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Archive for December, 1993

Air Wars Over Open Skies The Battle of Pakistan

In keeping with its policy for liberalising of the economy, the Nawaz Sharif regime set about deregulating the aviation industry. As a part of that process, permissions were granted to a number of airlines for operating on domestic sectors. Going further, the then government decided that reciprocal sovereign agreements were not to be enforced for operating to and from Pakistani international airports, the initial opening being confined to Karachi. While “letting a hundred flowers bloom” was a positive move with respect to the domestic skies, a proliferation of non-sovereign airlines started a cutthroat price war on the Dubai-Karachi-Dubai international sector. If the “Open Skies” policy had been restricted to sovereign airlines, as is slated to be done with effect from Jan 1, 1994, the dubious proliferation of fly-by-night operators who took advantage of the situation to the detriment of both the national interest and the national airline would have been avoided. While the government should have opted for a more phase-wise approach and annunciated a more clear-cut policy, the CAA rather than the government are to blame for the mess because there is enough evidence on record to suggest that the regulating authority misled the government, even circumventing the spirit of the liberalisation, to suit certain vested interest. In effect, this amounted to daylight robbery and one must commend PIA for not succumbing to unfair market pressure on its most lucrative route. As it is, they have taken a sustained hit because of the open-ended approach. Besides being potentially unfair, the CAA stance was extremely discriminating against the national interest and somebody should be taken to task for it. The limited aviation “rollback” on “Open Skies” on external sectors is a more suitable and considered policy, one that should have been the responsibility of the CAA to implement in the first place.

As a frequent critic of PIA, it is a pleasure to note the superb manner that PIA has conducted itself in the past few months to meet the challenge. It is beginning to look like the Airline of two decades ago in the first Nur Khan-tenure. Both on the international and domestic routes there has been a marked change for the better with respect to the visible operations, particularly ground handling and in-flight service. To that extent, more than anything else competition seems to have aroused the dormant loyalty within PIA personnel and motivated them to perform in the able manner that they are capable of. There is no substitute for courtesy and caring. Some of us who travel constantly on domestic routes, particularly on the Karachi-Islamabad-Karachi sector and have been spoiled by the attention we get on the ground in Islamabad, were still unprepared for the depth of company spirit within the PIA staff, particularly those who manage the First Class Lounge (Mrs. Najam, etc). That such protective emotion could have been aroused is a credit to PIA, to all its management, past and present. While doing many things wrong, in balance (and in all fairness) it seems that PIA has been ahead in also doing things right. With their livelihood in danger at the advent of many airlines, PIA personnel have banded together and raised their performance. If one may say so, the stark difference is clearly visible.

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The Jealousy Factor

While talent is certainly suspect in our society, merit being a disqualifier instead of being a catalyst for success, the other issue that continues to bedevil us is jealousy. This negative attribute proliferates in South Asia and causes more anguish to society than any other factor. An inordinate amount of time is spent being consumed by jealousy and guided by it in our actions towards fellow human beings. A modus operandi is to launch a concerted character assassination campaign. This becomes a real tragedy when a perfectly talented individual goes astray due to extraneous reasons and drowns himself in his own imagined sorrows, wasting his God given gifts in a destructive mode instead of using it for constructive purposes. Such people can criticise, can never recommend. This originates from a basic flaw in character. Such persons are damned indeed, unfortunately their venom is usually targeted against those individuals who have been of tremendous moral and material support to them over the years. These people are the first objects of their unremitting wrath. In case the individuals of their wrath succeed in life, each triumph tears into them like a jagged knife, adding to their frustration. Hazrat Omar when once asked as to why a particular person was abusing him replied that he was surprised because he had not done him any favours. Muslims cherish this example because it acts as an example and encouragement to those who help their fellow beings without expecting or accepting reward, indeed expecting approbation. Unfortunately those outside the pale of Islam (or Christianity or Judaism) and committed to its destruction will never understand the moral of this story.

In many of the instances, history is repeated though it may not be a prosaic as “Kane and Abel”. The germs of jealousy are usually imbedded during the comradeship of youth. People who grow up together usually grow apart as they grow in years because of differing perceptions, career patterns and the varying vicissitudes of destiny. Youthful exuberance and mutual loyalty is eventually lost as the darker side of one’s character imposes on these qualities. Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait is very expressive, there cannot be another fitting description of those consumed by jealousy. Those afflicted by this spend their waking moments planning the downfall of the objects of their hatred, forgetting that it is God Who guides the destiny of the whole Universe, man proposes, God disposes. Life, liberty and fortune are in His hands, man cannot change the destiny of anyone least of all his own. Individuals who have no control over themselves are hardly capable of guiding the fortunes (or misfortunes) of others. But it is difficult for those people to understand who do not believe in God and are outside the pale of Islam, indeed are working assiduously and surreptitiously for its destruction.

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The crossroads of destiny

If evidence of the fickle nature of destiny is to be recorded, there can be no better example than the crossroads that Pakistan has again been suddenly thrust in. Five years ago, with the winding down of the Afghan War, Pakistan’s utility to the US, indeed to the entire Western world, had dwindled to the lowest ebb in the history of the country. From the high of being a cornerstone of US policy, Pakistan had sunk so far as to almost being declared a “terrorist nation”. If the Gulf War had not intervened in 1990, the state of US-Pakistan relationship would have deteriorated much faster, with or sans Ms Bhutto, her ouster by GIK in August 1990 coinciding with the obnoxious Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Though one of the first to offer and send troops to Saudi Arabia as part of the anti-Iraq alliance, Gen Beg’s “Strategic Defiance” concept left Pakistan up the debt creek without the paddle used effectively by Egypt to get its US $ 10 billion PLUS debt forgiven in payment for its services.

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Initial Reviews

The visible primary difference between Caretaker and elected governments is that being unaccountable to the people and with no lasting commitment to the nation, the MQ Regime could enact any number of reforms and give forth any number of pledges in the comfortable knowledge that neither were these strictures binding on the successor government nor were they answerable to anybody. In a space of 90 days, a sophisticated image building exercise raised the expectations of the people, this was bound to become an albatross for any elected government in comparison. What was conveniently left unsaid was that though every elected government may have similar ambitions they are constrained in the implementation of their promised policies post-election by political realities.

Having been in business only about 45 days or so, Ms Benazir Regime should not be expected to conjure up any economic miracles. Furthermore, economic initiatives seldom make immediate headway towards their objectives even though measures that seem punitive will always get an instantaneous antagonistic response in the streets. Most of the “dirty work” as regards imposing additional limitation at the behest of the IMF had already been done by the MQ Administration, but the additional conditionalities agreed to by MQ is unfairly shackling the present incumbent for a three-year period. For the record, the revenues acquired by the extra MQ measures of taxation are projected at almost Rs 10 billion, an almost 50% backbreaking increase on the Rs 20 billion proposed and voted for in the annual Federal Budget guided through by the then Federal Finance Minister Senator Sartaj Aziz. Many more IMF conditionalities were accepted by the MQ Regime than were by former Finance Minister Sartaj Aziz in April 1993 but the IMF has still not released the Standby Facilities. In effect the IMF has conned us into a three year captivity without giving anything in return and now want more from the Bhutto Regime. The quality of life of our citizens will thus deteriorate further as their spending power decreases. In hindsight we should not have let IMF-pensioner MQ negotiate with his parent institution. Further the tax burden should have been better focussed towards the higher income group.

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