August 2003




August  2003 



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Letter from Pakistan

by "Bak Mai"


Amaltaas-f.jpg (624437 bytes)


"Koyaliya boley ambva ki dali pey ……………"

Mango Madness is here. Names such as the "Langra-the lame", " Chaunsa- the suckable", " Malda – the rich one" , and last but not the least a new variety of Talibanized mango called "Mula di Shaan- or the Greatness of the Mullah" [ I have not tried this variety so far] , etc. The "Falsa" berries are here; so too are the Lychees, apricots, peaches and water-melons .

The season that the British writer E.M. Foster decided as the title of one of his books " Heat & Dust " is here. Interspersed with a few thunder and dust storms, that is exactly the sort of weather these days. The sparrows and the Maina birds hang around the shaded verandhas of houses. A flat earthen saucer full of water will draw these birds all day long. The flat earthen saucer is dual purpose for the birds – a water bar and a shower to cool off. Once the heat gets too much [45 degrees Centigrade], one invariably gets a dust/thunderstorm. One such dust storm that hit Islamabad about 2 weeks ago was clocked at 140 km per hour and a High Voltage Transmission tower buckled in the process leading to the famous load shedding syndrome in Islamabad and Rawalpindi..

The good news is that there is one more tree approaching its full bloom in this 45 degree centigrade heat . Its name is Ambal Taas [ its long beans are used for stomach disorders] and it is currently in a glorious state of bloom [ see pictures ] with grapelike clusters of yellow flowers . About 50 of these Ambal Taas trees are lined all the way on one side of the road in front of the Jinnah Supermarket in sector F-7 in Islamabad. In May the Jacaranda lavender [ "Neela Gul-e-Mohar" ] color blooms were in a riot about 2 months ago in the road in sector F-11 [ See TSA Issue." Letter from Pakistan" – May-June 2003]. The "Motia" [ Jasmine] is also in bloom as the hot weather has brought with it a change in flowers being sold in the flower shops – currently the tube roses sell for Rs.30 [ = US $ 0.50 ] per dozen and their fragrance will linger and soothe ones senses in rooms where they are placed .


Monetary Madness - New Budget – Going North & South : Business as Usual.

Housing & Consumer Loans, Online Banking

Of major interest are stories on the new Budget and the spin the Government and the Minister of Finance –Shaukat [ nicknamed "Show Cat" due to his penchant for publicity] Aziz is putting on it. Government Officers’ salaries have been increased by 15 %. They were increased 100% last year. There are no new taxes. House building loans are to be offered to all consumers as the banks are flush with cash and interest rates are at historic low levels around 9 %. This will also encourage banks to allow loans for consumer items such as TV, Refrigerators, Cars, etc. Small & Medium Businesses are to be given loans. Agricultural loans are also being given priority. The State Bank of Pakistan has set out a mandate asking all major banks to get Online systems ready, and also start electronic filing of annual /quarterly financial report of Publicly listed companies on the Stock Exchanges. One can also do Online banking with most major banks. Utility bills can now be paid via ATM machines which are being run on a shared basis by a group of 10 banks on a 24 hour non-stop basis.


Education :

Pakistan Software Export Board was a good scam while it lasted. So too are scams such as Kahuta Research Labs where the Ph.Ds are reportedly doing well at the milking games. The education sector budget has been doubled to Rs 2 billion and there will be a market shakeout of the Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 so called Universities. A good number of professionals who have come back from the US are available as teachers. The quality of education at the high school level and up to higher secondary needs to be drastically overhauled due to the low level of [ so called "Intermediate"] education, lack of practical hands-on laboratory based experiments and problem solving ability. At the inauguration of the "AIR [ Force] University" ,the presence of Air Marshall Nur Khan [the man who set standards of excellence in managing institutions such as the Air Force, the AirLines –PIA, National Hockey, National Squash [ producing world squash champions -- Jehangir & Jansher Khan ] , gave the event a dignity and seriousness that is much needed in Pakistan. Recently, all the top universities reported an influx of students from "A" level schools and colleges. The result has been a shooting up of scores in the exams in these universities. Previously, top students from top schools used to leave the country and get scholarships and financial aid from the top US universities, it appears that this trend has stopped since September 11.


The car industry here with its Toyotas and Hondas and Hyundais is doing well growing at 65% over the last year. There are reports that a major Chinese car-maker is all set to make these 800 c.c. cars in Pakistan for a very attractive price of Rs. 200,000. Chinese goods are flooding the Pakistan markets and the whole issue of India flooding Pakistan’s economy with low priced goods is effectively dead. It is India that is under a flood of cheap smuggled Chinese goods.

The word is spinning around that Pakistan’s economic engines are revving for economic "take-off". About Rs 15 billion in bad loans have been written of by the public sector banks such as Habib, United and National Bank. We have heard such claims many times in the past so the best way to understand this is to discount them with an appropriate factor just as Wall Street does when waiting for Alan Greenspan’s [ the US Federal Reserve Bank Governor ] enigmatic words on interest rate cuts.

It is therefore surprising to see how the Pakistan Karachi Stock Exchange [KSE] has risen to its level of 3300. Has this been "managed" also? The Pakistan "Fortune Five " are a handful of companies which are traded on KSE [notably PTCL which has, 20% weightage on the KSE, then Hubco , Engro, and Fauji Fertilizer and Dewan Salman]. There is very little trading of the rest of the 800 or so publicly listed stock market companies. There have been no new company Initial Public Offerings on the KSE. Nevertheless, AKD Securities has started mobile phone quotes of the Karachi Stock Exchange KSE. The Leather manufacturers of Pakistan have also started an e-Commerce site for the export of leather goods. Lastly despite severe political and economic pressures Pakistan has crossed $10 billion in exports this year. Nevertheless unemployment remains high and is simply not being addressed.


The latest news headlines is that Pakistan is set to get about $ 3 billion in aid from the US in view of its efforts to go terrorist hunting along with President Bush. Initially the US Centcomm web site had published an article giving details of what amount [ cash value of number of air-sorties, navy assistance to US marines landing at Pasni beach in Baluchistan, number of air bases , amount of jet fuel given , etc ] Pakistan was due. The total in all due to Pakistan by the US came to a figure of about $ 10 billion .[ export losses, war insurance and canceled orders ] . This article was duplicated by the South Asia Tribune site and this site was blocked by the Pakistan Government - courtesy PTCL.. Although this news was belittled by the Finance minister and caused the Pakistan Government major embarrassment, it has since become publicly known how deep is the involvement and support that has been given by Pakistan to the US in its campaign in Afghanistan.


The Ghazi Barotha Hydel Power project generating peak power of 1,400MW, from a fall in the Indus river near Tarbela has gone online and the power generated is integrated into the National Grid . The Power channel is taken from a small barrage built about 7 miles downstream of Tarbela. This power channel is then taken all the way to Barotha about a few miles downstream of Attock.

For the financing WAPDA accounts for the lion's share – it will tap internal resources to invest $1 billion, or 44.4% of the total ($2.25 billion). The World Bank provided a twenty-year loan of $350 million, and the ADB a twenty-five year loan of $300 million. National development funds covered most of the remainder, with Japan's Overseas Economic Co-operation Fund offering $350 million and Germany's Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW) $150 million.

Media Madness

The article in "Time" magazine rubbishing the city of Karachi will no doubt do wonders for the Foreign Investors, who are already nervous in the wake of the Maulvis onslaught on women in the Frontier province. President General Musharraf in his labyrinth [ ISI] is pondering on which chess piece [ the maulvis or the Chaudharies or the tribal Legahris , Khans , etc – MNA’s all of whom are major loan defaulters including our current head honcho ] to move in his political chess game. The opposition has been sticking to its guns in asking the President to remove his military uniform .and kill the LFO- Legal Framework Order – a euphemism for Military takeovers. The Frontier IG Police and the Chief secretary have been ordered back to the barracks in Islamabad. Meanwhile in UK ,General Musharaf has been turning blue in the face telling his royal hosts that Pakistan will not be Talibanized.

In the midst of this madness, on Sundays nights it is a treat to watch the British Asian TV comedy show "The Kumar’s" [ "check please……."] which shows how the Punjabi century is rolling on tooting its own horn in UK.

Despite the growth of about 5 TV channels here [Geo, Indus, PTV1, 2, 3 ] the directors here have probably never heard of Marshall Mcluhan’s words on the power of the media – they still regard TV as a "cool" medium instead of a "hot" one . Pakistani dramas are full of snail speed conversations, and frequent use of the "Take five" [ 5 minuteTea break] break syndrome which translates into " Chai piyain gay…" and the TV actors expression-less faces are a sight for sore eyes. Gone are the days of the plays with actors such as Kabacha, Mehrina Khan , etc .

So the ads from the Indian StarTV channels are a welcome relief –[ " Mausam Garam Hai , aur hum Pepsi key liyey Besharam hain….." –with-Saif son of Nawab of Pataudi & Sharmila Tagore ] The recent visit of ten Members of Parliament from India reminds me of the recent peace overtures between the two countries .

Come July first week, the monsoons will be arriving here, having traveled all the way from the Arabian ocean, hitting Bombay, Goa, Kerala-Trivandaram, and then making a U-turn at Bangla-Desh and Assam, finally travelling towards the low pressure "heat & dust" areas of the Punjab.

New Books & Publishing :

A number of autobiographies are out - written by old cricket players. One is by Fazal Mahmood [ co- author Asif Sohail ] who started playing in the pre-partition 1947 days . Another one is by Javed Miandad [ co author Saad Shafqat], the enfant terrible of Pakistan cricket. Another by another first generation player "Waqar Hasan" has also been published. A biography translation in English "Song Sung True" translated by Saleem Kidwai [ Kali Publishers ] into English on Malika Pukhraj is in the market . The publishing industry appears to have been rejuvenated, when it was all but pronounced dead under the " N/Might of the generals" al la 1980 variety.

Of the new restaurants that have opened in Lahore – one is called "Coffee,Tea & Company" and another one called "Chutney Marie" [ name copied from the London restaurant ] has started operating in Gulberg’s MM Alam road and Karachi Roomi Road [ Khayabane-e-Roomi] . Hygiene levels in a few professionally run Bakeries are improving and some [ Kitchen Cuisine] have started using plastic gloves in their workplace. In other places, let the buyer beware.

Until next month!

Bak Mai



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