Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Pakistan's Improvised Cable Cars: Example of Rural Ingenuity

Global media coverage of a recent cable car rescue in northern Pakistan has brought to light the widespread use of the improvised aerial transportation systems across mountain communities in the country. The improvised cable car system and the recent zip-line rescue are both testaments to local rural ingenuity. These systems serve as a lifeline for villagers living on sparsely populated hilltops in places like Mansehra, Swat and Azad Kashmir. They allow them to access clinics, jobs, markets and schools on a daily basis. Building the alternative road infrastructure for these mountainous terrains would be much more expensive and time-consuming. A better example of a fast, safe and relatively less expensive public transportation system for such areas can be found in a modern cable car system built in La Paz,  Bolivia. Pakistan should explore a public-private partnership to use the local talent to build a safe, fast and cheap cable car system to meet their residents' needs.

Disabled Pakistan Cable Car Prior to Rescue

Improvised Cable Cars:

Improvised cable cars are built from scrap and strung up by local communities. It is cheaper and there is no comparable alternative infrastructure. They often use the upper body of a pick-up truck. The system relies on a network of cables which are anchored at various points along the route. These cables support the weight of the cabins and passengers. The main support cables run continuously, while the cabins are pulled by a moving "haul rope". 

The cabins are moved and stopped by a combination of mechanical systems. A drive mechanism located at the stations provides the propulsion to move the cabins along the cables. Braking systems are used to slow and stop the cabins. 

Zip-line Rescue:

A cable car with 8 passengers, mainly schoolchildren, was left dangling after a support cable broke earlier this month. Pakistan Army helicopters mounted a rescue effort that succeeded in rescuing only one child. The military called off its effort after the air stirred up by the helicopter rotor caused the cable car to shake violently and the daylight dimmed. That's when the local zip-line experts stepped in and successfully rescued the remaining 7 passengers who were trapped hundreds of meters above a valley. 

Cable Car System in La Paz Bolivia

Bolivian Example:

In 2014, Bolivia inaugurated  a cable car system with a length of nearly 7 miles threading through 11 stations, making it the world's largest network of aerial urban transportation.  Built by Austria's Doppelmayr Garaventa Group, the La Paz system has become very popular. It serves 18,000 people an hour. 

Pakistan's Options:

The governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Azad Kashmir need to find safe, fast and cost-effective transportation systems for their far-flung hilltop communities. Neither the current road infrastructure nor the improvised cable car systems meet these objectives. Both governments should explore a public-private partnership to use the local talent to build a safe and cheap cable car system to meet their residents' needs.  In addition to providing job opportunities for locals, such a system could also become a big attraction for tourists to enjoy seeing the picturesque landscape from the air. It could also be used to promote winter sports in these beautiful areas extending from KPK to Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir. 

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Thursday, August 24, 2023

Modi Co-opting Chandrayaan-3 Success For Hindutva Propaganda?

Well before India's Chandrayaan-3 landed on the moon on August 23, India's "Godi Media" started showing split screens with the landing craft’s animated image (no pictures or live video) alongside a photo of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was clearly meant to give him exclusive credit for ISRO scientists' major accomplishment after their decades-long hard work. This Hindutva propaganda has echoes of Adolf Hitler’s use of the 1936 Berlin Olympics to promote his Nazi ideology.  It is boosting the morale of the hateful Hindu supremacist trolls unleashed by the BJP “IT cell” on social media. It is easy to conclude that the Chandrayaan is now essentially a prestige project for the Hindu Nationalist government in New Delhi. Funding such projects is easier for politicians than implementing social sector programs to uplift hundreds of millions of poor and hungry Indians who are deprived of the most basic necessities. 

Chadrayaan3-Modi Split Screen Godi Media Propaganda

It is clear that Mr. Modi wants to claim credit for the moon landing but he refuses to take responsibility for high unemployment and widespread malnutrition in the world’s largest population living in extreme poverty in India. Nor does the Modi regime accept the blame for millions of preventable COVID19 deaths in India in 2020-21. This is what Princeton economist Professor Ashoka Mody, the author of “India is Broken”,refers to as India’s “lived reality”. Here's an excerpt from Mody's book: 

"The grim reality is that, to employ all working-age Indians, the economy needs to create 200 million jobs over the next decade, an impossible order after the past decade of declining employment numbers.1 Right from independence, the Indian economy produced too few jobs. For more than 80 percent of Indians, the informal sector employment became the safety net, where workers idled for long stretches, earning below- or barely-above-poverty wages. Demonetization in 2016, a poorly executed goods and services tax in 2017, and COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021 struck hammer blows on the informal sector while creating no new options. Indeed, technology accelerated job destruction, especially in retail and wholesale trade. More Indians just stopped looking for work. Set against this bleakness, many pundits and leaders look back to celebrate and draw hope from India’s high GDP growth rates of the 1990s and 2000s. That celebrated celebrated growth, however, was an outcome of unusually buoyant world trade, rampant natural resource use, and a domestic finance-construction bubble. Even as wealthy Indians accumulated astonishing riches, job creation remained weak. The most severe forms of poverty came down, but still afflicted over 20 percent of Indians; another 40 percent lived precariously, ever at risk of falling back into a dire existence. The median Indian lived in that vulnerable zone—and, looking through a government-induced data fog, still lives there. The unchanging problem through the post-independence years has been the lack of public goods for shared progress: education, health delivery, functioning cities, clean air and water, and a responsive and fair judiciary. Along with scarcity of jobs, the absence or poor quality of public goods makes the lived reality of vast numbers."

India Ranks Low on Social Progress Indicators. Source: Economist 

India ranks 110 among 170 countries on the Social Progress Index (SPI), according to a dataset published by the Social Progress Imperative, a non-profit organization. The Social Progress Index combines 52 social and environmental indicators. 

Over 75% of the world's poor who are deprived of basic living standards (nutrition, cooking fuel, sanitation and housing) live in India compared to 4.6% in Bangladesh and 4.1% in Pakistan, according to a recently released OPHI/UNDP report on multidimensional poverty.  Here's what the report says: "More than 45.5 million poor people are deprived in only these four indicators (nutrition, cooking fuel, sanitation and housing). Of those people, 34.4 million live in India, 2.1 million in Bangladesh and 1.9 million in Pakistan—making this a predominantly South Asian profile". 

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Monday, August 21, 2023

Pakistan's Political Crisis: Did Washington Cause "Regime Change" in Islamabad?

Did the U.S. make it clear to Pakistan in 2022 that Imran Khan was not acceptable as the prime minister of the South Asian country? Did the Pakistani military then use the Opposition parties led by Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari to remove Imran Khan from power through a successful No-Confidence vote in the parliament? The answer to both of these questions appears to be a resounding "yes" based on the leaked contents of a secret diplomatic cable, the actions of the Opposition politicians and the attempts to dismantle the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the jailing of Imran Khan on trumped-up charges. These events have created significant political instability in the country and prompted former US National Security Advisor John Bolton to urge the Biden administration to take a clear position before the “terrorists, China and Russia take advantage” of the situation.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan (L) and General Asim Munir

Diplomatic Cable:

A leaked diplomatic cable from Pakistani Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan quotes Donald Lu, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia in the Biden Administration, as saying,  “I think if the no-confidence vote against the Prime Minister succeeds, all will be forgiven in Washington because the Russia visit is being looked at as a decision by the Prime Minister. Otherwise, I think it will be tough going ahead.”

In answer to a question at a recent press conference, the US State Department spokesman Mathew Miller has essentially confirmed the contents of the diplomatic cable. 

This appears to have been enough for the then Pakistan Army Chief General Bajwa to orchestrate the passage of the No-Confidence Motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan with the help of Nawaz Sharif, Asif Ali Zardari and other politicians who ganged up on Imran Khan. 

PTI Dismantled, Imran Khan Jailed:

The Pakistani military did not just content itself with removing Imran Khan from power. A campaign to dismantle Khan's political party, the largest party in the country that ruled the country and two of its four provinces, is in full swing. A Gallup poll in February this year reported that 61% of voters approved of Imran Khan. His support is the strongest among young people who make up the bulk of the population. 

The jailing of Imran Khan and mass arrests of his party members are sending a clear signal that Pakistan's most popular leader, based on recent polls, is no longer acceptable to the military. The US government has remained silent in the middle of this mass crackdown in Pakistan. Washington appears to be unconcerned about civil liberties and democracy in Pakistan. 

US Interests in South Asia:

Are the US interests in South Asia best served by destabilizing strategically-located nuclear-armed Pakistan? Polls indicate that Imran Khan remains the most popular politician in Pakistan. The removal of his government from power and the dismantling of his party are increasingly turning ordinary Pakistanis against the United States. 

In an interview with Voice of America (VOA) Urdu service this week, former National Security Advisor John Bolton said he “worries about” the Biden administration’s foreign policy about South Asia because “it’s not clearly defined”.  

Replying to another question asked by VOA, Mr Bolton said Biden administration officials “don’t know what their strategic imperatives are. And it’s been confused and inarticulate on the situation in Pakistan”.

Here's a video clip of US State Department Mathew Miller's Press Conference:



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Monday, August 14, 2023

Independence Day: Growing Share of Working Age Population in Pakistan

Dependency ratio, defined as the percentage of children and retirees to the working age population, is rapidly declining in Pakistan (current dependency ratio is 69.03%) and the rest of the developing nations of Asia and Africa. This demographic shift means that the world's richest and most powerful nations with the largest share of working populations will no longer be in Europe and North America by 2050. Among South Asian nations, Bangladesh has already joined the list of top 10 nations in terms of the largest share of the working age population. India and Pakistan are expected to join it by 2050. Increasingly better educated working age population is expected to significantly enhance their productivity and increase their incomes. 

Shift in Share of Working Age Populations. Source: NY Times

The total dependency ratio reported for Pakistan in 2022 is 69.03%, much higher than Bangladesh's 47.09% and India's 47.5%, according to the World Bank.  Dependency ratio for China is 44.96% but it is rapidly increasing.  China's share of the working age population will no longer be in the top 10 by 2050 due to its aging population, according to the UN projections. 
Declining Dependency Ratio in Pakistan. Source: Trading Economics/World Bank

Global Age Dependency Ratio Map. Source: World Population Review

New York Times' visual journalist Lauren Leatherby recently described this major demographic and economic shift in the following words: "The richest most powerful countries today have long had these really large working-age populations. And economists agree that that’s been a huge, huge advantage economically and geopolitically. And meanwhile, a lot of developing nations have had quite high dependency ratios having a high number of children compared to working-age people. And so, I think we know a lot of these storylines one by one, but putting it all together, it’s just like the world is going to shift really dramatically". 

Current Share of Working Age Populations. Source: NY Times

"And then I think what we see (rapidly aging population) in Japan today is only the tip of the iceberg. A lot of East Asia, China, Europe, South Korea will be much older than Japan is today, in just you know, 20 or 30 years. Some countries will have upwards of 40% of their population that are 65 or older in just two or three decades. And meanwhile, on the other end, you have a lot of these other countries that have long been, you know, hindered economically by their age structures. And suddenly a lot of them will start to enjoy the exact same age structures that Europe and East Asia, the U.S., that a lot of those countries have historically enjoyed", Leatherby added. 

Prijected Share of Working Age Populations in 2050. Source: NY Times

It is based on this demographic shift that Goldman Sachs analysts Kevin Daly and  Tadas Gedminas are projecting Pakistan's economy to grow to become the world's sixth largest by 2075.  In a research paper titled "The Path to 2075", the authors forecast Pakistan's GDP to rise to $12.7 trillion with per capita income of $27,100.  India’s GDP in 2075 is projected at $52.5 trillion and per capita GDP at $31,300.  Bangladesh is projected to be a $6.3 trillion economy with per capita income of $31,000.  By 2075, China will be the top global economy, followed by India 2nd, US 3rd, Indonesia 4th, Nigeria 5th and Pakistan 6th. The forecast is based primarily on changes in the size of working age populations over the next 50 years.  

GDP Ranking Changes Till 2075. Source: Goldman Sachs Investment Research 

Economic Growth Rate Till 2075. Source: Goldman Sachs Investment Research 

Economic Impact of Slower Population Growth: 

Daly and Gedminas argue that slowing population growth in the developed world is causing their economic growth to decelerate. At the same time, the economies of the developing countries are driven by their rising populations.  Here are four key points made in the report:

 1) Slower global potential growth, led by weaker population growth. 

2) EM convergence remains intact, led by Asia’s powerhouses. Although real GDP growth has slowed in both developed and emerging economies, in relative terms EM growth continues to outstrip DM growth.

3) A decade of US exceptionalism that is unlikely to be repeated. 

4) Less global inequality, more local inequality. 

Goldman Sachs' Revised GDP Projections. Source: The Path to 2075

Demographic Dividend: 

With rapidly aging populations and declining number of working age people in North America, Europe and East Asia, the demand for workers will increasingly be met by major labor exporting nations like Bangladesh, China, India, Mexico, Pakistan, Russia and Vietnam. Among these nations, Pakistan is the only major labor exporting country where the working age population is still rising faster than the birth rate. 

Pakistan Population Youngest Among Major Asian Nations. Source: Nikkei Asia

World Population 2022. Source: Visual Capitalist

World Population 2050. Source: Visual Capitalist

Over a million Pakistani university students are currently enrolled in STEM courses. Over 10 million Pakistanis are currently working/living overseas, according to the Bureau of Emigration. Before the COVID19 pandemic hit in 2020,  more than 600,000 Pakistanis left the country to work overseas in 2019. Nearly 700,000 Pakistanis have already migrated in this calendar year as of October, 2022. The average yearly outflow of Pakistani workers to OECD countries (mainly UK and US) and the Middle East was over half a million in the last decade. 

Consumer Markets in 2030. Source: WEF

World's 7th Largest Consumer Market:

Pakistan's share of the working age population (15-64 years) is growing as the country's birth rate declines, a phenomenon called demographic dividend. With its rising population of this working age group, Pakistan is projected by the World Economic Forum to become the world's 7th largest consumer market by 2030. Nearly 60 million Pakistanis will join the consumer class (consumers spending more than $11 per day) to raise the country's consumer market rank from 15 to 7  by 2030. WEF forecasts the world's top 10 consumer markets of 2030 to be as follows: China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Russia, Brazil, Pakistan, Japan, Egypt and Mexico.  Global investors chasing bigger returns will almost certainly shift more of their attention and money to the biggest movers among the top 10 consumer markets, including Pakistan.  Already, the year 2021 has been a banner year for investments in Pakistani technology startups

Record Remittances From Overseas Pakistanis:

Pakistan is already seeing high levels of labor export and record remittances of over $30 billion pouring into the country. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates(UAE) are the top two sources of remittances but the biggest increase (58%) in remittances is seen this year from Pakistanis in the next two sources: the United Kingdom and the United States.

Remittances from the European Union (EU) to Pakistan soared 49.7% in FY 21 and 28.3% in FY22, according to the State Bank of Pakistan. With $2.5 billion remittances in the first 9 months (July-March) of the current fiscal year, the EU ($2.5 billion) has now surpassed North America ($2.2 billion) to become the third largest source of inflows to Pakistan after the Middle East and the United Kingdom. Remittances from the US have grown 21%, second fastest after the EU (28.3%) in the first 9  months of the current fiscal year. 

Pakistan ranks 6th among the top worker remittance recipient countries in the world.  India and China rank first and second, followed by Mexico 3rd, the Philippines 4th, Egypt 5th and Pakistan 6th.  

Pakistan Demographics

About two million Pakistanis are entering the workforce every year. The share of the working age population in Pakistan is increasing while the birth rate is declining. This phenomenon, known as demographic dividend, is coinciding with declines in working age populations in developed countries. It is creating an opportunity for over half a million Pakistani workers to migrate and work overseas, and send home record remittances. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

USDA Forecasts Bumper Harvest of Major Crops in Pakistan For 2023/24

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is forecasting bumper harvest of all major crops in Pakistan for 2023/24. Major crops in the country include wheat, rice, sugarcane, corn and cotton. These offer welcome relief for Pakistani farmers who suffered devastating losses in the epic floods of 2022.   

Major Crops Produced in Pakistan. Source: USDA

Pakistan is projected to produce 28 million tons of wheat,  10.5 million tons of corn (maize), 9 million tons of rice, 6.5 million bales of cotton, 7.8 million tons of sugar and 540,000 tons of rapeseed (canola) in 2023/24. Each of these production figures is significantly higher than last year's, and higher than the last 5-year average (2018-22) for the country. Potato production jumped 50% to 7.74 million tons in 2022, according to PotatoBusiness.  

Sugar Production in India and Pakistan. Source: Ragus

Pakistan will still need to import wheat but a lower amount than last year, according to a Global Agricultural Information Network report from the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) of the US Department of Agriculture. The record harvest will help lower the country’s forecasted import needs from 3 million to 2 million tons in 2023-24 even as total consumption grows to 30.2 million tonnes from 29.2 million tons. Pakistan imported 2.6 million tons last marketing year.

Higher cotton production in Pakistan will result in 2.3 million tons of cottonseed oil in 2023/24, a 34% increase over the 2022/23 output. This increase reflects expectations for a recovery in yield following the flood-damaged 2022/23 output. This will help reduce cooking oil imports, the country's largest food import, this year. Last year, Pakistan imported $4.5 billion worth of edible oil

Pakistan expects to export 5 million tons of rice worth $3 billion this year. India's ban on non-basmati rice exports will likely help Pakistani exporters fetch higher prices on the world market. 

Global Rice Market 2023. Source: Reuters

Pakistan's agriculture output is the 10th largest in the world. The country produces large and growing quantities of cereals, meat, milk, fruits and vegetables. Currently, Pakistan produces over 40 million tons of cereals (mainly wheat, rice and corn), 17 million tons of fruits and vegetables, 70 million tons of sugarcane, 60 million tons of milk and 4.5 million tons of meat.  Total value of the nation's agricultural output exceeds $50 billion. Improving agriculture inputs and modernizing value chains can help the farm sector become much more productive to serve both domestic and export markets.  

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Friday, August 4, 2023

OpenAI ChatGPT: Generative AI Buzz in Pakistan

A Singapore-based cybersecurity firm Group-IB discovered in June that over 100,000 ChatGPT user accounts were compromised and their credentials found on the Dark Web. Among the accounts reported compromised, India topped with 12,632, followed by Pakistan with 9,217 and Brazil with 6,531. Bangladesh witnessed the fewest instances with 2,463. This report gave a glimpse of the high interest level of Indians and Pakistanis in generative AI.  Another report attributed to Similarweb, which tracks popularity of websites by number of visitors, ranked ChatGPT in Pakistan at number 7, ahead of Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. Globally ChatGPT website is ranked 17th. Prior to this, there was a series of news reports about the launch of Presidential Initiative for Artificial Intelligence and Computing (PIAIC) by President Arif Alvi, and then came the government's policy to train one million AI experts in the country by 2027. Pakistanis published 2,600 AI-related research papers from 2016 to 2020, according to Statista

Top 10 Countries by Number of ChatGPT Accounts Compromised. Source: Group IB

Back in 2017, then Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi inaugurated a National Centre for Artificial Intelligence (NCAI) at the National University of Sciences & Technology (NUST) in Islamabad. It was followed by a Rs 1.1 billion budgetary allocation for select universities with AI research to be coordinated by NCAI. In 2020, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) set up a Center of Artificial Intelligence and Computing (CENTAIC). 

While OpenAI is the first to offer a Generative AI model trained on vast amounts of data, Google has also joined the generative AI race with its own offering. Google BARD appears to have capabilities similar to OpenAI's ChatGPT. Very little is known about the specific datasets used for training either of them, raising some trust issues about the results produced by them. 

Training/Using Generative AI Foundation Models. Source: Analytics Vidhya

Top global cloud operators Amazon, Google and Microsoft are now offering generative AI services to their clients for an additional fee. Cloud apps developers in Pakistan and elsewhere can train these base  models on their custom datasets to develop AI applications for agriculture, business, education, finance, healthcare, law etc. The AI market in Pakistan is currently estimated at $123 million by Statista Market Insights

Amazon Web Services (AWS) recently featured four Pakistani startups at the forefront of AI/ML: SalesFlo, Ozoned Digital, XpertFlow and Trukkr.  SalesFlo offers sales software for FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) companies.  Ozoned Digital caters to the technology needs of the insurance industry.  XpertFlow is an AI-powered preventative healthcare company.  Trukkr provides financial services and technology for logistics.  These and other startups are well positioned to take advantage of the new generative AI services being offered by cloud vendors. 

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