During pandemic, the rise of Pakistan’s shared workplaces

This undated file photo shows Pakistani professionals at a COLABS shared workplace. (Photo courtesy: COLABS)
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Updated 01 November 2020

During pandemic, the rise of Pakistan’s shared workplaces

  • Demand ‘through the roof’ for flexible office spaces as requirements for big offices subside
  • Women-run, home-based businesses that flourished in lockdowns have driven demand up in all-women’s co-working space/

RAWALPINDI: The popularity of the shared workplace as a cost effective, no-fuss model has recently risen in Pakistan-- considered one of the world’s largest freelancing economies-- with savvy young enthusiasts in the South Asian country’s urban centers jumping in on the bandwagon to build spaces that break the traditional office mold.
In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the owners of shared work spaces say they have witnessed demand “through the roof” for flexible office sites-- despite a lull during lockdowns earlier in the year.
“By August and September, most large offices realized the need [for flexible spaces] and demand went through the roof,” said Omar Shah, 31, co-founder and CEO of COLABS, Pakistan’s largest collaborative workspace, which Shah launched with twin brother Ali, in Lahore last year.
“The requirement for large, fancy offices slowly subsided and that is what has driven the demand up,” he added.
“Our contracts range from monthly to daily to yearly with no fixed capital costs or investment. You just walk in with your laptop and we manage the SOP’s.”
There are currently over 100 small co-working spaces in Pakistan, according to global online marketplace ‘coworker.’ Only a handful of these spaces however, have the capacity to seat more than 100 people. 
The swanky charcoal COLABS site, launched by the Shah twins in partnership with a Swedish company, accommodates 300. The building, with its cool, millennial aesthetic is complete with sun soaked work rooms, no-fuss oak tables, art on the walls, dine-in cafes, even a neon sign that reads in a scrawl: “There’s no place like work.”
It is home to freelancers, Pakistani startups like popular media site ProperGaanda, as well as mature international businesses looking to set up shop in Pakistan.
“Some of our small to medium businesses are companies based in the US or Europe that have operations in Pakistan, but do not necessarily want to deal with the headache of setting up an office here,” Shah said. 
Rent for shared office spaces in Pakistan, a country of 220 million people, ranges from as low as Rs.6000 to upwards of Rs.100,000. 
But for Karachi-based freelancer Mishayl Naek, 39, the incentive to set up a co-working space went beyond just business. 
Naek decided to set up a community space inspired by her freelance work that often found her without a comfortable- and safe- place to work in the bustling seaside metropolis.
“I looked at existing co-working space but they were very male oriented. This inspired me to open a women-centric co-working space in 2019,” Naek said, which eventually became ‘Pinky Gul.’
In the aftermath of the pandemic, Naek said, demand for partnerships at Pinky Gul have increased as more and more women-run, home-based businesses opened and flourished during COVID-19 lockdowns.
“A lot of home-based businesses opened in Corona times so we have more partnerships than before,” she said.
“Women needed spaces that were multi-faceted, which supported their businesses and created networks.”
Currently, at least 20 women use the informal working zone at Pinky Gul every day.
“Setting up our own office would’ve cost us a lot initially and we didn’t even know if we could manage to sustain the overheads of an office space,” Syed Ahmed Khalid Bukhari, 27, who co-founded a college counselling company in Lahore in 2017, told Arab News. 
Bukhari works out of co-working space ‘Daftarkhwan,’ which has office sites in Lahore and Islamabad.
By taking up shop in a co-working space, Bukhari said, the specifics of handling an office-- from generators to general maintenance-- was not his responsibility. 
“Our idea was that we’d start off with Daftarkhwan but would get our own office in a year,” Bukhari said.
Now, in their fourth year running and in the middle of a pandemic, Bukhari said his business isn’t even “considering getting our own place.”
But expenses aside, for Shah the best perk of a shared office space is the business community being created within its walls.
“It goes beyond networking here because we don’t just have people meeting one another... we have companies sitting side by side,” he said.
“Let’s say you open a new company. You need a website designed, you need a logo designed. And somebody who can do all that for you... works just down the hall.”


Pakistan FM sees 'very limited' prospect of India dialogue

Updated 5 sec ago

Pakistan FM sees 'very limited' prospect of India dialogue

  • Says difficult to deal with a country that is "implementing a racist policy" in Kashmir
  • Complains about India redrawing electoral constituencies that critics say dilutes Muslims' vote

UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan's new foreign minister said Thursday there was little scope for dialogue with India as he denounced actions by the historic rival in divided Kashmir.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, visiting the United Nations weeks after his appointment under a new government, said it was difficult to deal with a country that is "implementing a racist policy in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir."
"Having said that, we are very cognizant of the fact that economic activity, dialogue, diplomacy are ultimately the ways and means for countries to engage with each other and resolve disputes," he told reporters.
"I just note that, particularly at the moment, given this aggressive, hostile behavior, the practical space for that happening is very limited," he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government in 2019 stripped the special status of Kashmir, which has a Muslim majority but a large and historic Hindu minority population.
Bhutto Zardari, the 33-year-old son of a famous political dynasty, also complained about India's recent redrawing of electoral constituencies that critics say dilutes Muslims' vote in the Himalayan territory partially controlled by Pakistan.
Modi made a surprise visit to Pakistan in 2015, a year after taking office, but relations have plunged in recent years.
Analysts say that India is hoping for more pragmatic steps with Pakistan's new prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, whose own political family has a history of being able to deal diplomatically with India.
But India described an exchange of letters between Modi and Sharif as a diplomatic courtesy and insisted that Pakistan stop supporting "cross-border terrorism."
Bhutto was visiting the United Nations for a meeting on food security and met on the sidelines Wednesday with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. 


Ex-PM Khan to announce timing of anti-government long march in Multan today

Updated 7 min 51 sec ago

Ex-PM Khan to announce timing of anti-government long march in Multan today

  • Khan plans to bring ‘a sea of people’ to Islamabad while seeking early elections
  • The former prime minister has vowed to protest until fresh polls are announced

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan is expected to announce the date for his anti-government long march to Pakistan’s federal capital at a power show in Multan on Friday, according to a video clip of him addressing his supporters which was shared by one of his aides on Twitter.

Last month, Khan became the first prime minister in Pakistan’s history who was driven out of power in a no-confidence vote.

He has since accused the United States of orchestrating the downfall of his administration with the help of his political rivals, saying that Washington was vexed at his desire to pursue an independent foreign policy.

US officials have repeatedly denied the allegation.

“Our last political gathering before the Islamabad march will take place tomorrow [on Friday] in Multan,” he can be seen telling a group of his supporters in a video clip shared by Usman Dar who advises him on youth affairs.

“I will announce the day when my entire nation must reach Islamabad,” he said, adding the actual objective of the march was to secure “real freedom” for Pakistan.

Khan, who is also the chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, has called for early elections in the country while promising to hold political protests until the new government announces the date for the next polls.

Khan previously warned the government that a “sea of people” would arrive in Islamabad on his call.


On US visit, new Pakistani foreign minister defends ex-PM Khan’s Russia visit

Updated 7 min 17 sec ago

On US visit, new Pakistani foreign minister defends ex-PM Khan’s Russia visit

  • Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari says Khan could not have foreseen the beginning of the war during his visit
  • Pakistani FM describes India’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s status as an insult to the United Nations

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Thursday defended Imran Khan for visiting Moscow the day Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces to invade Ukraine, saying the former prime minister could not have foreseen that the war was going to begin during his visit.

The timing of Khan’s trip to Russia annoyed Western nations who were trying to internationally isolate Putin’s administration for launching the war in his neighborhood. The heads of various foreign missions in Pakistan also wrote a joint letter to the country’s previous administration, urging it to condemn the Russian aggression in Ukraine soon after the invasion.

Pakistan’s new foreign minister, who is currently in New York to attend a global food security conference at the United Nations headquarters, told a news conference he would “absolutely defend” the former prime minister.

“Pakistan’s [former] prime minister conducted that trip as part of Pakistan’s foreign policy and without knowing … at the time that the current conflict would start,” he said. “I believe it is very unfair to punish Pakistan [for that visit].”

Pakistan’s foreign office also maintained in the past that Khan’s Russia visit had been in the making for a long time, adding it was not possible to postpone it shortly before it was scheduled to start.

The former prime minister, who was ousted from power in a no-confidence vote last month, said he was trying to pursue an independent foreign policy by strengthening relations with Russia and China which led to the downfall of his administration under an international conspiracy hatched by the United States.

His assertion has been repeatedly denied by US officials.

“Pakistan is not part of any conflict,” Bhutto-Zardari said while reiterating his country’s position on the war in Ukraine. “Pakistan would not wish to be part of any conflict. We would like emphasize on the importance of peace and dialogue.”

Asked about India’s decision to revoke the semi-autonomous status of the disputed Kashmir region, he described it as an insult to the United Nations its Security Council resolutions.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government annulled Kashmir’s special constitutional status on August 5, 2019, to annex the Muslim-majority state with the rest of the Indian union.

The administration in New Delhi more recently published a list of redrawn political constituencies for the Himalayan territory under its control earlier this month, giving greater representation to the region’s Hindu areas while paving the way for fresh elections.

“The actions of August 5, 2019, and May 5, 2022, by India in illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir is not only an insult to the people of Kashmir but is an insult to the United Nations and to the Security Council’s resolutions,” he said.


Three killed as fire in world’s largest pine nut forest in Pakistan enters tenth day

Updated 19 May 2022

Three killed as fire in world’s largest pine nut forest in Pakistan enters tenth day

  • The fires have affected different parts of the Koh-e-Sulaiman mountain range in Pakistan’s southwest
  • National Disaster Management Authority helicopter arrived today to extinguish fire with little luck

QUETTA: A massive forest fire that has been raging for ten days in different parts of the Koh-e-Sulaiman mountains in southwest Pakistan intensified on Wednesday, with three people reported dead as provincial and federal disaster management authorities struggled late into Thursday to douse the flames.

The fire has consumed hundreds of trees dotting the Koh-e-Sulaiman — a mountain range connecting the Pakistani provinces of Balochistan, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — and forced residents of nearby villages to move to safer locations.

The Koh-e-Sulaiman region is home to the world’s largest Chilghoza (pine nuts) forest, annually producing about 640,000 kilograms of the edible seed. It also houses different species of animals and birds, including chukar partridges, ibex goats and rabbits, which are under threat from the fires.

The first fire started on May 9 in Musakhail district, lasting over a week and affecting pine nut trees in a 22 kilometers radius. The fire had barely died down when a second blaze erupted late on Wednesday in the Saraghalai area of district Sheerani, with three locals killed as they tried to help in rescue operations.

“Three local residents who tried to extinguish the fire got killed,” the top administrative official of the area, Zhob division commissioner Bashir Bazai, told Arab News. “Four people are still stranded as the district administration is making efforts to retrieve the bodies and rescue the stranded individuals.”

Smoke engulfs a pine nut forest in the Koh-e-Sulaiman mountain range in the Saraghalai area of district Sheerani in Pakistan's Balochistan province on May 19, 2022. (Photo courtesy: Forest Department Zhob)

Locals helping with the rescue operation said neither provincial nor federal authorities were equipped to handle the disaster.

“The federal and provincial departments dealing with the fire are not trained and equipped to extinguish the fire in the Saraghalai area since the flames are too high,” local activist Salmeen Khpalwak, who works on climate change and environmental protection projects in the area, told Arab News on Thursday. “The fire is heading toward villages and many families have migrated to safe locations.”

Firefighters and residents extinguish a fire that erupted in pine nut forest in district Musakhail in Pakistan's Balochistan province on May 16, 2022. (Photo courtesy: Forest Department Zhob)

Khpalwak said nearly 24 villages situated in the pine nut forest were currently in danger. He said the fire in Musakhail broke out during a thunderstorm when lightning hit but the reason behind the Saraghalai blaze was not yet known.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) sent a helicopter on Thursday to extinguish the fire, local officials said, though it was unable to put out the fire as it could not fly at a low altitude due to thick smoke and the mountainous terrain.

Muhammad Younus, who works with the Provincial Disaster Management Authority, said the NDMA had been requested to provide another helicopter due to the intensity of the fire.

“This morning, a helicopter splashed 3,500 liters of water fetched from the Sabakzai Dam about 45 kilometers away from the area engulfed in fire,” Atique Khan Kakar, a forest officer, told Arab News, “though it did not work.”


Amid economic crisis, Pakistan imposes ‘complete’ ban on imported cars, luxury items

Updated 19 May 2022

Amid economic crisis, Pakistan imposes ‘complete’ ban on imported cars, luxury items

  • Decision taken to “save precious foreign exchange,” PM Sharif says
  • Information minister says government has finalized fiscal management plan 

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government on Thursday announced a complete ban on imported cars and non-essential items in a latest effort to tackle a growing economic crisis in the country.  

Pakistan is currently facing dwindling foreign exchange reserves, as its currency continues a downward spiral against the US dollar and a deal for the revival of a $6 billion loan program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) hangs in the balance.  

On Thursday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced his decision to ban non-essential items, saying the move would help Pakistan save “precious foreign exchange.”

“We will practice austerity and financially stronger people must lead in this effort so that the less privileged among us do not have to bear this burden,” he tweeted.  

Information minister Marriyum Aurangzeb announced the government had finalized a fiscal management plan to deal with the economic crisis.  

“Yesterday, it was decided that for the first time in Pakistan’s history, all non-essential and luxury items will be banned completely,” she said. “These include food items, luxury items and all imported cars.”

Aurangzeb said Pakistan was currently facing “an emergency situation” and Pakistanis would see the impact of difficult decisions on foreign exchange reserves within two months.  

She said the government attached the highest priority to decreasing Pakistan’s dependency on imports and introducing an export-oriented economic policy.  

“Local industry, local producers and local industries in Pakistan will benefit from this [policy],” she said. “This economic plan will also promote employment in the country.”

The minister announced the government’s decision to ban imported mobile phones, home appliances, dry fruits, fruits, crockery items, private weapons, shoes and chandeliers.  

Other banned items include decoration pieces, sauces, frozen meat, sanitary ware, doors, window frames, fish, frozen fruits, carpets, reserved food items, tissue papers, furniture, makeup and shampoo items, confectionary, luxury mattresses and sleeping bags.