Desi Back to Desh

Between airports, airplanes and transit lounges

Myths about Pakistan or an infrastructure rejoinder, three

Jehan did a post on This too is Pakistan, in October 2008. At the peak of distrust, despair and negativity coming out by the buckets in that month, she went out to highlight some of the many things that are right with this country. I didn’t get round to doing a follow up but Post Modern Pakistan and the Middle Class rejoinder, one provided the perfect grounds for opening that topic!

Infrastructure upgrades, comparisons to Congo, failed states and other allied bullshit

So I have lived in California without health insurance, in New York without a job, in Virginia without hope and electricity. (I would drag London into this also but that is a city where I will always be 23 year old (long story, another book, another time)). One would think that I would pine for these wonderful days of yore every breathing second of my life. But I don’t.

6 years and change ago when we considered heading back to a country that was the closest thing to a universal villain you could find in global media, it sounded like madness. We were lucky that social services and our well meaning friends didn’t arrest us at the airport and lock us up for endangering our lives.

To be honest there were a few things that we missed when we landed in Karachi. But notice the key word – missed.

Even though things haven’t changed by much in the global media (guess who is the universal villain again?), how have things changed at home in the same time frame.

Let’s start with infrastructure.


As fate would have it, I still work in the same neighborhood that I worked from in 2003. We have grown out of four offices in this time, but luckily for this post, the last one landed us right back where we started from. In May 2003, my commute back home from work was 60 minutes of treacherous, back to back traffic. In the last six months, since we moved into our new office, it has dropped down to about 15 minutes. In the last two years it averaged 30 minutes.

In 2003, on bad days I drove over a hundred kilometers between sunrise and sunset. It would take 3 frustrating hours including occasional moments of road rage, to cover the distance. Today, the same hundred kilometers can be covered in less than 90 minutes. In case you are wondering, we live on one end of town, kids go to school on the other, the office is somewhere in the middle and our clients are on yet another end of the city.

The benefit of this investment in roads, flyovers, signal free zones and overheads are not just limited to me. Everyone benefits from it. In a city of 18 million people with 9 million commuters every day can you add the benefit of saving 90 minutes. Imagine the amount of frustration and murderous rage that has gone out of the system. And if you really want me to make a point, take a look at following exhibits

(Exhibit A,
Dubai, 1 am in the morning, distance covered, 3 kilometers, time taken, 60 minutes)

(Exhibit B, Jakarta, 5 pm in the evening, distance covered, 1 U turn, time taken, 35 minutes)

(Exhibit C, Dubai, 8 am on Friday morning, distance covered 2 kilometers, time taken 90 minutes)

Remember these are just instances where I had my camera around. You can also add five hours on the road in KL, another 3 in Bangkok, if you would take my word for it.

You would also be surprised to know but in a city full of people, who would rather not pay any taxes at all, most cover City District Government Karachi dues without having a coronary.

(Ps. In case you are a speed demon and miss your 75 mph zones from route 101, drop me a line and I will tell you where I go to get rid of my road rage these days).

Internet access and Telcos.

I left my heart, my DSL and cable connections and my browsing dreams back in California where at the turn of the century I had a 640 Kbps dedicated downstream connection. But that is all right, my multiple 4Mbps DSL pipes at the office (60US$ per month) and my fully redundant DSL 512Kbps pipes (20 US$ per month) at home do enough for me now. I have slowed down and am happy with slower connections.

But the really amazing part about all of this is that it took me less than 48 hours to move my lines from the old office to the new office and another 48 hours to move my internet connectivity. 2 years ago it took us 3 days to add 3 new lines since the exchange had capacity. This time around we weren’t that lucky.

At the same turn of the century that I was weeping about above, it took me 6 weeks to get a telephone line into my student housing apartment in Manhattan from Bell Atlantic. Four years later, how Verizon ripped us off in Virginia gets me into frenzy every time I think about it. Enough said.

So who do you think this broad band connectivity benefits. I will give you one instance.

One of our core product lines is training. See the feedback post. For just this one workshop we downloaded financial statements for five major banks in Pakistan going back five quarters. We dug up supporting information because it is now a required disclosure by the regulator in this country. We also did a comparative study of regulation across six different regions. Not to mention innumerable Google searches to round off answers to difficult questions. We were then able to package this information into a capacity and skill building session with 20 client nominees in Pakistan. Do this outside, with the same content and material, and the training bill would run at about four thousand US dollars per participant or about eighty thousand dollars in total excluding travelling, boarding and lodging costs. The total bill here in Karachi, because the information is available and we can reach it with our pipes, was five thousand US dollars.

We have done fifty such workshops in the last 6 years, here in Pakistan. That is a saving of US$75,000 excluding logistics per workshop. Who benefits from this cost saving?

Can you imagine what somebody slightly more intelligent can do with this potential? Think research; think analysts, think disclosure, think access. Think Basel II software.


Fawzia’s mother is a physician who has been delivering children for more than forty years. We are very lucky to have her and she has been there for us in so many ways. Given a choice between a hospital in Manhattan and her maternity home in Sharafabad, I would pick Sharafabad with my eyes closed every time. But Fawzia’ mother is not just our physician. She has been practicing at her clinic here in Karachi for more than 20 years and she has been just as diligent and careful with her patients and their children as she was with us. And she is just one of the many from her generation of physicians who qualified, went abroad and came back and made it possible for us to have access to care that would be unreachable, unthinkable, unaffordable and inaccessible even in the US.

Do you know the difference between a good physician and a bad one? It’s called life and death.

I am not a big fan of AKU but with our experience with Taha, first at the Neo Natal Care unit immediately after his birth, then with the learning disability diagnosis recently, I have come around. Then there is the Ma Ayesha memorial center and Anikah Shah, who runs the speech therapy department, who has made such difference in our lives. Ali another good friend dumped Manhattan to come back home and work at SIUT (the fully funded, Kidney and Liver transplant facility) in Karachi. And very recently we discovered that Jinnah had a new department for the study and treatment of neurological disorders. On the Korangi creek side the old Islamic mission hospital has now been converted into a paper free facility and renamed as Indus Hopital. Head out towards Hub and you see an impressive facility standing by itself in the middle of nowhere. It’s called Morshed Hospital,

I agree that we are privileged and have access because we have physicians in the family. But the city, by the grace of God, now has so many high end medical facilities that the only way you could appreciate it, if God forbid you, if ever had to use them.

Heart and brain surgery, bypass, kidney and liver transplants, surgical removal of malignant tumors, pace makers and neo natal care are not simple procedures. It’s not cut and stitch. You cannot perform them or support them without the appropriate facilities, the required infrastructure or the right skill set and resources.

Yet, we treat hundreds of these cases nationwide every day. How? No it is not a miracle. The truth is that we have had this infrastructure (and not just for the last few years) but we have never openly acknowledged it.

Ignore the medical side for a second, how do you fix a CAT Scan machine, a ventilator, or an EKG monitor at short notice in Pakistan. Did you know that we can?

So are we a failed state?

Media, ours and theirs, ranks us at par with Congo, Afghanistan, North Korea and other basket cases. Is that fair?

Which failed state in the last two decades (or the last 5 years)

  1. Has reduced commute times in their largest commercial centers by 75%.
  2. Unlocked enormous land values by building multiple ring road systems and traffic corridors creating opportunities for economic growth.
  3. Has a medical and health care system that can not only perform but support complex medical procedures that are only available in limited specialized medical centers in North America and Europe.
  4. Can get a telephone line into your home in less than a week, move a line in less than 48 hours and get a 4 Mbps pipe into your network for under 60 dollars a month.
  5. Commercially manufactures Interferon in a FDA Class 1 approved facility.

And if this really doesn’t convince you, just answer me one question. If you really think that we are comparable to Congo, Afghanistan, North Korea and the many others on that list, or worse, would you really move to Kabul to prove this point.

Forget Kabul, would you move to Nigeria (not the same villainous profile), any country in Central Asia (Oil and moolah), South America (Peru, Chile), Jakarta (truly exotic), or even Brunei for that matter.

If you have family and children, no you won’t. And in case you are wondering, I won’t either.

Update 1: Thanks to Sana for pointing us towards the Dawn news feature on Civil Hospital. Note that this is a government owned public sector hospital funded by public and private contributions. Scroll through all twelve pictures and tell me if you see the choas and despair of a failed state.

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