30 November 2009

"Mumbai's winners and losers" by Irfan Husain

"I do not like getting old.  However, given the alternative, I do not mind" said Scot Adams.

"India may not like to initiate peace with Pakistan.  However, what are its alternatives?" says Irfan Husain (in his article in The Dawn).

According to him the true winners of Mumbai were the terrorists and the security establishments; the true losers were the victims and the larger population of both the countries.  Irfan Husain argues that peace is the cleverer thing to do.

Pakistan's army gets its importance, power and money from one source: maintaining an adversarial tension with India.  The army would not, normally, encourage peace with India.

Pakistan's religious extremists would never encourage peace with India.

However, there is a silent and intelligent majority of moderates in Pakistan.

India has an excellent opportunity now:

1.  At the moment, Pakistan's army does not depend on India for its importance, power and budget.  The fight against terrorism is now perceived to be a bigger cause.  Pakistan's army would actually be relieved if India were to take a few steps to ease the tension in the India Pakistan border.

2.  At the moment, Pakistan society is getting alarmed at religious extremism.  They are still at a point where it is possible for a majority to reject religious extremism (if army would contain the radicals) than succumb to it (out of fear).

3.  At the moment, India has a stable government with sufficient majority (that is not based on a co-alition).  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has enough respect in India to bring a solution that is fair (even if it is not acceptable to everyone in India).

4.  At the moment, Pakistan has a stable government with a leadership that has the toughest task any elected government can be expected to handle.

5.  India is looking to grow.  India cannot afford to let its politics come in the way of economics.

6.  A Pakistan that loses to the Taliban is the worst scenario for India.

India and Pakistan made significant progress in resolving Kashmir in the recent past.  This got stalled because of terrorism incidents.

India has to take the initiative to make peace with Pakistan.  Now.  That is the cleverer thing to do.
Pakistan has to make peace with India.  Now.  That is the wiser thing to do.

How I wish Irfan Hussain's thoughts are echoed by thought leaders in India too.

21 November 2009

"How to fund a startup" by Paul Graham

Before becoming an entrepreneur, I was a CFO.  Raising money from early stage investors, managing the relationships, going public and dealing with the public market were all part of the territory.  Met several bankers, fund managers, analysts and retail investors in different corners of the world.

Most of them are good partners.  Keen to grow their wealth.  Keen to protect it.  Eager to find the next big opportunity.

However, the goal of an investor is different from the goal of an entrepreneur.  Understanding and managing the conflicts is important.  As important as getting your business vision and execution right.  Make a mistake there; and you could end up spending too much time dealing with yourself instead of your market.

As a start up, I have stayed with "bootstrapping".  The freedom to build the business for the long term is delectable.  (Of course there is a concern that the enterprise may end up becoming an echo chamber of my thoughts; but ensuring this does not happen is a lesser challenge than managing goal conflicts at an early stage).  This is probably easy when you become an entrepreneur in late forties; may not necessarily be possible when you are young.

Paul Graham's article (written about four years back) about "funding for startups" continues to remain current; and provides an excellent insight into the subject.  (Click here to read).

Anand Rajaraman has a different view in his blog.  (Click here to read).   It is not easy to differ with a young billionaire with a doctorate from Stanford.  However, am not sure excellent businesses are, as a rule, always characterized by "market, team and technology".  Venture investment has been sufficiently scarce so far and therefore has the luxury of staying focused on the "sexy end of the pyramid".  However, it is possible to prosper with "simple ideas neatly executed".

My advice to young entrepreneurs:  Stay away from third party investors until you can.  But do not shy away from raising funds when you can "feel" your muscles.

20 November 2009

"Learn from Karim Khan's notes" by Jawed Naqvi in The Dawn

I was a child going to Grade II when the Federal Government attempted to impose Hindi on Tamil Nadu.  I remember the cartoons in Tamil newspapers depicting the Hindi demon trying to kill the demure Tamil "mother".  Without any understanding of the issue, my young mind was seeded with an unfair bias against Hindi.

It changed only when, in my early twenties, I discovered "Suhane raat dal chuki", "Chaudwi ka chand hai" and Mohammed Rafi.  It was so easy to stay in love with Tamil and yet admire the language spoken by most in India.

When we returned back to India and Chennai after a long gap, it was gratifying to see Hindi gaining acceptance among the children without disturbing the position Tamil deserves and merits in the State.

Keeping alive the threads that unite us is a good idea.  Imposing the thread is a bad idea.

Jawed Naqvi's article about imposing our culture on others in The Dawn is an excellent articulation of this view.  The Dawn is one of my favorite newspapers to get the perspective of Pakistan.  Jawed does leave you "thinking".

I dont understand the chaste (and probably poetic) pieces he teases us with in this excellent article.  However, I get the drift.  That is the beauty of being able to understand another person's ideas; even if you do not understand his language.

Have fun.  Read this "article" in The Dawn.

05 November 2009

"To Understand Pakistan, 1947 is the wrong lens" by Khurram Hussain

Twelve years back I was in Jamnagar; as one tiny cog in a tiny wheel in the larger scheme of things that went on to create a truly gargantuan refinery.  I held an energizing cup of coffee and drew the drapes of my hotel window one nice morning.  And stumbled into a world I never experienced earlier.  Two young and agile men were tracking something I cannot see in the sky with a really large anti-aircraft gun.  The waiter explained that this was routine air defense against Pakistan’s jets in the sky.

I remembered the other time I was close to an international border as an exchange student in Michigan.  My hosts used to drive down (yes, not up) from Detroit to Windsor in Canada freely.  Cars used to race past the border tunnel without anyone stopping us.  In practice, there was no border!

Why cannot Pakistan and India accept the geography instead of remembering the history?  If co-existence is made inexpensive, the resources released can make a difference to thousands of families on either side of the border.

It appears seemingly rational to see India as a stable multicultural society with popular governments and rule of law; and see Pakistan as an unstable polity dominated by religious bigotry and an eagerness to destabilize India.  Quite convenient a view if you are an Indian.

Khurram Hussain’s article in the Outlook magazine brings a different viewpoint to understand Pakistan. 

India tries to see Pakistan from a 1947 perspective: A religious minority carving itself out into a political entity to escape domination in a “majority rules” democracy and preserving its “anti majority” psyche well past expiry date.  Pakistan remembers India from a 1971 perspective:  An unacceptable treatment of one province by the rest in Pakistan “used’ by India to dismember the country and redraw the map.

The asymmetry in Indian perspectives about East Bengal and Kashmir (one a “good” war to liberate the dominated and another an “intervention” in internal affairs) is rarely discussed in a fair and comparable manner by Indian intellect.

On the other hand Pakistan’s intellect has a different memory.  It does not necessarily accept challenges to popular governments; challenges to rule of law; challenges from religion; and even terrorism.  However, it tacitly accepts intervention in Kashmir seeing Kashmir as a mirror of East Bengal.

When your existence has been challenged, “running for life” seems more important than “running for lunch”.

India would have to appreciate the alternate viewpoint of 1971 war and understand Pakistan from that perspective.  India’s Pakistan policy would have to be shaped by addressing the “existential fears” unleashed by the 1971 strategies. 

In the recent past, Pakistan’s intellectuals have published several books (some of them covered in my blog) that are not afraid to challenge the traditionally held views in Pakistan with intellectual honesty and candor.  We need similar books in India to challenge our own traditionally held views with equal honesty in intellect and candor.

If praising Jinnah can be unacceptable in India (and sufficient to criticize one leader and ostracize another), we would not get smart enough to understand Pakistan and progress toward the normalcy that Khurram Hussain, the Yale University scholar thinks is invaluable for both the countries.