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December 15, 2010

Paving the way for a better future

Peshawar

December 15, 2010

There is always a feeling of some curiosity and mixed expectations when an airline one has never flown before lands in a country that one has wanted to visit for decades but never got around to making the trip.
In the case of the Indian delegates of Aman ki Asha’s IT Committee, our Pakistan odyssey -- a visit that we weren’t sure would happen until the eleventh hour -- began with low expectations. I was part of this small but representative group of CEOs and VPs who travelled to Karachi and Lahore in early December to participate in discussions with the members of the IT community in these cities.
A hundred hours later, after experiencing a brand of hospitality that is unparalleled in my own experience of visiting sixty plus countries in the last twenty years, we are back, energized and incredibly optimistic! The country itself was nowhere near as forbidding that we had feared, with the red carpet rolled out everywhere we went from the time the PIA flight landed at Karachi’s Jinnah airport -- thanks to the detailed planning of industrialist Amin Hashwani and Jang Group’s Shahrukh Hasan.
Our hectic schedule was one that combined work with pleasure, thanks to the energetic presence of Jehan Ara, President, Pakistan Software Houses Association and Laleh Habib, coordinator of the Aman ki Asha initiative. A day long marathon of intense deliberations in Karachi and a working lunch in Karachi were followed by “never before” experiences in Lahore where we sampled the exquisite cuisine and marvelled at the treasures of the Lahore Museum and Fort - and then an awe-inspiring trip to Mohenjodaro. Evenings were spent bonding and singing with people who have been separated from their Indian brethren by just an act of history. What was quite an eye-opener for us was the quality of some of the IT entrepreneurs we met. Salman Akhtar, an MIT graduate with significant US experience; Yusuf Jan, who provides trading platforms for Wall Street; Nadeem Elahi, a

Harvard Business School graduate who has visions of being the Infosys of Pakistan, and Jawwad Ahmed Farid, a Columbia alum whose exquisite turn of phrase has created an evocative book on entrepreneurial failure and success. Each one of them could rank with any of the bright young Bangalore, Boston or Berlin entrepreneurs in their vision and determination to succeed.
There is an additional challenge that every young Pakistani entrepreneur faces which is the need to dispel stated and implied concerns about the security and stability of their country. It does them great credit that they have able to build and sell products and solutions in spite of this obvious handicap. The Indian industry has a lot to offer to Pakistan as that fledgling two billion dollar industry seeks to learn from the path that Indian companies have taken. Three initiatives that we identified that bear mention here are: skills development, business-to-business partnerships and energising the youth of both countries.
There is a great short term opportunity for high quality universities and entrepreneurs to partner with Indian skill building institutions and create centres for thought leadership in global sourcing with joint research projects and blended learning collaboration. These investments could build the pipeline of talent that the Pakistani industry needs to build capabilities in areas like Applications and Remote Infrastructure Management.
Youth partnerships through worthy cross-border youth organisations like AIESEC (www.aiesec.org) can ensure that the misplaced bitterness that many young people feel towards each other across the border is replaced by a genuine desire to engage in projects and initiatives that will sustain the friendship into the future even as our governments seeks to defuse tensions and engage in a spirit of partnership.
The third and most visible proof point would be the emergence of genuine business partnerships between the IT companies of both countries. Long term sustainable partnerships are built, not through a sense of social or good neighbourly responsibility, but through a genuine plan for commercial benefit for the stakeholders of the participating companies.
Why is it important for the successful Indian IT companies to engage with our counterparts in Pakistan? For one, successful Pakistani product companies could provide the wind in our sails to offer new product-led solutions to our customers.
Second, the ability to engage young professionals from across the border in projects for the rapidly growing markets of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar could substantially increase the depth and width of penetration in these markets.
And third, it could well be the IT sector that demonstrates the real value that collaboration brings, paving the way for a more lasting peace between two neighbours in what is today seen as one of most explosive parts of the world.
The Aman ki Asha initiative has seen over thirty of us from both sides --and many more incredibly friendly people we interacted with -- engage in intense discussions. A number of ideas have come up, some of which will hopefully see the light of day with the support of the governments and people of both countries.
There will be many mountains to cross on this journey but a willingness to change and a common desire to work together can pave the way for a better future.

Dr Ganesh Natarajan is Vice Chairman & MD of Zensar Technologies Ltd and Chairman of the
National IT & IT Enabled
Services Committee of the
Confederation of
Indian Industry. He led the
recent Aman ki Asha
IT delegation to Pakistan.

Caption: Above: Members of Aman ki Asha IT Committee at the Badshahi Masjid in Lahore, with India’s Deputy High Commissioner Rahul Kulshresth (left); right: Dr Ganesh Natarajan, Yusuf Jan and Pradeep Udhas in Moenjodaro; below: listening to Pradeep Udhas’ voice, as Nandita Mohan Gurjar and Prameela Kalive look on.
Jehan Ara with Indian colleagues at Moenjodaro Airport.
Advocate Mehmood Mandviwalla presenting an overview of the legal framework around bilateral trade between India and Pakistan.

‘Why are we here?’
Amin Hashwani, businessman and president, Pakistan India CEO's Business Forum, who moderated the meetings of the Asha IT Committee from India and Pakistan over the past weekend started off the discussions with introductions and a question: “Why are we here?”
His question sparked off an intense round-the-table introspection on the very first evening practically as soon as the Indian delegates landed in Karachi. Except for G.D. Sharma of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), none of them had ever been to Pakistan before. Most confessed to having grown up dreaming of being able to visit, and thinking it would never be possible due to the tensions and visa restrictions between India and Pakistan.
Hashwani’s own reason for being there and volunteering his time– despite not being an IT person – throughout the four days that the Indian IT delegation was in Pakistan was simple, and moving: “I want to leave a legacy for our next generation”.
Aman ki Asha would like to acknowledge his tireless efforts towards the cause of peace, and for so patiently and efficiently moderating the IT Committee’s deliberations.
-aka

Caption: Humayun Bashir, Salman Akhtar, and Jehan Ara listen as Amin Hashwani sets the tone at the introductory meeting in Karachi.

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