Sunday, August 30, 2009

Shooting Harpoons at US Aid Bill for Pakistan


The New York Times is quoting unnamed senior Obama administration and Congressional officials as claiming that the United States is accusing Pakistan of illegally modifying American-made Harpoon anti-ship missiles to expand its capability to strike land targets, a potential threat to India.

American military and intelligence officials reportedly say they suspect that Pakistan has modified the Harpoon antiship missiles that the United States sold the country in the 1980s, a move that would be a violation of the Arms Control Export Act. Pakistan has denied the charge, saying it developed the missile itself. The United States has also accused Pakistan of modifying American-made P-3C aircraft for land-attack missions, another violation of United States law that the Obama administration has protested.

According to a senior Pakistani official, Pakistan has taken the unusual step of agreeing to allow American officials to inspect the country’s Harpoon inventory to prove that it had not violated the law, a step that the US administration officials praised.

Independent experts are also skeptical of the alleged American claims, according to Asian Defense blog. Robert Hewson, editor of Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, a yearbook and Web-based data service, has said the Harpoon missile did not have the necessary range for a land-attack missile, which would lend credibility to Pakistani claims that they are developing their own new missile. Moreover, he said, Pakistan already has more modern land-attack missiles that it developed itself or acquired from China.

According to Tech Lahore blog, Pakistan's Raa’d missile has been mated with Mach 2 capable Mirages and is now being integrated with Pakistan’s new fighter, the JF-17. The missile can be launched from a stand-off distance of almost 500km and employs more sophisticated guidance than the Harpoon. This raises the question as to why would Pakistan want to attack land targets with a slow, bulky aircraft like the P-3, firing shorter range Harpoon missiles, when it’s air force already has almost 175 Mirage aircraft with Raa’d cruise missiles and recently added in-flight refueling capability?

“They’re beyond the need to reverse-engineer old U.S. kit,” said Mr. Hewson about Pakistan's current capabilities. “They’re more sophisticated than that.” Mr. Hewson said the ship-to-shore missile that Pakistan was testing was part of a concerted effort to develop an array of conventional missiles that could be fired from the air, land or sea to address India’s much more formidable conventional missile arsenal.

Recently, the US has signed a nuclear cooperation deal with India and offered to sell over $2 billion worth of sophisticated weaponry, further enhancing India's military might.

Coming just a week before the $7.5 billion aid-to-Pakistan bill goes to the US senate, it is clear that the timing and the motives of Eric Schmitt and David Sanger of the New York Times “leak” are highly suspicious. It fits a pattern of "leaks" in Washington to either defeat or add poison pill amendments to any legislation likely to aid to Pakistan. Such well-timed "leaks” to the New York Times, known for similar well-timed "leaks" about Iraq WMDs prior to the ill-conceived US invasion of the middle eastern nation, are most likely inspired by the Israeli and Indian lobbies in Washington who are irrevocably opposed to any US assistance to Pakistan.

Past hypocritical denials of US weapons to Pakistan while offering modern offensive weapons to India has been a blessing in disguise for Pakistani military and its defense industry. Every time US has embargoed or quibbled over some insignificant little "arms control" violations with Pakistan, Pakistanis have responded to the challenge by developing their own indigenous capabilities. Such developments not only help strengthen the nation's defenses, domestic defense production also aids in developing human skills, enhancing arms exports and providing badly-needed jobs to many.

Here's a video clip about Pakistan's arms expo IDEAS 2008:



Related Links:

Pakistan's Defense Industry Goes High Tech

US Arms Sales to India

Pakistan Launches UAV Production at Kamra

Asian Defense

Pakistan's Defense Production Going High Tech

Flying High in Korangi: Pakistani Drones

Growing India-Israel Defense Collaboration

Pakistan Military Business and Industrial Revolution

Jane's Defense Industry Briefing on Pakistan

India-Pakistan Military Balance

Pakistan's Arms Industry

India's Israeli Supported UAV Plans

Pakistan Defense Production

Dinar Standard

Washington Offers Predators to Germany, Italy

Demolishing India's War Myths about Pakistan

Chuck Yeager on Pakistan Air Force

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pakistan Starts UAV Production Line

At a ceremony held at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC), Kamra, last Thursday, Air Marshal Farhat Hussain Khan, the chairman of the PAC board, announced the launch of Falco UAV production in Pakistan in collaboration with Selex Galileo of Italy. Speaking on the occasion, the Air Marshal said the UAV co-production facility was a major step towards the long-term goal of self-reliance in military aviation industry.

In the opinion of this blogger, it is expected that most Pakistanis will take pride in the nation's indigenous capacity to build and eventually use armed drones to put down the insurgent groups such as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) who have unleashed a reign of terror in Pakistani towns and cities. Most such attacks cause large numbers of innocent civilian casualties and powerful, palpable anger against the responsible groups.

Many Pakistanis will also see the development and manufacturing of UAVs positively in the context of Pakistan's competition with archrival India's UAV effort backed by the Israelis. But there are some elements in Pakistan who are irrevocably opposed to any military action by US or Pakistan against the Taliban or Al Qaeda and their allies. They will loudly oppose the the development, manufacture and use of drones against any internal insurgency, just as they have opposed the US drones attacking targets in Pakistan's FATA region. Fortunately, support for such groups on both the left and the right is rapidly declining, especially after the reported killing of Baitullah Mehsud who was seen as public enemy #1 by the vast majority of Pakistanis.

While it is absolutely desirable for Pakistan to replicate US Predator capabilities and become self-reliant to avoid the political backlash when US predator strikes claim innocent Pakistani civilian lives, I doubt if it'll happen any time soon. While Washington has offered the UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles) technology to its allies in Europe, it has been reluctant to make it available to Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Indians are likely to get the US armed drone know-how through the Israelis.

The growing interest by Pakistani military and also foreign companies and governments has helped spawn several private Pakistani UAV companies specializing in air-frames, launch and propulsion, flight control, tele-command and control systems, signal intelligence, training simulators, etc. In addition to Integrated Dynamics, other private companies involved in UAV development and manufacturing include, East-West Infinity, Satuma and Global Industrial Defense Solutions.

Pakistan UAV1
Flamingo - Satuma Pakistan

Pakistan UAV 2
Mukhbar- Satuma Pakistan

Pakistan UAV Uqaab
Uqaab - Air Weapons Complex

I think the current generation of Pakistani drones, including the Italian designed Falco, are not at all comparable to the larger US drones armed with powerful Hellfire missiles and sophisticated targeting technology which still results in serious errors. Regardless of the sophistication of drones, such errors can only be reduced by improving the accuracy and reliability of the human intelligence on the ground in FATA.

Here's a recent report by Farhan Bokhari of Jane's Defense Weekly on Falco production launch in Pakistan:

The Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC), Pakistan's chief aircraft manufacturing facility, has formally launched plans to part-produce the Falco unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), a system already acquired by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) from Italian company Selex Galileo. The project, unveiled on 20 August, will result in some of the Falco's parts being manufactured domestically to reduce reliance on Italian imports.

The new programme marks an important step towards achieving an indigenous UAV capability - something seen as increasingly important to the PAF as it expands its role in the country's war against militants across North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, the chief of staff of the PAF, told Jane's earlier in August about the PAF's growing role in supporting anti-terrorism operations. UAVs are understood to be central to these efforts. Earlier this year, the Pakistani military successfully blocked an advance by Taliban militants in and around the northern Swat valley, with the PAF "carrying out several strikes on Taliban strongholds" following UAV surveillance, according to a senior Pakistani security official.

The PAC chairman Air Marshal Farhat Hussain Khan said at the project's opening ceremony that continued use of the Falco "would greatly enhance the PAF's operational capability". Western defence officials in Islamabad told Jane's that Pakistan would eventually seek another armed UAV or work with Selex Galileo to develop a weaponised version of the Falco. "Today, the Falco UAV is principally for [reconnaissance] and intel-gathering purposes," said one official. "But I am sure the Pakistanis will eventually try to go for UAVs armed with missiles."

The launch of the Falco project precedes the PAC's roll-out, expected later this year, of the first locally built JF-17 fighter, an aircraft jointly developed by the PAC and China's Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC). The PAF plans to acquire at least 250 JF-17s to form the backbone of its fighter fleet. "The Falco UAV and the JF-17 both fit into the same philosophy, which is to reduce reliance wherever possible on imports," said the Western official. "Over time, Pakistan seems to be getting into handling more and more sophisticated technology."


Falco UAV Finds Pakistan A Most Suitable Environment

The Pakistan Air force has initiated the start of the Falco UAV Co-Production Project. The project was inaugurated at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) Kamra last Thursday, with Air Marshal Farhat Hussain Khan, Chairman, PAC Board, was the featured guest at the occasion. Falco is an advanced tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) designed by Selex Galileo, Italy, and will be co-produced by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, Kamra. The Falco UAV will address the present and future surveillance and reconnaissance needs of the Pakistan Air Force. Speaking on the occasion, Air Marshal Farhat Hussain said the addition of UAV co-production facility would be a major step towards the long-term goal of self reliance in military aviation industry. He lauded the efforts of engineers and technicians of Pakistan Aeronautical Complex who had worked diligently for the last two years to establish the facility. He further stated that Falco UAV will greatly enhance the PAF operational capability. Earlier, Managing Director Aircraft Manufacturing Factory, Air Vice Marshal Aminullah Khan and Managing Director F6 RF, Air Commodore Nadeem Aslam, presented an appraisal of the project activities. The induction of this technology has opened a new dimension in the field of aviation manufacturing at PAC and would be used for other requirements of aviation industry. The roll-out of the first co-produced Falco UAV from Pakistan Aeronautical Complex should occur in the near future.


Here is a vide clip about Pakistani drones:



Related Links:

Asian Defense

Pakistan's Defense Production Going High Tech

Flying High in Korangi: Pakistani Drones

Growing India-Israel Defense Collaboration

Pakistan Military Business and Industrial Revolution

Jane's Defense Industry Briefing on Pakistan

India-Pakistan Military Balance

Pakistan's Arms Industry

India's Israeli Supported UAV Plans

Pakistan Defense Production

Dinar Standard

Washington Offers Predators to Germany, Italy

Demolishing India's War Myths about Pakistan

Chuck Yeager on Pakistan Air Force

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, August 24, 2009

Marshall Plan for Pakistan

There has been much discussion but little action on the new US strategy to emphasize economic aid for Pakistan, in addition to the concerted NATO-Pakistan military action against the insurgents. The 80/20 rule, as outlined by General Petraeus, calls for 80% emphasis on the political/economic effort backed by 20% military component to fight the Taliban insurgency in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. This rule has led many to speculate about a US-backed "Marshall Plan" style effort to help Pakistan expand the economic opportunity for its young and growing population, vulnerable to exploitation by extremists.


The Marshall Plan, named after General George Marshall, the US secretary of state after the Second World War, is credited with the rapid economic rise of Europe and Japan from the ruins of the war. The Marshall Plan aid by the US amounted to about 100 billion in today's dollars. Pakistani leadership called for their own "Marshall Plan" earlier this year, saying the country needed $30 billion over the next five years to fight Taliban and al-Qaeda militants.

The United States, United Kingdom and Western allies met in Istanbul yesterday to draft a $5 billion "Marshall Plan for Pakistan" to help rebuild the swaths of the country destroyed in its war against terrorism. While $5 billion will help in Pakistan's economic recovery, it is really a stretch to compare it to the $100 billion (today's dollars) US Marshall Plan for Europe after WW II. To put it in perspective in Pakistan's context, let's consider the following: At the end of calender year 2008 in Pakistan, remittances topped 7 billion dollars, an increase of 17 per cent year over year, led by higher remittances from oil-rich GCC countries, which grew by 30 per cent year on year. Similarly, FDI inflows jumped 100 per cent year over year to 708 million dollars for December, 2008, as the telecom, oil and gas, and financial-services sectors continued to attract foreign inventors, according a report in the Nation newspaper. Annual cash remittances from overseas Pakistanis and foreign direct investments (FDI) in Pakistan in this decade have been far larger and much more significant in its economic growth than all of the well-publicized foreign aid put together.

Though the amount of aid appears to be far less than what Pakistanis need and asked for, it does seem that the Friends of Pakistan Aid Consortium, led by US and UK, is beginning to get serious about the economic component of the fight to save nuclear Pakistan from the potential danger of falling prey to the powerful insurgency still plaguing the two neighbors in West Asia.

The Telegraph of London has reported today that "Friends of Democratic Pakistan, including ministers from Japan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, China, Australia and the European Union, met to agree funding and draft in experts to agree a series of projects to support reconstruction efforts and shore up the country's new democratic government. Gordon Brown and Barack Obama will co-chair the group's next meeting in New York next month where the scale of funding and support will be finalised."

The British newspaper adds that "Britain is expected to take a lead role in creating an education task force to explore non-madrassah (religious) schools. It will also play a role in developing new public-rivate partnerships to accelerate new investment in services. “There’s a bit more openness [in Pakistan] now to discuss these things with friends, the new democratic government is opening up,” said a diplomat."

This reported plan of serious economic aid and expertise, if true, is a step in the direction. But it must not be allowed to become victim of bureaucratic redtape, incompetence and corruption. Such an effort must also address the issues of poor governance and feudal excesses in Pakistan to ensure the effectiveness of the money offered in making a real difference in the lives of the average people of Pakistan in terms of their human development and expanded economic opportunity.

Related Links:

Feudal Punjab Fertile for Terrorism

Taliban target Swat's landed elite

HDF Fundraiser in Silicon Valley

Valuing Life in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Missiles versus Schools

Pakistan's Choice: Globalization versus Talibanization

Feudal Raj in Pakistan

Aid, Trade and FDI in Pakistan

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

China Strategist's Hope for India's Breakup

Given the many ethnic, regional, religious and caste fault lines running through the length and breadth of India, there have long been questions raised about India's identity as a nation. Speaking about it last April, the US South Asia expert Stephen Cohen of Brookings Institution said, " But there is no all-Indian Hindu identity—India is riven by caste and linguistic differences, and Aishwarya Rai and Sachin Tendulkar are more relevant rallying points for more Indians than any Hindu caste or sect, let alone the Sanskritized Hindi that is officially promulgated".

Now, in a report written by strategist Zhan Lue of the China International Institute of Strategic Studies in July, the author argues that a fragmented India would be in China's best interest, and would also lead to prosperity in the region. The report proposes dividing the country into thirty independent states.

The Times of India quotes it as saying that Beijing "should work towards the the break-up of India into 20-30 independent states with the help of friendly countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan".

On the surface, Lue's proposed strategy appears to be a natural response to the burgeoning India-US ties that the US expects to use as a counterweight to the growing power and influence of China in Asia and the rest of the world.

The writer proposes that China, in its own interest and the progress of Asia, should join forces with different nationalities within India like the Assamese, Bengalis, Naxalites, Marathis, Punjabis, Tamils, and the occupied Kashmiris and support all of them in establishing independent nation-States of their own, out of India. In particular, the ULFA (United Liberation Front of Assam) in Assam, a territory neighboring China, can be helped by China so that Assam realizes its national independence.

According to the article, if India today relies on anything for unity, it is the Hindu religion. The emergence of a republic of India in 1947 was based on religion [the Hindus were a majority so they should rule.] The Chinese strategist wrote that India could only be described today as a 'Hindu religious state'.

Adding that Hinduism is a decadent religion as it allows caste exploitation and is unhelpful to the country's modernization, the report described the Indian government as one in a dilemma with regard to eradication of the caste system as it realizes that the process to do away with castes may shake the foundation of the consciousness of the Indian nation.

The Chinese think tank report has been angrily dismissed by the Indian Foreign Ministry, according to the BBC.

Related Links:

BBC report

Challenges for India's Democracy

July Vacation in Beijing

Vito Corleone: Metaphor for Uncle Sam Today?

Labels: , , , , ,

Hail Feudal Crown Prince Bilawal of Pakistan

In spite of its claims to the contrary, the Bhutto family's private jagir (property) of Pakistan People's Party has been instrumental in preserving the feudal system in Pakistan, through perpetuation of its feudal democracy, controlled by the largest landowners in Sind and Punjab.

Z.A. Bhutto's nationalization in the 1970s was the biggest culprit that stymied industrialization of Pakistan and the growth of the middle class, while it preserved the feudal system. Bhutto emasculated the industrialists who encouraged better education and skills development for workers for their industries, while feudal rulers continued to take their toll on the rural poor living on their lands who remain their slaves and reliably continue to vote their feudal lords into power in the name of democracy.

The Bhutto era nationalization has left such deep scars on the psyche of Pakistani industrialists that, to this day, these industrialists are not willing to make long-term investments in big industrial projects with long gestation periods.

To perpetuate the feudal system in the name of democracy, the PPP has a new prince, Prince Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. He is being heavily used and abused to promote the interests of the current incompetent and corrupt leadership, and to ensure that PPP remains in power to serve the feudal elite under the guise of democracy.

Here are a couple of video clips of Prince Bilawal who spent part of his summer vacation in Pakistan stumping for the PPP:





The military governments have, in fact, been more pro-industrialization because the military elite benefits from the manufacturing sector as much much as it does from real estate and agriculture sectors.

I am disappointed that the military, particularly President Musharraf, did not dismantle and destroy the feudal system when they had a chance. Instead, to respond to external pressure from the West, the military dictators, including General Musharraf, bought off some of the PPP or PML feudals, held elections and created the facade of democracy. This allowed the feudals to continue to dominate Pakistan's political landscape under both military and civilian governments.

However, over the decades, Pakistani economy has consistently performed better and created a lot more jobs during military rule than under the PPP or the PML "democratic" governments. These new jobs have helped tens of millions in the rural areas with the option to leave the life of slavery on the farms to get jobs in cities in the industrial and services sectors of the economy.



Pakistan's average economic growth rate was 6.8% in the 60s (Gen. Ayub Khan), 4.5% in the 70s(Zulfikar Bhutto), 6.5% in the 80s (Gen. Zia ul-Haq), and 4.8% in the 90s (Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif). Growth picked up momentum in the 21st Century under General Musharraf, and from 2000-2007, Pakistan's economy grew at an average 7.5%, making it the third fastest growing economy in Asia after China and India. There were 2-3 million new jobs created each year from 2000-2007, which significantly enlarged the middle class, and helped millions escape poverty.

Related Links:

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari at Oxford

Biawal's Extracurricular Activities

Musharraf's Economic Legacy

Taliban Target Pakistan's Landed Elite

Pakistan's Feudal Democracy

Will Someone Hand Bilawal a Spliff?

Pakistan's Military-Industrial Complex

Pakistan: A Cradle of Civilization Breeds a New Nation

Labels: , , , , , ,

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Gender Gap in Literacy Worst in India and Pakistan

QUESTION

Beyond basic necessities like food and shelter, few things matter more than education — which begins with achieving literacy. However, in many parts of the world, literacy disparities between the genders have devastating consequences not just for the equality of the sexes, but also for women's economic prospects. We wonder: Which of the following major countries or regions has the largest gap between the literacy rates of adult men and women?



ANSWER

A. Latin America

B. Arab states

C. Sub-Saharan Africa

D. India

A.

Latin America is not correct.

In Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole, literacy — defined as the ability to read and write a simple statement on one's daily life — is high, averaging 91 percent. The region has also accomplished considerable gender equality, with the literacy rate for men only 1 percentage point above that for women. Brazil, Latin America's most populous country, also has a high adult literacy rate, at 90 percent — and Argentina's is even higher, at 98 percent.

B.

Arab states is not correct.

With an overall literacy rate of just 71 percent, literacy in Arab states significantly lags that in Latin America. In addition, men in that region are significantly more likely to be literate than women, with a male literacy rate of 80 percent and that of females at just 62 percent. The literacy gap is especially large in Yemen, at 37 percentage points. In comparison, the gap stands at 17 percentage points in Egypt and 10 points in Saudi Arabia.

C.

Sub-Saharan Africa is not correct.

Sub-Saharan Africa's overall literacy rate is 62 percent, with women's literacy (54 percent) lagging that of men (71 percent) by 17 percentage points — an indicator of considerable discrimination in providing access to primary education. Too often, when family resources to pay for education are scarce, the choice is made to send boys to school — and few, if any, girls. In the region's largest country, Nigeria, overall performance stands at 72 percent — considerably better than that of sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. And yet, with men's literacy 16 percentage points higher than women's, it also discriminates against women in this respect.

D.

India is correct.

Despite India's high-tech successes, the country lags in providing all its citizens with basic education. With an overall adult literacy rate of only 66 percent, India lags significantly behind China (93 percent), according to data from UNESCO. In addition, at 77 percent, men in India have a literacy rate that is 22 percentage points higher than that of women (55 percent). India's literacy gender gap is thus worse than the average gap of 18 percentage points in the world's least-developed countries.

Source: San Jose Mercury News

Note: Pakistan's gender gap of 27% in literacy is worse than India's 22%. At overall literacy rate of only 52%, and with more than 50 million people illiterate, Pakistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in Asia. The literacy rate for males over 15 years is 63% while that for females is 36% in Pakistan. Only Yemen's literacy rate and gender gap is worse than South Asia's.

Related Links:

UNESCO Literacy Report

Female Genocide Unfolding in India

Challenges of Indian Democracy

Status of Women in Pakistan

Labels: , , , , ,

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Karachi Among Cheapest Cities for Expats

Pakistan's financial capital Karachi shows up among the least expensive cities for expatriates in a survey conducted by consulting firm Mercer UK. Cost of living for employees is one of the factors considered by businesses looking to expand globally.

There are several large cities in Pakistan, but Karachi is the largest with a population exceeds 12 million, according to the United Nations. Whilst the political capital of Pakistan is Islamabad, Karachi is definitely the economic center. It is home to the largest port in Pakistan situated in a sheltered natural harbor, and it is this which originally provided the conditions for the city to grow. Whilst the port continues to play an important part in economy of Karachi, the economy has diversified. Karachi is the location for the headquarters for many of the largest Pakistani companies, as well as being the location for the Pakistani offices of many international firms. Manufacturing plays a big part in the local economy, and increasingly outsourcing of services from richer countries plays a part, particularly with call centers. Pakistan has been ranked at number 20 on the 2009 A.T. Kearney Global Services Location Index of the most attractive outsourcing destinations in the world. All of these factors combine to result in Karachi having what has been claimed to be the highest average wage of any city in south Asia. However, despite the regionally high wages, Karachi is still located in south Asia, and so many of the prices for goods and services reflect this. In addition, the excellent infrastructure links to the world further reduce the price of imported goods. These high wages, coupled with low prices of goods and services, result in Karachi being among the cheapest major cities in the world in which to live, not necessarily for the local residents, but certainly for the expatriates earning in hard currency.

Here are Mercer's picks for the least expensive cities of the world in 2009:

1. Johannesburg, South Africa
2. Monterrey, Mexico
3. Asuncion, Paraguay
4. Karachi, Pakistan
5. Wellington, New Zealand
6. Auckland, New Zealand
7. Mexico City, Mexico
8. Quito, Ecuador
9. Chennai, India
10.Tunis, Tunisia

The survey covers 143 cities across six continents but concentrates mostly on Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The only countries in the Americas covered were Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and the U.S. Mercer looks at more than 200 factors, including the cost of housing, transport and food.

Tokyo, last year’s second most expensive city, climbed to the top spot, knocking Moscow down to number 3. Geneva and Hong Kong ranked 4th and 5th, with Asian and European cities dominating the top 10 slots.

The survey, conducted in March, uses New York as the base city for the index, with currency moves measured against the dollar. New York itself jumped to 8th from 22nd last year.

“As a direct impact of the economic downturn over the last year, we have observed significant fluctuations in most of the world’s currencies, which have had a profound impact on this year’s rankings,” Nathalie Constantin-Metral, a senior researcher at Mercer, said in a statement on the firm’s website.

“Now that cost containment and reduction is at the top of most company agendas, keeping track of the change in factors that dictate expatriate cost of living is essential,” she added.

Tel Aviv ranked as the most expensive city in the Middle East, while Caracas was top in South America, and Sydney was the priciest city for expatriates in the Pacific.

Following are the top 10 most expensive cities, according to the Mercer survey. Last year’s rankings in brackets:

1. Tokyo, Japan (2)
2. Osaka, Japan (11)
3. Moscow, Russia (1)
4. Geneva, Switzerland (8)
5. Hong Kong, China (6)
6. Zurich, Switzerland (9)
7. Copenhagen, Denmark (7)
8. New York City, USA (22)
9. Beijing, China (20)
10.Singapore, Singapore (13)

Related Links:

Eleven Days in Karachi

AT Kearney Global Services Location Index

Outsourcing to Pakistan

Power Shortages in Pakistan

Garbage Collection in Karachi

Pakistan's Electricity Crisis

Karachi: The Urban Frontier

Emaar Bullish on Pakistan

Karachi Dreams Big

Cost of Power Outages in India

Labels: , , , ,

Brief Summer Vacation in Beijing


My family and I arrived on a Saturday evening in late July at Beijing's international airport's beautiful and spacious terminal 3, the new massive glass and steel structure that was opened just prior to last year's Summer Olympics in the city. I did not see it when I visited Beijing back in 2006, and this July visit was my family's first visit to Beijing. All of the airline and ground staff and many of the Asian passengers were wearing masks, an indication of the heightened concern about the spread of swine flu. We had to fill out health declaration forms along with the usual disembarkation cards prior to arrival. In addition to many watchful health workers, we saw infra-red detectors at several points along the way to the exit, in an attempt to identify any passengers with fever or flu-like symptoms. The process of health checks, immigration, baggage claim and customs went quickly and smoothly, and we emerged from the terminal to be greeted by an English-speaking Chinese driver who was holding a placard with my name on it.

Drive from the Airport

We were driven to our hotel room in a black Buick van. The multi-lane highway from the airport to our hotel in the financial district was wide, clean and smooth, with extensive landscaping on both sides. Clearly, Beijing has benefited from its three year intensive preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics that forced a number of significant infrastructure improvements which are taken for granted in the industrialized West. As we entered the city, we saw a dense buildup of modern skyscrapers along the streets. It took us less than 30 minutes to reach the hotel lobby. We had made reservations for a suite to accommodate all four of us via an online travel service. Unfortunately, however, there was some confusion, and we were first shown into a small, single-room suite that was too small for us. The hotel staff immediately realized it, and apologized even before I could protest, and corrected the mistake by moving us into a large two-room suite with club lounge access. The fact that I showed the staff a print-out of the hotel reservation was helpful in making the change.

It was 11 PM by the time we settled in our suite. The club lounge had already closed, and we ordered room service to eat a light meal before going to bed. Since we arrived later than scheduled because of flight delays in Hong Kong, it was almost mid-night when I called the tour operator for the tour we had booked for Sunday. To my surprise, the hotel staff found the contact person at the tour operator and had me talk with her to confirm an 8AM pickup from the hotel lobby the next morning.

We got up early on Sunday morning, showered and changed, and then had a good, healthy, freshly cooked breakfast served in the hotel club lounge. We made it to the lobby at 8AM, and found our tour guide waiting for us there.

Tienanmen Square

The Sunday tour started in the famous and historic Tienanmen Square. Though the city was hot, humid and hazy, but the climate and the environment were still significantly better than what we experienced in Dubai and Karachi. The city streets appeared to be quite clean, landscaped and well managed. Upon arriving at the Tienanmen Square, we were warned by our tour guide that as pedestrians we do not have the right of way on Beijing streets, though we noticed that the drivers appeared to be a bit more courteous than what we observed in Karachi. Our guide pointed to the various important buildings in the famous Square, including the one housing the embalmed remains of Communist leader Mao Zedong on display in a crystal sarcophagus, and the entrance to the Forbidden City with a large portrait of Chairman Mao. There were hordes of aggressive street vendors trying to sell all kinds of souvenirs in the Square, but the one that caught my eye was a Mao watch, a watch with a picture of Mao on the dial, with both hands waving. This watch and the vendors selling them are symbolic of how far China has come from Mao's days of strong denunciation of capitalism.

In recent history, Tienanmen Square was the scene of the Chinese government crackdown by the units of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) against mass students protests in 1989. Since the death of Chairman Mao and passing of the leadership to late Deng Xiaoping in 1980s, the Chinese communist party has pursued liberalizing the nation's economy without political liberalization, in the same way other East Asians did earlier. Such a strategy has allowed them to pursue rapid industrialization with accelerated economic growth over the last two decades, while forcefully controlling the chaos on the streets, to lift a record number people out of poverty. China's large neighbor India has failed to use a period of high economic growth to lift tens of millions of people out of poverty, falling far short of China’s record in protecting its population from the ravages of chronic hunger, United Nations officials said recently. Last year, British Development Minister Alexander contrasted the rapid growth in China with India's economic success - highlighting government figures that showed the number of poor people had dropped in the one-party communist state by 70% since 1990 but had risen in the world's biggest democracy by 5%.

But China still has a lot more to do to catch up with the industrialized West. A visit to a public toilet in the Square by my family was a bit of an unpleasant surprise. While the squat toilets were expected, the lack of toilet paper (or water, as they saw in Pakistan and UAE) and open doors or no doors were something unexpected. However, there were vendors next to the public toilet doing brisk business selling toilet paper to the tourists. As part of pre-Olympic prep, the International Olympic Committee required the construction of hundreds of public toilets in Beijing, but apparently it did not require the availability of toilet paper to go with the new facilities. Beijing launched a three-year campaign -- with a 400-million-yuan (57 million U.S. dollars) investment -- to modernize its public toilets in 2005 as part of its effort to prepare for the 2008 Olympic Games. Now, Beijing has over 5,000 public toilets available within a five-minute walk of any downtown location.

Forbidden City

As we entered Forbidden City (Zijin Cheng), it bought back memories of the story and the scenes from Bernardo Bertolucci's movie "The Last Emperor", that was filmed here back in the 1980s. Built from 1406 to 1420, the Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. It now houses the Palace Museum. For 500 years, it served as the home of the Emperor and his household, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government.

According to a Wikipedia entry, the Forbidden City has 980 surviving buildings with 8,707 bays of rooms and covers 7.8 million square feet in the heart of the Chinese Capital. The palace complex exemplifies traditional Chinese palatial architecture, and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987, and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.

It was fairly long walk in the July heat through the Forbidden City, where we saw many buildings of the imperial palace serving different needs, and heard stories of the various emperors, their queens and concubines, and the eunuchs who served them. What I found missing this time was the Starbucks coffee shop, but I was told by our tour guide that only the sign has been removed in an effort to placate the opponents. As our guide continued with his narration, there was a lot of pomp and ceremony as well as the stories of palace intrigue. Some of these stories about Pu Yi, the last emperor, formed part of the plot and the screenplay of Bernardo Berolucci movie of 1987. During filming of the immense coronation scene in the Forbidden City, Queen Elizabeth II was in Beijing on a state visit. The production was given priority over her by the Chinese authorities and she was therefore unable to visit the Forbidden City. Though Mao's picture adorns the entrance to the Forbidden City, it is believed that Mao Zedong made a pledge to never set foot in it and he kept his pledge.

Summer Palace

After lunch, we headed to the Summer Palace (Yihe Yuan) in northwest Beijing. An aggressive vendor outside the Palace persisted in selling me a set of post cards for 10 yuan. I agreed and gave him a 100 yuan bill, and then he gave me the post cards and change in some unknown currency (probably Russian ruble) which I didn't realize until I tried to use it buy a bottle of water and it was refused by the water vendor. So, beware of unscrupulous vendors.

The Summer Palace was really crowded, mostly by the locals and their children out on a Sunday afternoon. It attracts a lot of Beijingers during summer because of its pleasant breeze, relatively lower temperature, and a nice boat ride on the lake that offers relief from the city heat. There were also many paddle boats on the lake rented out by visitors.

The Summer Palace, built in 1750 by Emperor Qianlong, covers an area of 2.9 square kilometers, three quarters of which is water. The central Kunming Lake covering 2.2 square kilometers was entirely man made and the excavated soil was used to build Longevity Hill. In the Summer Palace, one finds a variety of palaces, gardens, and other classical-style architectural structures. In 1888, it was given the current name, Yihe Yuan. It served as a summer resort for Empress Dowager Cixi, who diverted 30 million taels of silver, said to be originally designated for the Chinese navy (Beiyang Fleet), into the reconstruction and enlargement of the Summer Palace.

We walked through a long corridor enjoying the gentle breeze while our tour guide Frank Zhang entertained us with a narration of the evil Empress Dowager Cixi who imprisoned and killed the pro-industrialization and reform-minded young Guangxu in 1898. About the same time period when Meiji reforms in Japan transformed it from a medieval society to a leading economic and military power in Asia, China's Guangxu's idealistic pro-western movement called for drastic reforms in the governmental, educational, and social systems. With support from foreign powers, the Guangxu Emperor looked to industrialize China, institute capitalism, cut government waste through entitlements and continue to strengthen the military. He looked to create a modern educational system modeled on western school curriculum and transform the government from an absolute monarchy to a western styled constitutional monarchy with democratic institutions.

Temple of Heaven

From the Summer Palace, we went diagonally across town from the north west to the south east of Beijing where the Temple of Heaven is located. Constructed from 1406 to 1420 during the reign of the Emperor Yongle (1402–1424) of Ming dynasty, it is a complex of Taoist buildings in Beijing's Xuanwu District. The complex was visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest. It is regarded as a Taoist temple, although Chinese Heaven worship, especially by the reigning monarch of the day, pre-dates Taoism.

It is similar to a central park in major US cities and, in spite of its admission fee, it attracts a many city folks in Beijing. We saw a large number of people of various ages engaged in all kinds of fun activities from playing games to singing and dancing.

Exploring on Our Own

On Monday, we decided to explore the city on our own. Knowing how difficult it is to get around town without knowing the local language, we sought the help of the concierge at our hotel. The concierge gave us a map of the hotel location that said to the taxi driver to bring us back there if we get lost. The concierge also gave us a card with the names a number of popular locations such as the silk market, the pearl market and Tienanmen Square written in both Chinese and English. In addition, we requested the concierge to give us cards with the Chinese names/addresses of Beijing's main Muslim mosque and neighborhood, as well as Wall Mart, Maojiao Hunan restaurant and South Beauty Sichuan restaurant.

I also bought and installed a local China Mobile SIM for my cell phone and saved the phone number of our hotel concierge, which I could potentially use to call for help to give instructions to taxi drivers.

We first ventured out to Niu Jie neighborhood where Beijing's main mosque is located. As we entered the mosque, we were warmly greeted by a bearded gentleman wearing a white cap who said Assalam-Alaikum. As we walked around, we saw signs in English indicating that the mosque was constructed in 995 by two Arab Muslim Imams who are buried within the mosque compound. Throughout the Yuan, Ming and Qing periods (13th-19th C), it underwent several alterations and since 1949 it has been repeatedly restored. Unlike the traditional mosque architecture in Muslim nations, the Niu Jie mosque has a Chinese style roof with no minarets. Its traditional Chinese roof design has animal figures found on the corners of the temple roofs in China.

Most Hui Muslim Chinese are similar in culture to Han Chinese with the exception that they practice Islam, and have some distinctive cultural characteristics as a result. For example, as Muslims, they follow Islamic dietary laws and reject the consumption of pork, the most common meat consumed in Chinese culture, and have also given rise to their variation of Chinese cuisine, Chinese Islamic cuisine. Their mode of dress also differs only in that adult males wear white caps and females wear headscarves or (occasionally) veils, as is the case in most Islamic cultures.

Niu Jie (Ox Street) is a cramped road running north-south in the Muslim Quarter, about a mile directly west of the Temple of Heaven. In addition to the signs in Chinese, you can see signs in Arabic as well. The street is lined with Muslim restaurants, halal meat shops and vendors selling fried dough rings, rice cakes and shaobang (muffins), and you can see men wearing white caps and beards. While I had been warned about beggars in all parts of Beijing, I was saddened to see that this is the only part of town where we encountered the street beggars, mostly children, during our visit to Beijing. Just to put it in perspective, the street begging and the beggars we saw in Beijing pale in comparison to my experience in India and Pakistan. As India struggles to stage Commonwealth Games next year, India's 1200 beggar families in Delhi are learning to ask for charity in multiple languages to appeal to the 100,000 foreign visitors expected to attend the games.

We took a taxi in Niu Jie and went to see the local Wall Mart store. It turned out to be quite different from a typical Wall Mart Store in the US. Most of the floor space was dedicated to food and groceries, with a section for apparel and other items. The prices of the apparel we saw seemed to be a lot lower than the prices of similar apparel in US stores. This persuaded us to do some shopping there. Since there was expectation of rain the next day, I decided to buy a rain jacket for a couple of US dollars.

It was about 1 PM and we were all hungry, and we all love spicy food. The obvious choice for us was a Hunan restaurant Mao Jiao in the financial district. The concierge at our hotel told us that it was established and initially run by Chairman Mao's mother. It features a large, golden bust and pictures of Chairman Mao as part of its decor. Mao was from Hunan province and loved hot, peppery dishes of the Hunan region. Fortunately for us, there was a menu in English and the fact that the staff spoke no English did not prevent us from ordering spicy grilled shrimp piled high with red peppers and hot shredded beef with green peppers. It was really good food, the best Chinese food we have had in a long time. We then walked to our hotel for a brief rest.

In the evening we headed out to the Silk Market (Xiushui), located close to the embassies protected by barbed wires and armed guards. Contrary to our expectation, almost all of the vendors spoke English well enough to engage in serious bargaining. These were some of the most aggressive vendors, mostly girls, I have seen who actively solicit and get customers to buy their "designer" wares, ranging from apparel to jewelry to gifts and souvenirs. Their asking prices are any where from three to six times the final prices at which they are quite willing to sell. You can also find traditional Chinese items made from "authentic" pearls to silk to jade at "low" prices, but it is a "buyers beware" market. We did some shopping here and paid less than a third of asking prices for the items we, bought but I am still convinced we paid more than others who are better hagglers.

After our brief "shopping spree", we decided to go for dinner at South Beauty, a Sichuan restaurant in the financial district. I called our hotel concierge to give directions to the taxi driver who dropped us off right in front of the restaurant within a half hour drive. This restaurant was definitely more upscale than Mao Jiao, and the hostess and waitresses all spoke English. The menu was also presented in English. We ordered the familiar Kung Pao chicken, the spicy stone grilled shrimp, fried beef with a fiery sauce of Sichuan chilies, garlic, cilantro and peanuts on the side, and white rice. The food was excellent, as was the service. The bill, including a generous tip, added up to about $85 for all four of us, quite normal by US standards, but pricey in terms of the Chinese Yuan.

Ming Tombs and Great Wall

Our Tuesday tour started real early, with the tour guide picking us up at 7:30AM in the hotel lobby. The guide then picked up several more people, including a Chinese Canadian couple, a German couple and an Australian from various hotels before heading out about 30 miles north to the Ming Tombs. The site was picked by the third Ming Dynasty emperor Yongle (1402–1424), who moved the capital of China from Nanjing (lit: South Capital) to the present location of Beijing (lit: North Capital). There is a massive statue of Yongle, and various artifacts and a model of the tombs in the structure leading up to the mound under which Yongle was buried.

Our guide explained to us that from the Yongle Emperor onwards, 13 Ming Dynasty Emperors were buried in this area. The tombs of the first two Ming Emperors are located near Nanjing (the capital city during their reigns). Emperor Jingtai was also not buried here, as the Emperor Tianshun had denied Jingtai an imperial burial, but was instead buried west of Beijing. The last Chongzhen Emperor, who hanged himself in April 1644, named Si Ling by the Qing emperor, was the last to be buried here, but on a much smaller scale than his predecessors. During the Ming dynasty the tombs were off limits to commoners, but in 1644 Li Zicheng's army ransacked and set many of the tombs on fire before advancing and capturing Beijing in April of that year.

We then had the customary stop at one of the tourist traps to get us to buy exorbitantly priced jade, pearl or silk items, followed by an unremarkable lunch provided as part of the tour. Then on to the Great Wall.

Great Wall

We arrived at the Badaling section of the Great Wall in the afternoon. One big change I saw since my last visit was the massive "Beijing 2008 One World One Dream" sign that dominates the landscape. I also did not see the Starbucks coffee shop that was so visible before, but it may just be that the Starbucks sign has been removed to fend off protests.

Badaling section of the wall was built on one of the highest peaks of the Jundu Mountain, which belongs to the Yanshan Range. It is the most famous section of the Great Wall close to Beijing. It leads to Beijing to the south, Yanqing country to the north, Xuanhua and Datong to the west.

Long regarded as one of the seven wonders of the world, the Great Wall of China was built from the 5th century BC to the 16th century CE. It stretches for about 5,500 miles of an arc that runs along the southern edge of Inner Mongolia. The average height of the Ming Great Wall is 33 feet and the width is about 15 feet. The historic Wall winding through the hills is fairly steep at certain locations along the mountain sides. It is not merely a wall but instead a complete and rigorous defense project composed of a large number of passes, watchtowers, garrison towns, beacon towers and blockhouses. At its peak during the Ming period, this Wall was guarded by more than a million soldiers to keep out Mongol invaders. It has been estimated that somewhere in the range of 2 to 3 million Chinese died as part of the centuries-long project of building the wall.

The walk on the Wall was an exercise similar to the hike on Mission Peak in Fremont, CA. It was quite demanding and exhilarating at the same time. I spent about two hours on the Wall, then returned to the coffee shop where the rest of the group gathered for the return trip. On our way back, we drove by the Olympic village, the picturesque Bird's Nest stadium and the beautiful aquatic center. The whole area looked quite impressive. The Olympic Village, covering 27.55 hectares with a floor space of more than 500,000 square meters, was home to about 16,000 athletes and officials during the Olympics. The apartments have now been sold to the general public at 31,000 yuan (4,558.8 U.S. dollars) per square meter, averaging about a million US dollars for each unit. By comparison, equivalent units at Karachi's upscale Emaar Crescent project by the sea are selling at $500,000 or less.

We returned to our hotel room on Tuesday evening, had dinner at the club lounge and then packed up to leave the next morning for San Francisco. It was an educational, memorable, emotional and fun-filled vacation for me and the rest of the family. But, after about three weeks in three countries, we were all quite happy to be returning to the comforts of our home in the United States.

Related Links:

China's Rapid Industrialization

Beijing Olympics 2008

Can Congress Deliver in India?

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Monsoon Season in Karachi, Pakistan



Arrival in Karachi

My family and I arrived at Karachi's Jinnah International Airport on Tuesday in mid-July, 2009, after a short flight from Dubai in the afternoon. Our arrival was an hour later than scheduled. The disembarkation from the plane was fairly quick but the process of immigration and baggage claim was very slow, in clear contrast to our experience in Dubai. Even though it took more than a half hour to go through the immigration line where the passport numbers were being manually written down instead of being scanned, when we got to the baggage claim we had to wait another half hour to get our baggage. But we did go through the Customs green channel quickly without being stopped, and emerged to be greeted by a warm welcome by our family members in Pakistan.

As they did in Dubai, my daughters again found familiar symbols of American business presence as they saw a McDonald's restaurant right across from the exit at Karachi airport. We were driven to a suite at a private club where we stayed for the next eleven days. Because of my nephew's planned wedding two days after our arrival, I expected my sister's house to be quite full of people, and I chose to stay at the club rather than a hotel because of the relative security it offered from potential terror threats. In addition to a better security and lower daily rate than hotels, the club also offered more space and facilities, including room service, a gym, a jogging track, open lawns and assurance of uninterrupted supply of water and electricity that have become luxury for Karachi residents.


Karachi Weather and Traffic

Though it was a hot, humid and hazy summer day and the traffic was undisciplined, the drive from the airport was still fast and smooth, with all of the new infrastructure development consisting of many recently-built flyovers, underpasses, on-ramps and of-ramps to take us to the club in Defense Housing Authority (DHA) in Karachi.

After checking in at the club, we left for my sister's home which was a quick and short drive, in spite of the fact that a section of the road was torn up for repairs that delayed us slightly. As we sat down for lunch with my sister and her family, the power went out, but a small UPS unit kept some of the fans and lights still functioning. We enjoyed traditional Pakistani dishes of kofta, kebab and biryani, which were followed by delicious Pakistani mangoes in season in July. After lunch, one of my nephews bought a Warid SIM for my cell phone which was loaded with Rs. 500 worth of minutes ( at less than Rs. 3 per minutes) and it activated immediately upon installation. He also set up a Wi-Fi connection for us to start using our iPhones' email and browser functions and our notebook computers. On the way back to the club, we stopped at Makro, a Dutch-German warehouse-style supermarket like Costco, and picked up milk, tea bags, Splenda, orange juice, yogurt, croissants and Nestle water bottles to consume during our stay. Though the brand names were different, the shopping experience was similar to our grocery shopping trips in California. After returning to the club, we went to bed early to freshen up for the following full day of activities before my nephew's wedding day.

Garbage, Garbage Everywhere

On Wednesday morning we ate breakfast in our room. Then we ordered a Metro cab to take us to my sister's home, had lunch at my wife's sister's home and then on to the cemetery in North Nazimabad. We saw lots of heaps of stinking trash in several parts of the city along the roadside on our way. It seemed as though the Karachi garbage collectors were on strike, but my impressions proved to be incorrect, as I was told that this was normal in several parts of Karachi. The government owned and operated garbage collection systems pick up less than 50% of the solid waste generated and the remaining uncollected garbage rots on the streets, posing serious health risks for the growing population. The massive piles of garbage also plug up the already inadequate storm water drains resulting in serious flooding in the monsoon months of July and August every year. None of the major cities in Pakistan have an adequate solid waste management system, though Karachi city government has reportedly contracted with a Chinese firm to establish and operate such a system. The waste collection and management firm, Shanghai Shen Gong Environmental Protection Company Limited, will start its operations of collecting litter from across the city from August 14, 2009 - initially in only six of the eighteen towns of the city of Karachi. And, as expected, this service will not come free, nor should it. Karachi-ites will be required to pay Rs. 100 to 1,000 per month as public utility charges under six categories (according to lot size) on their residential units. Businesses built on 200 sq yards to 10,000 sq yards or more will have to pay Rs. 500 to Rs. 5,000 in garbage collection fees while industrial units covering an area of 1,000 sq yards to 5,000 sq yards and above will be billed Rs. 500 to Rs. 2,000 per month. There have already been howls of protests against these garbage collection fees and it will be interesting to see how effective CDGK (City District Government of Karachi) will be in ensuring payments.

Cemetery Visit

Upon reaching the cemetery, my wife managed to find her parents' final resting place, but I was not so fortunate to find and pay my respect at my father's grave. I was told by my brother-in-law who accompanied us that the cemetery keepers have no qualms about reselling used burial plots to build fresh graves on top of existing ones when they realize no one has visited for a while. But I did find some consolation in praying for my father's soul and the souls of others at the cemetery.

Nephew's Wedding

Thursday was my nephew's wedding day and we were warned that weddings in Karachi are very late night affairs that last into the wee hours of the next morning. So we decided to sleep in late in the morning on Thursday, but unfortunately one of my daughters started complaining of an upset stomach in the middle of the night. The next morning I called one of my friends to help me find medications for her. I was pleasantly surprised to find that almost everything I was looking for was available at a nearby store, ranging from Imodium to Pedialyte and Gatorade.

In the evening, we gathered at my sister's house to form a wedding procession. One of my nephews took the groom's car to be adorned by a florist but, as he was returning from the florist's, he was robbed at gun point and relieved of his wallet, cash, driver's license, credit cards and mobile phone. He seemed still quite shaken up as the wedding party (barat) left at 11:00 PM for the wedding hall in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, where the bride's family had made arrangements for the nikah. When we arrived at our destination, everyone was there but the kazi who was supposed to solemnize the marriage. Apparently, he had car trouble along the way and had to make alternative arrangements. He showed up about a half hour late, but then promptly completed the religious ceremony and the dinner was served. It was a good occasion for me to see a lot of my relatives and friends who I hadn't met in years. Since my daughter was still not well, we decided to leave about 1:30 AM, well before the rukhsati.

Breakfast with Friends

Three of my friends, SM, FN and TS showed up Friday morning for breakfast with me at the club dining hall. All three are fellow NEDians who I met after at least eight years. SM is a member of the club and made arrangements for my stay there. He is in the carpet business which is currently very slow because of the ongoing economic crisis hurting consumer confidence in Pakistan. FN, who joined us is doing brisk business by selling UPS units and diesel/gas generators because of the erratic and unpredictable power situation in Pakistan. I suggested to him to consider adding solar panel units backed up with battery storage to his list of offerings to try and promote cleaner energy. He seemed a little skeptical because of the current higher costs of solar solutions per watt compared to the UPS devices and gas-burning generators. The third friend, TS, is in management consulting business and is the current president of the local chapter of the IEEE. We reminisced about the old times, talked politics and current affairs and had the traditional omelet-paratha breakfast with Pakistani chai.

Twelve Hour Power Outages

There is continuing and growing gap between the nation's power supply and demand. An aspect of the increasing power outages from just a few hours in 2007 to over twelve hours a day now is the fact that most power producers are operating 30-40% below capacity, generating only 12000 MW when the installed capacity is about 20,000 MW. Companies like PEPCO, WAPDA and KESC owe billions of rupees in unpaid bills to the various power producers who are not buying enough fuel to operate on full capacity. Part of the problem is the widespread power theft accounting for as much as 30-40% of the total power produced. Even the government departments and government ministers and officials are guilty of not paying their bills while demanding the continuation of power flow.

Lunch with Activist Friend

We were invited to lunch with a friend RD and his wife VD at Barbecue Tonight restaurant in Clifton on Friday. The couple picked us up at the club and took us to the restaurant by the sea where we had a very good lunch of Pakistani grilled meats and curries of various flavors.

The former head of an NGO called Shehri, RD is a well-known Karachi engineering consultant and a prominent civic activist, who has often been a thorn in the side of the local developers and their friends in big places. Since he is not Muslim, he was particularly targeted with a fatwa against him by the unscrupulous mullahs in developers' pockets. He remained under police protection for a while until the fatwa against him was lifted. But he continues to be undaunted in his pursuit of a better Karachi for its citizens. His current campaign is aimed at significant modifications in the $43 billion Bundal and Buddo islands projects awarded to Emaar, a Dubai developer, in 2006. A bridge will be constructed at a cost of $50 million to link Karachi Defense Housing Society (DHA) Phase-8 with the two Islands. The islands are situated about a mile off the coast of Karachi. A major portion of one of the two islands has submerged beneath the sea and the Emaar Group will reclaim this land. According to the initial plan, about 15,000 houses are to be constructed and sold to the public. The construction on the islands has started in December, 2008, but the reports indicate a slowing of the planned effort due to the current economic slowdown in Emaar's Dubai home base and the weak real estate market in Karachi.

The Dreaded Monsoon

We woke up to heavy monsoon rains on Saturday morning, the day my sister and her husband had planned valima reception for their son. The rain did stop mid-day and we were able to go out and visit with my sister, but the situation got worse in the evening and the reception had to be abandoned. The temperature dropped several degrees and a pleasant breeze was in evidence, but the city streets were flooded and many drivers stranded, there was a massive and prolonged power outage hitting more than 90% of the city, and life essentially came to a standstill. The streets around our club were also flooded, but the water was quickly pumped out by large pumps by the next morning. Almost the entire city lost power. Even our club had trouble because an underground cable connecting with the emergency diesel generator was flooded. It took a few hours for the club to restore emergency power to our suite. There were reports of dozens of casualties from drownings to electrocutions to building collapses in different parts of the city. The problems were compounded by the loss of power at the city's main pumping station at Dhabeji that cut off water to the entire city for more than 24 hours. An estimated 700 million gallons of water could not be pumped over a period of about 40 hours. There were riots in the streets on Sunday as angry residents spilled out on to the streets and violent protests stopped traffic in many parts of the city.

Media Revolution

Since I was stuck in my club suite for many hours, I sat in front of the TV and flipped through the channels. It seemed that there are multiple, competing channels catering to almost every niche, whim and taste---from news, sports, comedy and talk shows to channels dedicated to cooking, fashion, fitness, music, business, religion, local languages and cultures etc. There has been a big media revolution during the Musharraf era that I hadn't seen before. It seems that this media revolution has had a profound influence on how many young people talk, dress and behave, emulating the outspoken media personalities, actors, preachers, singers, sportsmen, celebrities and fashion models. In addition to a smorgasbord of TV channels born out of a surge in advertising spending, there are many newspapers and tabloids, and serious and glossy magazines, and many FM radio stations providing local news, sports, weather and traffic.

Visit to a Friend's House

We were invited to lunch at SQ's house in Defense on Sunday. SQ is the friend who let us use his apartment and driver in Dubai. This close friend of ours also has a special connection with us because he was my classmate at NED Engineering College and his sister and his wife were my wife's classmates at Dow Medical College in Karachi. He had invited several classmates from our common alma mater of NED Engineering College in Karachi. Several of them could not attend because of the widespread flooding and power outages, but seven or eight still showed up. The street in front of SQ's house was flooded and we had to tiptoe around the big water puddle to step into his nice house in an upscale neighborhood. The grid power was out when we entered and only a few lights and fans were running off of the UPS. The gas-fired generator could not be started because it would significantly reduce the gas pressure and shut down the cooking range in the kitchen. The choice was between cooking and air conditioning. Finally, when the signal came from the kitchen that the cooking was done, the generator and the air conditioning were turned on for the comfort of the hosts and the guests. The discomfort from the lack of air conditioning during cooking was more than amply compensated by the delicious food we ate for lunch at SQ's house.

Private Power and Co-generation

As the conversation turned to power problems and every one jumped in to express their anger and frustration, I asked them if they can do something about it rather than complain? My friend RD, the civic activist, joined in and got the rest of the group to acknowledge that they are indeed among the top 1% of Pakistan's elite in terms of their education, income and social status. That begged the question as to why they can not do something about a problem that affects their daily lives so profoundly? Since they all live in the same upscale neighborhood in Defense, is it possible for them to try and set up a private power plant which can fill their needs and still make surplus power available to the grid? RD mentioned that he was working with a client who has just 10MW extra power to connect the plant to the grid and sell the power to KESC, the local power utility. If there were a hundred private plants like it, each with ten surplus megawatts, it could easily add up to a thousand megawatts extra power for Karachi, closing the demand-supply gap significantly.

Meeting with Karachi's Elite

On Monday, my NGO friend RD and his wife invited me to lunch at the Sindh Club with Mr. Ardeshir Cowasjee, a popular Karachi columnist and commentator whose writings I have admired. Mr. Cowasjee has been a strong supporter of many of my friend's civic activities and written about the issues faced by Karachi-ites as their city is going through significant new development. After spending a few minutes with him, it became obvious that Mr. Cowasjee is far more articulate and effective as a writer than he is in a face-to-face one-on-one conversation. The most memorable part of the conversation was Mr. Cowasjee's mention of another Sindh club member who had complained against him for calling him a Charya. Following lunch, I was introduced to a number of people who are considered as the city elite in Karachi. Some of them were journalists and talk-show hosts on Cable TV, others were business executives, senior bureaucrats, artists and architects. I did not find my conversation with them particularly enlightening, stimulating or inspirational.

Beach Day

Tuesday was beach day when we headed out to Hawke's Bay in Karachi. One of my nephews, who works for British Petroleum, reserved a BP hut for the family to enjoy the hot summer day on the beach. When we left, my sister's home was without electricity or water, just as most of the other homes in the city. But the BP hut had the luxury of power and water. The access roads to the beach were very crowded after the pavements were badly damaged by the monsoon rains. The construction crews were out there repairing the edge of some sections of the road that had collapsed and the traffic in both directions was sharing only one side of the divided road. I saw more trucks, beautifully painted and adorned, than I have ever seen in my life, parked on both sides of the road. At the beach, the water was comfortably warm and nice and a pleasant breeze was blowing from the Arabian sea as we slowly stepped into the water, fearing the presence of jellyfish in July's warm waters. While the children enjoyed camel rides and frolicking on the sandy beach, I decided to take a walk along the beach. Later, we enjoyed a picnic style lunch and returned to the club by late afternoon using a different, less crowded route that our driver learned from other drivers.

Tuesday evening, my friend MK invited me and a number of other friends to dinner at the Club I was staying at. Several friends showed up and we had a good time talking politics, among other things. Passions ran high briefly as the topic of Musharraf's possible trial and the campaign against the Taliban came up. One of the friends showed strong emotional support for holding Musharraf to account for Lal Masjid which has become a rallying cry for many supporters of the right-wing religious parties in Pakistan. The polarization was quite obvious on the question of the performance of the current leadership in comparison with Musharraf, though almost all expressed reservations about the current leadership and the direction of the country.

The Upscale Crowd

My family and I spent most of Wednesday with FN and his family, starting with lunch at the Gymkhana Club. Karachi Gymkhana Club is one of the oldest private clubs in Karachi that was founded by the British colonial rulers and remained exclusive for them for a while. It was not until the early 1950s that a Pakistani became the president of the club. It's an old colonial style building on a large piece of prime real estate in the most expensive part of Karachi, located close to two five-star hotels and the American consulate. After a sumptuous lunch, my wife headed out for shopping with my friend's wife and their son showed me and my daughters around town, mostly the upscale area near the water front. We passed by the Creek Club, stopped at the Defense Golf Club and Resort, the Clifton beach and later stopped at the Emaar Crescent project to tour their tastefully decorated model units on display.
This part of town could be easily mistaken for resort communities in California or Florida. The first release of the Emaar Crescent project offered one, two and three bedroom world-class, beach-front luxury apartments ranging in price from $300,000 to $500,000 sold out quickly last year. The Crescent community will be a self-contained community with its own gyms, tracks, water, power, schools, parks, libraries and shopping etc. A lot of the speculators probably bought these units in the expectation of rising real estate prices to make a quick profit. But the real estate bubble burst in Karachi as it did elsewhere. The second release is now underway but the prices have not gone up as some expected, nor has this release been sold out like the last one.

Hospital Emergency Room Visit

As we prepared to attend the wedding of my cousin's daughter on Wednesday evening, my younger daughter complained of fever and stiff neck that sent alarm bells ringing in my physician wife's head. She suspected the worst, forcing us to make an emergency room visit around 10PM. The Agha Khan University Hospital emergency room is where our driver took us. FN volunteered to join us there to help us guide through the process. Fortunately for us, the hospital procedures and staff were quite comparable to what we have seen in California. Without filling out any paperwork, the triage nurse and doctor examined my daughter and quickly concluded that it is not the horrible ailment that my wife feared. But they still went ahead and ordered blood tests to confirm their conclusion. The whole thing cost under Rs. 2000, a far cry from emergency room bills in the US. The prescription drugs were even cheaper, just under Rs. 150 for a full course of antibiotics. It turned out to be a relatively quick and painless process because of the procedures, the equipment and the skilled and friendly staff at the emergency room. On our way back from the emergency room at 1AM, I stopped at a McDonald's restaurant to pick up a couple of big macs and I was astonished to see customers waiting in lines at such late hour. It seemed to me that most Karachi-ites never sleep or sleep very little.

Our Alma Maters

On Thursday, my activist friend RD's wife gave us a tour of both NED Engineering University's old campus in the city which now houses the Department of Architecture headed by Professor Noman Ahmed, and Dow Medical College now known as Dow University of Health Sciences. The visits brought back many fond memories for both of us as we walked on the hallowed grounds of our alma maters and took many pictures. Our daughters were particularly interested in seeing their parents colleges and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity. Professor Noman Ahmed explained to us the work he is doing in restoring the old colonial NED building to preserve its grand, historical edifice, complete with its tall stone masonry chimney that has symbolized NED for generations. Their passion and commitment came through loud and clear as he and one of his female lieutenants talked about their efforts. Later in the day, I went to visit the NED University's new campus near Karachi University, about 20 miles from the downtown campus. There I had lunch with Professor MN of Electrical Engineering department. MN and I both graduated from NED in 1974 and he chose to serve his alma mater, after attending graduate school at Duke, while I decided to stay and work in the United States. MN gave me a tour of the campus and I met several students who recognized me because of PakAlumni social network which has hundreds of NEDians as members. MN talked about his successes and frustrations in his teaching career in particular, and the politics in general. MN has the distinction of being well remembered and highly regarded by many of his past students who have now become quite successful in Silicon Valley and elsewhere. By all accounts, he is indeed a very dedicated teacher and mentor of many successful NEDians. In many ways, MN shares the idealism of my other activist friend RD in Karachi, and he is an activist in his own right and fights for the causes he believes in.

We spent most of the day Friday saying goodbyes, packing up and getting ready for our departure to Beijing on Friday night.

I Am Optimistic

Overall, we had a good time in Pakistan. It offered me and my wife a great opportunity to renew contacts with many good friends and close relatives, and for my daughters to get a closer look at their parent's culture and country of origin. We immensely enjoyed the extraordinary hospitality extended to us by all of our family and friends. In spite of all their current difficulties and multiple crises they are facing, I have faith in Pakistanis' abilities to deal with their problems. I felt their pain, but I remain optimistic about Pakistan's future.

Related Links:

Karachi, Pakistan

Power Shortages in Pakistan

Garbage Collection in Karachi

Karachi: The Urban Frontier

Pakistan's Electricity Crisis

Emaar Bullish on Pakistan

Karachi Dreams Big

Cost of Power Outages in India

Labels: , , , , ,