Mr Ghaffar sat down with Maxmilian Wechsler for an interview at his Al-Sana Hotel and Restaurant, located next to Baiyoke Sky Hotel on Ratchaprarop Road in Phaya Thai area where he also owns a hotel of the same name.
“I was born in 1966 in Sahiwal, a city situated between the populous cities of Lahore and Multan in Punjab province. My parents were farmers. I left Pakistan because I wasn’t very good at academics, came to Thailand alone in 1986, landed at Don Muang airport, travelled by bus number 13 to Pratunam which cost five baht fare at that time, to find opportunities for my life. I arrived in Bangkok with nothing,” said Mr Ghaffar.
He obviously keeps a lot of pride and affection for his birthplace, which he described as “a small village on the Karachi-Lahore railway line when it was renamed in 1865 to Montgomery, after Sir Robert Montgomery. He was the British Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab. Sahiwal got its name back in 1967 and now it is a city with a population of over 200,000.
“At that time it was very difficult to obtain a long-term, non-immigrant B (business) category visa to stay in Thailand. I had to leave the country every three months. Generally, I used to visit Malaysia and kept obtaining my visa at the Thai Consulate in Penang. You had to produce a tax certificate to immigration officials every time you wanted to depart the country or they wouldn’t let you go out of Thailand.
“After I met my Thai wife, Phanom, I was able to obtain a marriage visa and a work permit. She was from Ayutthaya. We married in 1990. Prior to that, I didn’t have my own business, but soon after marrying I opened my first business ‒ the New Pop Inn, a guesthouse in Sukhumvit Soi 11.
“I was also trading in garments like jeans, T-shirts and children’s clothes. I bought everything cheaply at Pratunam, Bobae and Sampeng markets in Bangkok and sent it to my friends in Pakistan, who sold it in their shops. The money was quite good and I used it to invest in new businesses. In 1995, I opened Al-Sana Hotel and Restaurant, and in 2000, I also opened Ayesha Company, which trades in textiles and footwear, and SG-Canali Collections, a tailor shop, in Pratunam area (www.alsanabkk.com).
“Later on, I started a real estate business. I bought a condominium and land. The business is going well. In 2008, I applied for Thai nationality and I became a Thai citizen in 2015. This makes it very easy to do business here. I can own a business outright, buy land, obtain a loan from the banks and do everything that Thai-born people are able to do. It is a good feeling.
“I prefer to run all my business ventures alone. With the exception of a joint venture with a friend that produces mineral water, everything is in my name under the A.S. Warsi Group of Companies of which I am CEO.”
Mr Ghaffar seems blessed with success in all his endeavours and has built an enjoyable and rewarding life in Thailand, but he never forgets his roots. Despite a very full calendar, he always manages to find time for social agendas that benefit Pakistani community in Thailand.
“I am a life-time member and Director of Foreign Affairs for the Thai-Pakistani Friendship Association (TPFA) which has now more than 6,000 members. I am a founding member of the Thai-Pakistan Chamber of Commerce (TPCC) that we established in 2004, and since this year of 2018, I am the Vice-President of TPCC. I am also a founding member of the Overseas Pakistani Association Thailand which was formed in 2007. We have over 200 members and growing,” said Mr Ghaffar, who is also an Urdu-language presenter on the Thai Muslim TV channel on-demand since 2005.
Mr Ghaffar often attends local government and diplomatic functions like national day receptions and also cooperates closely with the embassy of Pakistan in Bangkok. In the local Pakistani community, he is known as both a tough businessman and a compassionate human being. He provides support not only for his family members in Thailand, but also for any fellow Pakistanis who are having a hard time here. As one diplomat remarked, it’s rather uncommon for successful expats in Thailand to show such generosity to their countrymen in time of need.
“I will also help out Pakistanis who have medical problems and don’t have money for hospitals and treatments. If someone doesn’t have food, I will help them. However, I do not make any payments to lawyers or to Thai officials.”
These days he doesn’t visit Pakistan often, but he did go after the big earthquake in 2008. “The Thai-Pakistani Friendship Association collected funds from the members and community and I, along with a TPFA delegate, went to Pakistan to deliver our donations. We helped more than 3,000 families who were suffering from that devastating earthquake,” Mr Ghaffar said and further mentioned: “In 2010, the TPFA collected funds from the members and community and I went with TPFA delegate to Pakistan to deliver the donations. This time, we helped more than 5,000 families who were suffering from the floods.”
“I have a plan, together with my children, to open an educational institute in Nong Chok district of Bangkok, for poor people only. My children will look after the school and maybe teach English and Thai. I have already bought
one-rai of land for this project,” Mr Ghaffar said and added: “My parents moved from Pakistan to Bangkok eight years ago and I am looking after them.
After saying that, an emotional Mr Ghaffar declared: “The Royal Family and Thai people are lenient, kind-hearted, humble and very good human beings. I have visited 23 countries around the world but always feel that Thailand is my home, and I am glad to be here and do business here.
“I am very content because I came to Thailand with nothing and I was able not only to survive, but to build a successful business for my family. Before I used to say that Thailand is my second home, but now I feel that it is my first home. My future and the future of my children are in Thailand.”