Pakistan Politics: Friends in high places pushing us to new lows

Kamal Siddiqi
Now that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and his band of fifty-odd merry men and women are back in Pakistan, possibly it is time to address some of the problems that the country is facing. It is also hoped that the leaders of our two main political parties have ended their respective summer vacations so that we can now turn to problems that the people of the country are enduring.

The hunting party that went to Washington has now come back with a better idea of what is expected of it. However, part of the problem with Mr Gilani’s kitchen cabinet is that even some of these key members may not be fully on board. We are now told that the experiment of trying to bring the ISI under civilian control failed because not all players were consulted. De-facto Interior Minister Rehman Malik has promised that “heads will roll.” One can only wonder who the scapegoat will be.

Most Pakistanis say that it is not the big problems that worry them but the smaller, more nagging issues that make them frustrated and angry. In the words of the talented singer Shehzad Roy, who says in his latest Urdu album, “What worries me is not whether things will change\but that they may remain the same in the future too.” Kudos to Roy for coming out with an engaging music album, despite the lack of corporate sponsorship, with a powerful message on what ails our country.

The message, however, is not getting to the people who matter. But why must we blame Mr Zardari for placing his friends and nominees in places of authority? Did not President Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz do the same thing, despite high claims of good governance and clean leadership? However, two wrongs do not make a right, and now we are in a democratic dispensation, so we should be able to air our grievances freely.

Take for example the appointment of the new managing director of the national carrier. A brilliant pilot, who blossomed under the chairmanship of Ahmad Saeed, a close relation of PPP stalwart Ahmed Mukhtar, now faces the toughest challenge of his life. He has to run a national airline for which he has neither the training nor the management experience. From Tariq Kirmani to Zafar A Khan, and an old man who lasted for less than three months, the airline’s new CEO is a serving PIA pilot who is trained to fly a Boeing 777. But we can’t talk about this aircraft and how a pilot caused millions in damage when landing it against better judgment during a storm at Milan airport. The taxpayer will foot the bill on that one.

Haroon served as GM central control during the last PPP government. But his assumption of his new assignment has started creating the wrong ripples. Within days of assuming office, the management hired on contract a person who resigned and left PIA two years ago, when his tenure of posting to New York had been completed. This man, a US national, chose to resign from PIA and was relieved from service with all benefits. He has been awarded the choice posting of country manager in the Americas, a post that should in all fairness be given to a senior PIA marketing executive on merit.

Another former PIA officer, who was prematurely retired three years back and is presently serving in Dubai with a real estate firm, has been rehired on contract as a deputy general manager of marketing. A junior PIA pilot flying as a captain on an ATR has been appointed as general manager traffic. This junior pilot also holds the post of GM technical ground support services, a post historically reserved for senior licensed aircraft engineers, creating a lot of ill will within the ranks. He also looks after PIA’s flight kitchen and reports directly to the MD. Pilots seem to be in favour. A former PIA pilot who survived the Fokker crash at Peshawar and was rehabilitated by accommodating him in marketing and sales, has been posted as country manager for Canada – again a post normally given to senior marketing executives.

Together with these controversial appointments, several senior traffic officers have been sent on leave or placed in the surplus pool. All foreign postings approved by the promotion board have been cancelled and fresh postings are in the process by the new PIA management, where political recommendations seem to be the dominant factor. Another irregular PIA appointee has been given the post of director stores and procurement. Seniority, merit and qualifications seem to be the casualty once again. Then there is the case of two senior PIA pilots who had been recommended for promotion to flying a Boeing 777 after undergoing costly training. The decision to move them to flying the 777 has been held back.

Most tragic is the case of flight engineers. PIA is hiring retired flight engineers on contract to serve as instructors after having forcibly retired permanent regular employed flight engineers with experience (and this included several instructors). These men are being threatened and harassed despite the fact that most are highly qualified and have given the best years of their life to the airline. The management is not talking to them directly and is playing dirty tricks, they say.

There are certain mandatory rules that are common for regulating the working of government-owned corporations. The service rules of Pakistan are binding on the CEOs of semi-autonomous corporations, along with rules in existence within the corporations. It is mandatory that every individual employee qualifying for promotion meet the minimal laid down criteria for induction of officer cadre, which is at least a graduation degree, plus experience in the relevant field.

Pakistan needs professionals specialising in their respective fields to make progress. Success lies in human resource development, and there is no alternative to this vital resource. Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle for human resource development is rampant compromise on basic specialised qualifications that should have been mandatory in government-owned corporations. But these are victims of political interference by civil and military regimes.

There are other examples. Take the case of Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Centre in Karachi where two upright and able doctors were removed from key posts to make way for more “compliant” people.

Dr Seemin Jamali, who singlehandedly changed the face and functioning of the Emergency ward of the hospital was transferred overnight to PIMS in Islamabad. This woman doctor is remembered for bringing in private donations and professionalism to a most neglected part of the public healthcare institution and arranging medicines for the poor through sponsorship. It was she who saved hundreds of people by arranging for dog bite vaccines under a private initiative for people who could not afford this.

So desperate were the powers that be to transfer Dr Jamali, who is loved and respected in the JPMC, that in complete disregard of government rules she goes to Islamabad while her husband, who also works at the JPMC, remains in Karachi. Her crime possibly was that she was coming in the way of some important hospital purchases. Another senior doctor, Dr Sri Chand, who was in charge of public works at the JPMC, has also been transferred for the same reasons. The people of Karachi will suffer as a consequence.

A fax was sent by a senior PPP Karachi office-bearer to the JPMC a week back which announced that a very junior JPMC employee had been appointed as “coordinator” for the hospital on behalf of the party. This man now enjoys more power than the director and has hospital cars at his disposal. He calls the shots now while senior doctors look in disgust and disappointment. Who do we blame? After all, it is us who have elected this bunch to power. Let us write this off as the pangs of democracy and hope that change is on the way.
The writer is editor reporting, The News


Source: The News, 4/8/2008


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