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Thirty-seven years in UAE and looking forward to more

December 02, 2012

Photo by Eefa Khalid/Dawn.com

I landed in Dubai towards the end of September 1975. That was the time when apart from construction workers, talented young men from Pakistan comprising bankers, insurers, engineers, doctors and other professionals were still migrating from the country in search of greener pastures. Banks and Life Insurance along with several heavy industries had earlier been nationalized by the Bhutto regime leaving behind a large group of talented professionals whose services would be welcome in any country in search of talented manpower, particularly the oil rich kingdom of the Middle East. The Arabs were indebted to Bhutto for teaching them to use their new found oil as a weapon against the West and to face the Western world with dignity and so they were more than happy to reciprocate by offering jobs to Pakistanis in their country.

The Trucial states in the Gulf which had just gained independence from British rule united to form the United Arab Emirates under the dynamic leadership of Shaikh Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi and Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktum in Dubai. The rest of the seven emirates of Sharjah, Ajman, Umal Quwain, Ras Al Khaima and Fujairah all had their respective leaders but lacked the financial strength and the vision of Sh. Zayed and Sh. Rashid. Both were actually Bedouins but tribal leaders who loved their country and its people.

Dubai has been my home for the last 37 years and I would love to stay here as long as I can. This country has given a lot of opportunities to the Pakistanis with whom rulers of the UAE have always had a soft corner. All of them had houses in Pakistan and their holidays were spent on hunting trips to Pakistan. Quite a few of them speak fluent Urdu but sadly few Pakistanis have learnt to speak Arabic. Agha Hassan Abedi, founder of BCCI who had a strong influence on the Arab leaders, was clearly instrumental in bringing UAE and Pakistan closer. He taught his people how to deal with the Arabs, how to talk, dress and present themselves to the outside world. As far as I remember, every single Arab had an account in BCCI and always took pride in dealing with the Pakistani bankers. There was so much of Arab investment coming to Pakistan that Indira Gandhi reportedly asked in one of her Cabinet meetings, “If Pakistan can have an Abedi why can’t India have one?”

Those were the days when Saigols, Valikas, Adamjees, Gokals all had prominent offices here. Arabs looked upon Pakistan with pride and Pakistan continued to play an active role in the economic boom in the UAE. Unfortunately this did not continue for long. Bhutto’s departure from the scene greatly upset the Arabs who had no room for the new military regime. This was followed some years later by the debacle of the BCCI which completely shattered the Arab world, which lost all trust and faith in Pakistan. Over the years, the Pakistani work force greatly reduced and was substantially replaced by the Indians and Far Eastern workers.

Could the situation have been corrected? Not by the leaders but definitely by the Pakistanis still living in the UAE. The Pakistani missions in the UAE did nothing to correct the situation as the diplomats were busy only in receiving VIPs coming to Dubai on shopping trips with their families. The Pakistani community always had a serious attitude problem and was looking for short-cuts at every stage. I had been a member of the Pakistani Professional Forum but left it soon as it did nothing to interact with other forums, which was one of its purposes. Having a dual citizenship, I am also an active member of the Canadian Business Council which meets at least twice a month for discussions on various topics particularly on how to bring in Canadian investments to Dubai. We work closely with the Canadian Consulate here who give the forum their full support. Recently we had a joint meeting and a get-together comprising 17 Business Councils from 17 different countries. I noticed several deals being made and visiting cards being exchanged for follow up. The only country missing was Pakistan which deeply saddened me to see the absence of my own country.

Dubai is a wonderful place to live in – I would honestly say the best in the Gulf. My Canadian friends have often asked me what it was like being amongst the Arabs for so many years. My answer to them was to know the Arabs you have to live with them and I have lived them for 37 years. I cannot speak for the rest of the Arab world but can certainly say that local Arabs in UAE are the most talented and wonderful to live with and they interact with the expatriates with open arms. We celebrate Eid, Diwali, Christmas, Nauroz, New Year and even Halloween with great pleasure. I live in a gated community comprising families from several countries and right now as I write I can see the glow of Diwali lights in my neighbours house. Our closest friends are the Indians who have stood by us at every stage. Unless the Pakistanis come out of their shell and learn to mix around and interact with other communities, they will lose their identity.


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The writer is a veteran of the UAE insurance industry. He is a member of Insurance Business Group and an active member of the Canadian Business Council in Dubai.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.