Pakistan’s Potential

July-September 2009.

Iqbal Z. Ahmed has been featured in Newsweek as one of Pakistan’s top entrepreneurs. He holds a master’s degree in economics from the University of the Punjab and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Government College University, Lahore. He is the founder and chairman of AG, one of Pakistan’s premier business houses in the energy sector.

Can you give a brief overview of AG’s business in Pakistan and your outlook for growth for the business in today’s market?

AG has three distinct areas of business: production and distribution of LPG; setting up a terminal for LNG imports; and power generation. Pakistan desperately needs LPG, LNG, and power, so for those who can deliver, Pakistan offers a niche market with sound and attractive returns.

Is there an effective understanding of the strength of the economy in Pakistan, as well as the opportunities for foreign investment?

No. And that is why support from people like David Walters [former governor of Oklahoma] is so important. Pakistan is a good place for business. There is a reasonably safe environment in Pakistan, and the returns are extraordinary. And there is no price tag attached to doing business in Pakistan. You must come on merit, establish your credentials, and you will get what you want.

And how is the strength of the workforce in Pakistan?

The level of quality available in human resource is amazing. Many Pakistanis who have left want to come back and are bringing their skills with them. The manpower is still offered at a very attractive price. For most educated Pakistanis, English is a second language.

How much of an effect has the focus on environmental sustainability had on your business?

We are focused on changing usage from furnace oil to cleaner burning natural gas, which is why Pakistan wants to import gas from Iran, and which is why we are setting up an LNG terminal. Gas-based power plants, for instance, are easier to operate and maintain and offer greater efficiencies. We are also keen on improving the quality of coal through CFB technology, because Pakistani coal has sulfur in it that needs to be taken out before it is burnt. There is also a newfound focus on renewable energy; Pakistan has potential for 50,000 megawatts of wind energy.

As a leading business executive in Pakistan, is it frustrating to see the media portray the country in such a negative light?

Pakistan is a good country to do business in, and maintains the highest ethical standards. There may be lapses, but this bad perception is inaccurate and must be changed. People need to come to Pakistan to see for themselves what it’s all about. Of the Americans who come here to work, everyone is pleasantly surprised by the social and business environment and wants to stay put and stay longer.

With regard to partnerships for Pakistan, is the potential for growth coming from outside the region, or is the focus local?

Within Pakistan, there is a lot potential. We are doing large energy sector projects and have made very serious investments with our foreign partners. The returns offered in Pakistan are so attractive that, even under difficult circumstances, we are able to draw foreign investments.