Dissecting Western Narrative: "India Rising Pakistan Collapsing"

Is it true that "India is rising and Pakistan is rapidly collapsing", the currently accepted western narrative recently re-iterated by Roger Cohen in his New York Times Op Ed from Lahore, Pakistan? Let's examine it by reviewing reports filed by several Indian journalists after their recent visits to Pakistan:

"India is a democracy and a great power rising. Pakistan is a Muslim homeland that lost half its territory in 1971, bounced back and forth between military and nominally democratic rule, never quite clear of annihilation angst despite its nuclear weapons".

Roger Cohen's  New York Times Op Ed "Pakistan in Its Labyrinth"

"I.. saw much in this recent visit (to Pakistan) that did not conform to the main Western narrative for South Asia -- one in which India is steadily rising and Pakistan rapidly collapsing. Born of certain geopolitical needs and exigencies, this vision was always most useful to those who have built up India as an investment destination and a strategic counterweight to China....Seen through the narrow lens of the West’s security and economic interests, the great internal contradictions and tumult within these two large nation-states disappear. In the Western view, the credit-fueled consumerism among the Indian middle class appears a much bigger phenomenon than the extraordinary Maoist uprising in Central India".  

Pankaj Mishra's Bloomberg Op Ed "Pakistan’s Unplanned Revolution Rewrites Its Future"

Compare and contrast the two narratives of two seasoned journalists, American Roger Cohen and Indian Pankaj Mishra, on their  recent Pakistan visits. Note Mishra's explanation of why the western media is parroting the standard post Cold War western narrative about India and Pakistan as "seen through the narrow lens of the West’s security and economic interests", "born of certain geopolitical needs and exigencies".

Now read the following post titled Indians Share "Eye-Opener" Stories of Pakistan that I wrote in July 2012.  It's reproduced below:

Several prominent Indian journalists and writers have visited Pakistan in recent years for the first time in their lives.  I am sharing with my readers selected excerpts of the reports from Mahanth Joishy (USIndiaMonitor.com), Panakaj Mishra (Bloomberg), Hindol Sengupta (The Hindu), Madhulika Sikka (NPR) and Yoginder Sikand (Countercurrents) of what they saw and how they felt in the neighbor's home. My hope is that their stories will help foster close ties between the two estranged South Asian nations.

Mahanth S. Joishy, Editor, usindiamonitor.com :  (July, 2012)

Many of us travel for business or leisure.  But few ever take a trip that dramatically shatters their entire worldview of a country and a people in one fell swoop.  I was lucky enough to have returned from just such a trip: a week-long sojourn in Pakistan.
It was a true eye-opener, and a thoroughly enjoyable one at that.  Many of the assumptions and feelings I had held toward the country for nearly 30 years were challenged and exposed as wrong and even ignorant outright.
 The Western and Indian media feed us a steady diet of stories about bomb blasts, gunfights, kidnappings, torture, subjugation of women, dysfunctional government, and scary madrassa schools that are training the next generation of jihadist terrorists.  And yes, to many Westerners and especially Indians, Pakistan is the enemy, embodying all that is wrong in the world.  Incidents such as the beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl, 26/11 and the Osama Bin Laden raid in Abottobad have not helped the cause either.  Numerous international relations analysts proclaim that  Pakistan is “the most dangerous place in the world” and the border with India is “the most dangerous border in the world.”
(Upon arrival in Karachi) two uniformed bodyguards with rifles who were exceedingly friendly and welcoming climbed onto the pickup truck bed as we started on a 45-minute drive.  I was impressed by the massive, well-maintained parks and gardens surrounding the airport.  I was also impressed by the general cleanliness, the orderliness of the traffic, the quality of the roads, and the greenery. Coming from a city government background, I was surprised at how organized Karachi was throughout the ride.  I also didn’t see many beggars the entire way.  I had just spent significant amounts of time in two major Indian cities, Mumbai and Bangalore, as well as several second-tier cities like Mangalore, and none would compare favorably on maintenance and city planning, especially when it came to potholes and waste management.  This was the first surprise; I was expecting that piles of garbage and dirt would line the roads and beggars would overflow onto the streets.  Surely there is dirt and poverty in Karachi, but far less than I was expecting.  Karachi was also less dense and crowded than India’s cities.

My second pleasant surprise was to see numerous large development projects under way.  I had read about Pakistan’s sluggish GDP growth and corruption in public works and foreign aid disbursement.  This may be true, but construction was going on all over the place: new movie theaters, new malls, new skyscrapers,  new roads, and entire new neighborhoods being built from scratch.  In this regard it was similar to India and every other part of Asia I had seen recently: new development and rapid change continues apace, something we are seeing less of in the West.
 We were also able to do some things which may sound more familiar to Americans: bowling at Karachi’s first bowling alley, intense games of pickup basketball with some local teenagers at a large public park (these kids could really play), or passing through massive and well-appointed malls filled with thousands of happy people of all ages walking around, shopping, or eating at the food court.  We even attended a grand launch party for Magnum ice cream bars, featuring many of Pakistan’s A-list actors, models, and businesspeople.  A friend who is involved in producing musicals directed an excellent performance at the party, complete with live band, singing, and dancing.  This troupe, Made for Stage has also produced shows such as the Broadway musical Chicago to critical acclaim with an all-Pakistani cast for the first time in history.

Even the poor areas we visited, such as the neighborhoods around the Mazar, were filled with families coming out for a picnic or a stroll, enjoying their weekend leisure time in the sun.  All I could see were friendly and happy people, including children with striking features running around.  At no time did I feel the least bit unsafe anywhere we went, and we definitely went through a mix of neighborhoods with varying profiles.
 Lahore is more beautiful overall than Karachi or any large Indian city I’ve seen.  Serious effort has gone into keeping the city green and preserving its storied history.  Historians would have a field day here.  In particular we saw two stunning historic mosques, the Wazir Khan and the Badshahi, both of which should be considered treasures not only for Muslims, Pakistanis, or South Asia, but for all of humanity.  I felt it a crime that I’d never even heard of either one.  Each of them in different ways features breath-taking architecture and intricate artwork comparable to India’s Taj Mahal.  These are must-see sights for any tourist to Lahore.  The best way to enjoy the vista of the Badshahi mosque is to have a meal on the rooftop of one of the many superb restaurants on Food Street next to the mosque compound.  This interesting area was for hundreds of years an infamous red-light district, made up of a series of old wooden rowhouses that look like they were lifted straight out of New Orleans’ Bourbon Street, strangely juxtaposed with one of the country’s holiest shrines.  From the roof of Cuckoo’s Den restaurant, we could see all of the massive Badshahi complex along with the adjoining royal fortress, all while having a 5-star meal of kebabs, spicy curries in clay pots, and lassi under the stars.  We were fortunate to have very pleasant whether as well.  This alfresco dining experience with two good friends encompassed my favorite moments in the  city.

We did much more in Lahore.  We were given a tour of the renowned Aitchison College, which one of my friends attended.  This boys’ private prep school is known for its difficult entrance exams, rigorous academic tradition, illustrious list of alumni since the British founded the school, and its gorgeous and impeccably maintained 200-acre campus that  puts most major universities icluding my own Georgetown to shame.  Aitchison has been considered one of the best prep schools on the subcontinent since 1886.  However, it would have been impossible to get a tour without the alumni connection because security is very thorough.

Pankaj Mishra, Bloomberg:  (April, 2012)
...I also saw much in this recent visit that did not conform to the main Western narrative for South Asia -- one in which India is steadily rising and Pakistan rapidly collapsing.

Born of certain geopolitical needs and exigencies, this vision was always most useful to those who have built up India as an investment destination and a strategic counterweight to China, and who have sought to bribe and cajole Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment into the war on terrorism.

Seen through the narrow lens of the West’s security and economic interests, the great internal contradictions and tumult within these two large nation-states disappear. In the Western view, the credit-fueled consumerism among the Indian middle class appears a much bigger phenomenon than the extraordinary Maoist uprising in Central India.
Traveling through Pakistan, I realized how much my own knowledge of the country -- its problems as well as prospects -- was partial, defective or simply useless. Certainly, truisms about the general state of crisis were not hard to corroborate. Criminal gangs shot rocket-propelled grenades at each other and the police in Karachi’s Lyari neighborhood. Shiite Hazaras were being assassinated in Balochistan every day. Street riots broke out in several places over severe power shortages -- indeed, the one sound that seemed to unite the country was the groan of diesel generators, helping the more affluent Pakistanis cope with early summer heat.

In this eternally air-conditioned Pakistan, meanwhile, there exist fashion shows, rock bands, literary festivals, internationally prominent writers, Oscar-winning filmmakers and the bold anchors of a lively new electronic media. This is the glamorously liberal country upheld by English-speaking Pakistanis fretting about their national image in the West (some of them might have been gratified by the runaway success of Hello magazine’s first Pakistani edition last week).

But much less conspicuous and more significant, other signs of a society in rapid socioeconomic and political transition abounded. The elected parliament is about to complete its five- year term -- a rare event in Pakistan -- and its amendments to the constitution have taken away some if not all of the near- despotic prerogatives of the president’s office.

Political parties are scrambling to take advantage of the strengthening ethno-linguistic movements for provincial autonomy in Punjab and Sindh provinces. Young men and women, poor as well as upper middle class, have suddenly buoyed the anti-corruption campaign led by Imran Khan, an ex-cricketer turned politician.

After radically increasing the size of the consumerist middle class to 30 million, Pakistan’s formal economy, which grew only 2.4 percent in 2011, currently presents a dismal picture. But the informal sector of the economy, which spreads across rural and urban areas, is creating what the architect and social scientist Arif Hasan calls Pakistan’s “unplanned revolution.” Karachi, where a mall of Dubai-grossness recently erupted near the city’s main beach, now boasts “a first world economy and sociology, but with a third world wage and political structure.”

Even in Lyari, Karachi’s diseased old heart, where young gangsters with Kalashnikovs lurked in the alleys, billboards vended quick proficiency in information technology and the English language. Everywhere, in the Salt Range in northwestern Punjab as well as the long corridor between Lahore and Islamabad, were gated housing colonies, private colleges, fast- food restaurants and other markers of Pakistan’s breakneck suburbanization....

Hindol Sengupta, The Hindu: (May, 2010)

Add this bookstore to the list of India-Pakistan rivalry. A bookstore so big that it is actually called a bank. The book store to beat all bookstores in the subcontinent, I have found books I have never seen anywhere in India at the three-storeyed Saeed Book Bank in leafy Islamabad. The collection is diverse, unique and with a special focus on foreign policy and subcontinental politics (I wonder why?), this bookstore is far more satisfying than any of the magazine-laden monstrosities I seem to keep trotting into in India. ...

Yes, that's right. The meat. There always, always seems to be meat in every meal, everywhere in Pakistan. Every where you go, everyone you know is eating meat. From India, with its profusion of vegetarian food, it seems like a glimpse of the other world. The bazaars of Lahore are full of meat of every type and form and shape and size and in Karachi, I have eaten some of the tastiest rolls ever. For a Bengali committed to his non-vegetarianism, this is paradise regained. Also, the quality of meat always seems better, fresher, fatter, more succulent, more seductive, and somehow more tantalizingly carnal in Pakistan. ....

Let me tell you that there is no better leather footwear than in Pakistan. I bought a pair of blue calf leather belt-ons from Karachi two years ago and I wear them almost everyday and not a dent or scratch! Not even the slightest tear. They are by far the best footwear I have ever bought and certainly the most comfortable. Indian leather is absolutely no match for the sheer quality and handcraftsmanship of Pakistani leather wear.

Yes. Yes, you read right. The roads. I used to live in Mumbai and now I live in Delhi and, yes, I think good roads are a great, mammoth, gargantuan luxury! Face it, when did you last see a good road in India? Like a really smooth road. Drivable, wide, nicely built and long, yawning, stretching so far that you want zip on till eternity and loosen the gears and let the car fly. A road without squeeze or bump or gaping holes that pop up like blood-dripping kitchen knives in Ramsay Brothers films. When did you last see such roads? Pakistan is full of such roads. Driving on the motorway between Islamabad and Lahore, I thought of the Indian politician who ruled a notorious —, one could almost say viciously — potholed state and spoke of turning the roads so smooth that they would resemble the cheeks of Hema Malini. They remained as dented as the face of Frankenstein's monster. And here, in Pakistan, I was travelling on roads that — well, how can one now avoid this? — were as smooth as Hema Malini's cheeks! Pakistani roads are broad and smooth and almost entirely, magically, pot hole free. How do they do it; this country that is ostensibly so far behind in economic growth compared to India? But they do and one of my most delightful experiences in Pakistan has been travelling on its fabulous roads. No wonder the country is littered with SUVs — Pakistan has the roads for such cars! Even in tiny Bajaur in the North West frontier province, hard hit by the Taliban, and a little more than a frontier post, the roads were smoother than many I know in India. Even Bajaur has a higher road density than India! If there is one thing we should learn from the Pakistanis, it is how to build roads. And oh, another thing, no one throws beer bottles or trash on the highways and motorways.
Road to Daman-e-Koh, Margalla Hills, Islamabad, Pakistan

Madhulika Sikka, NPR News: (May, 2010)

This may be hard to believe, but the first thing that crosses your mind when you drive into Islamabad is suburban Virginia — its wide roads, modern buildings, cleanliness and orderliness is a complete contrast to the hustle and bustle of the ancient city of Lahore, some 220 miles east on the Grand Trunk Road.

Islamabad is laid out in a grid with numbered avenues running north to south. The streets are tree lined and flowers abound among the vast open stretches of green space.

Perhaps one of the most beautiful spots is the Margallah Hills National Park. Drive up the winding road on the northern edge of town to the scenic view points and you'll see the broad planned city stretch before you.
It's a Sunday afternoon and you could be in any park in any city in the world. Families are out for a stroll and picnicking on park benches. There's a popcorn vendor and an ice cream seller. Kids are playing on a big inflatable slide. Peacocks strut their full plumage as people are busily clicking away on their cellphone cameras. Lively music permeates the air as souvenir sellers are hawking their wares. Off one of the side paths I notice a young couple lunching at a bench, a respectable distance apart from each other but clearly wanting to be alone.

So what's it like here? It's pretty much like everywhere else. On a quiet Sunday afternoon people are out with their families, relaxing and enjoying themselves, taking a break from the stresses and strains of daily life. For all of us this is an image of Pakistan worth remembering. I certainly will.
Yoginder Sikand, Countercurrents.org : (June, 2008)

Islamabad is surely the most well-organized,picturesque and endearing city in all of South Asia. Few Indians would, however, know this, or, if they did, would admit it. After all, the Indian media never highlights anything positive about Pakistan, because for it only 'bad' news about the country appears to be considered 'newsworthy'. That realization hit me as a rude shock the moment I stepped out of the plane and entered Islamabad's plush International Airport, easily far more efficient, modern and better maintained than any of its counterparts in India. And right through my week-long stay in the city, I could not help comparing Islamabad favorably with every other South Asian city that I have visited. That week in Islamabad consisted essentially of a long string of pleasant surprises, for I had expected Islamabad to be everything that the Indian media so uncharitably and erroneously depicts Pakistan as. The immigration counter was staffed by a smart young woman, whose endearing cheerfulness was a refreshing contrast to the grave, somber and unwelcoming looks that one is generally met with at immigration counters across the world that make visitors to a new country feel instantly unwelcome.

Here's a Pakistan Pictorial: http://www.macromedia.com/go/getflashplayer","quality":"high","scale":"noscale","src":"https://static.ning.com/socialnetworkmain/widgets/photo/slideshowplayer/slideshowplayer.swf?xn_version=3150304127","type":"application/x-shockwave-flash","width":"500","wmode":"opaque";}" data-original-tag="EMBED">
Find more photos like this on PakAlumni Worldwide: The Global Social Network 

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Comment by Riaz Haq on June 10, 2016 at 9:49pm

Is India a Flailing State?: Detours on the Four Lane Highway to Modernization


India is an emerging global superpower as its rapid growth has transformed its economy and has maintained itself as the world’s largest democracy. But at the same time India lags in many dimensions—its malnutrition rate is one of the highest in the world, its immunization rates are lower than most African countries, and Bangladesh has a better infant mortality rate. I argue that this is in part because the India state is “flailing”—its very capable head is not longer reliably connected to the arms and legs of implementation. In the four-fold transition of economy, polity, administration, and society the administrative capability of the state is lagging. I use examples from services like health, education, and routine transactions like issuing driver’s licenses to show that the agents of the state routinely do not implement the tasks they are assigned—causing a massive divergence between de jure and de facto reality. The paper concludes with speculations about the causes of flailing and possible future trajectories.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 22, 2016 at 12:47pm

What attracted Columbus and other Europeans to India was its reputation as a "golden bird" built under Muslim rule.

Read Paknja Mishra's Op Ed in NY Times:

India, V.S. Naipaul declared in 1976, is “a wounded civilization,” whose obvious political and economic dysfunction conceals a deeper intellectual crisis. As evidence, he pointed out some strange symptoms he noticed among upper-caste middle-class Hindus since his first visit to his ancestral country in 1962. These well-born Indians betrayed a craze for “phoren” consumer goods and approval from the West, as well as a self-important paranoia about the “foreign hand.” “Without the foreign chit,” Mr. Naipaul concluded, “Indians can have no confirmation of their own reality.”

Mr. Naipaul was also appalled by the prickly vanity of many Hindus who asserted that their holy scriptures already contained the discoveries and inventions of Western science, and that an India revitalized by its ancient wisdom would soon vanquish the decadent West. He was particularly wary of the “apocalyptic Hindu terms” of such 19th-century religious revivalists as Swami Vivekananda, whose exhortation to nation-build through the ethic of the kshatriya (the warrior caste) has made him the central icon of India’s new Hindu nationalist rulers.
A Harvard-trained economist called Subramanian Swamy recently demanded a public bonfire of canonical books by Indian historians — liberal and secular intellectuals who belong to what the R.S.S. chief in 2000 identified as that “class of bastards which tries to implant an alien culture in their land.” Denounced by the numerous Hindu supremacists in social media as “sickular libtards” and sepoys (the common name for Indian soldiers in British armies), these intellectuals apparently are Trojan horses of the West. They must be purged to realize Mr. Modi’s vision in which India, once known as the “golden bird,” will “rise again.”

Mr. Modi doesn’t seem to know that India’s reputation as a “golden bird” flourished during the long centuries when it was allegedly enslaved by Muslims. A range of esteemed scholars — from Sheldon Pollock to Jonardon Ganeri — have demonstrated beyond doubt that this period before British rule witnessed some of the greatest achievements in Indian philosophy, literature, music, painting and architecture. The psychic wounds Mr. Naipaul noticed among semi-Westernized upper-caste Hindus actually date to the Indian elite’s humiliating encounter with the geopolitical and cultural dominance first of Europe and then of America.


Comment by Riaz Haq on September 15, 2016 at 9:50pm

#India's Maoists insurgents world's 4th deadliest #terror outfit after #Taliban, #ISIS, #BokoHaram http://toi.in/cgunFY via @timesofindia

The world witnessed 11,774 terror attacks in 2015, in which 28,328 people were killed and 35,320 injured. India was the fourth worst-affected country after Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, with 43% of 791 attacks in the country carried out by Naxalites+ . A total of 289 Indians died in terror strikes.
Data collected by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism contracted with the US state department revealed that Taliban, Islamic State and Boko Haram were the three deadliest terror groups globally. They were followed by CPI(Maoist), a banned outfit.
The CPI(Maoist) was responsible for 343 terror attacks in 2015, killing 176 people. Taliban were involved in 1,093 strikes in which 4,512 people lost their lives, IS launched 931 attacks which claimed the lives of 6,050 people and Boko Haram was involved in 491 attacks killing 5,450 people. Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which rounded off the top five in the list, was involved in 238 strikes, killing 287.

Over half the terror attacks in India took place in four states - Chhattisgarh (21%), Manipur (12%), J&K (11%) and Jharkhand+ (10%). Chhattisgarh, which has been hit hard by Left-wing extremism, reported a doubling of terror attacks in 2015 - from 76 in 2014 to 167.
The report said there was great diversity in the perpetrators/terrorist groups involved in attacks in the country, with 45 outfits active across the country. The Naxals alone accounted for 43% of terrorist attacks in India last year. The report said the number of people kidnapped/taken hostage by terrorists and insurgent groups in India almost tripled in 2015, increasing to 862 from 305 in 2014. Of this, Naxals alone kidnapped/took hostage 707 persons last year compared with 163 in 2014. In 2014, there were no attacks in which 50 or more people were kidnapped or taken hostage while in 2015, there were seven such attacks, all of them attributed to Maoists.

Comment by Riaz Haq on December 19, 2016 at 8:06am

#India writer Yoginder Sikand says in his book "Beyond the Border" that he was taught to hate #Pakistan at age 4. https://books.google.com/books?id=xoJICgAAQBAJ&pg=PT6&dq=Be...

Indian writer Yoginder Sikand in his book "Beyond the Border":

When I was only four years old and we were living in Calcutta (in 1971)...it was clear that "Pakistan" was something that I was meant to hate and fear, though I had not the faintest idea where and what that dreaded monster (Pakistan) was.

What I heard and read about the two countries (India and Pakistan)--at school, on television and over radio, in the newspapers and from relatives and friends--only served to reinforce negative images of Pakistan, a country inhabited by people I necessarily had dread and even to define myself against. Pakistan and myself were equated as one while India and the Hindus were treated as synonymous. The two countries, as well as the two communities were said to be absolutely irreconcilable. To be Indian necessarily meant, it seemed to be uncompromisingly anti-Pakistani. To question this assumption, to entertain any thought other than the standard line about Pakistan and its people, was tantamount to treason.


Comment by Riaz Haq on November 7, 2017 at 10:04pm

A rare, more nuanced view of Pakistan, very different from the apocalyptic portrayal of the country common in the books and media published in the West


In Matthew’s own words: “Why do I describe Pakistan as ‘unjustly maligned’? Simply because, it is. The public perception of Pakistan is one of unremitting violence and injustice and this perception simply does not correlate with the facts. It is not representative, and it is not fair. If a cameraman followed me for a day filming everything I did and said and then edited out all of the good things, leaving only the bad – the time I shouted at the kids, the time I swore at a foolish motorist, the time I ignored a beggar by the side of the road – the resulting image would be accurate in parts, but I hope broadly unrepresentative. I would resent being depicted in this way, and yet this is precisely what we are doing to Pakistan. The positive aspects of life here are mostly unknown by people in the West.

The public image of Pakistan is wholly negative but the hidden face of Pakistan is, far more often than not, beautiful, kind, welcoming, gentle and filled with hope. When I stop to think of this hidden face of Pakistan, hundreds of memories come to mind: the files of smartly-dressed children wending their way to school in the morning, the crowds of intelligent young people thronging the Lahore Literary Festival in the hope of catching a glimpse of their favourite authors, the unfailing warmth of the hospitality, the taxi drivers who regularly refuse my money on the grounds that I am a guest, the sight of the elegant minarets of the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore or the soaring mountains of the Kaghan Valley or a squadron of emerald-green parakeets screeching over the pine-clad hills of Murree. This side of Pakistani life, while well known to Pakistanis themselves, is rarely, if ever, documented by people in the West, and yet it is far more representative of normal Pakistani life than the negative narratives of the media. Pakistan is by no means perfect, but after living here for four years the phrase.“This Sacred Land” seems less and less incongruous to me with every passing day.”

While Matthew is also concerned about problems that Pakistan faces e.g. eight hours of power cuts a day except during religious festivals, widespread poverty, violence and religious extremism, on book shelves where books related to Pakistan have apocalyptic titles, this book will be a good read – something positive and new!

Comment by Riaz Haq on November 9, 2017 at 4:52pm

Riaz Haq has left a new comment on your post "Rebutting Western Narrative: "India Rising Pakista...": 

From Seeking Alpha :



Pakistan continues to be a misunderstood and under-researched market.

Though there are near-term macro concerns, stock market correction has made valuations attractive.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor can have a positive impact on future GDP growth.

In line with our process of being on the ground in the countries we invest in, Investment Analyst Scott Osheroff travelled to Pakistan in October 2017 to meet with companies on the ground. All photos are by Asia Frontier Capital.

Pakistan is a perfect example of an information disconnect where what is reported in the mainstream media is starkly different from the day-to-day reality on the ground and does not show the full picture. I travelled to Pakistan last month for an investment tour with our local broker, visiting 19 listed companies in Lahore and Karachi, as well as seeing some tourist sites along the way, and was pleasantly surprised by the monumental opportunity Pakistan offers to investors.

My first realization of the current reality in Pakistan occurred when I was boarding my Thai Airways flight from Bangkok to Lahore. The Boeing 777 was fully booked and the only foreigners on the plane, in addition to myself, were about 50 Chinese businessmen. A Chinese presence would be a recurring theme throughout my trip, as the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (“CPEC”) is in its infancy and has driven Chinese workers and entrepreneurs alike to come to Pakistan to partake in the country’s economic growth.

Arriving at Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore on a Saturday evening at 11pm, I proceeded to apply for a visa on arrival. The process was time-consuming, taking about 30 minutes despite being the only person in the room, but was easy enough. Upon receipt of my visa and exiting customs, I departed for the Pearl Continental Lahore, previously the Intercontinental Hotel. My driver was very friendly and acted as a useful tour guide helping me to get my bearings. Immediately upon leaving the airport, he pointed out two new buildings under construction and identified them as the up and coming Sofitel and Hyatt Regency hotels. With underinvestment in the hotel sector over the past several years, there is now a shortage, which is leading to renewed investment.

The next morning, I met the other attendees of our investment tour in the hotel lobby, and we headed out for a day of Lahori site seeing. We started with a visit to Packages Mall, owned by publicly listed Packages Group. It was reminiscent of the malls in Indonesia or Bangkok in relation to their massive scale. Seemingly every international retailer and F&B chain could be found (including McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD), Burger King, Baskin Robbins, Dunkin’ Donuts (NASDAQ:DNKN), etc.), in addition to several home-grown retail giants such as “Ideas” which is owned by publicly listed Gul Ahmed Textiles and has 40 stores throughout the country.

Ideas store in Packages Mall, Lahore.

After departing Packages Mall, we made our way to the historic bazaar - Anarkali, followed by the Shalimar Gardens and a trip to the Wagah Border. Situated 29 kilometres from Lahore, the Wagah Border is the only land crossing between Pakistan and India opened to international travellers. Every day about an hour before sunset, there is a ceremony conducted by the military from each side to officially close the border for the day. A tourist attraction among locals and foreigners alike (of the handful of foreigners in attendance nearly all were Chinese), it was a memorable experience.

Entrance to Anarkali Bazaar

Shalimar Gardens

Wagah Border

That night, we had dinner atop a block of stunning historic buildings adjacent to a large Mughal-era mosque. The spread consisted of kebab, lamb chops, several types of delicious breads, and my new favourite Pakistani dish - goat brain masala (also called “bheja fry” in the local language across most parts of South Asia).

Food Street adjacent to Mughal-era Mosque

The next day, Monday, we departed early from the hotel for a day of meetings before catching an evening flight to Karachi. We visited a leading insurance company with operations in Pakistan, as well as the UAE, and who foresees the domestic insurance industry growing at a CAGR of 10-15% over the coming years. Being that insurance penetration in Pakistan as a percentage of GDP is only 0.08%, the industry has ample room for growth. Another notable meeting that day was with a top 5 cement producer who is expanding capacity as they project robust domestic demand growth of 8-10% per year over the next three years due to an improving construction market, alongside further investments related to the CPEC. Though domestic cement demand has been quite strong over the past year, higher coal prices as well as pricing pressure has impacted profits in the most recent quarter, and worries over these two issues have led to a pretty big correction in cement stock prices. Thus, at current levels, there appears to be value in some of the cement names.

Among the other interesting companies whose management we met was the leading private hospital group in Pakistan. They currently have 600 beds and 700 nurses across multiple hospitals, though they have growth plans to see them reach 1,000 beds within five years and a potential expansion into Lahore, a city of 7mln, as well as plans to enter Sialkot, a city about 125 km north of Lahore. Recently, this company also announced plans of expanding operations overseas by setting up a hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The private healthcare industry in Pakistan is still in its infancy, like with many such industries, meaning that penetration rates can only grow.

I found the issue of low penetration across multiple sectors fascinating, as Pakistan has a population of 190mln, but penetration of refrigerators, air conditioners, and washer machines is only 47%, 10%, and 57%, respectively. That is not to mention that the country has smartphone penetration of only 25-30%.

That evening, we drove to Allama Iqbal International Airport and departed for Karachi, the commercial and financial capital of Pakistan, on the national carrier Pakistan International Airways (PIA). Interestingly, as I was on the boarding platform preparing to enter the plane, I peered out the window expecting to see the “PIA” logo on the side of the plane. Instead, I saw “VietJet.” VietJet is currently leasing 4 planes to PIA, and this flight was staffed with a mix of Pakistani and Vietnamese cabin crew.

The next two days in Karachi were a mix of meetings at our hotel and site visits. We met a variety of companies, including banks, leasing groups, garment manufacturers and industrial manufacturers. The broad number of industries represented on the stock market was present in the diversity of companies we met, and it was encouraging to see the level of professionalism and transparency expressed by their management teams compared to other countries in the region.

Our last meeting of the trip was with a privately-owned car parts manufacturer supplying mainly window glass to the domestic auto manufacturers. The conversation focused on the current and future potential of the industry, which is clearly robust. Auto manufacturers currently have a 3-6-month backlog for new orders depending on the model (motorcycle manufacturers have the same issue). At present, the ratio of autos per 1,000 people in Pakistan stands at 15. As consumer financing becomes more readily available, we would expect this number to accelerate rapidly and become more in line with India with 22 autos and Vietnam with 23 autos, according to 2015 statistics.

Besides the company meetings, one of the major talking points in Pakistan these days is the CPEC. These projects can be one of the longer-term growth drivers for the Pakistani economy as a majority of the >USD 50 billion investments over the next 10-15 years will be in power projects. Pakistan has an acute power shortage, with power cuts ranging from 8-12 hours in the peak season (summer), and this lack of power supply is also cutting 1-2% from GDP growth. With power availability expected to improve over the coming years as new capacity comes online, it is expected that GDP growth rates should also improve.

The other benefit of the CPEC investment is that it has led to a marked improvement in the security environment as it would be important to have a relatively stable security environment for the CPEC to succeed. This improvement in security has also led to a more positive economic sentiment amongst corporates and consumers.

While Pakistan is likely to experience continued near-term uncertainty surrounding the political environment and a potential devaluation of its currency to repair its balance of payments, long term, as increased stability and security persist along with investment policies to attract more FDI, Pakistan will remain a highly attractive investment destination. In addition to the long-term potential, we see significant value in the Pakistan Stock Market at the current time, with the KSE100 Index trading at a current PE multiple of 8.1x, a valuation which the market had prior to the 2013 national elections, which could be an indication that political and macro risks have been discounted to a large extent.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Additional disclosure: The AFC Asia Frontier Fund is invested in Pakistan.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 25, 2019 at 8:45am

The Times Columnist Roger Cohen on the Future of India

By Isaac Chotiner September 24, 2019


he Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, was at a Houston stadium on Sunday for a rally, appearing with President Trump before a crowd of fifty thousand people. Many of the attendees were Indian-American supporters of Modi, the leader of a Hindu-nationalist movement. “This is extraordinary. This is unprecedented,” Modi told the crowd, before walking around the floor hand in hand with Trump. Modi said that he admired Trump for “his sense of leadership, a passion for America, a concern for every American, a belief in American future, and a strong resolve to make America great again.”

Modi has been trying to make India great again, with his long-held conviction that India, which was founded on pluralist values, should become a Hindu state. Before Modi became Prime Minister, he was the chief minister of the state of Gujarat, where there is strong evidence that he presided over a pogrom of Indian Muslims. Since he took national office, in 2014, hate crimes against Muslims, who make up about fifteen per cent of the population, have risen sharply, and the country’s democratic foundations have been gravely weakened. The state of Assam is conducting a mass citizenship check, which could lead to many Muslims being deprived of all civil rights. The government is building detention camps in Assam to house those declared illegal, and Modi’s close adviser, Amit Shah, has discussed doing something similar nationwide. On August 5th, Modi’s government revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which had granted special status to India’s only Muslim-majority state, Kashmir, and imposed a near-total blockade on it. A journalist who was recently there wrote to me, “Soldiers, brought in from outside the state, stand on every street corner. Public gatherings are banned. The state’s leadership and civil society are either in jail or under house arrest. Young men are picked up regularly in raids; many disappear, those released complain of beatings and torture.”

In a Times column on Monday, titled “Don’t Mess with Modi in Texas,” the longtime foreign correspondent Roger Cohen applauded Modi’s leadership abilities. After noting some of the human-rights abuses in Kashmir, Cohen wrote, “The question, however, is whether Modi had any choice in Kashmir and whether, over time, the revocation of an article conceived as temporary breaks the Kashmiri logjam, pries open the stranglehold of corrupt local elites and offers a better future. I think it might.” He added, “Modi, a self-made man from a poor family, is measured, ascetic, not driven by impulse. Trump was born on third base. He’s erratic, guided by the devouring needs of his ego. I’d bet on Modi to transform India, all of it, including the newly integrated Kashmir region.”

I spoke by phone with Cohen on Monday about his column and his views of Modi. Born in London, he has reported from numerous countries throughout Europe, South America, and the Middle East, for the Times and the Wall Street Journal. The interview, edited for length and clarity, is below.

I read an interview with you where you stated, “In many ways, journalism is a young person’s game. When the phone goes in the middle of the night and you’re twenty-five and you’re asked to go to Beirut, it’s the greatest thing. But, when that happens at fifty, less so. I also like writing longer-form magazine journalism and I get less opportunity to do that than I used to. Doing a column, though, I choose where I want to go. I can’t complain about midnight calls from the desk.” Can you talk more about how different column-writing is from reporting?

I think it is very different. First of all, the form is very tight. There is a great premium on pithiness, and, of course, you have to have an idea—probably one and a half ideas, something to give it a little bit of a tweak near the bottom. There is very little room for narrative or descriptive writing, and that’s also something I enjoy doing. As a foreign correspondent, I like to report for my columns. I like to get out there. I am very wary of writing about places I have not seen, because I think seeing and feeling things is the basis of what we do, and the view from the ground. I believe in that very strongly. And, as a correspondent, of course, you are trying to immerse yourself in place and describe what you see as evocatively and fairly and powerfully as you can. As a columnist, you are taking a view.

What did you learn most from reporting that you try to use in column-writing?

Well, I think, above all, that you need to get out there. You need to probe deeply and try to understand something, and the world is complex. That’s almost a platitude. The basis of what we do as journalists, I think, is that. Everything has changed since I was filing by telex from the Commodore Hotel in Beirut in 1983. But the basis of what we do I don’t think has changed—the fundamental effort that has to be made to speak to people, to understand people, to probe deeply into the situation.

How big a story do you think the rise of right-wing authoritarianism is now? Does it feel like the most important story you are writing about, and do you feel that you bring something with your reporting past that allows you to connect various strands in these different countries that are distinct but have commonalities?

I think it is a huge story. I think it is an unexpected story. If you had told me, at the beginning of this century, a decade or so after the fall of the Berlin Wall, that we would be dealing with nationalist, nativist, xenophobic reaction, from Brazil to the United States to parts of Europe, parts of Asia, too, I would not have believed it. I do think it is a very big story—the biggest one around, probably. Having taken a deep interest in European history, having served as the Times’ bureau chief in Berlin, when the capital was returning from Bonn to Berlin—and I spent a lot of time in Poland and Central Europe, and also covered the Bosnian war, a war in which there were concentration camps—for better or worse, I do bring that sensibility to it.

You refer, in your latest column, to Modi as “measured, ascetic, not driven by impulse.” Is that the best way to describe someone who is a right-wing ideologue and has gleefully waved away reports of mass murder that he presided over?

Well, I think, you know, I’m not—I have been in India several times. I can’t claim to be an India hand. As came through in that column, I’m skeptical of this knee-jerk reaction to Modi, who seems, to me, to be a very important and transformative figure. Troubling, but the fact is that, after seventy years [of Indian statehood], I don’t know how many hundreds of millions of toilets, of roads, of gas connections, he’s made. It is also a human right, in my view, not to have to defecate outside. And he is moving India forward, I think, in a very powerful and interesting way. And he just got elected in a landslide, by more than six hundred million people. You will tell me that Orbán was elected, too, and so was Hitler, for that matter, but six hundred million votes—that’s the world’s largest democracy in action.

To be clear, his party didn’t get six hundred million votes. That’s the number of people who voted in that election.

Yeah, sorry, yeah. It’s clear also that he comes from a Hindu-nationalist background, and that his base, his party—there have been some very ugly incidents. But there are a hundred and fifty million-plus Muslims in India. How many Hindus are there in Pakistan? In general, I am a little skeptical of the knee-jerk liberal reaction across the board. I think one has to think very carefully. Even with Trump, you have to step back and think, What is actually happening here? Why was this guy elected? Trump is us. We elected him. Let’s look at what caused that.

Sure. I am curious what you think the knee-jerk liberal reaction is to Modi. He was the Prime Minister of a state and presided over a mass murder that was carried out by his ideological allies, that he waved away. Since he got into office, there has been a massive rise in hate crimes—

There was never, I mean, Modi—it went all the way through the courts in India. Yes. Clearly, he looked away. Whether he did more than that, I don’t know. And, yes, that is grave, that is very serious. And I certainly recognize that.

I think many analysts would argue that previous governments did more on social indicators like defecation. Have you read about what is happening in the state of Assam, where they are trying to remove Muslims from the citizenship roles and are building camps? Modi’s party has talked about doing this nationwide.

Well, obviously if that happened—if there was an attempt to remove a hundred and fifty million Muslims from the electoral rolls in India—then we are in a whole new ball game, and we are in a completely unacceptable trashing of Indian democracy. But, you know, I stand by what I wrote.

But what is the knee-jerk liberal reaction to being upset by right-wing movements—

No, no, there is nothing wrong with being upset at all. But to make the perfect enemy of the good, to write this man off, to write Modi off, I am not ready to do that. I think he is changing India in some very important and positive ways.

Such as?

He is modernizing it. He’s taking the country forward.

What does that mean?

Well, economic development. Better conditions. All these people in the countryside who voted for him, they are voting for him because their lives are getting better. And I don’t think what you said about the previous government having done as much as Modi—if Modi’s numbers are to be believed, and I don’t see any reason why they aren’t—where do you get that information? It is not what I have seen or read.

You are making the assumption that he is doing well because he is winning. If Trump won reëlection, would your assumption be that he made poor people’s lives better?

Comment by Riaz Haq on October 15, 2019 at 4:24pm

#India falls to 102 in global #HungerIndex, 8 ranks below #Pakistan. It was the lowest ranked among #SouthAsian countries. #Modi #BJP #Hindutva http://toi.in/tTLU_Y37/a24gk via @timesofindia

Comment by Riaz Haq on October 15, 2019 at 4:25pm

#India is home to almost a quarter of the global poor. Five countries with the highest number of world's extreme #poor are (in descending order): #India (24%), #Nigeria (12%), Democratic Republic of #Congo (7%), #Ethiopia (4%) & #Bangladesh (3%). #poverty http://blogs.worldbank.org/opendata/half-world-s-poor-live-just-5-c...

Of the world’s 736 million extreme poor in 2015, 368 million—half of the total—lived in just 5 countries. The 5 countries with the highest number of extreme poor are (in descending order): India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh. They also happen to be the most populous countries of South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, the two regions that together account for 85 percent (629 million) of the world’s poor. Therefore, to make significant continued progress towards the global target of reducing extreme poverty (those living on less than $1.90 a day) to less than 3 percent by 2030, large reductions in poverty in these five countries will be crucial.

However, we mustn’t lose sight of the numerous other countries with high poverty rates. As poverty projections to 2030 for these five countries reveal, uneven outcomes are likely (see figure 2). When projections are based on countries growing in line with past growth rates (the regional average over the last ten years), extreme poverty in India and Bangladesh approaches zero by 2030 but extreme poverty in Nigeria, DRC, and Ethiopia remains quite elevated. The uneven progress across these 5 countries is indicative of the broader uneven progress globally. An outcome where extreme poverty is nearly eliminated throughout the world except in one region, sub-Saharan Africa, certainly does not portray a picture of a world free of poverty. As emphasized in the Poverty and Shared Prosperity Report 2018, we should go beyond the focus on reducing the global poverty rate to below 3 percent and strive to ensure that all countries and all people can share in the benefits of economic development.

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 20, 2020 at 4:49pm

#India Doesn’t Want #Monkeys Attacking #Trump During Taj Mahal Visit. Police plan to use slingshots during the president’s upcoming visit to ward off 100s of aggressive monkeys living near centuries-old mausoleum #TajMahal #TrumpInIndia https://www.huffpost.com/entry/trump-taj-mahal-monkey-attack_n_5e4e... via @HuffPostPol

When President Donald Trump visits India next week, officials will be going bananas trying to prevent him from being attacked by monkeys at the Taj Mahal.

The city of Agra, where the famous building is located, will be under security lockdown during Trump’s visit, India Today reported. That means that no one will be allowed out of their homes when the president is traveling from the local airport to the Taj Mahal.

That’s fine and dandy for humans. But try convincing the 500 to 700 monkeys living near the nearly four-century-old mausoleum. The rhesus macaques have a reputation for being very aggressive toward the 25,000 tourists who visit the Taj on a typical day.

Slingshots, police say, are the solution. Officers assigned to Trump’s visit will be armed with the devices to chase off any monkeys that menace the president and first lady Melania Trump during their visit.

“We found that monkeys get scared by just seeing us brandishing these slingshots,” Brij Bhushan, head of the Taj Mahal security force, told Reuters last year.

The weapons work on monkeys individually or in small groups, but they’re “completely ineffective” in warding off packs of maurading macaques, a law enforcement official told India Today.

In May 2018, monkeys attacked two French tourists as they were taking selfies, according to the Independent. Later that year, monkeys reportedly snatched a 12-day-old baby from its nearby home and killed it.

One Agra resident lamented that persistent efforts to control the monkey population have come to nothing.

“The terror of the monkeys is so pervasive that women and children are scared of going up on the roof of their houses, which have almost been taken over by monkeys,” the resident told India Today. “If such a large troop of monkeys attacks Donald Trump’s entourage, it will be a disaster.”


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