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DAWN - Features; December 25, 2005

December 25, 2005


Clearing the fog of mistrust

WINTER fog has enveloped the Punjab plains once again, which is not to say that the rest of the country is shining bright. The fog of mistrust on account of the construction of the Kalabagh dam refuses to lift in Sindh, the NWFP and Balochistan. Not too long ago, there could not be two opinions in Punjab on the urgency for building a big dam; not anymore. Not only have the opposition parties made their stance clear on the issue, the very proponents of the dam are also having second thoughts, though for entirely different reasons.

The guarantees now being offered by the president as to the benefits a big dam upstream of the Indus will have for Sindh are not easily fathomable by many in Punjab. A new question is being raised: ‘what good will the dam be if no canals are taken out to irrigate more arid land in Punjab, the southern Frontier and eastern Balochistan?’ One supporter of the dam wrote a very angry letter to this newspaper, declaring that he was giving up his 20-year-long pro-dam stance because no new canals were being allowed.

The latest outrage in the country’s largest province goes to show that the inter-provincial mistrust between Punjab and the rest of the federating units is mutual. It is not going to go away by coercing Sindh, the Frontier and Balochistan into an agreement over the dam, especially when Punjab, too, would not feel quite as satisfied under the conditions the president is now setting to achieve a consensus — a euphemism for imposing a decision from above — as the civil-military establishment understands it.

The linking of the overdue National Finance Commission award with an agreement on the Kalabagh dam is equally perplexing. When will the rulers learn that their stick-and-carrot policy is not the key to a smooth running of a federation? We have argued time and again for building a consensus among provinces through democratic means and not by coercion. A ruling establishment that has a standing credibility deficit with the people cannot evolve such a consensus. The reason is simple: it lacks the respect and confidence of the silent majority, as well as of many who choose not to remain silent on critical national issues.

The only way forward is to call fresh elections now or put the damned dam on the backburner until 2007 when elections are due. These should be held under an interim, impartial government to ensure their credibility. One says this because the current PML-led coalition government has completely eroded its own credibility, as it went about purchasing political loyalties and roughening feathers of some of its own sympathizers in the local elections held this year. For its part, the Punjab government has shown an insatiable appetite for power politics. This, it has done by creating new land barons. Trimming road and infrastructure development plans and commercializing the land allocated for such projects has been a steady policy in the last four years. The fate of the Lahore ring road and the mushrooming of countless housing estates around major urban centres, where land prices have gone out of the reach of anyone with fair means, have been this government’s only accomplishments. If this is the ruling party’s recipe for a democratic Pakistan, then God help us.

There is a need for all political forces in the country to be allowed to canvass for their stands on important national issues in an atmosphere free of coercion and on a level playing-field. Only a government born of a democratic process that has no strings attached to it can strive to achieve a national consensus on thorny issues such as the sharing of financial and water resources.

Quick fixes in the form of army generals forcing decisions from above or through their handpicked toadies have really not proved to be any real fixes in the past. They have only added to the rot which continues to eat away at the core of democratic institutions, giving birth to more serious issues in their wake. This has got to stop.

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THE city nazim has once again paid lip service to building a commuter light rail system. The dream has seen many feasibility reports, funding offers by foreign parties and much more since the early 1990s, but has remained just that. First there were plans to build an urban transit system from Bhati Gate to Chungi Amar Sadhu on Ferozepur Road, then came the more up-market version of a magnetic train that would run from the Ravi Bridge to the airport, but nothing, nothing doing; neither project ever took off for reasons known only to those who first conceived and then scrapped them.

A few months ago, the chief minister once again expressed the desire to see a modern urban transit system in the city. Pray, what is stopping it? If our Gulf neighbours can be talked into building an entire sport city across the Ravi or indeed the fifty-storey twin-towers on Ferozepur Road, surely they could also be made interested in this very public project too. But a problem remains untangled: the urban train service is only a service that could benefit some 300,000 hapless commuters of this city which is spreading out in all directions like a plague.

It is not a money-making endeavour and certainly not one that could match the glamour of the other two projects, work on which will be beginning shortly with much fanfare. When the Sharifs’ time came and they were booted out of power, they left this city with a number of upgraded roads, underpasses, overhead bridges, a motorway and two well-equipped, modern hospitals. One wonders what the current rulers and their city managers would leave behind, hoping sincerely that it won’t be just more congestion, more pollution and clogged-up arteries.

* * * * *

ANOTHER dream shown by the city managers is in the form of allocations of two and one billion rupees each made for revamping the city’s rustic water supply and sewerage system and the existing roads. If true, then we’ll surely find out soon enough. Huge amounts like these cannot be spent without kicking up some dust, and that’s not the kind of dust civic authorities have been blowing in Model Town by bulldozing bricked surfaces outside selective houses in the name of removing encroachments. Due care has been taken to leave out the houses occupied by ‘friends’.

On the question of revamping water and sewerage lines, residents of the Ravi Road localities where 14 people had died after consuming piped water mixed with sewage in June are, reportedly, yet to be compensated for their losses. Many others keep complaining that the area’s water supply continues to be a mixed bag of life and death. Will the nazim please take note? — OBSERVER

Industrialist with a vision

THE qualities that mattered most to Mian Muhammad Rafique Saigol, who passed away on Dec 10, were responsibility, integrity and humanity.

Born in Kalkota on Sept 1, 1933, Mian Rafique Saigol was the eldest son of Yousuf and Asiya Saigol and grandson of Amin Saigol. His education began at the Doon School in Dehradun prior to partition, and continued at the Aitchison College in Lahore. He finished his schooling at Clemson University in South Carolina, where he studied economics and textile management until 1953.

After college, Rafique Saigol embarked on his business career as managing director of the Kohinoor Textile Mills in Lyallpur (now Faisalabad). As the eldest son, this was a position he took out of a sense of duty to his father and thereby assumed a role of leadership in the family.

Throughout the 1950s and 60s, there was little in Pakistan’s formative business world in which Rafique Saigol did not have a hand. He was director of no less than six major businesses in industries ranging from textiles to petroleum. He served as chairman of the influential All-Pakistan Textile Mills Association and president of the Lahore Chamber of Commerce.

He was a founding member of the Lahore Stock Exchange and a member of at least seven major advisory groups with pursuits,including education, finance, transportation, agriculture and industrialization. He revolutionized the country’s banking sector through the establishment of United Bank Limited. He was the driving force that drew together the industries that comprised the Kala Shah Kaku Industrial Complex near Lahore. Through such efforts, Rafique Saigol brought Pakistani industry to the markets of the world.

Rafique Saigol served his country through roles beyond those of business. He was the longest serving member of the board of directors of the State Bank of Pakistan. He stood for election in 1965 and represented Lyallpur district as a member of the National Assembly. While in parliament, he was also parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Communications and his standing and experience made him a trusted adviser to Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Later, as the wave of nationalization swept across much of the business landscape of Pakistan, Rafique Saigol took on the job of chairman of Pakistan International Airlines. When faced with the prospect of laying off much of the airlines’ employees, he drew a line and saved the livelihood of his workforce. For his entire tenure at PIA, he took a salary of only one rupee.

His family and business responsibilities later took him to Saudi Arabia, where he continued to diversify his interests and responsibilities. He returned to Pakistan in 1991.

Though much exalted in stature and station, Rafique Saigol was disarmingly modest in his daily life. He took his own phone calls and insisted on carrying his own bags. He expressed his feelings with a frank honesty and charm that endeared him to the elite and ordinary folk alike. His integrity was beyond reproach.

If asked what, in his long and accomplished life, he counted as his greatest accomplishment, Rafique Saigol would smile with the characteristic twinkle in his eyes and say: “Actually, I have seven,” referring to his seven children.—ALI SAIGOL

Eating rich at extravagant weddings

IN a typical crowded wedding in Karachi, a lady visiting from Britain was rather astonished when she kept hearing from the guests a recurring question: when will the meal be served. She said in a sort of disgust “there was nothing else that the guests were focused on. They only wanted to know when they would eat. Was that the only reason they had come to attend the wedding?” It reflects, partly, our attitude to food perhaps.

Her husband was disappointed that the large gathering of invitees was totally disinterested in the “nikah” that was taking place. Men and women chatted, and children ran around, playing. Neither did the organizers (hosts) make any real efforts to announce or inform the guests that the nikah was taking place. This visitor from Britain underlined the sanctity of the nikah and felt that the guests should have upheld that. It mirrors our attitude to the nikah, perhaps.

What then is the interest of people going to weddings, where with the passage of time we witness more money and time being spent. More pomp and show, more extravagance, and far more nonchalance towards the hard facts of society like poverty, growing inequality, or the huge loans that families take to get their children married.

One focuses on marriages and in particular on the lavish meals that are being served in posh hotels, marriage halls and clubs.

Keep in mind that the Supreme Court last week said that the federal and provincial governments must ensure strict implementation of ban on meals at weddings.

In one instance, where the menu included the popular seekh kabab, the caterers advised that if this item was dropped from the menu it would be absolutely safe. No smoke, no evidence of any meal being served. However, the hosts were keen that the seekh kabab be retained. So the kababwala made the kababs without the smoke!! And all went well.

Evidently with the triumphant way in which hosts at weddings and valimas are managing, and with the manner in which the caterers and the owners and managers of hotels and marriage halls are well connected, it is apparent that the law is being violated. Keep in mind that the Supreme Court observation was made after a three-member bench heard an application filed by Mohammad Azeem of Karachi, said a Dawn report on Dec 16.

The bench observed that the executive was duty bound to implement judgments of the Supreme Court and added that it would take action under its contempt jurisdiction on violation of the judgment, said a news report. It is said that chief secretaries of provincial governments were directed to appoint special committees in two weeks through a notification at district, tehsil, and taluka levels to monitor violations of the apex court’s judgment. The Supreme Court has also directed the federal and provincial government to register all hotels, restaurants, and marriage halls through police and other departments concerned.

The Supreme Court has observed that “social evils emanating from such exploitative customs had added to the misery of the poor and also put at stake their very existence.” What has been allowed at marriages and valimas that held in public places are only hot and cold drinks. An earlier permission granted by the Punjab government of allowing one dish to guests not exceeding 300 has been revoked.

Isn’t it strange that for all the laws and awareness, it is only slightly enigmatic that there is this violation. Subsequently, all these lavish menus, despite the costs and no one cares about the bills. It seems that there is no end to the people who vehemently argue that keeping into account our cultural compulsions it is improper and unpractical to stop serving meals altogether at marriage related occasions. They are of the view that even the poorer sections of Pakistani society want these meals to continue. Both in urban and rural Pakistan, meals at marriages are integral. “What would you do when a couple of hundred guests (or more) who have come a long way to attend a marriage ceremony and it is meal time, but to serve them food?” asked one citizen who believes that the laws should be changed.

Looking back into time, this argument about whether there should be food served at meals is perhaps about two decades old. And even though there are sections of society that want the meals to stop, there are other sections or lobbies that want the meals to continue. There are endless arguments and umpteen explanations on this theme.

At times, there is unanimous agreement that extravagance and ostentation are always in poor taste and these must be stopped. But the counter question would be: what is extravagance? And here lies the problem. What is one family’s extravagance can be another’s need. Definitions are hard to settle with.

The result, therefore, is that here at the end of 2005, Pakistani society still cannot happily agree to have simpler marriages meals. It is understandable. For all the preaching and moralizing that we have heard and done, our society has become materialistic and the finer values have been eroded. They have virtually disappeared. Therefore, it is obvious that our meals too have become status symbols. Who cares about the bills? The five star hotels are expensive, but they are overbooked months in advance.

A news agency has reported that the federal government has implemented laws of prohibition of lavish spending and ornamentation banning decoration of streets, fireworks and serving of meals in club, hotels, restaurants and marriage halls at valima and mehndi ceremonies on the eve of marriages. Still one contemplates whether we need international funding from foreign NGOs to help implement this too.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2005