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Archive for April, 1990

Open letter to Mr. Arif Abbasi, MD PIA

A couple of months ago, one had the privilege of travelling with you from Colombo to Karachi. For a short time, other than the adventures (and misfortunes) of the Pakistan cricket team in Australia we discussed the availing situation in PIA. While keeping your own counsel generally (we were flying KLM) you acquiesced that PIA cockpit crew and ground engineering staff were among the best in the world, you also agreed that the services of the ground staff and cabin crew needed drastic improvement, one thinks that you should have been more put out by their being classified among the worst in the world. Newly installed in the saddle, during the honeymoon period one tends to look at life through rose-tinted glasses. In the first flush of your incumbency you have tried to restore PIA staff morale by reinstating those that you feel were unfairly terminated (along with yourself) during the last Martial Law Regime, to a great extent you have thus been successful in keeping union activity within control through the wide spectrum of PIA’s different departments. Of course, this exercise, along with numerous job nominations and appointments by the “Flying Politician” on board the Board of Directors (and others) cost PIA, an economic white elephant at the best of times, a lot. This is being reflected in very steep increases of ticket fares, now that fuel prices have risen sharply, we suppose another sharp jump is on the cards. Since PIA is the only domestic airline of Pakistan (and Pakistanis have to use PIA if travel abroad is more than once in two years), we have little choice but to endure it. Someday there will be change, but unfortunately at the rate apparent at the moment we do not see anything changing in the near future. One supposes that at best one can point out to you what one endures in the course of travel by PIA by an open letter, the courtesy of a reply to an earlier missive probably escaping your busy attention, having been given to me by one Rahat Saeed, Manager Customer Relations on the Standard “don’t call us, we’ll call you” format.

At 4:00 pm on April 1, 1990, we checked in at Karachi for PK 731 departing at 5:30 pm for Jeddah. Most of the passengers along with us were going for Umra. Having crossed through the gauntlet of one of the most rude and disgusting group of men to ever wear uniform in Pakistan, the Airport Security Force (with all apologies to the newly installed Commander ASF since it was his predecessor rather than he who brought them to this abominable state), we went pell mell for our Boarding Passes. Granted that the harried counter staff of PIA did not do a bad job. Crossing through another ASF cordon, we entered the International Departure Lounge, PIA was almost non-existent here, seen only in patches at the gates. The announcement for boarding (it was a Boeing 747) was an occasion for a long queue to form up, perhaps because of the impending journey to Jeddah (and onto the Holy City of Mekkah), the crowd behaved as well as could be. Between the ASF’s security check and PIA’s Boarding Pass collection, it took 45 minutes, no smiles were given or taken, we passed into the waiting Transit Bus. Ten minutes into being packed like sardines, a bearded gentleman drove us to the aircraft, making a couple of near misses on the ground, where another queue and no quarter given or taken later we reached inside the aircraft. Departure time (5:30 p.m.) came and went, we departed at 6:05 p.m., nobody thought it fit to tell us why we were delayed.

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Anatomy of a democratic year

With apologies for misquoting Mark Twain, the rumours of the demise of democracy in Pakistan have been greatly exaggerated. The moderately pessimistic amongst us expected that given the multifarious complications of State inherited by Ms Benazir Bhutto, she would have upped and headed for greener pastures in a few months, or at the most one year. Unlike Cory Aquino, Ms Benazir has not been beset by problems from the men in uniform, prophesied as the most obvious threat, to keep that media “prediction” going “coup” canards have been occasionally floated. Sometimes if you cannot find sensational stories, one has to invent them. Though one must say that tanks in the streets of Karachi did send a message of sorts.

Even her most ardent supporters were apprehensive as a confident Benazir led her political party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) into government. A political vacuum had existed for eight years till Mr Junejo was installed as Prime Minister on the strength of partyless elections in 1985, in a democracy of sorts. By May 1988, Gen Zia had had enough of this experiment in democracy and dismissed the recalcitrant Mr Junejo. With Zia’s death in August 1988, a whole new world of opportunities opened up in Pakistan, in all fairness to the military (exemplified by General Mirza Aslam Beg, the Chief of Army Staff), they deserve plaudits for shunning adventurism (and temptation) by taking the constitutional route, the rest is democratic history, symbolised by a charismatic young woman of proven intellect, determination and raw courage.

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A simmering fire

Compromise, not confrontation, is the basic principle of democracy. Having struggled for a decade or so out in the cold, the comforts and trappings of office seem to have overcome democratic sensitivities normally attributable to all politicians. Karachi is a smoldering city, a tinderbox about to catch fire, the sparks already visible. One expected our politicians would avoid the extreme positions of the lunatic fringe elements in their parties, on the contrary they seem to be adopting their mad mandate whole hog. While one respects the constitutional position taken by the President, given the overall situation one expected a more activist role from him.

The PPP had a sweeping majority in Sindh in the last elections, it seemed Sindhi extremism was dealt a severe blow. Only later it is now apparent that Sindhi nationalists had infiltrated the PPP to a great extent and as such PPP itself is beset from within by an extremist faction. While the hard-core of PPP remains a moderate force, circumstances and extremist elements in Sindh have pushed PPP in a direction which must not be palatable to the PM, her hands already full with various national problems at the Centre, not the least being the sluggish economy and an over-active opposition. To add fuel to the fire, the Kashmir situation has become alive, one fraught with danger if mishandled.

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Why was the price – rise necessary?

Having written barely eight weeks ago about the Federal Government’s “austere monetary policy” and “tight fiscal control” which had kept inflation “within acceptable limits”, it is not very palatable to eat one’s words. In the face of the evidence at hand one has to. That Ms Benazir’s Government has increased fuel prices in a Mini-Budget barely 3 months from the annual Federal Budget is not the only problem, it potentially carries the force-multiplier effect of instituting double digit inflation, it is the type of economic time-bomb that brings political fortunes into question.

Why was the price rise necessary? Senior government officials are suggesting that this was necessary because of rise of international oil prices. Given that we had already been pegged at a much higher value than the one obtaining at the present this can be considered a patent untruth. Operating on the theory that the masses (and the intelligentsia) have a below par IQ value is adding insult to the injury of increasing taxes midstream.

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Option and Kashmir

A moment comes in the life of a nation when logic fails at the altar of emotions, who was it who once said, to be logical is not to be always right. Logic is the precursor of statesmanship, normally an excellent attribute, statesmanship can degenerate into hypocrisy if it fails to take note of (or deliberately ignores) the evolving feelings of the masses. At this time, the brutal bloodletting by Indian Occupation Forces in Held Kashmir should have more than tested the patience and frustration of even the most cold-blooded of leaders, that the masses have had their sensitivities universally injured has been more than aptly displayed in the streets. Our political leaders have extremely sensitive barometers to the aspirations of the people, Ms Benazir has shown that by moving forcefully on a broad political front that there is no deliberate attempt at filibustering and that if there is such an impression it is false. It takes time but the people have become sophisticated enough to discern reality from make-believe. However the PM should let down her seemingly icy control, by not giving free rein to her emotions the danger lies in losing credibility with the masses, an act of omission in an emotional country, provoking an internal dissent that can be exceedingly fatal for her ascendant political graph.

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The Credit Squeeze (or Scam)

Anyone darkening the doorstep of a financial institution nowadays looking for credit is usually informed that the “ceiling” has “burst” meaning that the bank’s lending limit has been exceeded. In the case of foreign banks who have limited credit ceilings and blue-chip corporate clients, this is an understandable reply, the response of the nationalised banks becomes intelligible only when you begin to understand the deep-rooted nepotism and cronyism practiced in the higher echelons of these financial institutions.

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