Articles of the year 2011

The sole defender of Pakistan
Published on January 25, 2011

PIA was a completely homegrown product and competed with the best. It is obvious that its present management cannot cope with their responsibilities, and should be relieved of their jobs before they can do more damage

The people of Pakistan are watching the mismanagement of the economy, coupled with the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) workers being appointed to nonexistent jobs adding to the already unmanageable burden of surplus workforce. Politics everywhere depends on buying votes either by favours or dollops of cash. Either way, in Pakistan merit is not a factor that is considered, which leads to the deterioration of the quality of work.

The corruption in the PPP has prevented the leadership from addressing the power shortage issue sensibly. The simplest would have been to restart all the closed units by paying the dues to the power producers. Instead, substantial under the table payments were demanded for the release of funds for electricity that had been produced and consumed and paid for by the consumer, but the payment was not passed on to the producer, or to the oil supplier. This shortfall of almost $ 2 billion has brought the entire system to a grinding halt. The PPP middlemen are insisting on their share of the cake for using their 'influence' in releasing the payments. The power producers have a sweet deal, namely they get paid whether the power is consumed or not! The government is billed and has to pay. So the power producer is not really pushed, as he is billing the government whether the power is consumed or not. The middleman sees a huge outstanding amount, and feels entitled to demand his share. With $ 2 billion in the pipeline, everyone wants a slice, as a minister said on TV the other day "corruption is my right". He feels justified in his demand, and nobody has questioned his claim. He and people like him will not allow a resolution of the crisis till their 'right' has been 'granted' to them. Meanwhile, the poor people of Karachi are suffering power outages and water shortages, for each house and building needs power to pump the water to the overhead tanks to get the supply.

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is now an institution much admired within Pakistan and abroad. It is considered a prime job provider for the youth of Pakistan, and it is unthinkable for us to hand it to the foreigners. PIA was a completely homegrown product and competed with the best. It was better known in aviation circles than the Turkish Airlines. It is obvious that its present management cannot cope with their responsibilities, and should be relieved of their jobs before they can do more damage. The downward slide of PIA has been caused by incessant interference by government and politicians into its affairs.

airline is an extension of the government like an embassy, as it carries a country's flag around the world. An airline's office is usually in a highly visible location, whereas an embassy may be tucked away in some diplomatic enclave. There are many people in Pakistan who have the competence to run PIA. PIA is not the handmaiden of any individual, to be farmed out to any foreigner. We have succeeded in developing our own nuclear facility; running an airline is not that difficult.

In 2002, I was part of a discussion with United Airlines where they had offered a codeshare (an aviation business arrangement where two airlines share the same flight; a seat can be purchased on one airline but is actually operated by a cooperating airline under a different flight number or code) to PIA. This was contemptuously shot down by the Chairman of the Aircraft Acquisition Committee Air Marshal Salim Arshad on the grounds that PIA did not need any such assistance or advice. Yet we are now offering a codeshare agreement to another the flag carrier of another Muslim country. Will that get us better treatment at the US airports? It is this unthinking arrogance that has been the root cause of so many of our official blunders. He should be called for an explanation, and taken to task for his stupidity. He was at that time backed by Ahmed Saeed, then chairman PIA, the brother of our present defence minister. It is a truly small world.

It is high time cronies are kept away from our institutions. And, may be, Captain Haroon should be thanked for looking after President Zardari when he was last in hospital, but to give him the keys to PIA and allow him to hand over this national treasure to another airline is ridiculous. It is certainly not in Pakistan's interest. We are lucky that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) will soon step in on this issue. It seems to be acting as the conscience of Pakistan, a quality that seems to be missing in other political parties. Every other party tries to protect their own narrow interest without looking towards Pakistan. It is only the MQM that takes action, forcing the government to retract. We have examples of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), the Reformed General Sales Tax (RGST), now KESC and, hopefully, PIA.

Unfortunately for Pakistan, the Supreme Court is taking its time on seeing the NRO judgement through to its conclusion, allowing the beneficiaries to use their freedom and their access to power to indulge in a few more mega scams. If the NRO affectees were to be removed, their power would diminish. Perhaps the MQM could address this aspect as well.