willing to invest in its public relations campaign, but also relevancy based on their target market. In an era where we have moved from mass marketing to segmentation, targeting and position, it has become very important to get to know the characteristics of your desired audience. We should also remember the value associated with the celebrity involved and whether their endorsement can add the level of credibility to the public relations campaign.

Some popular local examples include cricketing super star such as Shahid Afridi and his endorsement of a local telecom company or a popular television actress like Mahira Khan endorsing a brand of a high calcium and low calorie packaged milk. The endorsements of such celebrities extends well beyond just appearing in television commercials, the organisations using their respective services also organise events where the fan following of such celebrities has an opportunity to interact with them and get positive reinforcements about the benefits of the use of the product or brand in question. The former were examples of a proactive Public Relations campaign, one can also find examples of where the services of a celebrity are acquired for the purpose of reputation management and damage control. A good example of this was Pepsico Pakistan’s when it was involved in a controversy surrounding their very popular brand of potato chips called ‘Lay’s. The controversy surrounding Lay’s was that the potato chips contained some ‘Non-Halal’ substances in their production process, and in a Muslim majority country like Pakistan, if questions regarding the Halal nature of the product are raised, it can be quite the public relations nightmare. In order to address this, Pepsico Pakistan employed the services of pop singer turned religious televangelist Junaid Jamshed who is considered by tens of thousands of people in urban Pakistan as a credible authority on religious practices and norms. His endorsement of Lay’s potato chips and backing them as Halal certified played a significant role in what would have been an out of control public relations nightmare for Pepsico Pakistan. This PR nightmare would have included substantial consumer boycotts of the products, erosion of brand equity and also legal action that might have taken against Pepsico by governmental organisations.
It isn’t necessary for organisations to just make use of celebrities that are deemed credible. In developed markets such as the United States and Great Britain, the trend is shifting towards using actual customers or users of the products and services as part of public relations campaigns. Satisfied users of a company’s products or services add far more credibility to the marketing communication through the public relations campaign. They not only endorse the product or brand of their choice, but they are also proactive supporters and defenders of the brand in times when the brand or product might come across relationship crises of sorts. In the age of online and social media, the satisfied loyal customers have significant tools at their disposal in the form of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and countless blogging sites. With time, it is entirely possible such practices in public relations might make their way to Pakistan and companies based here understand the value of user generated feedback.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Going Word of Mouth (WOM)

The world that we live in, we as human beings are exposed to a very large volume of marketing communications courtesy of corporations that want us to spend our hard earned money on their product or service offerings as opposedmto that of their competitors. Due to the volume of information communicated to us through multiple mediums and channels, marketers are always om the look out for ways through which they can break through all that clutter. This is where Word of Mouth marketing comes in and can at times make all the difference in a very competititve environment. Word of Mouth marketing or Word of Mouth for short, though not a new phenomena in the field but has gained significant attention in the recent years. Among the reasons that come to mind include the cost effectiveness of Word to Mouth as a medium through which communication is established, however what really makes it effective is that is user generated communication without any direct asssociation or involvement of the user with the parent company offering the product or service. An element of credibility and authenticity is added to the message when actual users are behind it. Thanks to the age of social media online, Word of Mouth has taken an entirely new dimension, since Word of Mouth is no longer restricted to informal oral communication.Social Media tools such as Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and countless blogging websites such as Wordpress and Blogspot have played a significant role in enhancing the impact and reach of Word of Mouth marketing communication.

It is not uncommon for one to stumble across blogs online that talk about a user's in this case the blog account holder's personamexperience of using a product or a service. This mention of a positive experiene usually includes a recommendation with regards to the product or service in Question. On the world's largest social media platform Facebook which is home to over half a billion users has tens of thousands of user generated Facebook fan pages dedicated to their favorite product or service. Such pages attract a large following of other like minded users who share the page founder's thoughts on the product or service in Question. The success of Facebook itself was the rest of effective Word of Mouth marketing, which transformed Facebook into a multi billion dollar company from its humble origins in the Harvard dormitory of founder Mark Zuckerburg who today is the world's youngest billionaire.World famous chain of coffee houses Seattle based Starbucks too owes much of its success to Word of Mouth marketing, whereby its patrons independantly communicated their preference for the Starbucks experience to other coffee drinkers.

It allowed Starbucks to achieve its goal of positioning itself as a 'third place' alongside their home amd office in the mind of young urban coffee drinking adults. Before the advent of Starbucks, it was considered unthinkable of people paying a premium price for a cup of coffee to benefit from an enhanced coffee drinking experience. Today Starbucks and its coffee houses can be seen around the world with a fast growing number of patrons. Word of Mouth can also be seen on major websites such as Amazon which is one of the largest online retailers in the world. On Amazon's various websites Word of Mouth appears in the form of buyer generated feedback and reviews ith reards to the product that they have purchased from Amazon. These buyer reviews play a significant role in influencing the purchase decision of prospective buyers of a product listed on Amazon's website. With tens of thousands of products listed on, these reiews act as a very cost effective tool for self promotion. Amazon is also among the few major companies to understand the useful business intelligence generated on their website and capitalise on user generated reviews by engaging its users and getting them to respond to whether reviews and user generated content n their website failitated them in their urchase decision.It is due to the percieved authenticity of Word of Mouth communication that it has attracted significant attention of marketers, and a result of which they make proctive efforts to develop a reltionship of sorts with their audience so that as a by product of that relationship Word of Mouth is also generated. As long as corporations do not interfer with the Word of Mouth messages commnunicated by their loyal users and the message is peecieved to be unbiased, Word of Mouth will continue to play an imporant role in the years to come. The potential of Word of Mouth is limitless, whether the recepients are young entrepreneurs or up and coming designers or performers, Word of Mouth can transform them into notable success stories.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Spring in Shehar e Quaid

It has been a few weeks since I began my visit t my beloved hometown, the city by the sea Karachi. Now my time has come that I mus bid farewell to my beloved city and head back to the world capital on a tiny and rain soaked island far ar away off the coast of Mainland Europe. But before I could say Good bye and part my ways for the time being, life gave me the opportunity to experience a day of beautiful and truly ispiring weather to fully complete which has been a good and much needed trip home. Being a true Karachiete having been born and raised here, I know that this is the weather we Karachi walas truly admire.

 Spring in the city by the sea is usually a time of the year when the weather is fairly hot and the celcius scale can easily reach levels comparable to those of the brutal summer months from July to September. It is a rare treat to see weather in this city during the month of Spring as how Spring should be. Warm, but mild, with flowers blooming and lots of green all around and top it all the gentle sea breeze blowing through out the day to refresh you. All this under a cloud cover to provide us with shade and the brief spell of unexpected rain. Karachi's coastal breeze has always distinguished it from other cities in Pakistan. Up north this time of the year, it gets fairly hot and suffocating, especially in the Punjab region.

 Being a land locked province with almost a 1000 miles to the closest coast it misses out on benefiting from these gentle winds that cool us during our rather long summer, which in reality stretches from March to November. It did not rain much today, but forecast predicts that there will be a fair few showers as the weekend approaches. Which means the perfect opportunity for fun loving and spirited Karachi walas to head to the beach and enjoy the wonderful rain out in the open by the coast. All this might sound ironic to my European friends, since those especially from northern Europe and the UK are used to a lot of rain, and for them heading outdoors is when the sun is out and the weather has warmed up a bit. For those choosing to stay in, it is an opportunity to get friends and family together for some chai and pakoras (deep fried snacks). If I was here over the weekend, I would be planning a trip utdoors or having people over. Sorry to confuse you folks, but this is how we roll in Pakistan's largest city, we see Sunshne all year long, to the point where we just get sick and tired off it, for us the refreshing change is not a day with a clear blue sky, but when the colour grey consumes our skies. Till then to my fellow Karachi walas, I hope you guys enjoy this awsome weather, and to my beloved hometown and my country see you again very soon in the near future, I hope our parting of ways is temporary and I will be looking forward to the day I really truly return home and Inshallah ( God willing ) that day will come. Pakistan Zindabad Shehr e Quaid Karachi Zindabad

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Marketing 101 for the urban social life

The free market has given us as consumers a wide varity of choices with respect to goods and services available to us. We as consumers in today's liberal market oriented world are truly spoiled for choice. It seems that this culture of consumerism, where one is also spoiled for choice, has had an indirect effect on our social values and how we engage and interact with the world around us. Long gone are the days when socializing was a simple exercise based on meeting and interacting with people. Socialising has now transformed into a full fledged self marketing exercise on an individual level. Basic marketing principles are infact very applicable to our every day social lives. Regardless of whether we go about it conciously or unconciously, social success it seems is now determined by how we as individuals market ourselves by applying the various concepts of marketing principles along the way. To illustrate this, let us revisit some of these concepts and analyse them in this very light.   Analysing the Market: We can also call this market research. Our initial approach towards socialising begins with our internal and external environment. In other words the internal environmemt would be our upbringing and what we have learned through our people close to us from the early stages of our lives, while the external environment would be where we are operating in and what we are up against. We do this by analysing the culture, norms, values and beliefs of the people around us in the setting where we wish to socialize with others. For example the target market that we are analysing is our work place, we will be making efforts to try and understand what the workplace culture is, what are the people like and what values do those people associate themselves with?   Branded Versus Generic: If we are seen as ordinary individuals by others, the liklihood of us catching some one's attention is less likely as opposed to us being percieved as high value or extra ordinary individuals. The way the association of a brand helps a product stand apart from its generic counterparts, the very same way if we appear as a branded individual, we are likely to stand apart from the rest of the crowd. Our individual brand, could be determined by something very basic as what school we go to , what part of town we live in or even just how good our English is.    Product Differentiation Strategy: After a brand has established itself as something more than just an ordinary good, it needs to adopt a product differentiation that would allow it differentiate itself from its competitors. In pretty much the same way, when people have a variety of choices when it comes to who to socialize with, if we are able to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the crowd and prove our unique worth, it can lead to succesful and sustainable socialising.    Brand Management:  How we manage ourselves as a unique and individual brand is very important. Our perceived value of a product changes when there is a brand involved or whether the brand is strong enough. Corporations engage in a wide variety of activities to firstly develop a brand and then build on the brand equity and value of their product offerings. In the very same way, we as individuals also adopt measures that contribute to our value and worth as individuals in the eyes of others. This ranges from our material possessions, what our Facebook profile says about us and how we present ourselves as an individual. Word of mouth regarding us also plays a significant role in contributing to our brand equity. Since we are individual brands, it is upto us whether we want to potray ourselves as a high value luxury brand or something which is a more common high street brand.    Push and Pull Factor: The adoption of Push and Pull strategies is determined by the strength of an individual brand. The greater the brand equity, the stronger the pulling power of the brand in the eyes of its target audience. Likewise if the brand is not a well established it has to engage in a lot of Push oriented strategies to penetrate the market. In our case here, a good illustration of our brand equity and the push and pull factor is that if we as individuals have high brand equity, we are a magnet for individuals who wish to become a part of our social lives. On the other hand if our brand equity is low or not well established, we have make genuine concentrated efforts to try and be a part of other people's social lives.    Product Life Cycle: In this case the social life cycle. The product life cycle incorporates stages of Launch, Growth, Maturity and Decline. Same concept can be applied to our social lives. If we are new to a social group that can be classified as the launch stage of the cycle, while growth can be illustrated through wide acceptance with a magnetic pull towards us by other members of the group. Maturity would be when we have become fully integrated into the social group, while decline on the other hand happens when we fall out of a social group or we are just hanging on like a loose thread trying to make our social chemistry work.    New Product Development:  The way new and innovative products and models hit the shelves of our markets and out go the older products and models, the same way new people with something different to offer are always entering our lives and our social groups, while some are exiting or leaving.    Public Relations Management:  When we talk about Public Relations beyond the realm of Marketing, we talk about relationship management with the wider community and the relevant publics involved. In this case, our public relations would be our relationships with people we know (also who we know), how they see us and what they say about us . Be it close friends, neighbours, classmates, co workers, acquaintances, what they say about us and how our relationship with them is will play a significant role in determining our success socially particularly with regards to expanding our social circle. For example, when we meet new people, we try and learn whether we have mutual friends or acquaintances with the new person that we are about to meet and what those people think about the stranger that has just walked into our lives. In a world, where Facebook is part of millions of lives, the liklihood of background check has become more apparent.   Customised versus Standardised Strategies:  In this case, we will have to determine whether as an individual, should we adopt a uniform and standardised strategy with which to try and socialise with various publics and social groups, or should we adopt a customised strategy depending on the nature and values of each and every social group? In some cases, a standardised approach works for multiple social groups, but in most cases a different approach is required for every social group to not just penetrate into that group but also build a sustainable relationship.     There are both advantages and disdvantages for those that embark on a self marketing exercise and start applying marketing principles to themselves in their every day lives. Some of these are as follows:   Advantages It gives individuals the ability to break the social clutter and achieve social recognition. In other words, get noticed. Very importantly it is a good public relations and social networking exercise, where one can build connections that might come handy later on in life. It allows for an early exposure to the reality of the cut throat competitive world out there. Those innovative at socializing later on take an innovative approach to work. In other words encourages innovation and creativity, proving to be a valuable learning opportunity for later stages in life.    Disadvantages Self marketing manages to  reinforce the belief that we cease to be human beings and are nothing more than commodities with their utility value, and we would be off no use to any one unless we had something to offer. Some of these effects include  stress, depression, loss of self esteem, as well as sleeping and eating disorders especially amongst the youth. It creates a social divide between social haves and the have nots  and encourages misuse of peer pressure, social discrimination and bullying. Opens up people to social exploitation and feeling used and creates misunderstandings through breakdown in communication. The breakdown in communication also happens, when in order to achieve social recognition people try to potray an alternative image of themselves, which might or might not be an accurate reflection of their true selves In other words, one can argue that it encourages the wrong set of social and inter personal values. 

Is the diaspora exporting intolerence to Pakistan

In the back drop of rapidly growing radicalization of Pakistani society, it has become a commonplace for the remaining liberals or the educated liberals of this society to engage in discussions with regards to radicalization or the causes of radicalization in our society. Most such discussions are now taking place in privacy, where many are some what or the other reluctant to voice their honest opinions out of fear of reprecussions. The fear of reprecussions stems from people's heightened religious sensitivity which brings with it social consequences for the not only the minorities in this nation but also the non practising Muslims. Such reprecussions range from mild harassment to social ostracization to out and out direct life threats which come when the overly sensitive religious individuals start feeling that the liberals and the non practising Muslims are mocking Islam and what ever set of practises come with it. Instead of encouraging open criticism and open dialogue, their reaction at times appears as if all hell will break loose if they do not take some sort of action on our words. Though in some cases, liberals do cross boundaries that can test even the most patient of Muslims, the backlash they the liberals face from their religious bretheren is far greater. Through a product of conditional and subliminal learning, hundreds and thousands of Pakistanis including tens of thousands of those belonging to affluent classes have been radicalised over the years and have become extremely sensitive when it comes to religious matter.   While having a discussion with some fellow repatriates like myself now living in Pakistan, we too were engaged in a full on discussion about the causes of radicalization in Pakistan. Our discussion the other day, moved to a rarely discussed cause for the radicalization of society, and one which is very controversial and not without its consequences. What we discussed was whether the Pakistani diaspora i.e. overseas Pakistanis were exporting religious sensitivity and radicalization back to the land of their ancestors. We can begin this discussion by looking at Diaspora statistics of Pakistanis and their level of integration into their host society. The largest Pakistani communities currently found overseas are in the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In the case of both countries, the Pakistani community exceeds over a million. The Pakistani community in other countries is relatively much smaller, with about 50,000 in Australia, around half a million in the United States and about a quarter of a million in Canada.   Let us start with the Pakistani diaspora in the United Kingdom. In a community of almost a million, Pakistanis make up one of the most prominent ethnic groups in Great Britain, with majority of the community centered around the midlands and the northern towns. Most of the Pakistanis living in Great Britain trace their ancestory and heritage from Kashmir and Northern Punjab, mostly rural or small town Punjab and Kashmir, with great waves of immigration happening in the 60's, 70's and 80's. The midlands and the northern towns of England in particular were homes to manufacturing and industry in the country, employment in the industrial sector was a great driver of these massive waves of immigration. As industry declined, so did employment and growth in it and the region as a whole. While the first generation of migrants is always willing to accept the harsh realities of being a migrant community, it puts the second and third generation of immigrants, their children and grandchildren in a difficult position, as they are caught in a limbo between integration and maintaining their cultural identity under the impression their host culture will not accept them.   According to statistics based on surveys conducted by the British government, the Pakistani community in the United Kingdom is the least socially integrated community as a whole. That whole lack of integration includes high unemployment, poverty, living in ethnic enclaves as well as growing religious radicalization.  Many news stories have been done, as well as countless documentaries about the growth in radicalization of British Pakistanis, predominently amongst the youth. The not so affluent and the not so integrated British Pakistani youth that feels as if British society is marginalizing them can become an easy target for the cause of radical Imams and religious scholars that openly preach hatred for the British government and British society by labelling their host country as a country of infidels who are enemies of 'Islam'. The British Pakistani youth gets early exposure to such radicalized Imams and such religious influence stays over the course of years unless they distance themselves from other diaspora Pakistanis like themselves.   It begins with the Imam at the local mosque from an early age, it then moves onto exclusively Muslim schools for which lobbyists fight with local governments for recognition. This later on transends into early adulthood when the youth enter university as they meet and interact with other British Pakistanis from throughout Great Britain, some of whom bring with them their radicalized ideas and thoughts. Having lived in the United Kingdom myself, I can honestly say I am not lying when I say this that it is not uncommon in that country for certain Imams to hold radicalized views, or for the British Pakistani youth, particularly amongst young men at university to belong to a conservative and radical school of thought. I have even across British Pakistanis, who everytime they gather, they discuss about how they can reject British society and become self proclaimed God's warriors and fight for the cause of Islam, fight for the establishment of the Khilafat and Sharia law on all of mankind. Such groups also make proactive efforts to recruit new immigrants or well off Pakistanis that have come to foreign shores in pursuit of knowledge. British universities are a magnet for affluent would be university students from Pakistan. Here is a thought, while such people have been unable to achive all that within British society, bring about the religious change they want to bring, what would be rationally their next possible target for bringing about change? You guessed it, the land of their ancestors.    It is entirely possible that the British Pakistani youth of the later generations has been brought up with a romanticized image of Pakistan, stemming from memory that their parents or their grandparents had from a conservative small town in Pakistan. Where Pakistan was a safehaven of Islam, and represented a country where one can truly be a Muslim and it represents everything that is pious about Islam. Towards the end of the 20th century Pakistani society had changed a fair bit prior to the sudden radicalization that began at the start of the millenium. Over the 1980s and 90s, post Zia Ul Haq, Pakistani society opened up and went through a stage of liberalization as well as a demographic change. This change could be seen from the growth and prosperity of media and press in the country, as well as the rapid rural to urban migration that has taken place in Pakistan. Here is another thought, what if the same diaspora Pakistanis from the United Kingdom, visited Pakistan and instead got exposed to a very liberal society, and the relatives that they were drawn towards courtesy of the remittences now live in the major cities as opposed to small town Pakistan. It tempts one to think, whether such circumstances break a romanticized bubble image of Pakistan in their minds. Not only is the dream shattered, but their is presented an opportunity for the expats or the diaspora Pakistanis to bring in their values to the society which they deem as too liberal now.    Now I am going to fast forward the clock a little bit and go back in time only to about some what ten years ago or so. At the dawn of the 21st century, the world witnessed a set of events that forever changed the course of human history. On a September morning in 2001, the United States witnessed terrorist attacks of epic proportions in New York and Washington DC, which lead to the death of over 3000 people. The September morning, forever changed the course of modern history. In the aftermath of 9/11, the United States lead with its allies went to war with Afghanistan and a few years later with Iraq. There is a widespread belief amongst millions in the Muslim world that the US lead invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq is a war against Islam, and the proponents of such claims often argue that Muslims around the world should return to the core of their beliefs and unite in the so called Jihad against the Imperialistic West. Around the same time, in the months that followed 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan, a few radical religious schools emerged in the major urban centers of Pakistan such as Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi. A slight difference this time was that these religious schools or academies targetted the affluent socioeconomic groups in society, as lessons moved from the Mosque to a private air conditioned rented out seminar hall or conference center in posh localities. Most importantly another element to it was that these schools were conducted by overseas Pakistanis including two prominent British Pakistani scholars from the United Kingdom, both of whom held a doctrate in Islamic studies from British Universities. With the set up of such schools, overnight educated well to do liberals in society transformed into overly sensitive religious practitioners.   Overnight young men grew beards and submitted themselves to God by leaving behind the world, overnight educated socially out going women in the pursuit of piety became overly obedient and submissive housewives who also made the decision to wear the veil which would hide their identity from the world. An identity which they were once very proud off. If you target the upper and the upper middle class of society, it becomes easy to penetrate into the middle classes, as many in the middle class despite their denial look towards the affluent classes as a guideline on what constitutes a good and prosperous way of life. I feel that the biggest tool used by these overseas Pakistani scholars to get the people to yield to their proposed thoughts has been 'guilt enducement' and later on 'guilt exploitation'. By enducing a sense of guilt where it previously ceased to exist, it can serve as a powerful tool for control or influence which can be further reaffirmed through exploitation of that guilt. For example in this instance, guilt is being created in the hearts of minds of people by communicating thoughts that they should feel guilty about their way of life, in other words feel bad about their life style choice as their life style choice is unacceptable in the eyes of God, and even the smallest of things they do can land their soul into the fiery pits of Hell. If one is able to freighten people through guilt enducement, one has the key to the doors of their minds.    Amongst the affluent communities of urban Pakistan, it would be fair to assign a certain amount of credit to such scholars and their academies for radicalization of Pakistani society. As the world heads towards liberalisation, it seems we as a nation have gone backwards into neo-conservatism and heightened religious sensitivity has become so widespread, its put many in a position where people are killing like vigilantes in broad day light in the name of religion and where the liberal thinkers have been silenced out of fear for their own lives. So would it be a fair argument, if the suggestion was made that the diaspora is exporting radicalization?