A treasure lost
Fatima Surayya Bajia, the universally revered Urdu playwright and novelist, has passed away at the age of 86, succumbing to a prolonged illness. Her demise has rendered the entire country grief-stricken, with condolences pouring in from all quarters. Bajia was born on September 30, 1930 in Hyderabad Deccan to a literary family from Badayun in UP. While never having attended a formal institution, she became immensely knowledgeable in Arabic, Persian, English and Urdu literature. After Hyderabad was invaded by the Indian army, the family had to migrate to Karachi. However, soon after the untimely deaths of her grandfather and father, she took on the struggle to fend for her family and raise her nine younger siblings, many of whom gained eminence in their own careers later on, with her brother Anwar Maqsood becoming a renowned writer, her sister Zehra Nigah an acclaimed poet, and Zubaida Tariq a popular cooking expert. Bajia herself began her career as an actress in a PTV play in 1966, but soon after became a writer, initially for radio and later writing dramas and long plays for TV. Some of her most loved serials included Shama, Afshan, Aroosa, Aagahi, Ana and Zeenat. She also did historical plays, programmes for women and for children, literary programmes such as Auraq, wherein including various stories she deeply explored the different cultures within Pakistan, and also musical programmes, the most memorable of which is Sakal bin Phool bani Sarsoon, that was narrated by Zehra Nigah and included the songs of Amir Khusro. She also adapted several Japanese short stories into plays in Urdu, and her regard for Japanese literature translated into her poetry in the Japanese Haiku form. These contributions earned her Japan’s Highest Civil Award, apart from the many local awards she won including the Pride of Performance and Hilal-i-Imtiaz.
Her celebrated stature in the literary realm goes beyond her many accomplishments, for she is a representative of the generation that migrated after partition and carried with them the invaluable legacy of Urdu literature. This was reflected in her dignified, cultured and highly sophisticated demeanour, which along with her lovable disposition will forever imbue her memory. However, what is strikingly apparent is the enormous gap left by her death, and the demise of others like her. While we were fortunate to behold the historically received treasure that these figures were, there appears no sign of a possible replacement to take their place. Instead there is severe decline in educational standards, and consequently also in literary and cultural output. Without a thriving literary and intellectual discourse, people have no access to ideas that help one transcend the monotony of daily life. Unless this dearth is addressed, society stands in danger of being pushed into a state of sterility and stagnation.
Now that the strike by Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) employees has come to an end, it appears that the events of the past week and a half will be brushed under the carpet and the government will resume ‘normal service’ without gaining any wisdom from the episode. As far as the PIA management is concerned, they have reduced the fares of major flights by up to 50 percent. This move is to counter the acute hike in fares by private airlines taking advantage of the pause in the operations of the national carrier and to apologise to and incentivise its inconvenienced customers. As a public relations tactic, this move makes sense but one wonders what its impact will be on the revenue of the loss-making airline. Meanwhile, Minister for Information Pervaiz Rashid, the de facto spokesperson for the government whose conduct throughout this affair has been criticised as callous and paranoid, is at it again. He bafflingly typified the end of the strike as a “victory of principles” and proceeded to insinuate that the strike only took place because the opposition — Imran Khan’s PTI in particular — was fanning the flames against the government. By fixating on the imagined role of the opposition, he brushed aside the notion that the PIA employees have genuine apprehensions about the looming privatisation; moreover, he did not even pause to consider the possibility that the government had exacerbated matters with its crude hard line. Most deafeningly, however, the federal minister had nothing to say regarding the unforgivable killings of three PIA employees by ‘unknown’ persons at the Karachi protest. Neither condemnation nor any remorse over the incident has been evident in the public statements of any government representative.
While the government is trying its best to downplay the killings, the opposition legislators in the Senate are pushing for much needed accountability. However, Chairman of the Senate Raza Rabbani perplexingly refused to allow the opposition leader to present a motion against PIA’s privatisation. One fails to see the merit of this decision as the demands to have an open debate over privatisation, have a parliamentary committee hold an inquiry and oversee the process, and to have details of such deals made public are perfectly reasonable and much needed. PIA is a national asset and is not simply beholden to the whims of the sitting government; everyone has a stake in its future and no decision should be taken regarding its ownership unilaterally. The entire raison d’être of parliament is precisely to have such a discussion. The lingering uncertainty about the future of PIA should be put to bed as it is unlikely that the government will find its coveted ‘strategic’ investor and partner for the airline. Rather than pushing for a dubious privatisation, a consensus must be arrived at as to how to improve and revitalise PIA.
Ties with Qatar
While addressing the members of the Pakistani expatriate community in Doha, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has claimed that his government has achieved an impressive economic turnaround and the country has been put on the path of progress. This assertion lacks credibility as there are few visible signs of economic progress in the country. The stark reality is that our economy still hinges on IMF programmes that are not growth oriented; rather Pakistan is pursuing stabilisation under the thumb of the IMF. With Pakistan still reeling from an acute energy crisis and a precarious security situation, a lot more needs to be done to rid the country of the clutches of these crises. It is troubling that instead of acknowledging difficulties, the government is falling back on propaganda that all is well. The government needs to adopt a modest attitude and present the real picture of the economy before the people. The fact is that even the IMF is not fully satisfied with the implementation of the mutually agreed economic reforms.
Though Pakistan has succeeded in finalising a $ 16 billion 15 years contract with Qatar for the supply of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) at a highly competitive price, this is only a starting point. The LNG deal will make a contribution but it cannot overcome the energy deficit all by itself. Within a gap of two days, the government has made two contradictory statements about the LNG deal’s contribution to meeting the energy needs of the country. First, it was stated that it would meet 20 percent of our energy needs and the next day, it was claimed that it would meet 25 percent. Why is the government making contradictory statements? The prime minister has talked about improving ties with Qatar. The latter has offered 100, 000 job visas to Pakistanis. The plight of Pakistani workers in the Gulf states is not good. They work there under tough working conditions. Along with the offer of work visas, the government of Qatar needs to provide a respectable working environment to Pakistanis. Since the 1970s, the export of manpower policy has yielded positive results for Pakistan in the form of huge remittances. But there are two negative aspects related to the export of manpower. First, uncertainty prevails in the economies of the Gulf states too due to low oil prices, widening fiscal deficits, rising populations, political turmoil, terrorism, religious intolerance and high youth unemployment. The construction boom has subsided and there are unanswered questions whether these Arab states can cope with the impending economic challenges. Second, Pakistan has been deprived of its skilled labour force because of manpower export. Realistically, no economy can flourish in the absence of skilled workers. However, due to the existing rate of unemployment in the country, Pakistanis see an opportunity in Qatar’s offer of 0.1 million job visas. As Qatar is going to host the FIFA 2022 World Cup, it will require a lot of infrastructural development. Pakistani engineers and labour force can be effective in playing their role in the development of such infrastructure in Qatar. Reportedly, almost 100,000 Pakistanis are already working there. Like other Gulf states, Qatar stands prominent in offering a number of incentives to Pakistan due to its regional importance. Besides taking the benefit of these openings, there are good prospects of trade between Pakistan and Qatar. Presently, the volume of bilateral trade is $ 300 million per annum, which is below its potential and needs to be increased. It is in the interests of Pakistan that it should boost ties with Qatar and other Gulf states. These states generously make offers to Pakistan and the latter must act positively to utilise these incentives for the welfare of the masses. But the government should not befool the nation through false claims about achieving an economic turnaround amidst the euphoria of finalisation of a single deal.