The Economist Does a Hatchet Job On Pakistan's Handling of COVID19 Pandemic

In a recent article entitled "Is Pakistan really handling the pandemic better than India", The Economist says Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has "crowed" about his government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. It also cites an Indian-American professor who says "test not, find not" to raise questions about Pakistan's coronavirus data. Conspicuously absent from the article is any emphasis on  the covid19 test "positivity rate" that is seen as a key barometer of the pandemic to guide decisions by health officials around the world. Both the tone and the content of the Economist's piece smack of blatant bias. 

COVID19 Test Positivity Rate: 

The percent positive is exactly what it sounds like: the percentage of all coronavirus tests performed that are actually positive. John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health describes the positivity rate as " critical measure because it gives us an indication how widespread infection is in the area where the testing is occurring".

COVID19 Test Positivity Rate. Source: Our World in Data

Pakistan has been conducting around 25,000 tests a day for several months. While this level of testing is low by global standards, it is good enough to indicate the percentage of population that may be infected. The positivity rate in Pakistan has been below 2% since the beginning of August, 2020. 

Pakistan Government Statistics on COVID19. Source: Health Department


The Economist piece does admit that "the proportion of tests coming back positive was also falling, as were the numbers of people being taken to hospital or being kept in intensive care". But it clearly downplays it while highlighting the low testing rate in the country.

Pakistan government's data and anecdotal evidence suggest that the number of daily deaths from coronavirus have declined to near zero. Hospitals are not seeing thousands of new patients either. 

World Health Organization:

World Health Organization (WHO) has praised Pakistan's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. It has included Pakistan among 5 countries succeeding against the COVID19 pandemic. In an opinion piece published in UK's "The Independent", WHO chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote as follows:  "Pakistan deployed the infrastructure built up over many years for polio to combat Covid-19. Community health workers who have been trained to go door-to-door vaccinating children against polio have been redeployed and utilized for surveillance, contact tracing and care. This has suppressed the virus so that, as the country stabilizes, the economy is also now picking up once again. Reinforcing the lesson that the choice is not between controlling the virus or saving the economy; the two go hand-in-hand". 

Pakistan's Health Chief Dr. Faisal Sultan has explained the country's efforts to contain the pandemic in the following words: “We have found significant positives amongst those traced via contact tracing and thus it has impacted on reducing further spread via self isolation, education and sensitization of the contacts. Quantification is sometimes not easy, but is being analyzed to see if a numerical value could be assigned with confidence.”

Community Based Health Program:

“It’s one of the best community-based health systems in the world,” said Dr. Donald Thea, a Boston University researcher, talking about Pakistan's Lady Health Workers Program. Thea is one of the authors of a recent Lancet study on child pneumonia treatment in Pakistan. He talked with the New York Times about the study. Published in British medical journal "The Lancet" this month, the study followed 1,857 children who were treated at home with oral amoxicillin for five days and 1,354 children in a control group who were given standard care: one dose of oral cotrimoxazole and instructions to go to the nearest hospital or clinic. The home-treated group had only a 9 percent treatment-failure rate, while the control group children failed to improve 18 percent of the time.

Launched in 1994 by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's government, Pakistan’s Lady Health Workers’ program has trained over 100,000 women to provide community health services in rural areas. The program website introduces it as follows: "This country wide initiative with community participation constitutes the main thrust of the extension of outreach health services to the rural population and urban slum communities through deployment of over 100,000 Lady Health Workers (LHWs) and covers more than 65% of the target population. The Programme contributes directly to MDG goals number 1, 4, 5 & 6 and indirectly to goal number 3 & 7. The National Programme for Family Planning and Primary Health Care is funded by the Government of Pakistan. International partners offer support in selected domains in the form of technical assistance, trainings or emergency relief." 

comprehensive review of the program has found that as compared to communities not served by the LHWs, the served households were 11% more likely to use modern family planning methods, 13% were more likely to have had a tetanus toxoid vaccination, 15% more were likely to have received a medical check-up within 24 hours of a birth, and 15% more were likely to have immunized children below three years. The improvements in health indicators among the populations covered by the LHWs were not entirely attributable to the program alone; researchers noted that other positive changes such as economic growth, increased provision of health services and better education services helped to enhance the impact. While the program had managed to sustain its impact despite its large expansion, evaluators found that serious weaknesses in the provision of supplies, and equipment and referral services need to be urgently addressed. The program is now a major employer of women in the non-agricultural formal sector in rural areas, and is being more than doubled in size if budget allocations can be sustained. If universal coverage is achieved, every community in the country will have at least one lady health worker, one working woman and potential leader, who could serve as a catalyst for positive change for women in her community. The health officials say that unlike the mid-1990s when it was difficult to recruit women because of the minimum 8th grade education requirement, now there are large numbers of women who meet the requirement lining up for interviews in spite of low stipend of just Rs. 7000 per month. Private sector is also helping the LHW program. Mobile communications service provider Mobilink has recently partnered up with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Pakistan's Ministry of Health (MoH) and GSMA Development Fund in an innovative pilot project which offers low cost mobile handsets and shared access to voice (PCOs) to LHWs in remote parts of the country. Mobilink hopes to bridge the communication gap between the LHW and their ability to access emergency health care and to help the worker earn extra income through the Mobilink PCO (Public Call Office).


The tone and content of a recent Economist piece on the efforts to contain COVID19 in India and Pakistan leave little doubt in my mind that it is motivated by malice against Pakistan and its leaders. The Economist says Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has "crowed" about his government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. It also cites an Indian-American professor who says "test not, find not" to raise questions about Pakistan's coronavirus data. Conspicuously absent from the article is any emphasis on  the covid19 test "positivity rate" that is seen as a key barometer of the pandemic to guide decisions by health officials around the world. 

Here's a World Economic Forum (WEF) video describing the efforts of 5 countries, including Pakistan, to contain the pandemic:"; width="560"></iframe>" height="315" src="" width="560" style="cursor: move; background-color: #b2b2b2;" /> 

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Comment by Riaz Haq on October 8, 2020 at 9:27am

#India's #COVID19 Outbreak Spreads Through Rural Areas. Hospitals are straining; in the #coronavirus ward of one hospital in the state of #Tripura , insects were left to crawl over corpses, according to photos from a ex govt official.- The New York Times

Mr. Modi locked down the country this spring, with four hours’ notice, to buy time for India to scale up its production of masks and other protective equipment and to open treatment centers. But the severe lockdown spawned an exodus of millions of migrant laborers who could not afford to stay in urban areas. Their movement to rural communities helped spread the virus to nearly every corner of India.

“We are still in the first wave,” said Rajib Acharya, a New Delhi-based research associate at the Population Council, a nonprofit that works on health and development issues.

“I don’t see any new strategy for the rural areas,” he added.

Rural areas are not well positioned to cope. Nearly two-thirds of all hospital beds in the country are in urban areas, which are home to only one-third of the population.


Sliding out of their rickshaw, masks on, fresh sanitizer smeared across their hands, a team of health workers approached one of the mud-walled homes in Masli, a remote village in northeast India surrounded by miles of mountainous rainforest.

“Are you Amit Deb?” they asked a lean, shirtless man standing in his yard. Mr. Deb nodded cautiously. Five days earlier, he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Now his family members needed to be tested.

They all refused.

“We can’t afford to quarantine,” explained Mr. Deb, a shopkeeper. If anyone else in his family was found positive, they would all be ordered to stay inside, which would mean even more weeks of not working, which would push the family closer to running out of food.

The medical team moved on to the next house. But they kept meeting more refusals.

The defiance of the coronavirus rules is being reflected across rural India, and it is propelling this nation’s virus caseload toward the No. 1 spot globally. Infections are rippling into every corner of this country of 1.3 billion people. The Indian news media is calling it “The Rural Surge.”


On a muggy September evening, Rupam Bhattacharyajee broke down outside the Govind Ballabh Pant Hospital, Tripura’s only critical care health facility, in the state capital of Agartala.

Mr. Bhattacharyajee’s elderly father was inside, sprawled on a mattress on the floor — there were no spare beds — fighting for his life.

“I am totally helpless,” Mr. Bhattacharyajee said.

A local court is investigating Tripura’s pandemic response, following news reports about conditions at the hospital. A photograph believed to have been taken recently in the hospital’s coronavirus care center, which was shared with The New York Times by Sudip Roy Barman, a former state health minister, showed a dead body with insects crawling on it.

Debashish Roy, the hospital’s medical superintendent, declined to comment.

After seeing the conditions inside the hospital, Mr. Bhattacharyajee brought his father back home. He paid more than $200 for a private ambulance and made the bumpy six-hour journey sitting in the back, swapping out oxygen cylinders continuously to keep his father breathing.

Comment by Riaz Haq on October 9, 2020 at 4:49pm

Well-done: After containing #COVID19, #Pakistan also defeats Tiddi Dal. The National Locust Control Center (NLCC) announced on Tuesday that it has achieved a milestone as no #locust was found in any of the provinces. #LocustInvasion

According to ARY News, the National Locust Control Center (NLCC) has achieved a milestone on Tuesday as no locust was found in any of the provinces. The press statement issued by the Ministry of National Food Security said no locust was found in the provinces of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and Sindh during a survey.

The NLCC surveyed around 129,072 hectares area of land during the past twenty-four hours however presence of swarms of locust was not found in any area, according to the statement.

During the past 6 months, the locust control operations carried out on 11,34,161 hectares of land across the country.

Earlier, the NLCC had announced that Sindh, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces have been cleared of the swarms of locusts.

A few months ago, GVS reported that the threat of a locust flare-up comes as summer crops of cotton, sugar cane, and rice are being sown in Pakistan, while fruit and vegetables are ready to be harvested.

The latest FAO situation report warns that desert locust breeding is ongoing across 38% of land area in Pakistan, with the entire country under threat of an invasion if the pest is not contained. Pakistan suffered its worst locust attack in nearly three decades in 2019, for which the country was ill-prepared at the time.

China, meanwhile, is also assisting Pakistan in its locust efforts. The Chinese Embassy in Islamabad said in a statement that Beijing has already sent teams of agricultural experts to advise Pakistani farmers, donated 300 tons of malathion, and 50 air-powered high-efficiency remote sprayers to combat the insects.

As Pakistan is almost free from locust, it confirmed that India proposed a trilateral response in partnership with Iran to counter the worst locust attack. “We have received a proposal from India,” Pakistan’s then Foreign Ministry spokesperson Aisha Farooqui told VOA.

“We believe that a well-coordinated response is critical to deal with the challenge posed by desert locusts,” she stressed. She would not say what Islamabad’s possible response to the Indian proposal would be.

Farooqui, however, noted that Pakistan was “working closely” with regional countries, including India and global partners, particularly the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), to address the looming locust threat.

Comment by Riaz Haq on October 9, 2020 at 6:35pm

#NobelPeacePrize goes to World Food Program for combatting #hunger. Backslide can be seen everywhere from #India — in the midst of its deepest-ever recession — to #LatinAmerica, where the number of people in #poverty is expected to rise 25%. #COVID19

The World Bank said this month that global poverty would rise this year for the first time in two decades. It said somewhere between 88 to 115 million would fall this year into extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.90 per day.

“In the blink of an eye, a health crisis became an economic crisis, a food crisis, a housing crisis, a political crisis. Everything collided with everything else,” the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said in a recent report. “We’ve been set back about 25 years in about 25 weeks.”

The WFP’s greatest logistical and humanitarian challenge in recent years has come in Yemen, where nearly six years of conflict have left 20 million people in crisis, with another 3 million potentially facing starvation due to coronavirus.

Many Yemenis remain out of reach of assistance, because of the remoteness of some hard-hit areas, and because of violence that has made it perilous for aid groups to deliver relief. The WFP said that, despite those challenges, it delivers assistance “to the vast majority of the vulnerable people in the country.”

The Norwegian Nobel Committee noted the role of hunger as a weapon of war, seemingly a reference to WFP’s criticism of Yemen’s Houthi rebels for diverting food aid and preventing access to WFP and other aid groups.

“It’s one of the oldest conflict weapons in the world, that you can starve out a population to enter a territory,” Reiss-Andersen said. “If you get control over the food, you get also military control and you get better control of civilians. You can also use food insecurity as a method to chase populations away from their territory.”

The deadline for nominations for this year’s prize was Feb. 1 — seemingly a different era in a world that was not yet paralyzed by the pandemic.


With every in-person gathering a risk, this year’s announcement was a stripped-down affair, without the jostling, cheerful crowd of journalists who assembled at the ornate offices of the Norwegian Nobel Institute in past Octobers.

Trump had been nominated for the prize by far-right Norwegian politicians, a fact he trumpeted in campaign advertising but which carried no meaningful weight, since a wide group of people are free to nominate whomever they wish. Trump had long sought the laurel, though given his unpopularity in Norway, where the decision is made, an award always seemed like a long shot.

Comment by Riaz Haq on October 11, 2020 at 5:41pm

Reporter Rukmini Callamachi caught reporting false #ISIS "Caliphate" stories in #NYTimes, fake stories linking #Pakistan & #Canadian #Pakistani young man Shehroze Chaudhry with the #terrorist group in #Syria. Yazidi slave girls stories also questionable

While it’s scrubbing down “Caliphate” for factual problems, the New York Times review team might consider the sensibility that drove the entire enterprise: sensationalism.


The problems with “Caliphate,” however, run deeper than just the placement of Chapter 6. On a substantive level, the chapter fails to reckon with the inconsistencies it does raise, comes off as a mishmash of confession and narrative squirming and leaves out crucial inconsistencies reported in other outlets. At the start of the chapter, Callimachi describes spearheading a deeper look into Abu Huzayfah’s history. A long flight, she says, gave her the opportunity to “methodically go over what Huzayfah had told me. And it was at that point that I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach,” she says. (The Daily Beast reported on the internal discussions that led to Chapter 6).

The scrutiny ultimately leads the “Caliphate” team to conclude that Abu Huzayfah had given them a phony timeline — that he wasn’t in Syria, for example, in early July 2014, as he claimed to Callimachi in another episode. (That was when Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made a much-remarked-upon public appearance.)

Then an astounding thing happens: The “Caliphate” team members retrofit Abu Huzayfah with a brand-new terrorist timeline. They dig into his passport stamps and transcripts from a Pakistani university he claimed to have attended. They put all the data on a whiteboard to piece together the puzzle. Working together, the group discusses the possibility that he did go to Syria months later than he’d said. Callimachi: “There’s one big gap of time, from September of 2014 until April of 2015. His, his Canadian passport has him as being in Pakistan, right? It’s a stretch of seven, almost eight months.”


That imperative suffuses the reporting on Bashar, the Islamic State detainee who had enslaved a Yazidi girl. After Callimachi expressed doubt about the detainee’s claims to have sought to save the Yazidi girl, Bashar challenged her: “Go find this girl,” he says. Callimachi returns to the prison the next day and conducts a call with the girl on one end (flanked by her father) and herself and Bashar on the other end. Callimachi asks the girl if Bashar had raped her. She responds: “Yes. I swear to God, all of them have taken my virtue and my honor.”

Putting a girl on the line with her rapist reeks of exploitation. Belkis Wille, senior Iraq researcher at Human Rights Watch, says it would have been difficult to secure “free and informed” consent from the girl via telephone. What’s more, it is clear from the conversation that the girl didn’t want to be “explicit,” says Wille. Nonetheless, Callimachi is “pushing her to be explicit for the purpose of capturing a sound bite,” says Wille.

Comment by Riaz Haq on October 11, 2020 at 6:23pm

An Arrest in Canada Casts a Shadow on a New York Times Star, and The Times
A top editor is now reviewing Rukmini Callimachi’s reporting on terrorism, which turned distant conflicts into accessible stories but drew criticism from colleagues.

Derek Henry Flood wasn’t looking for work in March of 2018, when he sent a direct message to a New York Times reporter he admired, Rukmini Callimachi, to congratulate her on the announcement of her big new podcast about the terror group known as the Islamic State.

By that time, major American news outlets had mostly stopped hiring freelancers like Mr. Flood in Syria, scared off by a wave of kidnappings and murders.

But when Mr. Flood mentioned that he was in the northern city of Manbij, Ms. Callimachi wrote back urgently, and quickly hired him for a curious assignment. She sent him to the local market to ask about a Canadian Islamic State fighter called Abu Huzayfah.

The assignment, Mr. Flood recalled thinking, was both hopeless and quite strange in its specificity, since the extremist group had been forced out of Manbij two years earlier. But he was getting $250 a day, and so he gamely roamed the bazaar, reporting on all he saw and heard. Ms. Callimachi was singularly focused. “She only wanted things that very narrowly supported this kid in Canada’s wild stories,” he told me in a phone interview.

Mr. Flood didn’t know it at the time, but he was part of a frantic effort at The New York Times to salvage the high-profile project the paper had just announced. Days earlier, producers had sent draft scripts of the series, called Caliphate, to the international editor, Michael Slackman, for his input. But Mr. Slackman instead called the podcast team into the office of another top Times editor, Matt Purdy, a deputy managing editor who often signs off on investigative projects. The editors warned that the whole story seemed to depend on the credibility of a single character, the Canadian, whose vivid stories of executing men while warm blood “sprayed everywhere” were as lurid as they were uncorroborated. (This scene and others were described to me in interviews with more than two dozen people at The Times, many of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive internal politics.)


A month later, The Times’s audio team moved forward. The first episode of Caliphate appeared on April 19, 2018, marking a major step toward The Times’s realization of its multimedia ambitions. It was promoted with a glossy marketing campaign that featured an arresting image, with the rubble of Mosul on one side and Ms. Callimachi’s face on the other. The series was 10 parts in all, including a new, sixth episode released on May 24 of that year detailing doubts about Abu Huzayfah’s story and The Times’s efforts to confirm it. The presentation carried an obvious, if implicit assumption: the central character of the narrative wasn’t making the whole story up.

That assumption appeared to blow up a couple of weeks ago, on Sept. 25, when the Canadian police announced that they had arrested the man who called himself Abu Huzayfah, whose real name is Shehroze Chaudhry, under the country’s hoax law. The details of the Canadian investigation aren’t yet public. But the recriminations were swift among those who worked with Ms. Callimachi at The Times in the Middle East.

“Maybe the solution is to change the podcast name to #hoax?” tweeted Margaret Coker, who left as The Times’s Iraq bureau chief in 2018 after a bitter dispute with Ms. Callimachi and now runs an investigative journalism start-up in Georgia.

The Times has assigned a top editor, Dean Murphy, who heads the investigations reporting group, to review the reporting and editing process behind Caliphate and some of Ms. Callimachi’s other stories, and has also assigned an investigative correspondent with deep experience in national security reporting, Mark Mazzetti, to determine whether Mr. Chaudhry ever set foot in Syria and other questions opened by the arrest in Canada.


Comment by Riaz Haq on October 11, 2020 at 6:55pm

An Arrest in Canada Casts a Shadow on a New York Times Star, and The Times
A top editor is now reviewing Rukmini Callimachi’s reporting on terrorism, which turned distant conflicts into accessible stories but drew criticism from colleagues.

Her (Callimachi's) work had impact at the highest levels. A former Trump aide, Sebastian Gorka, a leading voice for the White House’s early anti-Muslim immigration policies, quoted Ms. Callimachi’s work to reporters to predict a wave of ISIS attacks in the United States. Two Canadian national security experts wrote in Slate that the podcast “profoundly influenced the policy debate” and pushed Canada to leave the wives and children of ISIS fighters in Kurdish refugee camps.

The haziness of the terrorism beat also raises the question of why The Times chose to pull this particular tale out of the chaotic canvas of Syria’s collapse.

“The narrative her work perpetuates sensationalizes violence committed by Arabs or Muslims by focusing almost exclusively on — even pathologizing — their culture and religion,” said Alia Malek, the director of international reporting at the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY and the author of a book about Syria. That narrative, she said, often ignores individuals’ motives and a geopolitical context that includes decades of American policy. “That might make for much more uncomfortable listening, but definitely more worthwhile.”

Ms. Callimachi told me that she has been focused on “just how ordinary ISIS members are” and that her work “has always made a hard distinction between the faith practiced by over a billion people and the ideology of extremism.”

Mr. Baquet declined to comment on the specifics of Ms. Callimachi’s reporting or the internal complaints about it, but he defended the sweep of her work on ISIS.

“I don’t think there’s any question that ISIS was a major important player in terrorism,” he said, “and if you look at all of The Times’s reporting over many years, I think it’s a mix of reporting that helps you understand what gives rise to this.” (Mr. Baquet and Mr. Kahn, I should note here, are my boss’s boss’s boss and my boss’s boss, respectively, and my writing about The Times while on its payroll brings with it all sorts of potential conflicts of interest and is generally a bit of a nightmare.)

While some of her colleagues in the Middle East and Washington found Ms. Callimachi’s approach to ISIS coverage overzealous, others admired her relentless work ethic.

“Is she aggressive? Yes, and so are the best reporters,” said Adam Goldman, who covers the F.B.I. for The Times and has argued in favor of the kind of reporting on hostages that alienated Ms. Callimachi from other colleagues like Mr. Chivers. “None of us are infallible.”

What is clear is that The Times should have been alert to the possibility that, in its signature audio documentary, it was listening too hard for the story it wanted to hear — “rooting for the story,” as The Post’s Erik Wemple put it on Friday. And while Mr. Baquet emphasized in an interview last week that the internal review would examine whether The Times wasn’t keeping to its standards in the audio department, the troubling patterns surrounding Ms. Callimachi’s reporting were clear before Caliphate.

Comment by Riaz Haq on December 2, 2020 at 9:10pm

International Infrastructure Investment & Construction Forum in #Macao. 22 projects under #CPEC, covering roads, railways, airports, thermal power, hydropower, renewable energy, Gwadar Port, special economic zones have all made progress despite #COVID19.

In his speech, Chairman of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority (CPECA) Asim Saleem Bajwa said that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor was a major pilot project of the “Belt and Road” Initiative. Over the past five years, there were 22 construction projects under the framework of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, covering roads, railways, airports, thermal power, hydropower, renewable energy, Gwadar Port, special economic zones, and other areas. In the face of COVID-19, all projects in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor have been moving forward, bringing hope for a future of peace and economic growth.

On the first day of the Forum, keynote forums themed “Challenges and Opportunities: Outlook on International Infrastructure Development in Post COVID-19 Era” and “Solidarity and Co-operation: Jointly Promoting International Infrastructure Development in a Steady Progress”, the 6th China-LAC Infrastructure Forum and the “Networking Reception of the Mainland China-Macao Belt and Road Business and Professional Services Council” were also held. At the same time, the “Belt and Road Infrastructure Development Index (2020)” and the “Annual Report on Belt and Road Infrastructure Development Index (2020)” were released.
(Macao Trade and Investment Promotion Institute)


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