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

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

US-China Tech War:

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

Tech Supply Chain Bifurcation:

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

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

China's Plans:

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

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

Opportunity For Pakistan:

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

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

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

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

Cloud Design:

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

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

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

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


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

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Comment by Riaz Haq on October 11, 2019 at 10:45am

#China enables #Pakistan to become a #defense exporter. #Technology transfers from China have enabled Pakistan to begin producing #military hardware on its own. It's true with the fighter jet that now forms the backbone of #Islamabad's defense strategy.

When Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan began a high-profile trip to Beijing on Tuesday, he was closely shadowed by influential army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa. But while Khan met with senior Chinese leaders and businessmen, Bajwa was being received by senior army generals, an indication of the close defense ties between the countries.

Those ties are so close, in fact, that China is helping Pakistan become a defense exporter that sells arms to countries like Myanmar and Nigeria.

Pakistan has relied on Chinese military hardware for more than five decades, though Islamabad has used every opportunity to also gain access to Western defense equipment, notably from the U.S.

Pakistan's leaders have long lamented their country's lukewarm ties with the U.S., which have sometimes resulted in reduced arms supplies. This contrasts to the situation with China, which has gradually but consistently nurtured Pakistan as a close ally.

Technology transfers from China have enabled Pakistan to begin producing military hardware on its own. This is true with the fighter jet that now forms the backbone of Islamabad's defense strategy. Pakistan is also increasingly foraying into the production of tanks and other equipment for land forces thanks to technology transfers from China.

Similarly, Chinese hardware is allowing Pakistan to expand its navy.

According to senior government officials who spoke to the Nikkei Asian Review, in the past year Pakistan has redoubled its push to sell batches of JF-17 Thunder fighters that it has built with Chinese assistance. Pakistani government officials said the JF-17 Block III, a version of the JF-17 that will be rolled out in 2020, will include more advanced radar, additional weaponry and other new technologies.

Officials in Islamabad say China has repeatedly helped Pakistan create a more commercially feasible defense industry so that purchasing expensive hardware does not cripple the country's already weak economy.

"Affordability and high quality are the main selling points of the JF-17," said retired Air Marshal Shahid Latif, a former Pakistan Air Force general previously involved with the JF-17 production project. Encouraged by the publicity given to Myanmar's purchase, Pakistan in the past year has discussed future sales to Malaysia and Azerbaijan as well as sales of additional fighters to Nigeria, which now has three JF-17s.

In the coming years, Pakistan's reliance on Chinese military hardware will grow. China has signed a contract to supply eight new submarines to Pakistan's navy, the largest defense deal ever between the countries. Although neither party has revealed the value of the contract, Western defense analysts say it could be worth from $4 billion to $5 billion depending on weapon systems and other add-ons.

Comment by Riaz Haq on October 14, 2019 at 9:28pm

A More Peaceful #Pakistan Puts On An IT Charm Offensive In #SiliconValley. #Technology #Investment via

A More Peaceful Pakistan Puts On An IT Charm Offensive In Silicon Valley

David Bloom

Dr. Asad Majeed Khan

Pakistan ambassador to the United States Asad Majeed Khan at Silicon Valley event in October to promote his country's tech sector. 


Pakistan is pushing its IT sector to U.S. companies and investors, hoping international deals will translate to a bottom-line boost for the country’s struggling economy. 

The most visible part of this charm offensive came earlier this month with a day-long Silicon Valley conference in San Jose, Calif., backed by the Pakistani government.

“If I were to look at our overall economic performance, the IT sector comes out as one that has performed the best,” said Asad Majeed Khan, the Pakistani ambassador to the United States and one of the conference speakers. “The whole idea of doing the tech summit was to inform the companies in the Silicon Valley about what is our potential and what is it we can do together. ” 

More than 200 attendees heard pitches from 14 Pakistani startups seeking venture capital, along with panels on microelectronics, software development, artificial intelligence, gaming, medical innovation, and venture capital funding. 

Today In: Business

“Over the years, the government has not done as much as it should have in terms of focusing on expanding the IT sector,” Ambassador Khan. “In past two or three years, though, we’ve seen some phenomenal growth.”

In part that’s because the country’s charismatic new prime minister, former international cricket star Imran Khan, has made the economy his top priority.

“The economy is his primary and principal focus,” Ambassador Khan said. “The manner in which he’s approaching foreign policy is rooted in his desire to turn around the economy and provide jobs for the people.” 

As part of a broader set of initiatives, the country is trying to grow its already substantial tech sector and attract international investment, especially from the United States and neighboring China, which already has built a vast deep-sea harbor and naval port in Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea, as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Pakistan already generates at least $4 billion a year in IT exports, though the ambassador said the number is likely higher because some IT-related payments get lumped in with international remittances. The biggest areas of operation are software development, Business Processing Offices and call centers. Now, the country hopes to move into more high-end sectors such as AI, gaming and visual effects. One potential opportunity discussed at the San Jose conference is moving into RISC-V microchip fabrication and export.

“Our IT success story is not as widely known and as widely shared as it should be,” Ambassador Khan said. “If you were to only compare the numbers, the actual potential, then Pakistan has really come a long way in terms of harnessing the IT potential.” 

The ambassador reels off a number of statistics suggesting the country’s resources and opportunities:

  • As of 2017, Pakistan had 207 million residents, making it the world’s sixth-most populous country, roughly the size of the equally fast-growing Indonesia and Brazil.
  • Pakistan also has one of the world’s youngest populations; in 2007, the last year such official data was available for the country, 75 percent of the country was under the age of 35, according to the United Nations. Khan said the number now is closer to 64 percent, still a prodigious tilt toward a younger, more tech-savvy population.
  • Pakistan is one of the world’s largest English-speaking countries (English is one of two official languages), behind India, the United States, and Nigeria. Its English-language population is much larger than the United Kingdom, the Philippines, Germany, and smaller former British colonies.
  • The country has 161 million cellphone users, 70 million of them on more modern 3G and 4G networks, and 72 million broadband users.
  • The country turns out 35,000 graduates of IT-related training programs every year.
  • The country has no restrictions on foreign ownership or repatriation of capital.
  • The Pakistani government just issued an e-commerce policy that includes plans to create 15 IT parks around the country to house up to 5,000 companies.
  • Issues with crime, corruption and security appear to have improved significantly compared to 10 years ago, according to international indexes, particularly in major cities such as Karachi.

There are several continuing challenges, however.

During the United Nations’ opening-week ceremonies this month, Imran Khan spotlighted the plight of Kashmir, the disputed region wedged between India, Pakistan and China. India dramatically ramped up tensions in the region when it recently revoked special autonomous status in its part of the region, and imposed curfews and other security measures while locking down media and social media.

Imran Khan’s attempts to reach out to India’s Hindu nationalist-led government have so far been largely ignored. It’s an issue when two of world’s nuclear powers, which have had a string of border wars since they left British rule during the bloody 1947 Partition, continue to have poor relations along their lengthy border.

As well, Pakistan’s Northwest Territories, abutting Afghanistan and relatively autonomous and beyond central government control, are still something of a Wild West, used by Afghani and Islamist anti-government forces as bases.

And the economy still faces challenges that have forced it to seek assistance from the International Monetary Fund.

“We need to put our house in order,” Ambassador Khan said. “We need to stop the bleeding of state-owned enterprises. We’re rationalizing the tariff structure for (electrical) power, with a focus on exports. (The prime minister) wants to bring in more foreign direct investment. We are singularly focused on improving the ease of doing business.”

As part of that, Pakistan plans to continue its outreach to U.S. tech companies. The San Jose gathering is expected to become an annual event, and smaller regional gatherings will be held around the United States in coming months, Ambassador Khan said.

“The scene is set for Pakistan to take the next stage of development,” Ambassador Khan said. “That’s where we are focused. We hope to leap up the list of ease of doing business (measures) by 20 to 30 notches.”

Comment by Riaz Haq on October 16, 2019 at 7:35pm

Can a Negative Decision at the #FATF Bolster Hardliners in #Pakistan? The country has taken verifiable actions against militant groups, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba (Let) and implemented tough laws to curtail #terror financing. #India

Later this week, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is set to release its findings concerning Pakistan’s case at the forum. Early reports from the ongoing meeting in Paris suggest that the country may evade blacklisting by the forum. However, it’s still expected that Islamabad will come under a lot of pressure as the majority of the recommendations by the FATF have only been implemented partially.

The case’s outcome will have significant implications not only for Pakistan, but also for the region. A critical outcome may prove to be a blow to the country’s moderate voices within the national security establishment and civilian elite that are working to push against the hardliner’s support base within various institutions.

From Islamabad’s perspective, the worst outcome would emerge in the form of the country being placed on the blacklist, which can virtually choke Pakistan’s struggling economy in the coming months. Policymakers in Islamabad believe that they have done enough in the time given to the country and that moving forward, there is a strategy in place to work on the remaining recommendations. Predictably, Pakistan is expecting an appreciation for the country’s compliance with the FATF’s recommendations and other efforts to contain terror financing and militant groups.

Temporarily, the country’s government has been able to contain groups whose politics are tied to the issue of Kashmir. However, it’s unclear what happens in the coming months if Pakistan’s case gets knocked down at the forum. It’s important to note that the current government in Pakistan is trying to implement the FATF’s plan at a time when religious hardliners in the country have everything to gain from what’s happening in the neighborhood, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir.

Over the last year, Pakistan has taken verifiable actions against militant groups, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba (Let) and implemented tough laws to curtail terror financing. All of this has not been verifiable in the past. Moreover, the emerging narrative within Pakistan’s policymaking circles is one that focuses on discouraging and delegitimizing the so-called Afghan or Kashmir focused jihadi groups and their politics. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent statements that anyone trying to enter Jammu and Kashmir will be an enemy of Pakistan and Kashmiris are unprecedented and point toward the change that the world has demanded from Islamabad over the last couple of decades.

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Moreover, it is unprecedented that there has not been a single major street protest calling for jihad in the wake of New Delhi’s decision to abrogate Article 370/35A of the Indian constitution – a decision that put Khan in a very tough position domestically. Arguably, even if Pakistan is taking all these actions due to the looming pressure from the FATF, it’s something that is encouraging and shows that such pressure can produce sustainable results.

In the context of these developments, the international community invested in seeing a nuclear Pakistan becoming a democratic and politically stable state, should ensure that Islamabad stays away from the blacklist. The acknowledgment of the country’s efforts will assist in undermining hardliners among the ruling elite and the extremist groups that want to go back to its previous policy of using militants as a tool of foreign policy.

The prospect of Pakistan’s blacklisting may end up reviving far-right religious groups that have called for the revival of the state’s jihad Policy in the region, particularly in Kashmir.

Comment by Riaz Haq on October 16, 2019 at 9:37pm

How #Israel uses #Bollywood to whitewash the occupation. A Bollywood event in #TelAviv this week highlights how both #India and Israel are using art to distract from #HumanRightsViolations. #Modi #Netanyahu #Gaza #Kashmir


See Israel in Mumbai's other Tweets

On 1 November, the first Hindi film to have been partially shot in Israel is scheduled for release on Netflix. Starring Sushant Singh Rajput and Jacqueline Fernandez, Drive has been marketed as a Bollywood incarnation of the Fast and the Furious franchise, with scenes shot "on Tel Aviv’s boulevards and in the picturesque alleyways of Jaffa’s Old City".

"The movie revolves around stunt drivers turned getaway drivers, who use money stolen in a high-risk robbery to take a trip to Tel Aviv - the city that never sleeps and is known for its nightlife, beaches and parties," as one Israeli news site described it.

In many ways, Drive will be the first return on an investment to leverage Bollywood's soft power to tackle Israel's deteriorating image in the Western world.

In a bid to enter new markets and lure tourists, Israel has offered to invest in films as well as tax incentives; Drive was funded in part by the Israeli Tourism Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office.

Robindra Deb, a member of South Asia Solidarity Initiative's (SASI) organising collective based in New York City, told MEE that the burgeoning ties between Israel and Bollywood were “a troubling sign of India’s growing ties to Israel and its support of the occupation of Palestine”.

Netanyahu says 'Shalom Bollywood' in bid to woo India to film in Israel
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The Israeli project to whitewash the occupation of Palestine has found an obliging audience among an Indian media already drowning in Islamophobia and revisionist nationalist narratives of its own.

"Israel's connect with Hindi cinema dates back to the early 1900s," says the introduction of one Indian television programme focusing on Bollywood's Jewish history during the silent film era, even as it goes on to acknowledge that the early actors were "Baghdadi Jews". 

It also ignores the fact that Israel was not formed until 1948 when the silent film era was long over.

Suchitra Vijayan, director of the Polis Project, a research and journalism hub based in New York, says Bollywood's willingness to participate in Israel's project of appropriation is no surprise.

"Israel colonises art, it colonises culture. Bollywood is the just most brazen example of that method. Palestine has had a longer relationship with the subcontinent, and Israel is attempting to erase those ties, too," Vijayan told MEE.

According to the Indian government, there are some 85,000 Jews of Indian origin now living in Israel. There are also 12,500 Indian citizens working in a variety of jobs, including healthcare, IT and the diamond trade.

According to organisers, some 30,000 Indians are expected to attend the three-day event in Tel Aviv.

Growing ties

Vijayan says that given India's skilled migration is still mainly upper caste, she is sure that "they take with them their rabid sense of nationalism and caste politics, which explains the inroads Bollywood has made". 

"The other side of this is that India is also a huge market for Israel," Vijayan adds. 

Indian and Israeli ties have improved dramatically since the early 1990s, but since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, partnerships between the two countries have reached unprecedented levels.

In 2017, Modi became the first Indian premier to visit Israel, underscoring a major foreign policy shift in India. Today, India is the biggest purchaser of Israeli weapons, spending an estimated $1bn per year.


Shalom Bollywood? more like Shame on Bollywood-- not happy with siding with the domestic war criminals on kashmir, they're going international 


Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan,Abhishek Bachchan, Karan Johar,Subhash Ghai,Imtiaz Ali,Ronnie Screwvala,Sara Ali Khan and others with Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara. #shalombollywood

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During his six-day visit to India in January 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it a point to meet with Indian actors and producers in Mumbai, including Amitabh Bachchan and Imtiaz Ali, to discuss and seal collaborations with the industry. 

Since then, Israel’s representatives in India have missed no opportunity to emphasise the connections between the two countries, be it technological exchange, joint security concerns, or to boast that Bollywood has come to town.

On 3 August, known by some as "Friendship Day", the Israeli embassy in New Delhi released a video collage celebrating Netanyahu and Modi's much touted bromance. The video also featured the instrumental of “Yeh dosti hum nahin todhenge" (We will never break this friendship), a song from one of India's most iconic Bollywood films, as its background score.  

Indian Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan (L) speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Shalom Bollywood event in Mumbai on January 18, 2018.
Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan (L) speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Shalom Bollywood event in Mumbai on 18 January 2018. (AFP)

Likewise, when Bachchan won India's highest award in cinema in late September, Ron Malka, Israeli ambassador to India, was among the first to tweet his congratulations. 

Action star Tiger Shroff was also expected to travel later this year to Tel Aviv to learn the Israeli army martial art Krav Maga for a new film. The trip was only cancelled when filmmakers felt the action sequences would be too repetitive. 

Apoorva PG says that Israeli authorities have made no secret that the attempt to woo Bollywood is about dismantling BDS and improving Israel’s image in India.

“Israel is offering benefits to Indian filmmakers so that they come and shoot their films in Israel," Apoorva said.

The spokesperson for the Israeli embassy in New Delhi did not reply to MEE’s request for comment.

Bollywood propaganda

It is also an open secret that some of Bollywood's biggest stars are purveyors of the status quo, rarely ever standing up to it. Bollywood is replete with examples of films that either minimise and stereotype minorities, or advance state talking points.

"Bollywood has always normalised what is so problematic about India. Bollywood has always found a way to present India as 'good' and 'decent'," Vijayan says.

Through Bollywood, she says, India is increasingly "normalising and popularising the everyday military industrial complex".

Bollywood star and Unicef peace ambassador Priyanka Chopra backed India's blockade of Kashmir, advocating war with Pakistan in a tweet (AFP)
Bollywood star and Unicef peace ambassador Priyanka Chopra was criticised for advocating war with Pakistan over Kashmir (AFP)

Earlier this year, actress and Unicef peace ambassador Priyanka Chopra encouraged war between India and Pakistan following an attack on Indian troops in disputed Kashmir. When India began its communication blockade on Kashmir on 5 August, veteran Indian actor and Hindu nationalist Anupam Kher tweeted that the “Kashmir solution” had begun. 

"When Priyanka Chopra wanted to transition from Bollywood to Hollywood, she chooses to become an FBI agent [in television show Quantico] and becomes the eloquent, sexy voice of the empire, killing fellow brown people in the name of national security," Vijayan says. 

India's annexation of Kashmir is straight out of the Israeli playbook
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In September, Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan released a series on Netflix, Bard of Blood, that focuses on the insurgency in the Pakistan state of Balochistan. On its own, the plot might appear compelling, but Balochistan has long been an official talking point of the Modi government used to deflect criticism about its occupation in Kashmir. 

"Bard of Blood also paints most of its Pakistani and Afghani characters as devoid of any moral code, depicting them either as adulterers, paedophiles, or fanatics who behead people the instant someone angers them," one review of the series reads. "Meanwhile, most of the Indian characters are upright citizens and just trying to do the right thing. It's simplistic storytelling essentially, which shows the villains as all black and the heroes as all white."

Given its history as a vanguard of the status quo, if there is growing internal dissent within Bollywood the public isn't likely to see it.

In September, 49 theatre artists, some associated with Bollywood, wrote an open letter to Modi calling for an end to lynchings in India - only to be immediately charged with sedition

"Campaigns relating to Bollywood and the cultural sphere in general are very important to us," Apoorva PG says. "They not only reflect Israel's established strategy of cynically using art to deflect attention from its occupation and apartheid, more importantly they reflect the growing popularity of the BDS movement.

"Ultimately, we are asking Bollywood to stand against apartheid and not be a tool for Israel's cynical use of their talent and popularity."

Comment by Riaz Haq on October 17, 2019 at 10:07pm

Atoms, shoe #ecommerce #startup founded by #Pakistani husband-wife team of Waqas Ali and Sidra Qasim, nabs $8.1M investment for sneakers you can buy in quarter sizes for each foot. Investors include Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and Kleiner-Perkin.

Atoms, makers of sleek sneakers that are minimalist in style — “We will make only one shoe design a year, but we want to make that really well,” said co-founder Sidra Qasim — but not in substance — carefully crafted with comfort and durability in mind, sizes come in quarter increments and you can buy different measurements for each foot if your feet are among the millions that are not exactly the same size — has raised $8.1 million.

The company plans to use the funding to invest in further development of its shoes, and to expand its retail and marketing presence. To date, the company has been selling directly to consumers in the U.S. via its website — which at one point had a waiting list of nearly 40,000 people — and the idea will be to fold in other experiences, including selling in physical spaces in the future.

This Series A speaks to a number of interesting investors flocking to the company.

It is being led by Initialized Capital, the investment firm started by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and Garry Tan (both had first encountered Atoms and its co-founders, Qasim and CEO Waqas Ali — as mentors when the Pakistani husband and wife team were going through Y Combinator with their previous high-end shoe startup, Markhor); with other backers including Kleiner Perkins, Dollar Shave Club CEO Michael Dubin, Acumen founder and CEO Jacqueline Novogratz, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, TED curator Chris Anderson, the rapper Chamillionaire and previous backers Aatif Awan and Shrug Capital.

Investors have come to the company by way of being customers. “The thing that I love about Atoms is that it isn’t just a different look, it’s a different feel,” said Ohanian in a statement. “When I put on a pair for the first time, it was a totally unique experience. Atoms are more comfortable by an order of magnitude than any other shoe I’ve tried, and they quickly became the go-to shoe in my rotation whenever I was stepping out. That wouldn’t mean anything if the shoes didn’t look great. Luckily, that’s not a problem, I wear my Atoms all the time and even my fashion designer wife is a fan.”

Even before today’s achievement of closing a Series A, the startup has come a long way on a relative shoestring: with just around $560,000 in seed funding and some of the founders’ own savings, Atoms built a supply chain of companies that would make the materials and shoes that it wanted, and developed a gradual but strong marketing pipeline with influential people in tech, fashion and design. (That success no doubt played a big role in securing the Series A to double down and continue to build the company.)

Within the bigger trend of direct-to-consumer retail — where smaller brands are leveraging advances in e-commerce, social media and wider internet usage to build vertically integrated businesses that bypass traditional retailers and bigger e-commerce storefronts to source their customers and sales more directly — there has been a secondary trend disrupting the very products that are being sold by using technology and advances in manufacturing. Third Love is another example in this category: The company has built a huge business selling bras and other undergarments to women by completely rethinking how they are sized, and specifically by focusing on creating as wide a range of sizes as possible.

So while companies like Allbirds — which itself is very well capitalised — may look like direct competitors to Atoms, the company currently stands apart from the pack because of its own very distinctive approach to building a mass-market business, but one that aims to make its product as individualised as possible.

Comment by Riaz Haq on November 2, 2019 at 9:38am

#Pakistan's Airlift raises $12 million in country's largest Series A to build a mass transit system. It offers #rideshare system using higher capacity vehicles enabling urban commute. #Transportation #VentureCapital #startups #Uber #Lyft via @MENAbytes

Airlift, a Pakistan-based eleven-month-old decentralized mass transit startup, has secured $12M in Series A financing, it announced in a statement today.

The round is led by First Round Capital, a leading US venture capital firm with notable investments in Uber, Square, Roblox, Looker, and Notion. The round which is the largest Series A ever raised by a Pakistani startup also marks one of the largest financings in South Asia this year and the first time that a US-based VC has led a round in Pakistan. The round was also joined by Fatima Gobi Ventures, a joint venture between one of Pakistan’s leading conglomerates Fatima Group and Gobi Partners, and Indus Valley Capital.

Founded by Usman Gul, Ahmed Ayub, Awaab Khaakwany, Meher Farrukh, Muhammad Owais, and Zohaib Ali earlier this year, Airlift enables users to book rides on premium quality (air-conditioned) buses (and vans) that have fixed routes, stops and times, in Lahore and Karachi.

The users after signing up and logging in, can reserve their seats by selecting their pick up and drop off locations or browsing the routes. Airlift’s mobile app that’s available for both Android and iOS allows users to track the buses in real-time and make payments as well using their credit or debit cards (the users have the option to pay by cash too when they board the bus).

“Airlift is spearheading the third wave of ride-sharing, in which higher capacity vehicles are playing an increasing role in enabling urban commute. With this financing, Airlift is looking to invest in technology and operations to scale its vision for a decentralized mass transit system, initially focusing on the developing world,” the startup

“In the future, mass transit systems will be dynamic in nature, catering and adapting to the changing needs of the urban population. Our vision for a decentralized mass transit system is a new concept, one that will fundamentally redefine how people commute in urban centers,” says Usman Gul, Airlift’s co-founder and CEO.

Prior to moving to Pakistan, Gul previously worked at DoorDash, the largest food delivery platform in the US. Tony Xu, Founder/CEO at DoorDash, which was valued at $12.6 billion in the last round, was among the first few angel investors to support Airlift. In August, just five months after launching operations, Airlift closed seed financing of $2.2M with Indus Valley Capital and the Fatima Gobi Ventures co-leading the round. In October, only two months later, the Company has secured Series A financing, increasing its total capital to $14.1M and setting a new precedent for startups based in Asia.

Comment by Riaz Haq on November 26, 2019 at 9:15pm

Unprecedented #cash flow into #Pakistan #bonds as rates hit 13%. Global #investors plowed $642.5 million into local-currency bonds this month alone, more than what they invested in the debt in the past 4 years.

Interest in the nation’s bonds has surged this year as the State Bank of Pakistan more than doubled its policy rate to 13.25 per cent — the highest in Asia — over 10 meetings to help stabilise the economy. That, along with government efforts to improve public finances with support from the International Monetary Fund, has boosted the allure of the notes as the world’s pool of negative-yielding debt deepened.

Pakistan “stands out” in a low-yield global environment “following the recent rate hikes and currency adjustment — and more broadly, the reform momentum under the IMF,” said Bilal Khan, senior economist at Standard Chartered Plc in Dubai.

Foreign flows in November have all gone into Treasury bills — which have a maximum holding period of 1 year — with 55 per cent of them coming from the UK and 44 per cent from the US, the central bank data showed.

The nation’s local-debt market has not traditionally been a magnet for portfolio flows like other emerging markets and wasn’t attractive for years, said Khan, who visited fund managers in Europe last month inquiring about Pakistan.

Comment by Riaz Haq on November 27, 2019 at 5:39pm

Foreign #investors push into #Pakistan’s rupee bonds. One senior official at the central bank said this had contributed to #capital #inflows of about $1 billion, with more likely to arrive in the coming months. via @financialtimes

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Pakistan is enjoying an unprecedented rush of foreign investment just months after the country secured an IMF bailout package, as fund managers are lured by high interest rates and promises of economic reform.

Benchmark interest rates have stood at 13.25 per cent since the last rise in July. One senior official at the central bank said this had contributed to inflows of about $1bn, with more likely to arrive in the coming months.

Analysts at Karachi-based broker Topline Securities expect inflows to reach a record $3bn by the end of the fiscal year to June 2020.

The central bank has been “pitching the Pakistani bond market directly” to foreign investors, said Saad Bin Ahmed, equity head at brokerage Arif Habib. “There are concerns that this is hot money, and at a single click this money will go out, possibly when the central bank cuts the policy rate. But my expectation, considering the state of the economy, is that they may not even cut the rates until July 2020.”

Stocks have also pushed higher. The main Karachi stock index is up 13 per cent over the past month, making it the best-performing bourse of 94 tracked by Bloomberg. This year, the government in Islamabad reduced withholding taxes for foreign investors, giving a further boost to sentiment.

The inflows come at a time when the central bank is seeking to build up its foreign-exchange reserves. In July, the IMF formally approved a $6bn bailout package to help Pakistan confront a worsening balance-of-payments deficit. Saudi Arabia’s promise in May to defer annual oil payments from Pakistan of up to $3bn for the next three years has helped to ease pressure on its reserves.

Charles Robertson, chief economist at Renaissance Capital, said the case for buying Pakistan’s bonds was straightforward. “Where else can you get double-digit yield on an undervalued currency?”

Mr Robertson noted that the rupee was at its lowest level in 25 years, measured by its real effective exchange rate, meaning foreigners could earn outsized returns on local- currency bonds. This is “the first new emerging market reform story since Egypt in 2016”, he added.

Fidelity International portfolio manager Paul Greer said that despite Pakistan’s large fiscal and current-account deficits, “the economic reform trajectory in the country has been improving of late and the imbalances are now moving in the right direction”.

He added that the country’s relationship with the IMF was “strong at present and the recent programme review illustrated the impressive progress being made”.

But the president of a privately owned Pakistani bank warned that high interest rates were having a “crippling effect” on investment by domestic companies. These rates would need to be brought down to encourage businesses to borrow, he added.

“The problem is that if you bring down interest rates, that may discourage the inflow of foreign money. It’s going to be a very delicate balancing act.”

Comment by Riaz Haq on December 2, 2019 at 9:39am

#Pakistan #exports up by 9.6% in Nov, #imports cut by 17.53%. #Trade #deficit at 34.4% or $4.983 billion in first 5 months of FY 2019-20. Pakistan's current account deficit in FY19-20 stands at $12.75 billion, a 36% reduction from $19.9 billion in FY18-19.

This increase in exports and cut in imports would improve the trade balance position and ultimately the current account deficit (CAD) that has recently turned into surplus. Economists believe that with the increase in the surpluses in CAD, the country's foreign exchange reserves also get improve.

Meanwhile, Adviser to Prime Minister on Commerce, Textile, Industry & Investment Razzak Dawood said on his twitter account, "Alhamdolillah! Pakistan's exports in November 2019 have once again crossed the USD 2 billion mark. Hats off to our experts and the team at the Ministry of Commerce. Exports have increased by 9.6% as compared to last year." He further said, "As a result of the same policies of the government, the increasing exports are contributing to improvement in our balance of payment position and stabilisation of the economy."

It is worth mentioning that for the first time, in the last four years, the country's current account turned into surplus and was recorded at net positive current account balance of $99 million in October 2019. In September, it was current account was recorded in deficit of $284 million and $1.28 billion in Oct 2018.

Pakistan's current account deficit in FY19 stood at $12.75 bn, a 36 percent reduction from $19.9 bn in FY18.

Besides, the second phase of China-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement (CPFTA) has also come into the effect from Sunday (Dec 1) allowing export of around 313 new Pakistani products on zero duty to the Chinese market. Pakistan is already enjoying zero duty on export of 724 products to China under the first FTA signed between the two countries in 2006. After the implementation of the second FTA, Pakistan has been allowed to export a total of 1047 products to China on zero duty.

The new facility will particularly benefit the textile sector to enhance its export to China as textile exports to China will virtually be duty-free.

There are a number of other items particularly leather and agriculture products as well as confectionery and biscuits, etc, which Pakistani manufacturers can export to China.

Reportedly, with the implementation of the second phase of the trade agreement, Pakistan can now increase its export around $1 billion in the short term while the export of these items are likely to touch $4-5 billion in the medium term after setting up new industry in the special economic zones being constructed in Pakistan under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) flagship project.

After this agreement, Pakistan can enhance its exports to China up to $10 billion in the next few years as the volume of the Chinese import market is around $64 billion. The State Bank of Pakistan has also increased fund limits for traders and manufacturers under export refinance scheme which will help increase the exports.

Comment by Riaz Haq on December 2, 2019 at 9:40am

#Pakistan #economy rebounding. #Stocks up, #FDI up, #forex reserves up. #energy, #textiles, #banking, #fertilizer and #technology driving growth.

The Pakistan Stock Exchange is expected to sustain its three-month rally in the coming months due to positive economic indicators, possible monetary easing and a thaw in border tensions with India.

Analysts and market experts expect the market to likely surge another 20 per cent by March - provided Pakistan exits the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in February.

They said bulls have returned, tightening their grip in the past three months despite a challenging political environment in the country. After touching 2019 low on August 16, the market is already up 36.6 per cent so far and is expected to cross the 40,000 barrier this week.

Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance, said the "strong market rally" shows increasing investor confidence thanks to stabilisation measures taken by the government.

In a tweet on Sunday, Dr Sheikh said the KSE-100 index was up by 14.9 per cent in November, which he said was the highest one-month return since May 2013. He said the benchmark index has increased by 36.6 per cent, or 10,500 points, since August 16, reflecting a strong recovery after hitting a 2019 low.

Muhammad Farid Alam, chief executive of AKD Securities, said market momentum can be sustained on the back of an improvement in macro indicators and relatively healthy corporate results accompanied by full-year payouts.

"In this backdrop and expectations of monetary easing during the first half of financial year 2019-20, the benchmark KSE-100 Index can cross 42,500 points in the near future. The heightening of political noise can keep a lid on price outperformance while the FATF decision in February will serve as a key check point," Alam told Khaleej Times on Sunday.

"The FATF decision to keep Pakistan on its grey list until next February would water down threats of blacklisting in the immediate term. The government is scrambling to become compliant with the FATF's action plan in this regard," he added.

The KSE-100 Index closed at 39,288 points on Friday. The rise was witnessed due to easing concerns on the macroeconomic front such as a surplus current account balance after 49 months, a stable exchange rate, over $1 billion inflows in government treasury bills and higher forex reserves at $15.58 billion as at November 22.

Samiullah Tariq, director of research at Arif Habib Limited, said the market is up by more than 36 per cent since touching a low of 28,765 points on August 16 due to positive economic numbers.

Elaborating, he said the rupee strengthened by over 5 per cent against the US dollar thanks to a remarkable improvement in balance of payments, a 74 per cent plunge in the current account deficit during the July-October period and a 239 per cent year-on-year growth in foreign direct investment.

"In addition, foreign exchange reserves are up by $1.1 billion and foreign investment in government treasury bills hit $1.16 billion during the first five months of current financial year 2019-20. These numbers show confidence in Pakistan's economy and are the major reasons for the market rally," Tariq told Khaleej Times on Sunday.

Muzzammil Aslam, managing director of Next Capital, echoed similar views and said a reversal in current account deficit, a successful IMF review of the economy, an easing of domestic political uncertainty and a strong political will to address structural flows such as circular debt and privatisation of state-owned enterprises, among others, are some of the key reasons behind the rally.


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