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.”

Third Afghan Taliban commander killed in Peshawar in last four months

Updated 20 April 2021

Third Afghan Taliban commander killed in Peshawar in last four months

  • Mullah Nek Muhammad Rehbar looked after the insurgent group’s military deployments in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province
  • He fought against Daesh militants in Afghanistan who claimed responsibility for the attack

ISLAMABAD: A senior Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Nek Muhammad Rehbar was killed in Peshawar Monday afternoon by two gunmen riding a motorbike, confirmed a police official and two Taliban leaders.
The slain Taliban commander looked after military deployments in Nangarhar, and his killing was also mentioned by the governor of the Afghan province Ziaulhaq Amarkhil in a Twitter post.
Rehbar was scheduled to return to Afghanistan as top Taliban leaders had asked their key commanders to reach their respective areas in the war-battered country.
The attack on Rehbar was claimed by Daesh.
His brother Maulvi Noor Muhammad was also killed in Peshawar in a shooting incident about 15 years ago.
A police official in Peshawar who requested anonymity since he was not authorized to speak to the media said three other people accompanying 35-year-old Rehbar were also injured in the attack.
Rehbar’s body had been shifted to the Lady Reading Hospital and investigations were launched to determine the motive behind the incident, he added.
Afghan analysts say the slain Taliban commander had fought against Daesh militants in Nangarhar which could be the main reason behind his murder in Peshawar.
Zakir Jalali, a security analyst, said Taliban officials were easy to target when they live a normal life as refugees.
Jalali told Arab News Rehbar had resisted Daesh fighters in Khogyani district of Nangarhar and the group decided to kill him since he was a “soft target” inside Pakistan.
The slain commander was the third Taliban leader who was killed in Peshawar during the last four months.
Maulvi Abdul Hadi, the Taliban governor for Laghman, was assassinated in Peshawar in February.
In January, another Taliban leader Abdul Samad Mullah Toor was killed near the city.
Several senior Taliban commanders, including the group’s chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour, were also killed in American drone attacks in the past.
Unidentified gunmen shot dead Dr. Nasiruddin Haqqani, the brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban deputy chief, near Islamabad in November 2013.
A former senior Taliban figure, Abdullah alias Maulvi Abdul Raqeeb, who was known to be in favor of peace talks with the Hamid Karzai administration, was gunned down in Peshawar in February 2014.
Meanwhile, a former Taliban spokesman Abdul Hai Mutmayeen died of COVID-19 in Peshawar in January.
Mutmayeen served as Taliban spokesperson after Mullah Omar launched the movement in Kandahar in 1994.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed Mutmayeen’s death and conveyed the insurgent group’s condolences to his family.

Pakistan parliament to debate French ambassador’s expulsion today 

Updated 38 min 33 sec ago

Pakistan parliament to debate French ambassador’s expulsion today 

  • The interior minister says the government has assured the Tehreek-e-Labbaik religious party all cases against its workers will be withdrawn
  • Lahore’s superintendent jail denies rumors of TLP chief Saad Rizvi’s release while talking to Arab News 

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government said on Tuesday it would present a resolution in the National Assembly later in the day for the expulsion of the French ambassador to meet the demand of a recently banned religious party in the country.
The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party held violent nationwide protests to force the government to honor what it said was a commitment made to it last February to expel the French envoy before April 20 over the publication of blasphemous caricatures in France.
“It is agreed between the government and TLP after negotiations that we will present a resolution in the National Assembly today for the expulsion of the French ambassador,” Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said in a video statement early Tuesday.
The announcement comes after a government delegation, comprising the interior and religious affairs ministers, met the TLP leaders for negotiations in Lahore. The government representatives held at least three rounds of talks with the protesters to convince them to call off their demonstrations.
The interior minister said the TLP had agreed to end protests and sit-ins across the country.
“The process of negotiations will move forward,” he added.
He said that all cases registered against the TLP workers would also be withdrawn, adding that he would give a detailed briefing on the development in a press conference later today. 
The National Assembly will also meet at 3pm on Tuesday to debate the issue.
There were also rumors that TLP chief Saad Rizvi had been released from prison, though Lahore’s Superintendent Jail Asad Javed Warraich denied any such development while talking to Arab News.
Last night, the government closed all major roads in Islamabad and Rawalpindi with shipping containers, fearing the TLP workers may move toward the twin cities to hold anti-France protests.
The government has apparently shown flexibility in its stance to end TLP protests as Prime Minister Imran Khan said in a televised address to the nation on Monday that breaking diplomatic ties with France would hit Pakistani exports to the European Union and fuel poverty, unemployment and inflation in the country.
“The biggest effect [of breaking ties with France] will be that after great difficulty our economy is rising, the large-scale industry is getting up after a long time, people are getting jobs, wealth is increasing in our country, our exports are rising and after a long time, our rupee is strengthening,” Khan said, adding that breaking ties with France would amount to severing relations with the entire European Union.
“Half of our textile exports go to the EU and that will be stopped, resulting in unemployment, devaluation of the rupee, increase in inflation and poverty,” Khan said. “We will be at loss but this won’t make any difference to France.”
Violent protests by the rightwing group rocked the country since last Monday when TLP chief Saad Rizvi was arrested in Lahore for threatening the government with rallies if it did not expel the French envoy to Islamabad over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) published in France last year.
The protests paralyzed major cities and highways all week, leading to the killing of six policemen, according to the government. Photographs of the police, with their heads, legs and arms heavily bandaged, were posted on social media by their captors through the week.
On Sunday, TLP said three of its members were killed during clashes outside the TLP headquarters in the eastern city of Lahore. The group also took a number of police officers and paramilitary troops hostage, releasing 11 policemen in the early hours of Monday after negotiations with the government.
The riots also prompted the French embassy last week to recommend all its nationals to temporarily leave the country.
Last week, the interior ministry said it was moving to have the TLP party banned for attacking police and paramilitary troops and disrupting public life during its protests. The interior ministry’s decision was approved by the federal cabinet, thought it needs to be ratified by the Supreme Court for the official dissolution of the group.
In October 2020, protests broke out in several Muslim countries, including Pakistan, over France’s response to a deadly attack on a teacher who showed the blasphemous cartoons to his pupils during a civics lesson. French President Emmanuel Macron defended the caricatures as freedom of expression.

Pakistan says UAE extends $2 billion loan repayment deadline

Updated 20 April 2021

Pakistan says UAE extends $2 billion loan repayment deadline

  • The decision was conveyed to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi during his visit to the Arab country
  • Pakistan was previously required to pay the ‘aid loan’ from the Abu Dhabi Fund by April 19, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The United Arab Emirates has extended the repayment period of a $2 billion “aid loan” given to Pakistan from the Abu Dhabi Fund, said a statement issued by the foreign office of Pakistan on Tuesday.
The decision was conveyed to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi by his UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan during a meeting in Abu Dhabi.
Qureshi thanked his host for the “goodwill gesture” and described it as a sign of growing bilateral relations between the two countries.

Pakistan sought financial assistance from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates after Prime Minister Imran Khan won the 2018 general elections.
The country faced a significant balance of payment crisis when the two Arab states came to its rescue and shored up its foreign currency reserves.
The UAE had earlier set April 19, 2021, as the payment deadline, though it decided to extend it for Pakistan’s further economic convenience.
During a wide-ranging discussion, Qureshi thanked the UAE foreign minister for supporting the Pakistani community and taking special care of its workforce during the coronavirus pandemic. 
He also discussed visas issues with his Emirati counterpart and invited him to pay an early visit to his country. 
This was Qureshi’s second visit to the United Arab Emirates during the last four months, said the foreign office, reflecting “the growing bilateral relations and high-level contacts between the two countries.”

Pakistan urges Taliban to stay engaged in Afghan peace process

Updated 19 April 2021

Pakistan urges Taliban to stay engaged in Afghan peace process

  • FM Qureshi says Taliban will take their own decisions but Pakistan will convince them engagement in their national interest
  • Says troop withdrawal delays were always a possibility due to logistics but Taliban should show flexibility towards new Sept. 11 deadline

ABU DHABI: Pakistan on Monday urged the Taliban to remain engaged in the Afghan peace process after the armed group said it would now shun summits about Afghanistan until all foreign forces leave.

The decision was taken after the United States said last week it would withdraw all troops by Sept. 11 this year, later than a May 1 deadline set out by the previous administration.

"They take their own decisions but we will do whatever we can to convince them that it is in their national interest to remain engaged," Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said of the Taliban in an interview with Reuters in Abu Dhabi.

The refusal has thrown the peace process into disarray with Turkey scheduled for Saturday to host a summit that diplomats had hoped could create new momentum towards a political settlement between the Taliban and Afghan government.

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 when they were ousted by U.S.-led forces, but they still control wide areas.

Qureshi said withdrawal delays were always a possibility due to logistics but that the Taliban had largely succeeded in their objective for foreign troops to withdraw and so should show flexibility towards the new Sept. 11 deadline.

"The troops will be out and a date has been given and the process starts on the 1st of May and goes on until the 11th of September so there is a definite time frame," Qureshi said.

Sources have told Reuters Pakistan was putting pressure on the militants to come back to the table.

Qureshi said he believed the Taliban would benefit from staying involved but said he had no contact with the group.

Pakistan, which helped facilitate U.S.-Taliban negotiations in Doha that resulted in the initial May 1 withdrawal deal, wields considerable influence with the Taliban.

The insurgents have sanctuaries in Pakistan, whose main military-run intelligence service gives them support, according to U.S. and Afghan officials. Pakistan denies the allegation.

Qureshi said he feared violence could escalate if the peace process remains deadlocked, plunging Afghanistan into civil war and leading to an exodus of Afghans.

Pakistan, which hosts close to 3 million Afghan refugees and economic migrants, has built 90% of a fence along its disputed 2,500 km (1,500 mile) border with Afghanistan and would hopefully be completed by September, he said.

He also said Pakistan was ready to engage in direct dialogue with arch-rival India once Jammu and Kashmir statehood was restored, which New Delhi in 2019 split into territories.

"We are two atomic powers that cannot, should not go into a direct conflict. It would be suicidal," Qureshi said.

But he said he had no plans to meet with his Indian counterpart who is also in the United Arab Emirates this week.

Top intelligence officers from India and Pakistan held secret talks in Dubai in January in a new effort to calm military tension over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, sources have told Reuters

Pakistani PM to visit Saudi Arabia by end of Ramadan — aide

Updated 20 April 2021

Pakistani PM to visit Saudi Arabia by end of Ramadan — aide

  • Khan spoke on the telephone with Saudi crown prince last month and accepted an invitation to visit the kingdom
  • Visit will involve discussions on economy, trade, religious affairs, tourism and climate change

ISLAMABAD: On the invitation of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, Prime Minister Imran Khan will visit Saudi Arabia by the end of Ramadan, Khan’s special adviser on religious harmony and the Middle East said on Monday.

Last month Khan spoke with the crown prince in a wide-ranging phone call and accepted an invitation to visit the kingdom “in the near future.”

“Prime Minister Imran Khan, on the invitation of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, will visit Saudi Arabia by the end of Ramadan,” Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi told Arab News. “All issues of bilateral relations will come under discussion during the visit, including cooperation in economy, trade, religious affairs, tourism and especially the green revolution. Prime minister will also perform Umrah during the visit.”

Ashrafi said a special focus of the visit would be to increasing Pakistani cooperation in the recently launched Saudi Green revolution project.

The crown prince last month called the leaders of Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq, and Sudan to discuss a massive regional tree-planting project. The Saudi Green Initiative is part of the prince’s Vision 2030 plan to reduce its reliance on oil revenues and improve quality of life. The crown prince unveiled the ambitious campaign at the end of March that will see Saudi Arabia planting 10 billion trees in the coming decades and working with other Arab states to plant another 40 billion trees, reduce carbon emissions and combat pollution and land degradation.

“It is expected that big progress will be announced on the green revolution,” Ashrafi added. 

“Am delighted to learn of ‘Green Saudi Arabia’ & ‘Green Middle East’ initiatives by my brother, His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman!” Khan had written on Twitter last month. “Have offered our support on these as there are many complementarities with our ‘Clean & Green Pakistan’ & ‘10 Billion-Tree Tsunami’.”