Riaz Haq writes this data-driven blog to provide information, express his opinions and make comments on many topics. Subjects include personal activities, education, South Asia, South Asian community, regional and international affairs and US politics to financial markets. For investors interested in South Asia, Riaz has another blog called South Asia Investor at http://www.southasiainvestor.com and a YouTube video channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkrIDyFbC9N9evXYb9cA_gQ
Satellite images provided by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) show that greenery in Pakistan has been growing at double digit rates over the last few decades. All of this rapid greening of the country is the result of intensive agriculture in Punjab and Sindh provinces.
“China and India account for one-third of the greening, but contain only 9 percent of the planet’s land area covered in vegetation,” said Chi Chen, the lead author of a study he did with Ranga Myneni at Boston University. “That is a surprising finding, considering the general notion of land degradation in populous countries from overexploitation.”
The Boston University research team found that "global green leaf area has increased by 5 percent since the early 2000s, an area equivalent to all of the Amazon rainforests. At least 25 percent of that gain came in China. Overall, one-third of Earth’s vegetated lands are greening, while 5 percent are growing browner. The study was published on February 11, 2019, in the journal Nature Sustainability", according to NASA Earth Observatory.
Pakistan's arable land grew by about 600,000 hectares between 2014 and 2016, according to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It increased from 36,252,000 hectares to 36,844,000 hectares. However, Pakistan has experienced deforestation in this period. The area under forests has shrunk from 1,515,000 hectares in 2014 to 1.429,000 hectares in 2016.
Two years ago, Prime Minister Imran Khan, then a politician whose party governed the Khyber PakhtunKhwa (KP) province, launched a program called the “Billion Tree Tsunami”. Eventually, hundreds of thousands of trees were planted across the region, timber smuggling was virtually wiped out, and a cottage industry of backyard nurseries flourished, according to Washington Post. Now, the PTI government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, is aiming to replicate that success nationwide with a “10 Billion Tree Tsunami.”
Pulwama attack has confirmed what many have known for sometime: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's mishandling of Kashmir issue has intensified homegrown insurgency in Indian- Occupied Kashmir. During the 28 years of Kashmir under Armed Forces Special Powers Act, an entire new generation of Kashmiris has grown up. This generation, represented by tech-savvy youngsters like Burhan Wani, has seen nothing but repression and violence committed by the Indian military against the people in Kashmir. They are more determined than ever to defy and defeat the illegal and immoral military occupation of their land by India.
The Pulwama attack that claimed the lives of over 40 members of India's paramilitary force was carried out by a young Kashmiri Adil Ahmad Dar using explosives obtained locally, according to former retired Indian commander General D.S. Hooda. “It is not possible to bring such massive amounts of explosives by infiltrating the border,” said Hooda, according to media reports.
The essence of Kashmir issue today is not Pulwama or Uri or Pathankot or similar other alleged "terrorist attacks"; it is India's brutal military occupation force of 700,000 heavily-armed Indian soldiers being resisted by over 10 million Kashmiris. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar.
Armed Forces Special Powers Act:
India rules Kashmir using Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the same law that was created and used by the British colonial power to try and crush Gandhi's Quit India movement,
After independence in 1947, the Indian government has made extensive use of the same colonial-era British law to crush legitimate demands for freedom by the peoples of Assam, Manipur, Kashmir and other regions. The Act has now been in force in Kashmir for 28 years.
While Indian government claims Kashmir as an integral part of India, it undermines its own claim by denying fundamental rights to Kashmiris, the rights that are granted by the Indian constitution to all Indian citizens.
Basic Rights Denied:
Not only is the Indian government denying the right of self-determination granted to Kashmiris by multiple UN Security Council Resolutions, New Delhi is also reneging on the commitments made by India's founder and first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to Kashmiris and the international community.
Indians allege that Pakistan violated the UNSC Resolution 47 (1948) calling for a plebiscite by refusing to withdraw its military from the territory of the state. What they don't acknowledge is that it was superseded by UNSC Resolution 80 (1950) that called for progressive demilitarization on both sides of the ceasefire line to limit the deployment of the number of Indian and Pakistani troops as determined by the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan.
Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's Pledge
Professor Nivedita Menon of India's Jawaharlal University believes that "everyone knows that India is illegally occupying Kashmir". Here's what she told JNU students at a meeting on her university campus in New Delhi:
"Everyone knows that India is illegally occupying Kashmir. It is said the world over. Everybody accepts (it)....The map of India in foreign publications like Time and Newsweek show a different map of Kashmir. These copies of the magazines always create a lot of controversies and are censored and destroyed. When the whole world is talking about India's illegal occupation of Kashmir, then we should think the pro-azaadi (pro freedom) slogans in the valley are justified"
India is deploying 700,000 troops with extraordinary powers to detain, torture, blind, injure and kill any Kashmiri citizen with impunity under Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act 1990.
The extensive use pellet guns by Indian soldiers has blinded hundreds of young men and women, even children, during the current wave of mass protests.
Prior to casualties this latest round of protests, there have tens of thousands of civilians killed and hundreds of thousands injured by Indian military in Kashmir. Thousands of bodies have been found in mass graves in Bandipora, Baramulla, and Kupwara districts in Kashmir, according to The Hindu.
Kashmir Mass Graves:
Dr. Angana Chatterji, a professor of cultural and social anthropology at California Centre for Integral Studies who uncovered the mass graves, reported as follows: “Of the 2700 graves, 2,373 (87.9 percent) were unnamed. 154 graves contained two bodies each and 23 contained more than two cadavers. Within these 23 graves, the number of bodies ranged from 3 to 17."
Scholars, she said, refer to mass graves as resulting from Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes, or Genocide. “If the intent of a mass grave is to execute death with impunity, with intent to kill more than one, and to forge an unremitting representation of death, then, to that extent, the graves in Bandipora, Baramulla, and Kupwara are part of a collective burial by India’s military and paramilitary, creating a landscape of ‘mass burial.’
Dr. Chatterji said post-death, the bodies of the victims were routinely handled by military and paramilitary personnel, including the local police. She said that the bodies were then brought to “secret graveyards” primarily by personnel of the State Police.
The International Peoples' Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice, an independent group headed by Dr. Chatterji, alleged that the violence and militarization in Kashmir, between 1989-2009, have resulted in over 70,000 deaths, including through extrajudicial or “fake encounter” executions, custodial brutality, and other means. “In the enduring conflict, 6, 67,000 military and paramilitary personnel continue to act with impunity to regulate movement, law, and order across Kashmir,” she added.
Indian University Student Protest:
Many enlightened Indians like the Jawaharlal Nehru University students see the brutality and futility of Indian military occupation of Kashmir. At protests earlier this year, many chanted slogans in favor of Azadi for Kashmiris. "Geelani bole azaadi, Afzal bole azaadi, jo tum na doge azaadi, toh chheen ke lenge azadi! (Geelani and Afzal demanded freedom. If freedom is denied, we will snatch it!)". New Generation in Revolt:
During the 26 years of Kashmir under Armed Forces Special Powers Act, an entire new generation of Kashmiris has grown up. This generation, represented by tech-savvy youngsters like Burhan Wani, has seen nothing but repression and violence committed by the Indian military against their people. They are more determined than ever to defy and defeat the illegal and immoral military occupation of their land by India.
Pulwama attack has confirmed what many have known for sometime: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's mishandling of Kashmir issue has intensified homegrown insurgency in Indian- Occupied Kashmir.
The essence of Kashmir issue today is not Pulwama or Uri or Pathankot or similar other alleged "militant attacks"; it is India's brutal occupation of Kashmir by 700,000 heavily-armed Indian soldiers being resisted by over 10 million Kashmiris. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar.
The use of brute force by 700,000 Indian troops over the last 28 years to crush the legitimate aspirations of millions of Kashmiris is backfiring. The more Kashmiris Indian military detains, tortures, injures, blinds and kills under Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the less sustainable is its hold on the territory. It is only a matter of time before India is forced to withdraw its troops and agree to let Kashmiris decide their own fate.
With the home-grown resistance of a new generation of Kashmiris against India's brutal military occupation turning into a full-blown insurgency, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's right-wing Hindu Nationalist government is trying desperately to divert attention from its human rights abuses by blaming Pakistan for Pulwama attack. Mr. Modi and his ministers are making war threats to "punish" Pakistan for Pulwama attack carried out by a local Kashmiri young man using explosives obtained locally. How will Mr. Modi "punish" Pakistan? Will India launch a full-frontal attack? Or do another "surgical strike" that Pakistan can deny? Or opt for covert warfare using its terrorist proxies?
In a recently published Bloomberg Quint Op Ed on Pulwama attack in Indian Occupied Kashmir, a top Indian analyst Bharat Karnad has said that "it (TTP) is an asset for India to support and grow with moral and materiel support, and to develop". "Indeed, TTP’s fighting qualities are sufficiently developed and effective to simultaneously fight the Pakistan army in Pakistan and the U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan", Karnad adds.
During former US Defense Secretary James Mattis' visit to New Delhi in 2017, Bharat Karnad had also acknowledged TTP-RAW link in a Hindustan Times Op Ed in the following words:
"Mattis’ request that India moderate its support for TTP will put Delhi in a fix because TTP is useful as an Indian counterpart of the Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Toiba, and Jaish-e-Mohammad deployed by the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Jammu and Kashmir. Severing relations with TTP will mean India surrendering an active card in Pakistan and a role in Afghanistan as TTP additionally provides access to certain Afghan Taliban factions. This, together with the Abdul Ghani regime’s desire for India’s presence and the tested friendship with Abdul Rashid Dostum and his Tajik-dominated ‘Northern Alliance’, ensures that no solution for peace in Afghanistan can be cobbled together without India’s help."
Bharat Karnad is a Research Professor in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. But Bharat Karnad is not alone in advocating the use of India's terrorist proxies against Pakistan. Since 2013, India's current National Security Advisor Ajit Doval has been talking about "Pakistan's vulnerabilities" to terrorism and India's ability to take advantage of it. Here are excerpts of his speech at Sastra University: "How do you tackle Pakistan?.....We start working on Pakistan's vulnerabilities-- economic, internal security, political, isolating them internationally, it can be anything..... it can be defeating Pakistan's policies in Afghanistan...... You stop the terrorists by denying them weapons, funds and manpower. Deny them funds by countering with one-and-a-half times more funding. If they have 1200 crores give them 1800 crores and they are on our side...who are the Taliban fighting for? It's because they haven't got jobs or someone has misled them. The Taliban are mercenaries. So go for more of the covert thing (against Pakistan)..." Ajit Doval, India's National Security Advisor
Based on recent comments from Indian analysts and past pronouncements of senior India officials like Ajit Doval, I expect India to intensify its proxy war of terror against Pakistan.
Here's a video of Ajit Doval explaining his "Doval Doctrine":
The Organization of Pakistani-American Entrepreneurs (OPEN) hosted a dinner on Wednesday Feb 20, 2019, for young tech entrepreneurs from Pakistan who came this year to Silicon Valley to attend StartUp Grind Global Conference. About 50 people, including 20 from Pakistan, attended the event.
L to R: Shahjahan Chaudhry, Jahan Ara, Riaz Haq, Rehan Jalil
StartUp Grind describes itself as a "global community of entrepreneurs connecting 1.5 million entrepreneurs in over 500 chapters". It has chapters in all major Pakistani cities. StartUp Grind organizes a global conference every year in Silicon Valley.
Young Pakistani Entrepreneurs with Riaz Haq
Pakistani participation in this conference is growing with 40 delegates this year, up from 24 last year. Arzish Azam, founder of Ejad Lab, organizes this annual pilgrimage of Pakistani techies to Silicon Valley every year under the banner of Pak-US Technology Exchange. Participants pay their own expenses. In addition to attending the two-day StartUp Global conference, Pakistani delegates visit several Silicon Valley technology companies and meet fellow entrepreneurs, including Pakistani-American entrepreneurs.
OPEN Dinner Attendees
OPEN Silicon Valley:
Organization of Pakistani-American Entrepreneurs (OPEN) in Silicon Valley is a community of Pakistani-Americans offering "a unique ecosystem of resources, inspiration, mentorship and networking opportunities to grow professionally in your career or your business".
L to R: Rehan Jalil, Idris Kothari, Naeem Zafar
OPEN Silicon Valley organizes an annual conference of Pakistani entrepreneurs that draws hundreds of Pakistanis and Pakistani-Americans. Last year, they converged on Santa Clara Convention Center in Silicon Valley on Saturday May 12, 2018 for Open Forum 2018. The attendees included entrepreneurs, technologists, business executives, investors, lawyers, accountants and others.What was different in 2018 was the presence of an unusually large number of attendees from Pakistan, including dozens of Fulbright scholars studying in the United States, entrepreneurs from Pakistan, and Husain Dawood of Dawood Group of Companies, the second largest business group in terms of market cap of the companies listed on the Karachi Stock Exchange. Driverless vehicle tech and leading-edge brain research were among the new research and technology topics discussed at the Forum.
Dinner in Palo Alto:
OPEN Silicon Valley dinner for entrepreneurs from Pakistan was organized by Mobashar Yazdani, the current President of OPEN. A number of seasoned serial entrepreneurs and charter members were on hand to meet and greet the guests from the home country. Guests included Shahjahan Chaudhry, Director of National Incubation Center at NED University in Karachi, Jahan Ara, President of Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA), Arzish Azam, founder of Pak-US Technology Exchange and Naeem Asghar, reporter for Pakistan's Express News. The dinner menu included Pakistani hot food and soft drinks.
OPEN Dinner Attendees
Idris Kothari, Rehan Jalil, Amer Haider and Naeem Zafar participated to share their experiences as entrepreneurs and answered questions. Legal questions were answered by Riaz Karamali, a partner at the Palo Alto law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pitman whose conference room was the venue for this event. Naeem Zafar emphasized the importance of developing a short and precise "elevator pitch" that each entrepreneur should have ready to promote their idea to get funding, customers and other support necessary to succeed. Idris Kothari talked about having an experienced board of advisors for each startup. Rehan Jalil recounted how he succeeded with his two startups. I explained how I use my blog and other social media to promote a positive image of Pakistan.
Rehan Jalil and Idris Kothari encouraged young guests from Pakistan to use all available free resources from online learning from courses offered at top American universities to using open source tools.
OPEN Silicon Valley, the organization of Pakistani-American entrepreneurs, hosted a well-attended dinner for young entrepreneurs from Pakistan who recently participated in StartUp Grind Global Conference in Silicon Valley. A number of successful Pakistani-American entrepreneurs were on hand to meet, greet and offer tips to the young guests.
Last Saturday, Pakistani-American community joined Javed Ellahie and Sabina Zafar in celebrating their recent election victories in city council elections in San Francisco Bay Area which includes Silicon Valley. Ellahie has been elected to Monte Sereno City Council while Sabina Zafar won a seat on San Ramon City Council in November 2018 elections. The event was organized by American Pakistani Political Action Committee (APPAC) at Fremont Marriott. Dr. Naveed Sherwani who is a prominent Pakistani-American tech entrepreneur and NED University alumnus from Karachi, served as the master of ceremonies. Speeches by Ellahie, Zafar and several other local elected officials, including Fremont Mayor Lily Mei and Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, were followed by dinner. After-dinner entertainment included stand-up comedy by Javed Ellahie's son Faraz Ozel, a popular comedian based in Southern California.
Javed and Sabina narrated their experience of running campaigns for public office. Both faced and overcame challenges as outsiders because of their lack of experience and name recognition.
View of Dinner Attendees at APPAC Dinner
Javed Ellahie talked about how candidates' names affect their ability to win votes. In his case, people with familiar western names won votes in spite of lack of effort. One white candidate dropped out and still got many votes. Javed ran in a small city where he could knock on doors to do a lot of one-on-one campaigning to ask for votes personally. His efforts paid off. He thanked several Pakistani-American families living in Monte Sereno who contributed both time and money to his campaign.
Sabina Zafar credited Emerge California with encouraging her to run and eventually win an election. Zafar, being a Muslim woman of color, was picked by Emerge California as part of their effort in 2018 to diversify their candidates pool. Emerge California inspires and recruits women to run for public offices and trains them to acquire skills to win. San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf are both Emerge California graduates.
L to R: Javed Ellahie, Yasmeen Haq, Riaz Haq, Sabina Zafar
The event drew hundreds of Pakistani-American residents of the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition, I saw several Pakistani attendees who had traveled from various cities in Pakistan to attend 7th Annual StartUp Grind Global Conference being held in Silicon Valley. Among the Pakistani delegates to the conference is Rehan Allahwala from Karachi. He showed me a plan for building a cyber city for which he has acquired several hundred acres of land near Karachi. I also met Naeem Asghar, a journalist working for Express News and covering Pakistani participation in StartUp Grind. Earlier in the week, I met Shahjhan Chaudhry, Director of National Incubation Center located on NED University Campus grounds in Karachi, who is also attending StartUp Grind Conference.
L to R: Riaz Haq, Faraz Darvesh, Javed Ellahie, Sabahat Ashraf
They told me there are about 40 delegates from Pakistan attending the StartUp Grind global technology conference as part of Pak-US Technology Exchange Program. The delegates will get an opportunity to have first hand visits of tech giants like Google, Facebook, Apple and Uber; technology incubators/accelerators like Y-Combinator, TechStars, StartX and Founder Institute; prestigious organizations like Stanford University, Draper University and more. They will participate in exclusive events organized by partner organizations inducing meetups, workshops and office hours with Pakistani diaspora in Silicon Valley.
Javed Ellahie and Sabina Zafar
Javed Ellahie and Sabina Zafar are among 5 American Muslims elected to local office in the San Francisco Bay Area in this year's elections. It's a sign American voters are ready for diverse leadership despite troubling increases in hate crimes nationwide, according to the Council on American Islamic Relations. Across America, there are 55 American Muslim candidates who won election to public offices, 11 of them in California, according to CAIR. Two Muslim American women, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, were elected to the United States Congress this year.
Pakistani-Americans are the largest foreign-born Muslim group in San Francisco Bay Area that includes Silicon Valley, according to a 2013 study. The study was commissioned by the One Nation Bay Area Project, a civic engagement program supported by Silicon Valley Community Foundation, The San Francisco Foundation, Marin Community Foundation and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy.
Javed Ellahie and Sabina Zafar with Stand-up Comedian Faraz Ozel
Overall, US-born Muslims make up the largest percentage at 34% of all Muslims in the Bay Area, followed by 14% born in Pakistan, 11% in Afghanistan, 10% in India, 3% in Egypt and 2% each in Iran, Jordan, Palestine and Yemen.
There are 35,000 Pakistani-born Muslims in San Francisco Bay Area, or 14% of the 250,000 Muslims who call the Bay Area home, according to the 2013 study. Bay Area Muslim community constitutes 3.5 percent of the area’s total population and is one of the highest concentrations of Muslims in the country.
As of 2013, South Asian Muslims, including Pakistanis, have the highest income levels, with nearly half (49%) of them having a household income above $100,000. In comparison, those groups with the lowest proportion of household incomes above $100,000 were Hispanic Muslims (15%), Afghans (10%), and African American Muslims (10%).
Is the tragic Pulwama attack in Kashmir a surprise? Are Modi's policies of relying on force alone contributing to rising violence in Kashmir and across India? Is blaming Pakistan just a distraction from the core issues in India? Why has India seen the world's highest number of bomb blasts, more than in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan in the last two years? And why does Chattisgarh top the list of places with the highest number of bomb blasts followed by Manipur, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Indian-occupied Kashmir? Does the Modi policy of crushing Maoists and Kashmiri resistance make any sense? Can India tackle these issues by force alone without a parallel political strategy and peace process?
Is it a mistake for Washington and Moscow to ignore President Ghani and his government in reaching peace deals with the Taliban? Should Islamabad try and bring the Ghani government reps into the process for lasting peace? Does the Ghani government really matter any more on the ground where it lacks credibility? What is the best long term arrangement to stabilize Afghanistan? Would it take a regional deal involving all of its neighbors as well as the US, China, Russia, and India?
Is there a link between Pakistan's help in US-Taliban talks and the willingness of Gulf Arabs and IMF to aid Pakistan in resolving its balance of payment crisis? Is ex-State Department official Vali Nasr right when he says: “Any Afghan settlement needs #Pakistan. Pakistan is playing ball with the US and that means Pakistan is in a position to make demands as well.”? Is Saudi Prince Mohammad Bin Salman's visit to Pakistan a part of this larger picture?
Viewpoint From Overseas host Misbah Azam discusses these questions with analysts Sabahat Ashraf (ifaqeer) and Riaz Haq (www.riazhaq.com)
This winter, Monis Rahman, a senior technology executive in Lahore, and his family decided to forgo their skiing spot of choice in the Alps to explore Pakistan’s Naltar Valley and its skiing facilities. Monis, an experienced techie from Silicon Valley, is an entrepreneur behind ROZEE.PK jobs site, SimSim mobile payments wallet and EasyTickets online ticketing platform in Pakistan. Read on to discover the how and why of this fun-filled trip to a winter wonderland. Here's Monis' interview with Asma Chishty of popular Pakistani travel site Destinations.com.pk:
Asma Chishty: Was this your first trip to Naltar Valley? How would you describe the place to potential visitors?
Monis Rahman: Yes, this was our first trip to Naltar and the first to Gilgit and Hunza as well for that matter. Naltar Valley has incredible raw beauty with picturesque mountains, flowing rivers and unpaved roads. Reaching it is a bit of an adventure, but that just adds to its charm. It is located between Gilgit and Hunza (Karimabad), off of the Karakoram Highway. The last stretch is a 45-minute drive in a jeep or four-wheel drive on the steep unpaved rocky Naltar Valley Road with a river running below it. Once you reach Naltar Valley, you are filled with a sense of accomplishment and awed by the gorgeous scenery around you.
Naltar Valley Ski Resort in Pakistan
AC: Was it a family trip? How many people were part of it in total and how many days did you go for?
MR: Yes, this was a family trip. We were a total of five people, two adults and three children aged 11, 8 and 5. We went for a total of four nights and five days.
Rahman Family in Naltar Valley
AC: Why did you choose this time of the year to visit, given the challenging weather conditions up north?
MR: We usually go skiing during the winter holidays in the Alps. This year we decided to be a bit more adventurous and try skiing in Pakistan. We had heard about Malam Jabba and upon further research learned that Naltar Valley had the best local facilities and a longer ski slope. Our main consideration was ensuring that there was enough snow on the slopes and Naltar Valley has snow machines to create snow which was reassuring. It was one of the best family vacations we had – because the adventure and discovery left us all with a sense of awe.
AC: Naltar was snowed out in the winter; what special preps did you have to make in terms of travel essentials and logistics to factor in the weather?
MR: Because we were traveling with children, we ensured we had proper warm layers and gear. Secondly, it was important to have good transport with four-wheel drive so we rented a Prado, which are quite common in that area.
Serena Hotel in Gilgit, Pakistan
AC: Where did you stay and would you recommend it to others wanting to go?
MR: We stayed at the Serena Inn in Karimabad for two nights and the Serena in Gilgit for two nights. Both are great, with excellent heating and hot water hence a safe choice. However, I would love to try more local indigenous places if I go again without family.
How would you compare Naltar, its landscape and its peaks to skiing resorts in other parts of the world?
MR: The ski slope at Naltar was good. We enjoyed it. And the landscape, coupled with the rustic village setting, adds to its charm. They have at least two snow blowers to produce snow and a grooming mobile to flatten the slopes. The tow lifts are very practical once you master them. They rarely operate the chair lifts which goes to the very top so we had mid-slope runs. With some investment and proper management catering to tourists, the area has incredible potential. It’s currently not built to handle a large number of tourists and is a private air force facility which accommodates visitors on request. I can very easily see it reaching international resort levels with visionary investment.
There is only one piste (run) so for advanced skiers it may get boring after a while. International resorts have several dozen lifts and runs which form maze-like trails. Several runs can be added in Naltar if there is a will to do it. So while we thoroughly enjoyed the experience, international ski resorts are quite a bit more organized, structured and have a much greater variety of runs.
We would still do Naltar again because it’s close, much cheaper and has its own beauty.
AC: What was the most memorable part of the trip?
MR: One of the two most memorable things was building a snowman with the village kids in Naltar while we waited for the tow lift to start running. The other was having hot Dowdoo soup on the road side in freezing cold weather near the Hussain Bridge followed by a snowball fight.
AC: And the most challenging?
MR: The most challenging was reaching Naltar on Naltar Valley Road after the snow storm.
A bit scary!
AC: Any travel tips for those looking to travel up north in this weather, especially with children?
MR: Make sure you have warm clothing, a jeep or a four-wheel drive vehicle, accommodation with heating and hot water. If you plan to go skiing, lots of coordination is needed with air force personnel because the resort timings can be a bit whimsical and ski equipment is not guaranteed.
MR's Trip Itinerary
On our first day, we caught an early morning, 45-minute flight from Islamabad to Gilgit. Luckily the flight was on time, since it is notoriously unreliable and often cancelled due to the weather. This time of year, the flights are relatively more predictable than in the summers. After landing in Gilgit, we went directly towards Karimabad where we checked into the Serena Inn. Once we had settled in, we set out to explore Hunza. We enjoyed Baltit and Altit Forts which are about 2 kilometres apart – the view from Baltit Fort was spectacular. We ate dinner at the fabulous Kha Basi Café under Altit Fort amidst villagers going about their daily chores. The café is tastefully decorated and run by very well trained women who prepare local organic dishes fresh on the spot in almond or apricot oil. This was one of the most memorable meals we had.
We ventured to Khunjerab Pass on the Pakistan-China border. Due to heavy snow, there were several points where we thought we would have to turn back. Our four-wheel drive came in very handy. We stopped on the side of the motorway after crossing Gulmit and the kids had hot Dowdoo soup from a roadside restaurant while I trekked to the Hussaini suspension bridge and overcame my own fear of crossing it. We stopped at Attabad Lake on the way, which was frozen. We finally reached Khunjerab Pass where the weather was -30 C degrees! After returning to Karimabad, we found a local restaurant in the village where were we had delicious Hunzai food.
After a late breakfast, we drove to Naltar Valley ready to ski. The drive took longer than anticipated and we reached about 11:30am, expecting 4-5 hours of skiing. The Naltar Valley Ski Resort is run by the air force and we had to get special permission. It is not an organized tourist resort which predictable times of operation. We found out that they shut down the tow lift at 1pm so we only got about an hour of skiing on our first day on the slopes. It took a while to get the ski gear that is provided at the resort – you basically have to choose from a large closet which is not sorted by size, so there is some luck involved. Most of the people on the ski slopes were the local villagers who have become quite good skiers. We were determined to come bright and early the next day so we could get a full day in. We drove back and checked in to the Serena in Gilgit, had dinner at the hotel and played a board game of Risk.
We were up early, geared up in warm clothing, and drove back to Naltar Valley (around a 2-hour drive). However, it was snowing profusely and the drive was much more challenging than the previous day. The checkpoint on Naltar Valley Road informed us that we would not be able to go up because of the amount of fresh snow on the unpaved rocky road. Cars were having difficulty coming down. However, after analyzing the situation and determined to get in the proper skiing that we came for, we braved it up the mountain and managed to get pretty close. We picked up a local villager along the way who was walking up the mountain. We eventually stopped about a kilometer before the resort and walked up the mountain to reach the tow lift. Much to our disappointment, the tow lift had been shut because of the heavy snow. However, the air force management was incredibly kind and opened the resort just for us. The five of us were the only ones on the slopes and about 15 personnel were assigned to us for ski lessons for Sarim (our five year old). As a snow boarder, I was lucky to find a snow board that was the right size in the “rental” closet and managed to navigate the tow lift which is a bit more challenging on a snow board compared to a chair lift. The next few hours were incredible. Fresh powder, completely empty slopes and dedicated support staff. We thoroughly enjoyed skiing at Naltar Valley. The drive back was challenging but we drove slowly and made it back in relatively good time.
Pakistan has a 1,000 kilometers long coastline on the Arabian Sea with maritime sovereignty over 200 nautical miles deep Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and 150 nautical miles of Continental Shelf. This adds 290,000 square kilometers of sea or about 36% of the country's land area open for tapping vast resources in it.
Pakistan's "Blue Economy" in this extended economic zone includes seafood and energy resources as well as international trade connectivity with the rest of the world. It offers opportunities for water sports, recreation and tourism in the coastal areas of Pakistan. One sign of the recognition of Pakistan's blue economy is the ongoing three-day International Maritime Conference organized on the theme of ‘Global Geopolitics in Transition: Rethinking Maritime Dynamics in the Indian Ocean Region’ under the auspices of National Institute of Maritime Affairs.
Offshore Energy Resources:
A Pakistan Basin Study conducted in 2009 found that the country has six onshore and two offshore basins; offshore basins being the Indus basin and the Makran basin in the Arabian Sea.
The Indus offshore basin is a rift basin that geologists say developed after the separation of the Indian Plate from Africa in the late Jurassic period. It is believed to be the second largest submarine fan system in the world after the Bay of Bengal with high probability of hydrocarbon discoveries.
The Makran Offshore basin is separated from the Indus Offshore basin by Murray ridge, according to Syed Mustafa Amjad's report in Dawn. It is an oceanic and continental crust subduction zone with deepwater trenches and volcanic activity. The basin consists of oceanic crust and periodic emergence of temporary mud islands along the coast suggesting strong evidence of large hydrocarbon deposits.
American energy giant Exxon-Mobil has joined the offshore oil and gas exploration efforts started by Oil and Gas Development Corporation (OGDC), Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) and Italian energy giant ENI, according to media reports.
Each company has 25% stake in the joint venture under an agreement signed at the Prime Minister’s Secretariat in May 2018 among ExxonMobil, Government Holdings Private Limited (GHPL), PPL, ENI and OGDC.
Exxon-Mobile's entry in Pakistan brings deep offshore drilling technology, its long experience and financial resources to the country. It is expected to accelerate exploration and more discoveries.
CPEC and Trade:
Pakistan has built Gwadar as its third major deep sea port after Karachi and Port Qasim. Gwadar port's planned capacity when it is completed will be 300 to 400 million tons of cargo annually. It is comparable to the capacity of all of India's ports combined annual capacity of 500 million tons of cargo today. It is far larger than the 10-12 million tons cargo handling capacity planned for Chabahar.
"We believe Gwadar is following in the footsteps of Shenzhen which represented a historic population rise, from a population of 30,000 in 1980 to 11 million people in 2017. Gwadar is poised to see massive population growth due to incoming industries, and we expect this to be one of the most strategic cities in South Asia." Hao-Yeh Chang, China Pak Investments Corporation
To put Gwadar's scale in perspective, let's compare it with the largest US port of Long Beach which handles 80 million tons of cargo, about a quarter of what Gwadar will handle upon completion of the project. Gawadar port will be capable of handling the world's largest container ships and massive oil tankers.
Gawadar port is being built in Pakistan by the Chinese as part of the ambitious $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that will eventually serve as Hong Kong West for growing Chinese trade with the Middle East and Europe. CPEC will also enable Pakistan to bypass Afghanistan to trade with Central Asia through China across China's borders with Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
The volume of Gwadar property searches surged 14-fold on Pakistan’s largest real estate database, Zameen.com, between 2014 and 2016, up from a prior rate of a few hundred a month. “It’s like a gold rush,” said Chief Executive Zeeshan Ali Khan to an Express Tribune newspaper reporter. “Anyone who is interested in real estate, be it an investor or a developer, is eyeing Gwadar.”
Chinese private investment company China Pak Investment Corporation has recently announced it is acquiring 3.6 million square foot International Port City project in Gwadar. It plans to develop a $150 million gated community to handle the influx of 500,000 Chinese professionals expected in Gwadar by 2022.
Pakistan’s fishing industry is very small relative to its vast potential. Pakistani fishermen own small fishing boats and their catch is very limited. The industry contributes only 0.4% of the country's $315 billion GDP. However, the nation's seafood exports are growing, In fiscal year 2017-18, seafood exports increased 27.94% to 198,420 tons, earning $451.026 million.
Pakistani finishing industry is in need of major modernization to make it more productive. China’s infrastructure investments in Pakistan are opening up the local fisheries sector on the Arabian Sea, with a major Chinese power station builder completing a fishing port as a “gift” to local people, according to a report in SeafoodSource. State-owned China State Power Investment Corp., which is building several power plants in Pakistan, said a new fishing port in Lasbela region on the Arabian Sea would aid the economy and increase the efficiency of the local fishing community in Baluchistan Province (of which Lasbela is part), says the report.
Pakistan is beginning to focus on tapping vast resources in its 290,000 square kilometers of sea or about 36% of the country's land area. Fishing industry is being modernized with Chinese help and Exxon has begun exploring offshore oil and gas reserves. Gwadar has been built as the third deep sea port and a major new metropolis is being built t hat could one day rival Chinese city of Shenzhen.
Pakistani-American venture capitalist Asad Jamal hit it big with Baidu, China's search giant worth over $90 billion in market capitalization today. Jamal founded ePlanet Capital in Silicon Valley in 1999 and became an early investor in Baidu at its founding in 2000.
In addition to its search business, Baidu also runs an e-commerce platform with an online payment tool, develops and markets web application software, and provides human resource related services.
"I first experienced this Chinese tech dynamism when, inspired by the late-1990s Internet start-up culture, I moved to Silicon Valley and founded ePlanet Capital, a venture capital firm. I was new to the field and unsure what to expect. In 2000, I met Robin Li, a Chinese entrepreneur in his twenties who was seeking funding for his new company, Baidu. Based on conventional investment criteria, Baidu’s chances of success seemed low. The company had no track record, limited funding, and an inexperienced team, yet they were aiming to challenge search giants Google and Yahoo.
But I soon learned that in the new Internet world, these obstacles were perfectly normal and surmountable by visionary, passionate entrepreneurs with big dreams and ideas. Consequently, my firm went ahead and invested in Robin’s vision. Within five years of that first meeting, Baidu went from little more than an idea to being the leader in China’s Internet search industry, leaving Google and Yahoo far behind. Today, it is one of China’s top three Internet companies, forming the so-called BAT triumvirate along with Alibaba and Tencent. Robin himself is now the Larry Page (or Bill Gates) of China, with a net worth of over $10 billion".
Jamal believes that China offers a good example for Pakistan to follow to develop its own technology business to "break its cycle of poverty". Here's an excerpt from an article he wrote for Project Syndicate:
"The good news for Pakistan and other countries in a similar position is that tech start-ups require far fewer resources than traditional large-scale industrial firms. Whereas the latter typically need hundreds of millions of dollars in capital, plant and machinery, and bank loans, tech companies need only a small team of smart people, computers, modest funding, and mentorship. Young Pakistani entrepreneurs are just as well placed as their Chinese counterparts were two decades ago: they need big ideas and encouragement to build on them. Here, of course, the provision of venture capital is essential. Pakistan should therefore establish a national venture capital fund to promote technology entrepreneurship. Moreover, China’s rise as an economic and technology leader gives Pakistan a unique opportunity to learn from its neighbor and collaborate with it in education, science, and technology. And Pakistan should leverage its historical ties with US and British universities in these areas".
Here's a video of Asad Jamal's speech at Islamabad National University's inaugural event also attended by Prime Minister Imran Khan:
Imaad Zuberi, a Pakistani-American venture capitalist from California who gave $900,000 to President Trump’s inauguration committee in 2016, has been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors in New York's Southern District.
Imaad Zuberi and President Barack Obama
Zuberi's donation paid for a breakfast event, which featured Trump’s first National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, among its 60 or so guests. It also included representatives from several countries around the world, according to media reports. Prosecutors suspect Zuberi funneled money from foreign donors which is a violation of the US Elections Laws, according to media reports.
Imaad Zuberi is vice chairman of private equity and venture capital firm Avenue Ventures. He has “closed over $15 billion in transactions” at the firm, according to his Linked-in profile. His firm's clients include start-ups, major corporations and sovereign wealth funds.
Prior to donating to the Trump campaign, Zuberi is known to have also donated to Democratic Party candidates including former President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In fact, Zuberi was a top fundraiser for President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, according to data from Open Secrets.
He was born in 1970 in Albany, New York to a Pakistani father and an Indian mother. He has an undergraduate degree in business and finance from the University of Southern California and an MBA from Stanford University which he earned in 2006. He has kept up with the Pakistani community in Los Angeles, his home base, and as early as 2004 was raising money from them for John Kerry’s presidential campaign that year, to which he made his first contribution, a modest $1,000 donation, according to a story in Foreign Policy magazine.
Pakistani-American Billionaire Shahid Khan
Another high-profile Pakistani-American donor to Trump campaign is Jacksonville Jaguars' billionaire owner Shahid Khan who gave $1m in 2016.' Since Trump's election, Khan has criticized the president as one who has "shown leadership as the great divider". Khan also spoke out Trump's travel ban on citizens of 7 Muslim countries.“You can’t confuse safety with religion or national origin,” Khan said. “That’s the point. But I have enough faith that things are going to eventually turn out well.”
There have been several Pakistani-American donors to US election campaigns in the news in recent years. Among them is Dr. Asad Qamar, a graduate of Lahore's King Edwards Medical College, who received $18.2 million in payments from US Medicare program in 2012, making him the second highest billing doctor in America. Dr. Qamar is a member of APPNA, Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent in North America. He was a candidate for the presidency of APPNA in 2013.
Asad Qamar M.D.
Dr. Qamar, a Pakistani-American cardiologist, and his family have given at least $300,000 to politicians and political causes in the 2012 election cycle and in 2013, according to contribution disclosure records reported by Reuters. Dr. Asish Pal, a Florida-based Indian-American, is the second highest billing cardiologist in America. Dr. Pal was paid $4.5 million by Medicare.
Dr. Qamar has been subjected to lengthy reviews of his billing practices by US Department of Health and Human Services. He has complained to President Obama and other officials that the contractors conducting the reviews for the HHS were slow and unresponsive. Dr. Qamar told New York Times that his payments were high because his practice, which has 150 employees and a caseload of 23,000 patients, routinely handles complicated procedures like opening blocked arteries in the legs of older patients, which normally would be billed by a hospital.
Only Dr. Salomon Melgen, a Florida Ophthalmologist, billed Medicare for a larger amount than Dr. Qamar did in 2012. Dr. Melgen, too, is a major contributor to Democratic party. Dr. Melgen’s firm donated more than $700,000 to Majority PAC, a super PAC run by former aides to the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada. The super PAC then spent $600,000 to help re-elect Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, who is a close friend of Dr. Melgen’s. Last year, Mr. Menendez himself became a target of investigation after the senator intervened on behalf of Dr. Melgen with federal officials and took flights on his private jet, according to The Times story.
Pakistani-American community is beginning to participate in the American political processes not only as donors but also as voters and candidates for public offices. In 2018 elections, Pakistani-American attorney Javed Ellahie was among 5 American Muslims elected to local office in the San Francisco Bay Area. It's a sign American voters are ready for diverse leadership despite troubling increases in hate crimes nationwide, according to the Council on American Islamic Relations. Across America, there are 55 American Muslim candidates who won election to public offices, 11 of them in California, according to CAIR. Two Muslim American women, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, were elected to the United States Congress in 2018.
Fitch Solutions, a global company focused on credit, economic, and political research, says in its latest report that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will drive Pakistan's construction industry in the next decade, as the risks associated with CPEC projects recede. Fitch forecasts that the real annual growth rate of Pakistan's construction industry will average 8.9% over the next 5 years. "We will adjust our forecasts to account for possible positive ripple effects across the economy, including the construction industry, in the event an IMF bailout is secured", the report adds.
Fitch Solutions' report titled "Industry Trend Analysis - CPEC to Remain a Primary Driver of Pakistan's Construction Industry" says: "We expect debt concerns surrounding CPEC projects to ease after financial details are released. In addition, we believe political risks associated with CPEC projects have diminished since the 2018 Pakistani general election. These factors will reduce overall risk profile of CPEC projects."
The Fitch report acknowledges the completion of eleven CPEC projects termed "early harvest". It says that despite major media and political scrutiny regarding CPEC, this progress on projects highlights Beijing’s improving track record in project execution and its commitment to infrastructure development in Pakistan. As a result of CPEC progress, a total of 3,240MW of capacity has been added to the country’s national grid, constituting over 11% of total installed capacity in Pakistan. Also highlighted in the report is the 392 kilometer Multan to Sukkur section of the Peshawar-Karachi motorway, a key CPEC project which is over 80% complete and is slated to finish by August this year.
Fitch believes political risks associated with CPEC projects have diminished. "Previously, we noted that the transition in power from Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) posed a downside risk to the Pakistani construction industry as new Prime Minister Imran Khan pledged to review Chinese-backed projects, which could potentially have led to project delays and cancellations. However, the political situation in Pakistan has since stabilized and Prime Minister Imran Khan has demonstrated willingness to cooperate with China on multiple issues including CPEC. As such, we are in the view that downside risks stemming from political uncertainty are diminishing, and bilateral projects spearheaded by CPEC, will receive a boost in terms of policy implementation and project continuity," maintained the report.
In another recent report, Fitch's competitor Moody's has acknowledged that rermittances from Pakistan diaspora rose by 10% year on year to $10.71 billion in the first half of fiscal 2019, while goods imports slowed sharply to around 3% year on year as non-energy imports contracted.
Moody's expects "the current-account deficit to narrow to 4.7% of GDP in fiscal 2019 and to 4.2% in fiscal 2020 from 6.1% in fiscal 2018, it will remain sizable and wider than in 2013-16, driving Pakistan’s external financing needs. The government has secured $12 billion in financing from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – in each case amounting to $6 billion and divided equally between deposits and deferred oil payments – which is likely to largely cover the country’s net financing needs for fiscal 2019".
Construction industry is a major driver of economies. The sector creates new jobs, builds housing and infrastructure, drives economic growth, and provides solutions to address social, climate and energy challenges, according to the World Economic Forum. The construction industry has important linkages with other sectors such as cement, steel, energy, furniture, household appliances, etc. The construction industry's impact on GDP and economic development goes well beyond the direct contribution of construction activities.