Engineers ignored

14 Aug 2020


EVERY year civil awards are conferred upon people achieving excellence in their professions or having key influence that shapes our society and culture.

Over time, people belonging to the arts, film, theatre, drama and sports dominate the list followed by bureaucrats and businessmen. Many of these awards are of late suspected to be given against merit and as favouritism.

Last year a bold, young actress was given the prestigious award for services unknown and surely unmerited for a national award. There was strong criticism by the public and President Arif Alvi had promised transparency for the future.

Indeed, Pakistan has produced some of the most accomplished engineers, but barring a few related to the nuclear field, most have been persistently ignored.

For example, out of 116 award recipients of 2019, there were only six engineers. This is proportionate neither to their numbers nor to their accomplishments.

Pakistani engineers have significantly contributed towards the planning and construction of Tarbela dam, Mangla dam and other water and hydropower generation projects. These projects are well-maintained according to international standards and practices.

Likewise, the largest irrigation network in the world, some 58,500 kilometre-long, is operated and maintained by the engineers. Pakistanis constructed, and maintains, Karakorum Highway, the world’s largest and highest paved international road at 4,693 metres above sea level.

Achievements of engineers in nuclear and defence areas are well-known. Pakistani engineers designed the world’s highest density media process for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications with a capability of handling 2,000 simultaneous VoIP calls.

A reminder of some brilliant engineers who went uncelebrated: Prof Abul Kalam (late), who established Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works in the 1950s. He served as vice-chancellor of NED University of Engineering and Technology, Karachi, for over 16 years; K.M. Farooq, managing director of Heavy Mechanical Complex (HMC) at Taxila, who brought Pakistan on the world export map of plant machinery by securing orders for sugar mills from Indonesia and Bangladesh.

N.A. Qureshi is yet another name to be remembered. As chairman of Pakistan Railways, he restructured and rehabilitated the railway network in the 1960s with German technical assistance. He also served as the minster for railways in 1978.

The culture of posthumously celebrating individuals is rare in our system, but if Patras Bokhari can be recognised years later, these eminent engineers who served the country well may also be recognised. Patras, an acclaimed writer and diplomat, died in 1958 and was awarded Hilal-i-Imtiaz in 2003.

Tailpiece: As chairman of State Engineering Corporation, I made the first-ever nomination from the department for an engineer of Pakistan Machine Tool Factory who helped the company in difficult times and even lost his life while working at the factory.

The three-member committee of federal secretaries, who were to select nominations, turned him down because they thought he was too junior in grade to be honoured. Grudgingly, I then recommended a former chairman of the corporation who was their fellow CSP officer. That too was turned down as the committee could see no value in honouring a dead man.

Obviously, that was the end of nominations from the corporation for the next few years that I served.

Hussain Ahmad Siddiqui

Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2020