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From subaltern to SBP Governor: Durrani

November 21, 2009


The career of Shakir Ullah (SU) Durrani who died in Peshawar on Friday ranged from a subaltern to the State Bank Governor. In between, he was managing director of PIA, founding chief executive of ICP, and deputy managing director of PICIC.

He was dismissed instantly by Z.A. Bhutto on becoming President and CMLA in 1971, put under house arrest and later sent to prison. Among others similarly treated were Lt. Gen. Habibullah Khan Khattak, Admiral U.A. Saeed and Altaf Gauhar.

No charge was brought against Durrani. Besides, no reason for doing so was given. Air Marshal Zafar Chaudhry, who succeeded him in PIA, later told me that the President asked him to inquire into Durrani's misdeeds.

The air marshal's reply was it wouldn't be appropriate for him to enquire into the conduct of his predecessor, but he assured Mr Bhutto that from what he had seen or learnt Durrani had done nothing wrong, managed the airline well and was held in high esteem.

Released from prison, Durrani went abroad to preside over some financial houses in New York and London for 10 years and floated one of his own. Returning to the country, he introduced Japan's Orix group in Pakistan controlling from Karachi the region comprising the Gulf, Middle East and Central Asia. He was, however, not so lucky with his investments in ceramics and fructose industries.

Durrani was not a specialist in finance nor was he educated in a business school. His strength lay in recruiting, training and grooming young executives. He introduced a corporate culture in Pakistan in which the social behaviour and personal bearing of a manager were required to match his professional skill.

Quite a few whom he trained - D.M. Qureshi, M.U. Farooqui, Khalid Mirza, Humayun Murad among them - rose to high positions in local and international finance.

In his long career, Durrani bore no grudge against those who betrayed his trust, not even those who victimised him. But he never forgot even elementary courtesy shown to him. It had fallen to my lot as District Magistrate of Karachi to serve on him the CMLA's order of dismissal and detention.

A quarter of a century later when I retired from the civil service, he came over to see me bringing an offer for a high and independent position in the private sector. It came as a first ray of light in the gloom of retirement. I wondered why.

After all our official relationship in the turbulent days when he was M.D. of PIA and I was District Magistrate was marked by tension and in later years was, at best, cold.

Durrani had come to return a favour. What he viewed as a favour was courtesy. I had served the CMLA's order on him personally and decided to detain him at his house instead of sending him to prison. That much, I thought, the governor of the State Bank deserved when no reason was given for his dismissal or detention.

But this was just one of his many qualities that earned him a high position among professionals without himself being one. The people worked for him with commitment because he was a gentleman. His wife, Samina, daughter of Sir Liaquat Hayat Khan of Wah, only reinforced that image.