LAHORE: EMERGING ECONOMIC POWERHOUSE

FROM KHALID BUTT, LAHORE
Feb 27 - Mar 05, 2006

Lahore has fast attained the status of economic hub of the country and it got the distinction for many reasons. First and the foremost is the business-friendly policies of the present Chief Minister Ch. Pervaiz Elahi. He is the man who has the vision in true sense of the word. He spread a network of industrial estates in the province and gave a special attention to the development of infrastructure in the city of Lahore. The second one is the recent relaxation of trade through Wagha though at the moment a limited trade is being allowed but it would be speedily growing which would significantly add to the economy of the country. The city will become a regional economic powerhouse when the border with India is fully opened in the near future. The third one is that the city houses quite a few key industries including foundries, steel mills, textile units and chemical factories. Lahore is the largest software producing and exporting city in the country. It also hosts a lot of service sector institutions like banks and hotels, etc. Lahore is also known as the city of colleges, owing to a large number of educational institutions in the city. The location of Lahore city is bounded on the north and west by Sheikhupura district, on the east by India and on the south Kasur district. The Ravi river flows on the northern side of Lahore. The total land area of the city is 404 sq. km, but the city is still growing at a considerable rate.

The ever-increasing population of the city is approximately seven million, who speak many languages including Punjabi, Urdu and English. The centrepiece to Lahore's economy is Lahore Stock Exchange (LSE), Pakistan's second largest stock exchange which is linked to the Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE) - the largest in the country. The single biggest investor has over 200 million dollars invested in the exchange. It has offices of all the government corporations including WAPADA and WASA as well as other public companies - Dewan Motors, Habib Bank, Pakistan State Oil and Lever Brothers, which has the highest price per share in the LSE. The city of Lahore never sleeps with food & restaurant businesses open all the night. They serve traditional dishes for dinner, till morning dawns for serving breakfast. The markets usually remain open late in the night. Lahore is the second largest financial hub of Pakistan after Karachi, and has various industrial areas including Kot Lakhpat and the new Sundar Industrial Estate near Raiwind. Lahore will soon be home to the tallest hotel in Pakistan, the new Pearl Continental Hotel. As Lahore expands the previous residential areas are being turned into commercial centres and the suburban population is constantly moving outwards. This has resulted in the development of the Liberty Market (for women), the MM Alam Road (for continental food), the new Jail Road which has one of the largest office buildings in Lahore and the new eight lane Boulevard Road which has some of Lahore's largest shopping centres.

The suburban population from these areas is moving into less busy areas which results in a thriving construction industry and several large housing projects in Lahore. These include Bahria Town, Lake City project, Eden Villas and a project by the Dhabi Group (a joint Pakistan-UAE partnership) to construct a new city on the outskirts of Lahore, which will be larger than Abu Dhabi. As the capital of the Punjab, Lahore is the province's business center and acts as a conduit for other major manufacturing centers in the province.

Historically, the economy of the Punjab has been overwhelmingly based on agriculture. Since the mid 1990s attempts have been made to diversify the economy by relocating many industrial units to the province as well as developing indigenous industrial bases. The provincial investment promotion department has recently been involved in negotiations with a number of delegations from China, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and the UK. The chief minister's vision 2020 is targeting a seven to eight percent increase per year in the gross domestic product (GDP) and the promotion of a well cultured modern society, excellent infrastructure, the development of the market economy and value added agricultural production. A new Expo Centre in Lahore is currently in the planning stage as well as the Zayed Shopping Centre which is being established in Lahore in collaboration with an Abu Dhabi group. The Punjab, as a whole, is said to have earned US$583 million in revenue through three new cement factories, one power plant and one paper sacking plant in Chakwal by UK based investors. In September this year an international conference with the theme, Production of CNG Equipment in Pakistan & Globally, would be held to promote CNG as an alternative and environment-friendly fuel in Pakistan and to promote locally manufactured CNG equipment.

An ambitious uplift program launched by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has greatly improved roads and the newly constructed Allama Iqbal International Airport was completed in 2003. The Minister of Information Technology, Awais Leghari, has recently announced the creation of Pakistan's first technology parks in Islamabad, Karachi, and Lahore on 15 acre swaths of land. The city is the home of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) which, along with the IBA of Karachi, is one of the top business schools in the country. While Lahore has a great many traditional and modern restaurants, the turn of the century has seen the appearance of Western fast food chains such as McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Subway Sandwhiches, Dunkin Donuts, Nando's and Kentucky Fried Chicken in new shopping centres all over the city.

A major tourist attraction in Lahore is the famous Food Street in the old historic district of Gawaalmandi. Food Street has undergone a massive restoration project in which Gawalalmandi was cordoned off and street cafes were established under the lights of the restored havelis. More recently another similar food street has been added near Anarkali. One of Lahore's most famous restaurant is "Coocoo's Den", located in the old city just behind the Badshai Mosque and Lahore Fort. The restaurant is housed in a 300-year-old "Kothi" style house. At different points in the life of this property, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and Muslim families have owned it. A famous Lahore cafe is the Pak Tea House in Anarkali which is a favourite haunt for intellectuals and artists.