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
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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.”


Despite Islamabad fightback, skipper Rossouw inspires Quetta to victory

Updated 22 February 2024
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Despite Islamabad fightback, skipper Rossouw inspires Quetta to victory

  • In low-scoring match, Rilee Rossouw holds his nerve with 34-run inning to guide Quetta to victory
  • Gladiators’ Abrar Ahmed, Mohammad Wasim take three wickets each to keep Islamabad at bay

Islamabad: Despite a valiant fightback by Islamabad United, Quetta Gladiators continued their impressive run of the tournament by beating the former by three wickets at the Qaddafi Stadium in Lahore on Thursday. 

“Continuing our winning streak,” the Gladiators wrote on social media platform X after the match ended. 

Batting first, United scored a lackluster 138/9 at the end of their 20 overs courtesy of a stellar bowling performance from the Gladiators. Spinner Abrar Ahmed returned figures of 3/18 while Mohammad Wasim finished with 3/20. Akeil Hosein finished with 2/32 while pacer Mohammad Hasnain returned figures of 1/35. 

United’s only resistance in the batting department came from Agha Salman, who top-scored with a decent 33-run knock from 23 balls while opener Alex Hales scored 21 from nine deliveries. 

What should have been an easy chase for the Gladiators turned into a difficult one when United took quick wickets to put the pressure back on Rossouw’s squad. United skipper Shadab Khan returned figures of 2/24 while pacer Naseem Shah finished with 2/34. 

Rumman Raees and Hunain Shah took a single wicket each before Rossouw guided United to victory with a composed 34-run innings that came off 38 balls and featured only three boundaries. 

Opener Jason Roy provided the Gladiators an impressive start to the game by smashing 37 runs off 18 balls while Sherfane Rutherford held his nerves to score 29 runs from 23 balls before Naseem rattled his stumps.

The Gladiators and table-toppers Multan Sultans both have three wins from the tournament so far. Islamabad, with a single win and two losses, is at number three on the PSL points table. 
 


Pakistan blocks X for the sixth day as activists criticize the social media platform’s shutdown

Updated 22 February 2024
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Pakistan blocks X for the sixth day as activists criticize the social media platform’s shutdown

  • Ex-PM Khan’s party says restrictions on X have been placed by authorities to muzzle its voice on social media
  • Social media platforms are often used by protest organizers in Pakistan to call followers out to streets, plan demonstrations

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s media regulators have blocked the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, with users across the country on Thursday enduring the sixth day of sweeping disruptions, partial and complete shutdowns.

There was no comment on the outage by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and government officials have not responded to repeated queries from The Associated Press for comment.

Human rights activists have demanded a full restoration of Internet services and access to social media. Washington has also urged Pakistan to lift restrictions on X.

The outage was first observed over the weekend when the political party of Pakistan’s imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan announced protests against what it says were rigged Feb. 8 parliamentary elections.

In the vote, candidates backed by Khan, who was barred from running, won most seats but short of a simply majority needed to form a government.

Social media platforms are often used by protest organizers to call followers out to the streets and spread the word about planned demonstrations.

Pakistan has witnessed an increase in political instability since the balloting. The country’s elections oversight body denies charges by Khan’s party that the vote was stolen. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party or PTI said on Thursday that the restrictions on X have been placed by the authorities to suppress its voice on social media.

On Wednesday, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller expressed concerns in a statement to reporters over the outage and restrictions on the freedom of expression and association in Pakistan.

“We continue to call on Pakistan to respect freedom of expression and restore access to a social media that has been restricted including Twitter, now known as X,” Miller said. “We have and will continue to emphasize the importance of respecting these fundamental freedoms during our engagements with Pakistani officials.”

Khan’s rivals, including the former Premier Shehbaz Sharif, are trying to form a coalition government. Sharif replaced Khan after his ouster in a no-confidence vote in parliament in 2022. Khan has since then been convicted offenses in what his supporters call politically motivated moves to keep him out of office.


Share in parliament’s reserved seats ‘legal right,’ ex-PM Khan’s party says

Updated 22 February 2024
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Share in parliament’s reserved seats ‘legal right,’ ex-PM Khan’s party says

  • Seventy reserved seats for women and non-Muslims in Pakistan’s assemblies are crucial in forming governments
  • Pakistan’s election regulator did not allocate reserved seats in Sindh, Punjab assemblies to party joined by Khan’s candidates

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said on Thursday that getting a share in the National Assembly’s reserved seats was its “legal right,” as political parties in the country race to form the next government in the South Asian country. 

The PTI announced on Monday its candidates who contested as independents during the Feb. 8 polls and won, would join the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) party to claim a share in the National Assembly’s reserved seats. 

A ruling by Pakistan’s top court in January meant members of Khan’s party could not contest the election from their party’s platform but only as independents. Consequently, Khan-backed candidates stunned observers by winning more than 90 seats in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament.

However, Khan’s party was faced with the prospect of losing reserved seats for women and minorities as they are only allotted to political parties based on their representation in the assembly.

“It is our legal right to claim and have the share in the reserved seats in the National Assembly and all four provincial assemblies,” advocate Shoaib Shaheen, a PTI spokesperson, told Arab News. 

“We will be getting our share through the SIC’s platform and have fulfilled all the legal requirements for it.”

Shaheen said the SIC would receive 27 reserved seats in the National Assembly, adding that there was “no reason or any legal justification for depriving us of these seats.”

There are 70 reserved seats in the National Assembly out of which 60 are for women and 10 for religious minorities in the 336-member house. These seats are allocated to parliamentary parties on a proportionate basis. Likewise, the reserved seats in the four provincial legislatures are also allocated to the parliamentary parties based on their numerical strength in the house.

Each reserved seat in the National Assembly would be allocated against 4.8 members and by this formula, the SIC may receive 19 seats as the party has 92 members in the National Assembly. 

As of Thursday, 86 independent members backed by Khan pledged their allegiance to the SIC and submitted their affidavits to Pakistan’s election regulator announcing they have joined the party. 

Shaheen explained that Khan-backed members joining the SIC was also necessary as the PTI wanted to bring all independent members of the party under a parliamentary party to avert defections, play a collective role in the legislation and vote, oppose, or abstain from voting on important matters, such as the national budget.

“We will have a formal alliance with the SIC after the PTI’s intraparty polls, which will hopefully be completed by the first week of March,” Shaheen said.

Political parties who had contested the polls had submitted a list of their members for the reserved seats for women and non-Muslims beforehand to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). 

However, the SIC did not do the same. 

Shaheen brushed aside the concern, saying that “it doesn’t matter” and that the SIC was now submitting a list for the ECP’s consideration.

As per notifications released by the ECP on Thursday, the regulator did not allocate any reserved seats to the SIC in Punjab or Sindh’s provincial assemblies. The list of allotted reserved seats for the National Assembly had not been published till the filing of this report. 

Former ECP secretary Kanwar Dilshad said it was the election oversight body’s “prerogative” whether it wanted to allocate reserved seats to the SIC or not.

“It is the sole prerogative of the election commission now to decide on the matter,” Dilshad told Arab News.

ECP spokesperson Hamid Raza said he would provide an update on the matter when the election regulator takes a decision. 

“At the moment, I am not in a position to comment on it,” Raza told Arab News.

Rashid Chaudhry, the deputy director of programs at the Free And Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in Pakistan, cited a precedent where three provincial legislators in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province joined the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) in 2019 after winning as independent candidates.

Chaudhry said the party was later allocated a reserved seat for women even though it had not submitted a priority list with the ECP before the elections.

“The precedent is there, and it is now up to the election commission to decide on it,” Chaudhry told Arab News. He said political parties could submit a new list of nominations to the ECP if their previous lists would stand exhausted.

“Obviously if the ECP denies the share of reserved seats to the SIC, the matter will land in the Supreme Court for adjudication,” he noted. 


Pakistan, Saudi Arabia can increase bilateral trade to $20 billion – commerce minister

Updated 22 February 2024
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Pakistan, Saudi Arabia can increase bilateral trade to $20 billion – commerce minister

  • Commerce Minister Dr. Gohar Ejaz is in Saudi Arabia with a delegation of Pakistani businessmen
  • Dr. Ejaz says Saudi investors to invest in Pakistan’s mines, minerals and agricultural commodities 

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Commerce Minister Dr. Gohar Ejaz said on Thursday that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia can increase bilateral trade to $20 billion, inviting Saudi investors to invest in the country’s mines, minerals, and agricultural commodities. 

Ejaz is in Saudi Arabia with a prominent Pakistani business delegation to promote bilateral trade and investment between the two countries. On Thursday, he met the chairman of the Federation of Saudi Chambers, Hassan Al-Huwaizi and chairman of the Saudi-Pakistani Business Council, Fahd bin Mohammed Al-Bash, Pakistan’s commerce ministry said.

“Saudi Arabia can increase trade with Pakistan to $10 billion,” Pakistan’s commerce ministry quoted Ejaz as saying. “Pakistan can increase trade volume with Saudi Arabia to 10 billion dollars.”

He said Saudi investors could avail “vast opportunities” for investment in Pakistan. 

“Saudi investors can invest in mines, minerals and agricultural commodities in Pakistan,” Ejaz was quoted as saying by the ministry. 

Speaking separately at the Saudi-Pakistani Business Forum event in Riyadh earlier on Thursday, Ejaz highlighted the role of the Free Trade Agreement between the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and his nation in increasing opportunities for investors from both regions. 

He reiterated his desire to increase the trade volume between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to $20 billion by improving the business environment between the two countries and encouraging the private sector. 

Pakistan enjoys strong economic and trade relations with Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is home to over 2.5 million Pakistani expatriates, serving as the top source of remittances for the cash-strapped South Asian country.

Saudi Arabia has also frequently bailed Pakistan out of its economic crisis over the years, serving as an important strategic partner for the South Asian country. 

Last year a delegation of 15 top Pakistani IT companies led by IT Minister Dr. Umar Saif visited Saudi Arabia and signed deals to accelerate digital transformation, foster innovation and advance digital infrastructure. 

The agreements will also boost the ecosystems for small and medium-sized enterprises and startups and encourage the transfer of businesses and the exchange of information on accelerators and incubators.


Pakistan ex-PM Imran Khan urges IMF to call election audit, his lawyer says

Updated 22 February 2024
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Pakistan ex-PM Imran Khan urges IMF to call election audit, his lawyer says

  • Pakistan’s bailout program with the international lender expires next month 
  • Khan and his party say results of Pakistan’s 2024 general elections were rigged

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s jailed former prime minister Imran Khan will write to the IMF urging it to call for an independent audit of the country’s controversial Feb. 8 national elections before it continues talks with Islamabad, his lawyer said on Thursday.

Pakistan averted default last summer thanks to a short-term International Monetary Fund bailout, but the program expires next month and a new government will have to negotiate a long-term arrangement to keep the $350 billion economy stable.

Khan and his party alleged that the polls, which did not return a majority for any party, were rigged. Candidates backed by Khan won the most seats, but an alliance of his rival parties has more seats and is in a position to form the next government.

“The letter from Imran Khan we will say clearly that if the IMF wants to talk to Pakistan, they should place conditions of an independent audit (of the polls),” Khan’s lawyer, Ali Zafar, told reporters outside the jail where the former premier and cricket hero is imprisoned.

Pakistan’s election commission denies widespread rigging and is hearing complaints by various applicants who allege irregularities.

Zafar said that multilateral agencies such as the IMF and international blocs such as the European Union can only give financial assistance on the condition that there is good governance and democracy, including free and fair elections.

The IMF met with political parties last year to seek assurances of their support of key objectives and policies under the bailout program.