Skip to main content

KARACHI DIARIES: Know Thy Ally


Published in Economic Affairs / August 2014

Till 1989, the average Pakistani is better off than the average Chinese or Indian for that matter, in terms of GDP / Capita. The graph would change. By 2012, the Chinese would be 6 times better off than their Pakistani counterparts. Their GDP would rise by 30% - the economic reforms in the 1980’s would leave everyone behind; and a talk on China’s exponential growth and towering skyline would trigger an inadvertent comparison with its trusty ally.

Adil Husain, originally from Karachi, and later found in Washington eventually ended up spending 7 year in China, and was recently seen waving a disclaimer in T2F (The Second Floor). The views, he will share are his own. The contrasts he witnesses will be dramatic. And the China from his vantage point would appear in the form of a well mapped chessboard.

As he winds his way back in time, he will be struck by the entrepreneurial spirit of its people, their strong work ethic and the high % of female participation. China is his home away from home and he takes a moment to examine the Chinese blueprint for success that makes it a veritable magnet for foreign investment. Notwithstanding its difficult relationships with Taiwan, HK, Japan, or Korea, trade continues, as does investment.

Adil reminds the audience that these are nations that do not have direct flights, consulates, or even recognize each other’s sovereignty for that matter yet business dealings remain unaffected. A cold pragmatism drives China’s core, and he notes that it is clearly not averse to doing business with former enemies, unlike Pakistan. Maybe the allure of ‘Hello Kitty’ is hard to resist, he quips.

In his expereince, things get done there and quickly. He goes on to talk about a China that always been an important player in global economy. Where crime is non existent; and no one owns a gun. Where there is no ethnic, sectarian or religious tension - not really. Whose citizens feel they have direction, and ensuring a steady inflow of Yaun is the objective. A sense of nationhood, shared purpose and firm belief that they are headed the same way propels society forward.

The Chinese are frugal by nature but are encouraged to spend. Even their factory workers make up to 60G a month. Their bottom up economic reforms meant some cities got richer before others he explains. The luxury goods market would be lost without China in Adil’s view. Today, it has 800 Starbucks - 10 years ago there were none; there is a Cartier every 2 blocks. Both the Chinese Government & its Communist Party prioritize economic growth to stay in power; having stifled political rights / free speech, they must deliver on the economic front, he adds, else their ability to govern could be challenged. The state is therefore ready to act in times of economic downturn, manage crisis, regulate prices, and earn it’s keep.

Then there is the literacy rate - 95% (China): 55% (Pakistan) and policies that prioritize investments in infrastructure, ports, bridges, subways etc. China also boasts an impressive power generation capacity (I million MW) vs. Pakistan (20,000) and has the largest in-store capacity of wind power; and they keep adding to that capacity.

The rosy picture starts to change gradually when it factors in it zero legal, political accountability, rubberstamped courts, loose environmental regulations, a controversial one child policy (which never applied to rural areas) and social media curbs, (Facebook, You Tube, Twitter are banned, & Google products don’t work well). The state, in their defence would proffer a list of home-made alternates to silence any protests. One still needs a visa to visit Tibet (despite a residents permit) and every now and then it is allegedly made off-limits to foreigners. Pollution is a serious concern and face masks are trending. Also, land is state property which can be leased, but that he insists is no different from Defence (Karachi).

According to reports, the Communist Party is still going strong but has wisely let go of rhetoric and vilification of the wealthy. While Adil cannot be a member, and probably wouldn’t want to be either, the average Chinese joins them for practical reasons - university students reportedly earn academic points, businesses can network and form social connections. They meet once in a while and Adil sees it as a club where members gather for coke & pizza. There is nothing afoot, sinister or otherwise in his view. Not everyone joins the Party and there are no compulsions. Most members are pragmatic Chinese businessmen hoping to get an edge over the competition.

He decides to make some predictions about China’s domestic oriented sectors which are likely do well in the foreseeable future. Retail, healthcare, & education drive growth and are the ones to watch out for in his estimation. Though China is not in manufacturing anymore, it is not feasible to relocate the global supply chain from its backyard, and so there it will stay, for a while at least. As for the low quality ‘Made in China’ goods strewn across town - they are apparently for people seeking cheap, bad stuff – here you get what you pay for.

His sketch adjusts for the shifting sands of time and changing priorities when it depicts the famed Pak – China bond that has endured for over six decades. The Chinese people don’t hold Pakistan in high regard, in Adil’s opinion - to them she behaves like North Korea, in need of constant bail outs, weapons, aid, nuclear reactors……forever asking for help to sort out messes of her own creation. He concedes that there are historical ties that bind both nations but most Chinese don’t remember the Pak-Nixon-Mao diplomatic dance circa 1972, or would care about the outdated back room channels used in shaping “the week that changed the world”. To them, the partnership appears largely one-sided, what have you done for me now seems to be the question on their collective minds. This China has more trade with India. There are humiliating visa restrictions on Pakistanis, tourist visas are a no-no, only business ones are granted. And Adil’s cabbie waves a pretend gun and provides helpful sound effects - ‘boom boom’ (not Afridi) to show how well versed he is in all things Pakistani.

The winds of change sweeping through Chinese mainland force it to keep updating its profile. Adil Husain leaves the revised image pinned to the wall.


‘Adil Husain is the President and founder of the Emerging Asia Group, the leading provider of “primary research” based business to business (B2B) market intelligence in Asia’


China Image Source: Jpg

Images Subject to Copyright

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

BOOK REVIEW: Quiet Diplomacy: Memoirs of an Ambassador of Pakistan / Author: Jamsheed Marker

PUBLISHED IN Daily Times /February 06, 2010

REVIEWED BY: Afrah Jamal

Jamsheed Marker belongs to an exceptional cadre of Foreign Service officers entrusted to keep things on an even keel on the diplomatic stage. Providence chose him to fill the void brought on by a sudden influx of newly independent nations and the subsequent need to expand diplomatic service during the 1960s. A stellar career in fostering global diplomacy as the longest serving ambassador has earned him a special place in history.

This veteran Pakistani diplomat has a striking resume. With ten posts and nine accreditations, his name appears in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the only person to have served as ambassador to more countries than anyone. He took his curtain call when Pakistan declared him Ambassador at Large in 2004, and has been on the faculty at Eckerd College, St Petersburg — Florida as Diplomat-in-Residence. He ended his tenure with a wry observation, ‘the batting card on the scorecard to M…

OP-ED: What’s In A Name(sake)?

First Published in Daily Times / 2 Sep 2013

A beloved cricketer’s name adorns the billboards but this is not a biopic. The cricketing world it allegedly represents provides a compelling front but it will not be a return to his old stomping grounds. Main Hoon Shahid Afridi (MHSA) draws upon a living legend’s legacy to leverage the passion and throws in a cameo or two, but that is the extent of Afridi’s involvement. Meanwhile, somewhere in a small little village, a disgraced cricketer turned coach who trains a rag tag team will be moved centre-field. And the one thing that binds the nation together and provides the soulful soundtrack will become the anchor.

The newly minted flight is bound for cricket-ville and in some parts of the world that is reason enough to join in the festivities. Humayun Saeed, seen at the helm wearing a number of hats as the producer/actor enlists the classic underdog formula to launch his ambitious vision. The village club is in danger of being shut down, and m…

The Book of Davis - Reading between the lines

Published by Global Affairs / Aug 2017

Raymond Davis is a champ. A team player, who puts the needs of his comrades in arms before himself. He is savvy. He is a man of integrity - a survivor - a trooper. Ray, the epitome of courage runs headlong towards danger and into a minefield - literally. He is all this and more. This is his story after all.

6 years ago, he was a trained Special Forces SF, undercover ‘contractor’, forced to navigate the cramped alleyways of Lahore on a routine mission – the details of which remain a mystery. His book ‘The Contractor: How I Landed in a Pakistani Prison and Ignited a Diplomatic Crisis’ with Storms Reback, revisits the scene of the crime to solidify his innocence and along the way take a few potshots at random players who helped secure his release. It’s a hair-raising ride.

His style is conversational, his demeanor - amiable. The case is still fresh in people’s minds and his intent to set the record straight ignites yet another round of controversy…

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…

VIEW: WOMEN in the PAF: AN ENSEMBLE CAST

PUBLISHED in HILAL (Pakistan Armed Forces Magazine) Feb 2010

By Afrah Jamal

Progressive - Conservative - Contemporary - Professional; separately these terms could apply to any service; together they were reserved for just one - the PAF.

Pakistan Air Force has kept in touch with its roots through its glorious traditions and kept up with the changing times with innovative thinking. Oftentimes, traditions that made it stand apart have also stood in the way of, well - progress. Consequently, the service nimbly skipped past the one proposed change that was going to have a profound effect on the lives of countless young girls and would forever alter the way society perceived their womenfolk.

Before 1994, Lady Officers were a rare sight in the PAF. So rare in fact, that when male cadets donned wigs to represent the female species in annual variety shows, nobody wondered why. By 2010, women have become an indispensable part of the service. While, PAF was no stranger to a woman in uniform, a f…

OPED: The Afghan Policy in Perspective

Published in Global Village Space / Aug 2017

True to its reality show inspired template, the Afghan strategy was rolled out after months of speculations, suspense and dithering. It used memorable taglines and inflated figures. ‘Agents of chaos’, sunk costs described as ‘billions and billions’ and going all in seeking victory against all odds. It offered to be tough on Pakistan, even as it was vague on the outlines and predictable in its deployment.

Reading between the Lines

This is essentially the new, improvised policy meant not just for Afghanistan but also Pakistan and India. With it the U.S. administration appears to have heeded the advice of keeping the enemy in the dark. They have also dismissed the necessity of keeping their allies close and have instead embarked upon a strategic vision that aims to expand the theatre adding India to the volatile mix and potentially widen the gulf between allies.

Yet it is not the public performance of the commander-in-chief that catches the e…

BOOK REVIEW: Who Assassinated Benazir Bhutto / Author: Shakeel Anjum

Thank you Dost Publication for the review copy
First Published in Daily Times / 09 Oct 2010

Reviewed by - Afrah Jamal

It is not every day one finds the author of a book about murder himself implicated in a triple homicide. In our part of the world, however, it could simply mean that the ‘suspect’ was too snoopy for his/her own good or simply stepped on some VIP’s toes. Fortunately, it was the latter case here (he fell out with the Islamabad police) and an exonerated Shakeel Anjum shakes off the stigma of a murderer and dons the garb of a detective. He is, after all, a crime reporter who has been associated with a local English daily for a long time and has clocked 32 years in the arena. This provides him with the requisite credentials to dive into the deep end but it may not necessarily give him groundbreaking investigative journalistic powers to ferret out the truth about Benazir’s assassination. Yet, this is exactly what the author claims to have done.

The purpose of the book is ost…