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Archive for April, 1989

A case for more airlines

For sheer corporate excellence, PIA is still far ahead of all Pakistani commercial entities. At least on a pro-rata basis in relation to size, PIA comes out well endowed with modern management expertise. In comparison to airlines of other countries of the world, PIA has now generally deteriorated across the board, almost to the point of despair. In patches, PIA still excels, its cockpit crew and ground engineering staff are still way above the industry average, indeed to be proud of, however PIA’s ground handling is about average within the country and when outside the country is generally as atrocious as the performance of the cabin crew almost all the time. Exceptions are the rule rather than the exception, given the fact that the passenger comes into contact with the ground handling staff and the cabin crew during his/her air travels rather than the cockpit crew and ground engineering staff, the perception transmitted is that of an airline that does not care two hoots for you and that transportation from one point to another is a favour instead of a paid-for service. At best a spotty effort, mostly shoddy, gives us reasons to think aloud about a rectification and/or adjustment and/or rejuvenation process, or even better a shock treatment meant to restore the prestige of what used to be an excellent service that all of us were once very proud of.

PIA’s greatest problem is that it is over-staffed, too many people engaged on one basis or the other, mostly nepotism. Within this over-population also lies the fact that a number of services that should be sub-contracted are handled by PIA itself, contributing to a financial overload. The passenger load-factor is subject to strain. As all employees and their dependants are entitled to free travel, the over-employment has a pressure-multiplication effect. A situation is fast approaching where PIA in the near future could conceivably carry more employees/dependants (and other non-revenue passengers) on the average in each flight rather than revenue paying passengers. All services need to be sub-contracted in a well-coordinated but short period of time, included in the hit list must be catering services, cleaning services, security services, etc. All modern airlines use contract services wherever possible, very much like PIA itself does in out-stations abroad. This is a burden that has recurring overtones when employees retire and come on the pension list. At some point of time the upward curve on the graph representing non-productive expenditure must cross the downward graph of revenue earned. In this extremely competitive field, PIA will not be able to survive financially, without constant infusion of funds.

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Security environment and the economy

About a year ago, Karachi was on “The Brink of Economic Apocalypse” (the Nation, May 17, 1989) leading us to discuss the imperative need for protective steps in the form of “A Case for Federal Guards” (the Nation, May 24, 1989). Later developments, commencing less than a week thereafter, saw the dismissal of the then PM and the National Assembly, the death of the President in an unexplained aircrash, a free and fair elections, the induction of a representative Federal Cabinet by the PPP and by the IJI in the largest province of Punjab, the PPP-MQM Accord and the Baluchistan mis-step, greater events temporarily overtaking the festering urban problems, making a direct contribution to a short term period of peace and harmony. True, there was a horrific slaughter pre-elections in Hyderabad, without doubt the handiwork of RAW, an agency of our friendly neighbour India, dedicated as they are to the promotion of mayhem and terror among the smaller countries on its periphery, but even this was overshadowed by the momentous happenings on the national scene. For the industrial port city of Karachi, Pakistan’s economic lifeline, of greatest importance was the PPP-MQM Accord, keeping a tenuous peace going in Karachi for three months. As the euphoria has evaporated on all sides, the re-emergence of the SNA factor, no doubt goaded along by RAW, has ensured that the non-repatriation of stranded Pakistanis will cause the Karachi Accord to come under great strain, leading the cynics to the conclusion that it was too good to last anyway. Salman Rushdie having enlivened the interim period by his controversial claim to dubious fame, we are back to square one as far as the security environment is concerned.

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Lebensraum?

The fear of domination by an alien religion motivated the Muslims of British India to make their demand for a separate homeland. The Quaid, a professed supporter of Hindu-Muslim amity at the beginning of his political career, became instead the ultimate architect of Pakistan. Millions and millions of people left their hearth and home, to vote with their feet the choice of their hearts and mind. Countless sacrifices were given en route. MOHAJIR became a real word in the new state of Pakistan, in the absence of any other identity it may not have become a nationality by itself but must be the closest description there is to it.

While religion was the prime reason for this great migration, no one can deny that the fear of continuing economic subjugation by a preponderant majority having an unshakable stranglehold on commerce was what drove the millions into safer sanctuaries. Four decades later, the economic conditions may have improved on pro-rata basis, in comparison to the sons of the soil, the great mass of migrant people and their descendants perceive their economic lot as alarmingly bad. To a great extent this is because of the concentration of the migrant population in the urban areas of the province of Sindh, as job opportunities have diminished and the numbers in competition for the slots available multiplied, an inversely proportional surge has caused frustration to increase to the point that the silent population has finally found a voice in an increasingly militant crescendo. Karachi, in effect, is the MOHAJIR’S last stand in all senses of the word and it behoves all sane men to take mature notice of this.

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