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Archive for February, 1991

Opening up the economy

The Nawaz Sharif Government has instituted far reaching changes in the Foreign Currency Regulations in a bid to make the domestic climate more conducive to foreign investment. This marks one of the most fundamental of the reforms needed to revitalize the economy and one must commend the courage of the present regime, especially the PM and the Finance Minister. All these changes were on the anvil during the previous PPP Government but unfortunately Ms Benazir mixed up her priorities, economic options were waylaid by personal greed of some of her partymen and close relatives. Rumours abound that Senator Dr Mahbubul Haq was about to attempt such a departure from the norm when he was Finance Minister, the credit must rightly go to the mature, confident and unassuming Sartaj Aziz for ushering in these changes. Honesty in day-to-day dealing and a feet-on-the-ground approach accomplishes much more than flamboyant rhetoric dedicated to self-propagation. Dr Mahbubul Haq’s cerebral qualities are overshadowed by his known penchant to somersault on key ideological issues under pressure. To that extent and more, Sartaj Aziz dominates him, simply by his quiet demeanour, steadfastness and firm authority.


The crossroads of friendship

Over the past several months the fraternal relationship between USA and Pakistan has been subjected to great strain, reaching almost to an impasse over the past few weeks. There is mass resentment in Pakistan at the US-led air offensive against Iraq, the main US reason seems to be exasperation at Pakistan’s continuing nuclear programme, suspected to be weapon-oriented despite our protestations to the contrary. At a soul-searching historic crossroads in our mutual friendship, we require mature analysis, understanding and generous accommodation of each other’s primary interests, a pragmatic combination of mutual respect for each other’s viewpoint as well as the demands of real-politik. Both countries are presently straitjacketed in myopic tunnel vision that has potential of being detrimental to each other interests, to Pakistan’s more than the US of A.


The great air race

Almost 20 months and one Government later, the powers-that-be have taken the advice of THE NATION (April 25, 1989) in “A CASE FOR MORE AIRLINES”, asking for applications that may result in more than one airline in the private sector. For Pakistan’s economy to open up, exploiting the potential of air dynamism is a must. To our excellence in some disciplines viz, hockey, banking and squash, one can add aviation. Our pilots and aviation engineering staff have standards far above the ordinary, true for both the military (PAF) and civilian (PIA) sectors. The failure to break up PIA’s public sector monopoly has stunted natural aviation growth in Pakistan. We have never been able to recapture the “Nur Khan” years pre-1965, PIA has thereafter run on the momentum of that period, brief interim spurts directly proportional to the performance of Chief Executives.

Nawaz Sharif Government’s new initiative in attempting to break the logjam created by PIA’s monolith in the domestic aviation industry is a wise move. Wherever aviation industry has been de-regulated in the world, visible benefits have been in improved services to the general public. The de-regulation of the aviation industry in the US created a virtual plethora of regional and nation-wide Airlines. The competition reduced the cost of air travel with commensurate improvement in service, innovations like Peoples Airlines “No Frills” to Braniff’s “Total Luxury in the Air” offered a wide range in quality and frequent choice of flights to the public, enhancing the average American’s air-mindedness. The invisible effect was force-multiplying commercial and industrial activity as distances became measured in return time at competitive prices.


Sindh resurgent?

Geographically located as a historical transition point, the bitterness in Sindh over Islam’s first advent in the South Asian sub-continent at the point Mohammad Bin Qasim’s sword soon blew away, Muslims and Hindus continuing to live in the region without any rancour for thirteen centuries. Sindh witnessed none of the savagery of 1947, Sindhi Hindus (mostly the wealthy) departing in relative peace for other lands, an enterprising lot they rank today among the wealthiest expatriates. Those that remained have not had to face the recurring upheavals that their Muslim counterparts in India have had to endure over the past four decades. With Karachi’s emergence as Pakistan’s main port city, Sindh, relatively a land of peace, turned into one of opportunity.

For the ethnic Sindhis, refugees brought mixed blessings, becoming a proverbial gift horse. Welcoming them with open hearts and hearths in 1947, ethnic Sindhis became helpless before the tide that has never eased, their frustrations turning into bitterness, exploding into the open confrontation in 1972. The Mohajirs (the term in the present context denoting refugees from India), were blamed for turning the cities of Karachi and Hyderabad (to a lesser extent Sukkur and Mirpurkhas) into areas of ethnic Sindhi minority. The city of Karachi continues to receive all comers from all directions, the ethnic Sindhi has become an endangered species. The reservoir of goodwill that ethnic Sindhis have been imbued with for centuries is now exhausted.