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
Indian Industry. He led the
recent Aman ki Asha
IT delegation to Pakistan.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
By Amir Zia
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The News on Sunday Special Report: India Pakistan prisoners more editions
We probably didn't need to do this Special Report. Newspaper stories don't matter when it comes to Indians in Pakistani jails and vice versa. In fact, 'vice versa' sums it up. We do to them what they do to us.
Except when the two countries decide to begin talking, yet again! This time a little before the foreign secretary level talks, some Pakistani prisoners were released by India (and vice versa must have happened) and some more were release....read more
For the past 2 years the Jang Group and Geo have been working on a project of great national interest; one that we hope will help usher in an era of peace and prosperity in the country and indeed, in the region. And one that hopefully all Pakistanis can be proud of. more
The Jang Group has entered into an agreement with the Times of India Group, the largest media group of India, to campaign for peace betw