Sunday, November 10, 2019

Skills Gap in South Asia: Indian and Pakistani Youth Lack 21st Century Skills

Only 18% of Pakistanis and 19% of Indians under the age of 24 have the skills required for 21st century jobs, according to a United Nations and Business Coalition for Education study. It's the percentage of all school age children on track to complete secondary AND reach the learning benchmarks spelled out  by National Achievement Test (NAT) 2016 for Pakistan  and NCERT 2017 for India.

South Asian economies have experienced some of the fastest growth rates in the world. They are driven by young and growing populations in the region. Sustaining growth will become increasingly difficult unless significant investments are made to prepare South Asian youth for 21st century jobs.

Today, South Asia is home to the largest number of young people of any global region, with almost half of its population of 1.9 billion below the age of 24, according to data produced by the Global Business Coalition for Education (GBC-Education), the Education Commission, and UNICEF.

Youth unemployment remains high (at 9.8% in 2018) because of changing labor market demands and over — or under — qualification of job candidates, according to the report.



In most South Asian countries, the projected proportion of children and youth completing secondary education and learning basic secondary skills is expected to more than double by 2030. Still, on current trends, fewer than half of the region’s projected 400 million primary and secondary school-age children in 2030 are estimated to be on track to complete secondary education and attain basic workforce skills.



Current efforts underway to fill the skills gap in the biggest South Asian economies of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are grossly insufficient. Only 47% of Indian, 40% of Pakistani and 55% of Bangladeshi youths will have the skills required by 2030.

These estimates were generated based on a 2019 update of the Education Commission’s original 2016 projections model for the Learning Generation report. Most recent national learning assessment data used for each country as follows: BCSE 2015 for Bhutan, GCE O Levels 2016 for Sri Lanka, LASI 2015 for Bangladesh, NAT 2016 for Pakistan, NCERT 2017 for India, Nepali country assessment 2017 for Nepal, O Level Exam 2016 for Maldives. Afghanistan is not included due to lack of recent learning assessment data at the secondary level.

Expectations of huge demographic dividends in South Asia will not be met unless policy makers significantly increase focus and investments to rapidly up-skill their youthful populations.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

Pakistan NUTech to prepare 21st Century Workforce

Pakistan's Expected Demographic Dividend

10 Pakistan Universities Among Top 300 in Asia

Pakistan's Growing Human Capital

History of Literacy in Pakistan

Education Attainment in South Asia

Dr. Ata ur Rehman Defends HEC Reforms

Biotech and Genomics in Pakistan

Business Education in Pakistan

Armed Drones Outrage and Inspire Young Pakistanis

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Pakistani Video Game Player Among World's Top 10 Earners

Karachi-born Pakistani Syed Sumail Hasan, 19, is the world's youngest video gamer to surpass $1 million in earnings. In fact, he has earned $3.6 million so far as an international Dota 2 player, ranking him the 10th biggest winner in the world, according to esportsearnings.com website which tracks players' earnings. Sumail started playing Dota 2 at the age of 7. He now lives in a Chicago suburb as a permanent resident of the United States.

Syed Sumail Hassan

Arsalan Ash Siddique, 23 years old player from Lahore, Pakistan, caused a stir in Fukuoka Japan when he defeated world's top players to win EVO championship in February, 2019, according to Asahi Shimbun. In his victory speech, Arslan acknowledged many unknown Pakistani players who are also quite strong but could not join the competition because they could not get the visa to travel to Japan.



It wasn't easy for Arsalan to reach Japan to participate in the contest. He had to jump through many hoops and travel through several transit countries each of which made it difficult for him. When he arrived at Haneda airport in Japan,  he only had Pakistani rupees and no exchange would accept them. Hungry and tired he tried his luck at the food court but no one would accept the Pakistani currency. His next flight was from Narita airport an hour away by public transport. To travel he needed to buy a ticket but did not possess any local currency, according to SBS Urdu.

Arsalan Ash Siddique (Center)

Arsalan was exhausted and ready to give up his dream when he finally got through to his Japanese sponsors who helped him out. Needless to say he got no help from Pakistani diplomats through his challenging journey.

In spite of visa denials and other travel challenges faced by Pakistani players, the country ranks 25th in the world for players' earnings in 2019, according to esportsearnings.com.  Ranked above Pakistan are  mainly rich industrialized nations from North America, Europe and East Asia. All South Asian nations rank below Pakistan. Players from India rank 63rd, Sri Lanka 98th, Afghanistan 108th, Bangladesh 115th and Nepal 123rd.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

Mobile Game Industry in Pakistan

Pakistani Investors: Invest in Local Tech Startups

Invest in Pakistan Summit in Silicon Valley

Upwardly Mobile Pakistani-Americans

Upwardly Mobile Pakistan


Sunday, November 3, 2019

Upward Income Mobility in Pakistan Better Than in India and Most Other Nations

Economic mobility across generations, also known as intergenerational mobility (IGM), is a key measure of human progress. It shows that Pakistan is doing relatively well, according to a World Bank sponsored study. The analysis examines whether those born in poverty or in prosperity are destined to remain in the same economic circumstances into which they were born, and looks back over a half a century at whether children’s lives are better or worse than their parents’ in different parts of the world.

Inter-Generational Income Mobility Map of the World 2018. Source: World Bank

Intergenerational Income Mobility Study:

The World Bank study uses a newly created 2018 database—the Global Database of Intergenerational Mobility (GDIM)—that covers more than 95 percent of the global population.  Intergenerational income mobility measures how children's incomes compare with their parents' incomes at similar stages of life over a period of 50 years.

Inter-Generational Income Inequality Scatter Plot of the World 2018. Source: World Bank

The study found that higher intergenerational income mobility is associated with lower income inequality.

More and more Pakistanis are sharing in their nation's development, according to World Economic Forum (WEF). Pakistan ranks 47 among 74 emerging economies ranked for inclusive development by WEF released recently at Davos, Switzerland. Inclusive development in the South Asian country has increased 7.56% over the last 5 years. World Economic Forum assesses inclusive development  based on "living standards, environmental sustainability and protection of future generations from further indebtedness."

Educational Mobility:

Pakistan ranks among the 10 worst performing countries in absolute educational mobility, defined as the share of adults that are more educated than their parents, and relative mobility, defined as the correlation between individuals’ education and that of their parents.

Intergenerational Educational Mobility. Source: World Bank

In terms of intergenerational education mobility, only 9.4% of Pakistanis born in the bottom half make it to the top compared with a median of 15% among developing economies. Compared with other South Asian countries (in IGM in education), however, Pakistan (9.4%) is doing marginally better than India (8.9%) and Bangladesh (8.6%), but worse than Nepal (11.4%), Afghanistan (12.3%), Sri Lanka (15.9%), and the Maldives (24.8%), according to the World Bank.

Comparison of Intergenerational Mobility in Pakistan. Source: World Bank 


WEF Inclusive Development Report 2018:

The WEF inclusive development index ranks Pakistan at 47, below Bangladesh at 34 but above India at 62. The 7.56% rate of increase in inclusive development in Pakistan is higher than 4.55% in Bangladesh and 2.29% in India. China ranks 26 and its inclusion is rising at a rate 2.94%.

WEF IDI Rankings. Source: WEF

Pakistan has improved its ranking from 52 last year to 47 this year, while India's rank worsened to 62 this year from 60 last year.  China's ranking also worsened from 15 last year to 26 this year.

Another WEF report compiled by Oxfam said the richest 1% of Indians took 73% of the wealth generated last year.

Income Share Change in Asia's Poorest Quintile: 

The share of national income of Pakistan's poorest 20% of households has increased from 8.1% to 9.6% since 1990 , according to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (NESCAP) Statistical Yearbook for 2015.  It's the highest share of income for the bottom income quintile in the region.

The countries where people in the poorest income quintile have increased their share of total income include Kyrgyzstan (from 2.5 per cent to 7.7), the Russian Federation (4.4 per cent to 6.5), Kazakhstan (7.5 per cent to 9.5) and Pakistan (8.1 per cent to 9.6).  India's bottom income quintile has seen its share of income drop from 9% to 7.8%.

Bottom Quintile Income Share Change. Source: UNESCAP Statistical Yearbook

Although more people in China have lifted themselves out of poverty than any other country in the world, the poorest quintile in that country now accounts for a lower percentage of total income (4.7 per cent) than in the early 1990s (8.0 per cent). The same unfortunate trend is observed for a number of other countries, including in Indonesia (from 9.4 per cent to 7.6) and in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (from 9.3 per cent to 7.6).

CPEC Transforming Least Developed Regions:

Development of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is transforming Pakistan.  Among the parts of the contry being transformed the most by CPEC are some of the least developed regions in Balochistan and Sindh, specifically Gwadar and Thar Desert. Here is more on these regions:

Gwadar Port City:

Gwadar is booming. It's being called the next Shenzhen by some and the next Hong Kong by others as an emerging new port city in the region to rival Dubai. Land prices in Gwadar are skyrocketing, according to media reports. Gwadar Airport air traffic growth of 73% was the fastest of all airports in Pakistan where overall air traffic grew by 23% last year, according to Anna Aero publication.  A new international airport is now being built in Gwadar to handle soaring passenger and cargo traffic.




In addition to building a major seaport that will eventually handle 300-400 million tons of cargo in a year, China has built a school, sent doctors and pledged about $500 million in grants for an airport, hospital, college and badly-needed water supply infrastructure for Gwadar, according to Reuters.

The Chinese grants include $230 million for a new international airport in Gwadar, one of the largest such disbursements China has made abroad, according to researchers and Pakistani officials.

New development work in Gwadar is expected to create as many as 20,000 jobs for the local population.

Thar Desert:

Thar, one of the least developed regions of Pakistan, is seeing unprecedented development activity in energy and infrastructure projects.  New roads, airports and buildings are being built along with coal mines and power plants as part of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). There are construction workers and machinery visible everywhere in the desert. Among the key beneficiaries of this boom are Thari Hindu women who are being employed by Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) as part of the plan to employ locals. Highlighted in recent news reports are two Hindu women in particular: Kiran Sadhwani, an engineer and Gulaban, a truck driver.

Kiran Sadhwani, a Thari Hindu Woman Engineer. Source: Express Tribune

Thar Population:

The region has a population of 1.6 million. Most of the residents are cattle herders. Majority of them are Hindus.  The area is home to 7 million cows, goats, sheep and camel. It provides more than half of the milk, meat and leather requirement of the province. Many residents live in poverty. They are vulnerable to recurring droughts.  About a quarter of them live where the coal mines are being developed, according to a report in The Wire.

Hindu Woman Truck Driver in Thar, Pakistan. Source: Reuters

Some of them are now being employed in development projects.  A recent report talked of an underground coal gasification pilot project near the town of Islamkot where "workers sourced from local communities rested their heads after long-hour shifts".

2012 Intergenerational Mobility Study:

A 2012 study of 22 nations conducted by Prof Miles Corak for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has found income heritability to be greater in the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, China and 5 other countries than in Pakistan.

The study's findings, presented by the author in testimony to the US Senate Finance Committee on July 6, 2012, rely on the computation of "inter-generational earnings elasticity" which the author explains as follows:


"(It) is the percentage difference in earnings in the child’s generation associated with the percentage difference in the parental generation. For example, an intergenerational elasticity in earnings of 0.6 tells us that if one father makes 100% more than another then the son of the high income father will, as an adult, earn 60% more than the son of the relatively lower income father. An elasticity of 0.2 says this 100% difference between the fathers would only lead to a 20% difference between the sons. A lower elasticity means a society with more mobility."

Intergenerational Mobility in Pakistan:

Corak calculates that the intergenerational earnings elasticity in Pakistan is 0.46, the same as in Switzerland. It means that a difference of 100%  between the incomes of a rich father and a poor father is reduced to 46% difference between their sons' incomes. Among the 22 countries studied, Peru, China and Brazil have the lowest economic mobility with inter-generational elasticity of 0.67, 0.60 and 0.58 respectively. The highest economic mobility is offered by Denmark (0.15), Norway (0.17) and Finland (0.18).


The author also looked at Gini coefficient of each country and found reasonably good correlation between Gini and intergenerational income elasticity.

 In addition to Corak, there are other reports which confirm that Pakistan has continued to offer  significant upward economic and social mobility to its citizens over the last two decades. Since 1990, Pakistan's middle class had expanded by 36.5% and India's by only 12.8%, according to an ADB report titled "Asia's Emerging Middle Class: Past, Present And Future".

 More evidence of upward mobility is offered by Euromonitor market research indicating that Pakistanis are seeing rising disposable incomes. It says that there were 1.8 million Pakistani households (7.55% of all households) and 7.9 million Indian households (3.61% of all households) in 2009 with disposable incomes of $10,001 or more. This translates into 282% increase (vs 232% in India) from 1995-2009 in households with disposable incomes of $10,001 or more. Consumer spending in Pakistan has increased at a 26 percent average pace the past three years, compared with 7.7 percent for Asia, according to Bloomberg.

Summary:

The latest World Bank Study based on 2018 data shows that Pakistan continues to offer higher intergenerational economic mobility than most of the rest of the world. It reconfirms an earlier 2012 study of 22 nations by Miles Corak.   More and more Pakistanis are sharing in their nation's development, according to World Economic Forum (WEF). Pakistan ranks 47 among 74 emerging economies ranked for inclusive development by WEF released recently at Davos, Switzerland. Inclusive development in the South Asian country has increased 7.56% over the last 5 years. World Economic Forum assesses inclusive development  based on "living standards, environmental sustainability and protection of future generations from further indebtedness."

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

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Pakistan Offers Higher Economic Mobility Than US, China

Pakistani-Americans Among Top 5 Most Upwardly Mobile Groups in US

Pakistan's Inclusive Growth

Pakistani-American Stars in "Big Sick" Movie

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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Pakistani-Americans Among Top 5 Upwardly Mobile Groups in the United States

A recent study shows that Pakistani-Americans are among 5 most upwardly mobile groups in the United States. Other top most upwardly groups are Chinese-Americans from Hong Kong, Taiwan and People's Republic of China and Indian-Americans.

US Offers Upward Mobility For Immigrants: 

Immigration to the United States continues to offer a route to escape poverty — if not for poor immigrants themselves, then for their sons, according to a study published by a team of economic historians at Princeton, Stanford and the University of California, Davis.

Average income rank of sons with parents in 25th percentile. Source: New York Times

Top 5 Upwardly Mobile Groups in America:

The study shows the adult outcomes of sons born in 1980 who grew up in poor families at about the 25th percentile of income distribution in the United States. Pakistani-American sons born in poor households are now at 59th percentile of income in the United States.

Sons of immigrants from Hong Kong in 25th percentile have the highest economic mobility are 64th percentile followed by China at 63rd, India at 62nd and Taiwan at 60th percentile. Sons of American born fathers are at 46th percentile, much lower than for the sons of immigrants. Only the sons of immigrants from the Caribbean island nations of  Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica have lower mobility.

Economic Mobility in Pakistan:

A 2012 study of 22 nations conducted by Prof Miles Corak for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has found income heritability to be greater in the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, China and 5 other countries than in Pakistan.

The study's findings, presented by the author in testimony to the US Senate Finance Committee on July 6, 2012, rely on the computation of "inter-generational earnings elasticity" which the author explains as follows:


"(It) is the percentage difference in earnings in the child’s generation associated with the percentage difference in the parental generation. For example, an intergenerational elasticity in earnings of 0.6 tells us that if one father makes 100% more than another then the son of the high income father will, as an adult, earn 60% more than the son of the relatively lower income father. An elasticity of 0.2 says this 100% difference between the fathers would only lead to a 20% difference between the sons. A lower elasticity means a society with more mobility."

Intergenerational Mobility in Pakistan:

Corak calculates that the intergenerational earnings elasticity in Pakistan is 0.46, the same as in Switzerland. It means that a difference of 100%  between the incomes of a rich father and a poor father is reduced to 46% difference between their sons' incomes. Among the 22 countries studied, Peru, China and Brazil have the lowest economic mobility with inter-generational elasticity of 0.67, 0.60 and 0.58 respectively. The highest economic mobility is offered by Denmark (0.15), Norway (0.17) and Finland (0.18).


The author also looked at Gini coefficient of each country and found reasonably good correlation between Gini and intergenerational income elasticity.

 In addition to Corak, there are other reports which confirm that Pakistan has continued to offer  significant upward economic and social mobility to its citizens over the last two decades. Since 1990, Pakistan's middle class had expanded by 36.5% and India's by only 12.8%, according to an ADB report titled "Asia's Emerging Middle Class: Past, Present And Future".

 More evidence of upward mobility is offered by recent Euromonitor market research indicating that Pakistanis are seeing rising disposable incomes. It says that there were 1.8 million Pakistani households (7.55% of all households) and 7.9 million Indian households (3.61% of all households) in 2009 with disposable incomes of $10,001 or more. This translates into 282% increase (vs 232% in India) from 1995-2009 in households with disposable incomes of $10,001 or more. Consumer spending in Pakistan has increased at a 26 percent average pace the past three years, compared with 7.7 percent for Asia, according to Bloomberg.

Geniuses From Pakistan:

Pakistani-American have been described as "geniuses" by CNN analyst Van Jones. Here's Jones talking about Muslim-Americans and Pakistani-Americans in 2016:

"Honestly, if a Muslim family moved next door to you, you would be the happiest person in the world. First of all, the chances of your kids getting into trouble just went way down. OK, went way down.

Because (American) Muslim community has the lowest crime rate, the highest entrepreneurship, the highest educational attainment for women in the country (US). They are the model American community.

And so, when you have people who are now afraid to come here--that's starting to happen--you have geniuses from Pakistan, who are from Indonesia, who now (think to themselves) "I'm not safe here".

That becomes an economic problem for America long term. So that we're starting to do stuff here that doesn't make good sense for what has made us great so far."

Summary:

Pakistani-Americans are among the top 5 groups in terms of upward economic mobility, according to a study by researchers at Princeton, Stanford and UC Davis. Other immigrant groups with high mobility in America include Chinese and Indians. A 2012 study of 22 nations conducted by Prof Miles Corak for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has found income heritability to be greater in the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, China and 5 other countries than in Pakistan.  Pakistani-American have been described as "geniuses" by CNN analyst Van Jones.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gr5cLv8Dj2I




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Monday, October 28, 2019

Karachi's New Port Terminal Wins "Container Terminal of the Year" Award

Karachi's SAPT (South Asia Port Terminal) Automatic Container Yard and Housing Project is one of 18 winners of "Year in Infrastructure 2019" awards announced by Bentley Systems.

South Asia Port Terminal, Karachi, Pakistan

The annual awards highlight the work of Bentley software users advancing infrastructure design, construction, and operations throughout the world. 12 independent jury panels of distinguished industry experts selected  the 54 finalists from 571 nominations submitted by more than 440 organizations in more than 60 countries.

Hutchison Ports Pakistan is the country’s first deep-water container terminal, designed to accommodate super post Panamax ships, the largest container ships operating today. It is situated at the Keamari Groyne basin and provides the most convenient access to large vessels entering Karachi.

The new container port recently notched up a new productivity high — claimed to be the best-ever at a Pakistani port — when it handled the 8,562-TEU Hyundai Courage. The terminal handled 2,683 moves in about 13 hours, with berth productivity reaching 203.4 moves per hour and gross crane rates averaging 32.3 moves per hour. While in berth, the vessel loaded and discharged 3,501 TEU. That productivity beats the previous high of 1,953 moves in 11 hours, which the terminal achieved on the Hyundai Global, the company told JOC.com.

The US$1.4 billion container terminal operates as a partnership between Hutchison Ports Pakistan, a member of the Hutchison Ports network, and Karachi Port Trust. Hutchison Ports has invested US$600 million to develop the terminal and install the latest technology, whereas Karachi Port Trust has invested over US$350 million on reclamation work and dredging.

Hutchison Ports Pakistan also works with Pakistan Customs to improve clearance systems and procedures and enable easier and faster cargo clearance for end users. With this high-tech, deep-water facility at Karachi Port, Pakistan has the basis to compete with global peers as a modern trading economy.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Karachi's Bahria Town Private City is Bigger Than San Francisco

Karachi's Bahria Town being built on the outskirts of Pakistan's financial capital is among the world's largest privately developed and managed cities.  It is spread over an area of a little over 70 square miles, larger than the 49 square miles area of San Francisco. When completed, Bahria Town will house over a million people, more than the entire population of San Francisco.

Bahria Town Karachi
The city comes complete with private roads, community parks, mosques, schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, libraries, business parks, restaurants, recreation facilities, sports grounds, shopping malls etc. It has been the subject of litigation by local  villagers who claim that their land was unlawfully taken away from them to build this new city. Pakistan Supreme Court recently reviewed their cases and forced a settlement worth Rs. 406 billion to be paid by Bahria Town developer named Malik Riaz Hussain.

Bahria Town and other similar private cities and gated communities are popular with Pakistan's rising middle class. They are looking to escape the chaos of the nation's burgeoning cities unable to cope with the massive and uncontrolled waves of urbanization. The issues facing Pakistani cities range from lack of basic services to rising urban crime.

The private city promises to “turn the vision of modern Pakistan into a reality”, with private and secure supplies of water, gas and electricity, garbage collection as well as private security and well maintained wide tree-lined roads.

In a recent article published by India's Scroll.in, Samira Shackle argues that "the reason a privatized city is so much quicker and easier to build is not down to the inherent superiority of the free market, but because it removes power from people and communities and centralizes it into the hands of one person or corporation". "This is the same dynamic at play in China, for example, where the nominally communist government has been able to build vast new towns and cities from scratch because it doesn’t have to worry about eminent domain or democratic accountability", Shackle explains.

As of 2016, the real estate developers had built over 250 gated communities across Pakistan. Hundreds more are being developed in response to rising demand from upwardly mobile Pakistanis.

Eden Housing Gated Community in Lahore, Pakistan


These communities cater to insatiable demand for world-class and well-appointed housing with modern infrastructure including well-built wide roads and reliable supply of water and electricity. Additionally, they offer various state-of-the-art amenities such as schools, hospitals, mosques, restaurants, theaters, shopping malls and parks located within secure communities, according to a report by Adrian Bishop, editor of Opp.Today.

Gated communities are being offered at multiple price points and payment plans that suit not just the rich but the middle class buyers as well. They offer condos (flats), townhouses and single-family homes on lot sizes ranging from 125 square yards to  2000 square yards. These communities are fueling a construction boom in Pakistan.

Defense Housing Authority (DHA), Bahria Town (Malik Riaz), Eden Housing (Aleem Khan), Emaar Properties (of UAE) and Ghurair-Giga (of UAE) are among the biggest developers of gated communities in Pakistan.

Bahria Town Islamabad


In addition to major Pakistani cities of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, new gated communities are being developed in second and third tier cities as well. Recently, Bahria Town announced its newest development of a gated community in Nawabshah, a city of just over a million residents in southern Sindh province.

Here's an excerpt of a 2013 AFP report on Bahria Town gated community in Islamabad:

Cars glide softly over the smooth tarmac carpeting the gentle hills of Pakistan’s largest gated community, past immaculate green verges dotted with statues of cattle — which, unlike their real counterparts elsewhere in the country, pose no threat to traffic. 

There’s a horse riding centre, a golf course, a posh cinema, an immaculately air-conditioned café and a mini zoo with “the only black panther in Pakistan”, whose growling excites young couples taking a walk. 

Elsewhere 20 metre models of the Eiffel Tower and Nelson’s Column — complete with lions — watch over this vision of suburbia which seems a world away from the rest of Pakistan’s seething, traffic-choked and crumbling cities.

https://youtu.be/ZvKOCZuZAiM

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Haq's Musings

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Gated Communities in Pakistan

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 DHA Karachi Green City

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Pakistani Construction Boom


Saturday, October 19, 2019

Atoms Shoes: Young Pakistani Couple's Startup Gets $8.1 Million in Series A

Atoms shoes, founded by a young Pakistani couple, has attracted $8.1 million investment, according to media reports. Atoms' investors include Silicon Valley based venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins and Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian.  It's the latest success in the entrepreneurial journey that Sidra Qasim and Waqas Ali started in Pakistani town of Okara around 2010.

Sidra Qasim and Waqas Ali Wearing Atoms' Sneakers
Okara, Pakistan:

Atoms.com story began in 2010 when twenty-something Waqas Ali met a shoemaker Muhammad Hussain in Okara at a local panchayat (council meeting), according to Dawn. Waqas brought up the idea of selling shoes online but it did not particularly appeal to Hussain who thought people want to touch, smell, wear and feel shoes before buying them.

Waqas soon dropped out of college and persuaded Sidra to join him in pursuing his dream of selling shoes online. They chose "Hometown" as the brandname for their shoes and set up their business online. The initial funding was a $10,000 prize Waqas won in a competition for start-up sponsored by P@SHA Social Innovation Fund, a Google-backed grant program for Pakistani entrepreneurs.

Markhor:

In 2014, the company was rebranded as Markhor, named after a wild goat which is Pakistan's national animal. The company specialized in high-end hand-crafted leather shoes sold online to mainly western clientele.

Markhor website lacked Paypal or any other financial transaction service for cross-border transaction.  Ali applied for and received a B-1 business visa to travel to the United States and open a bank account there. This enabled them to accept payments online for their shoes.

During his visit to the United States, Waqas met with other e-commerce entrepreneurs from companies such as Warby Parker and Everlane, and met the company’s first two angel investors, who each invested $15,000 to help get Markhor (then called Hometown) off the ground. The success of a $107,000 Kickstarter campaign, a few months later, was due in part to the connections Ali made on his trip to the United States, according to an article in The Atlantic.

Sidra and Waqas were accepted in YCombinator, Silicon Valley's top incubator. The incubator introduced them to top venture investors in San Francisco Bay Area.

Atoms:

The couple has now started their second business, an online retailer for minimalist sneakers branded Atoms.  The company has recently raised $8.1 million Series A funding, according to Tech Crunch. It is being led by Initialized Capital, the investment firm started by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and Garry Tan, with other backers including Kleiner Perkins, Dollar Shave Club CEO Michael Dubin, Acumen founder and CEO Jacqueline Novogratz, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, TED curator Chris Anderson, the rapper Chamillionaire and previous backers Aatif Awan and Shrug Capital.

Atoms offers shoes in quarter sizes for "perfect fit".  The company says it's not unusual for people to have different size shoes for each foot. It sends customers three pairs of shoes and allows them to keep the left and right shoes that fit them best.  It offers free returns for the rest.

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Thursday, October 17, 2019

Pakistani Journalist Sohail Warraich in Silicon Valley

I had a chance to meet well-known Pakistani journalist Sohail Warraich recently during his visit to Silicon Valley. He was here to record an interview with successful Pakistani-American entrepreneur Osman Rashid, founder of Chegg and Kno.

Sohail Warraich is a senior journalist and political analyst as well as a popular host of "Ek Din Geo K Sath" aired on Geo TV. Warraich's show features interviews with top politicians, businessmen, entrepreneurs, entertainers, sportsmen and other personalities and celebrities. He often points out contradictions and hypocrisies in the lives of his guests on his show by asking them: "Kia yeh khula tazad naheen" (Is it not an obvious contradiction)?  Warraich is known to be close to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who is currently in jail for owning overseas assets beyond means. He wrote Nawaz Sharif's hagiography  "Ghaddar Kaun". Warraich believes the rise of Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) party have been enabled by the strong support of the military and Imran Khan's popularity with Pakistan's rising middle class.

L to R: Sohail Warraich, Misbah Azam, Riaz Haq

Osman Rashid is the son of  a Pakistani diplomat. He was born in London and raised in Islamabad. He came to the United States from Pakistan in 1990s to study electrical engineering at University of Minnesota and earned a BSEE there. He is a successful serial entrepreneur in Silicon Valley.

Osman Rashid invited me and a few other Pakistani-American friends to meet Warraich over dinner at his Los Altos home.  In response to my question about about the current state of affairs in Pakistan, Warraich shared his insights below:

1. Pakistan's middle class is rising and increasingly asserting itself in politics.

2. Pakistani military is the most dominant force in the country. It enjoys broad support among the middle class Pakistanis.

3. The rise of Imran Khan and Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) have been enabled by the support of the military and the middle class.

4. Middle class support for the military will eventually fade and there will eventually be conflict between the two. It could lead to significant political changes in the country.

5. The situation of the people of Thar is improving with the development of coal mining and construction of power plants.  There are better roads and growing employment opportunities for the locals. Warraich has visited Thar multiple times recently and found that the media reports of hunger and poverty and lack of health care are highly exaggerated. Such reports could be politically motivated to defame Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

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Friday, October 11, 2019

Invest in Pakistan Summit: Can Pakistan Benefit From US-China Tech War?

About 200 Pakistani-American and other American investors met at Invest in Pakistan Summit in Silicon Valley on October 3, 2019 at San Jose Sheraton. It was hosted by the Pakistan Embassy in Washington DC. One of the sessions I found interesting dealt with the opportunities presented to Pakistan by US-China technology war sparked by US President Trump's actions against Chinese technology giants Huawei and ZTE.  In response to the US threat to restrict access to American core technology, China is aiming to develop and produce 40% of the semiconductors it uses by 2020 and 70% by 2025, according to Washington-based CSIS report. It is estimated that China needs about 500,000 engineers to achieve this goal. Can Pakistan, a reliable Chinese ally, train and provide some of these engineers?



US-China Tech War:

The technology war between the United States and China has been going on with the roll-out of the 5G next generation broadband wireless technology.  China has developed its 5G technology in an attempt to become independent of the technology developed and controlled by companies in the United States and other western nations.  US has been actively trying to stop adoption of Chinese company Huawei's 5G technology in Europe, East Asia, Australia and New Zealand. So far, the US has had limited success while China's Huawei is continuing to win customers around the world.




Tech Supply Chain Bifurcation:

President Trump has also attempted to block Chinese companies' access to semiconductor components and software developed and sold by US companies. Both Huawei and ZTE have been riding a roller coaster with President Trump's daily tweets on this issue. It has affected reliable access to communication chips, Android operating systems and Google apps store.

The net result of it is that the Chinese have lost faith in US companies' reliability. They are now seeking to to create their own supply chain free of companies from US and its close allies in Europe, East Asia and elsewhere.




China's Plans:

China is currently a net importer of technology. The country wants to move “up the value chain” from final product assembly using imported components to creating advanced technology in China itself, but imports of chips and technology will be the norm for many years to come, according to a report by James Lewis of Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) based in Washington DC.

As of now, only 16% of the semiconductors used in China are produced domestically, and only half of these are made by Chinese firms. It is dependent on foreign suppliers for advanced chips. China aims to produce 40% of the semiconductors it uses by 2020 and 70% by 2025, according to the CSIS report.



Opportunity For Pakistan:

China will need 500,000 engineers trained in chip development over the next 5 years to meet its goal of producing 70% of semiconductors within the country, according to Pakistani-American entrepreneur Dr. Naveed Sherwani who presented at the Invest in Pakistan Summit in Silicon Valley.

Naveed and his wife Sabahat Rafiq see this as an opportunity to train a significant number Pakistani engineers in semiconductor chip development to meet China's needs. This will help develop Pakistan's tech-oriented human capital and open up the possibility for Pakistan to build its own chip design and development industry.

Sabahat said she is already training some engineers at an institute in Lahore for this purpose.  She is hoping to expand it to accommodate more trainees in near future.

Naveed currently heads SiFive, a Silicon Valley startup specializing in RISC V microprocessor cores for customized systems on chip (SoC) development.  RISC V is an open source chip architecture developed at UC Berkeley. It is the hardware equivalent of open source Linux OS software.  Naveed is promoting SiFive in both China and Pakistan for "low-power embedded microcontrollers (as small as 13.5k gates) to multi-core applications processors".

Cloud Design:

Naveed talked about the availability of cloud-based advanced chip design tools that Pakistani chip designers can take advantage of. Among the top vendors offering such tools is  Amazon Web Services (AWS).

AWS says it "offers a secure, agile, and scalable platform with a comprehensive set of services and solutions for high performance design, verification, and smart manufacturing, supporting electronic design automation (EDA) and rapid semiconductor innovation in the cloud. Semiconductor companies, including fabless and integrated device manufacturers, and their IP and foundry partners can benefit from the massive scale of AWS infrastructure to design next gen connected products".

Here's how AWS describes its cloud-based chip design tools offering:

"Semiconductor design simulation, verification, lithography, metrology, yield analysis, and many other workloads benefit from the scalability and performance of the AWS Cloud. For example, compute performance for these applications is enhanced by latest generation EC2 instance types, including the z1d. Run more jobs per core with z1d, the fastest single thread performance of any cloud instance delivering 4GHz sustained CPU, 16 GiB RAM per core, and local NVMe storage. Our virtually unlimited cloud storage and high performance computing (HPC) capability enable you to innovate faster, rapidly design and verify new products, and scale seamlessly to meet increasing demand".

Summary:

US-China technology war has recently been triggered by US President Trump's actions against Chinese technology giants Huawei and ZTE.  In response to the US threat to restrict access to American core technology, China is aiming to develop and produce 40% of the semiconductors it uses by 2020 and 70% by 2025, according to the CSIS report. China needs about 500,000 engineers to achieve this goal. Can Pakistan, a reliable ally, train and provide some of these engineers? Pakistani-American entrepreneur Dr. Naveed Sherwani and his wife Sabahat Rafiq believe the answer is an emphatic Yes. This will help develop Pakistan's tech-oriented human capital and open up the possibility for Pakistan to build its own chip design and development industry.


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Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

Pakistanis in China

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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Trump's Straight Talk Angers US Establishment

President Donald Trump has made a habit of telling truths that drive the United States establishment crazy. For example, he told Russian officials in a White House meeting in 2017 that he was not concerned about Russian interference in 2016 US elections because the United States did the same in other countries' elections, according to media reports. In a 2017 Super Bowl Sunday interview with Trump, Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly authoritatively declared Russian President Vladimir “Putin’s a killer.” Trump replied with the question: “What, you think our country’s so innocent?”

Trump did something similar in 2018 after his Singapore Summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim JongUn. When Fox News' Brett Baier raised the question in an interview about "Kim's oppression of his own people", Trump said: “Yeah, but so have a lot of other people have done some really bad things.” Trump's straight talk continues to inflame passions in the US establishment.

American Narrative:

Both O'Reilly and Baier were essentially repeating the standard American narrative that wants the world to believe that "we (Americans) are the good guys and those opposing America are the bad guys".

Trump, an unconventional American leader, displayed rare candor in his responses.  The American  media and "research scholars", managed by the "Deep State", sharply criticized Trump and continued to parrot the standard American narrative asserting that "we're the good guys" while vilifying Vladimir Putin, Kim JongUn and other leaders and countries designated as "enemies".

Young and Barbaric:

Trump appears ready to drop all pretenses of US being "the good guys" standing for "freedom, democracy and human rights".  He is not alone in his assertion that "our country (United States) is not so innocent".  George Friedman, the founder of  Stratfor which describes itself as "American geopolitical intelligence platform", is the ultimate "Deep State" insider in America.  Friedman acknowledges that "America, like Europe in sixteenth century, is still barbaric, a description, not a moral judgment. Its culture is unformed. Its will is powerful. Its emotions drive it in different and contradictory directions."

Friedman argues that "perhaps more than for any other country, the US grand strategy is about war, and the interaction between war and economic life. The United States is historically a warlike country. The nation has been directly or indirectly at war for most of of its existence...the war of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam War and Desert Storm. And the US has been constantly at war in Afghanistan and Iraq since the beginning of this century."

More recently, the United States' interventions in the Middle East have destabilized and devastated Libya and Syria and created a major humanitarian crisis. Tens of thousands have died and millions rendered homeless and trying to flee hunger and violence.

Narrative Promotion:

So how does America create and promote its "good guys" narrative in the world and demonize others? How do American image builders gloss over its past characterized by the genocide of the indigenous people, the enslavement of Africans and a history of assassinations, invasions, atrocities, proxy wars, and coups in the developing world? How do their actions escape the "terrorism" label that is liberally applied to others, particularly Muslims?  What modern image-making and promotional tools and techniques has Uncle Sam borrowed from the world of brand creation, promotion and management?

The first thing in creating a narrative is the basic story supported by effective language and vocabulary. It is fleshed out by writers, poets, musicians and artists.  The basic American narrative  goes like this:  America stands for freedom, democracy and human rights. It is a force for all that is good in the world. Those who oppose America are the "bad guys".

The narrative is then widely disseminated, promoted and incessantly repeated by Washington think tanks, book authors, major newspaper reporters and editors,  mainstream journalists, television channels and popular entertainment platforms.

Talking points are developed and shared to defend against any criticisms. Inconvenient truths are obfuscated.  Those who accept the talking points are rewarded and those who persist in criticisms are isolated and punished. Rewards come in the form of funding and access. Punishments are handed out by orchestrating attacks by peers and by denying funds and access.

Controlling the Narrative:

The United States government funds think tanks, hires consultants and directly and indirectly influences mass media and popular entertainment platforms to control and promote its "good guys" narrative and to vilify those seen as competitors.

1. Think Tanks:  Woodrow Wilson Center, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, US Institute of Peace (USIP), Rand Corporation and a several others are partially or fully funded by the US government. These are supplemented by dozens of other think tanks funded by major US corporations which have a stake in promoting a positive global image of the United States. These organizations organize conferences, publish books and "research papers" and offer scholarships to promote the American "good guys" narrative globally.  They have both resident and non-resident "scholars", including some from developing countries like Pakistan. Some of the Pakistani "scholars" working for Washington think tanks also work for major media houses in Pakistan. These "scholars" are widely quoted by the media on issues relating to US-Pakistan relations.

2. News Media:  Veteran American journalist Carl Bernstein, famous for his reporting on Watergate along with Bob Woodward, investigated CIA's use of the American media and wrote a piece describing "How Americas Most Powerful News Media Worked Hand in Glove with the Central Intelligence Agency and Why the Church Committee Covered It Up". Here's what he said:

"Among the executives who lent their cooperation to the Agency were William Paley of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), Henry Luce of Time Inc., Arthur Hays Sulzberger of the New York Times, Barry Bingham Sr. of the Louisville Courier‑Journal, and James Copley of the Copley News Service. Other organizations which cooperated with the CIA include the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), the Associated Press (AP),  United Press International (UPI), Reuters, Hearst Newspapers, Scripps‑Howard, Newsweek magazine, the Mutual Broadcasting System, the Miami Herald and the old Saturday Evening Post and New York Herald‑Tribune".

3. Popular Entertainment:  It has been suggested that Hollywood has been working with the United States government for a long time.  Some have said that Hollywood is "the unofficial ministry of propaganda for the Pentagon".  Information obtained under FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) confirms that thousands of Hollywood films have received backing from the CIA and the US Department of Defense and other US agencies to promote America's "good guy" narrative. These include 24, Army Wives, Flight 93, Homeland,  Ice Road Truckers, NCIS,  Transformers, Iron Man, Terminator, etc.

Documents obtained recently under FOIA show that the relationship between the US national security establishment and American entertainment businesses is much deeper and more political than ever acknowledged.

4. Books and Literature:  Starting with the Cold War, the American CIA has infiltrated and influenced books and literature to promote the American official "good guys" narrative. "Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World's Best Writers" by Joel Whitney reveals how great writers such as Baldwin, Márquez, and Hemingway were recruited as soldiers in Cold War.

Editors of top literary magazines were used as a vehicle for this infiltration.  The first time the CIA's connections to the Paris Review and two dozen other magazines came to light was in 1966. The CIA used multiple guises to financially support young, promising writers as part of a cultural propaganda strategy with literary outposts around the world.

Summary:

The United States government has developed and aggressively controls and promotes America's standard narrative that claims "we are the good guys and those opposing us are the bad guys".  This narrative glosses over the history of native American genocide, enslavement of Africans and the CIA sponsored assassinations, coups and proxy wars in the developing world. In a couple of recent interviews, US President Donald Trump has acknowledged the problems with the American narrative. Nevertheless, the American narrative is promoted using a multi-pronged strategy that includes the use of think tanks, popular entertainment, books and literature and the mainstream media.

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Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

Gates Straight Talk on Pakistan

Hollywood: America's Unofficial Ministry of Propaganda

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