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Mishmash of good, bad news

June 22, 2013

PAKISTAN never fails to confound you. A month on from the general elections the situation is no different.

Just look at Friday’s major national newspapers. Most of these were carrying an advertisement inviting applications for the position of the managing director of the national flag carrier, the Pakistan International Airlines.

PIA, which once used to be the pride of the country as it was efficient, smartly run and profitable, has of late resembled a terminally ill patient, beyond any hope of ever returning to good health and life.

It became symptomatic of a deeper national malaise and let me tell you why. Billions of rupees drained from the national exchequer to keep PIA from crashing seem to have disappeared down a black hole with very little, if at all anything, to show for it. The reason, as with other public-sector corporations, was that there was no concept of professional management running a viable enterprise. It was seen, as we all know well, as anything from a mass employer of political appointees to the goose that laid the golden egg.

And with our impatience and greed that seems to know no bounds or even sanity we have often sliced open the stomach of such a goose in the quest of getting our hands on all the golden eggs in one go. If the golden goose is finished off in the process so be it.

This has been the norm for as long as one can recall. For years, PIA’s chief executives have been political appointees of one sort or another. Competence, professionalism was never a consideration, it seemed.

For example there have been instances where a senior officer of the PAF, passed over for the air chief’s job, was handed the national flag carrier’s top job as a consolation prize.

The only example where a PAF person, and in this case an officer who also attained the highest position in the air force, delivered and delivered significantly was Air Marshal Nur Khan. PIA was indeed flying high when his able hands were on the joystick.

From his time on, barring the odd exception, the top job has gone to either a senior serving (or retired) air force officer or to one or the other favourite civilian of the civilian government in power at any point in time.

Expertise, aviation management experience and business acumen were never in the frame. For example, in the tenure of the last government the office was filled by someone whose primary claim to fame was visiting and taking meals to a very influential political prisoner when the latter was imprisoned many years earlier.

In different times, the same gentleman is also said to have flown precious animal hides, in violation of an African ban on their export, surreptitiously in his baggage for the same VIP taking advantage of his position as crew of the plane.

Everyone saw how this person, after taking over, became a joke. The airline’s well-being slipped to the lowest rung of the priority ladder and most of his time was taken up by reportedly awarding juicy deals, key jobs to those with connections to his benefactor.

Against this backdrop, the open invitation to apply and take part in an apparently transparent, competitive exercise can only be lauded. Of course, we must temper our joy with caution simply because PIA now needs an MD who is a magician and one with the power to raise the institution from the dead.

More than the PIA advertisement, quite frankly, what pleased me no end was the appointment of Munir Malik as the attorney general of Pakistan. There could be few people in the country with his integrity, competence and ability to tell right from wrong.

Let me declare a conflict of interest here (though it relates to the past). As the editor of this newspaper till 2010, whenever I turned for counsel to Mr Malik he was no less than a sage but also a man who let me push the frontiers rather than err on the side of conservatism. In brief, he kept me out of prison despite all my efforts to the contrary.

He is one of the most upright and principled men in the country, a role model indeed, and his appointment as the top law officer of Pakistan can only be good as it’ll serve the cause of justice, fair play and humanity.

But before you accuse me of undiluted optimism, allow me a sobering thought or two. Yes, while pondering the AG’s appointment and the ad for the PIA MD one couldn’t help but smile.

Imagine the horror when Friday’s newspapers also carried the bizarre story of a PTI member of the National Assembly eulogising Salmaan Taseer’s convicted murderer and calling for his release.

The party may have distanced itself from the views of the MNA after they realised the ramifications of what he was saying. But the incident must serve as food for thought for the party leader who has inspired the coming together of a rainbow coalition.

Diversity of opinion within parties is healthy and must be encouraged. But the lunatic fringe needs to be told that diversity cannot be equated with condoning criminal acts and sickeningly insane views and demands.

And yes, no need to remind me that Karachi remains on fire, Balochistan is a million miles from normality and the Taliban continue to paint Khyber Pakhtunkhwa red with innocent blood.

But even then we need to focus on the positive sometimes and generate positive energy for the simple fact that addressing all the issues accumulated through the acts of commission and omission over so many years will take long to resolve.

For now, we must look for signs, pointers in the right direction and when we do see them acknowledge them as such.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.