Loss of Opportunities in the Land of Opportunities

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‘At the time of independence Pakistan had something around two and a half textile mills; a small unit at Lahore and one in Faisalabad. We decided to shift production to Multan as Faisalabad would be too big for two textile mills.’ Thus began Mian Mughees A Sheikh’s personal account of the historical political and socioeconomic conditions prevalent in Pakistan’s nascent years when industries first began agglomerate in the predominantly agro based economy of Pakistan.

The current state of the textile sector, once Pakistan’s industrial forte is festering and fizzling away due to unbridled malfeasance by pencil pushers in a dysfunctional system set in place by self serving individuals.

Lyallpur was home to Delhi Cloth Mills of Sir Sri Ram before independence, when Colony Textiles was set up in 1945. The first three textile mills to go into production in West Pakistan were Kohinoor in Faisalabad, Colony in Multan and Valika in Karachi. Initially the 15,00,000 bales of cotton produced in Pakistan were considered sufficient to meet local demand; this volume has now swelled to over 15 million bales now with textiles accounting for 55% of total export proceeds of the country. [1] It took Pakistan ten to fifteen years to establish a foothold in this sector before it began exporting textile products abroad.

Pakistan’s formative years were initially conducive to industrial growth, set up costs and entry into the industry was relatively easy and indigenous demand was growing exponentially. One of the reasons why Pakistan has languished as an agricultural economy for over sixty years is because the movement for independence was buttressed by the landed class that had no intentions of introducing land reforms set already in motion in India. Basic principles of employment and trade then do not apply to the feudal sector that takes on a pseudo patriarchal role in society and fundamentally ‘owns’ its workers. The concept of the daily wage worker is a complete departure from the economic relationships linking the peasant/tenant with his liege/landlord and this is also what historically brought about the effective end of feudalism in Britain. Thus this antagonistic economic mechanism never brought the agricultural and industrial sectors into cognizance and acceptance of each other and specific sectors developed according to regime types and rulers preferences. The oscillations between intermittent democratic and military rule with each government changing policies depending on what they deemed best for the country robbed Pakistan of vital rudiments for development such as political and economic stability.

In contrast to our habit of running hot and cold for democracy, India at that time took on the job of developing its economy and politics with great professionalism that we lack. One of saddest events in Pakistan’s economic industrial history would have to be Bhutto’s period of Nationalization. The land reforms he sought to implement were nothing more than a protraction of the old order, with land lords playing mix and match with each other’s lands.

Bhutto then tried to rupture the financial cartel of the 22 families that seemingly ‘owned’ Pakistan and bring about the miracle of socialism that would magically grant every Pakistani with ‘roti kapra makaan’ without thinking his policies through. While the textile industry wasn’t nationalized, all its ancillary and supplementary bodies including banks were and that’s how every sector of the economy took a blowback in the years following nationalization.

31 key industrial units, 13 banks, over a dozen insurance companies, 10 shipping companies and two petroleum companies were nationalized, out of which at least 22 industrial units, 9 banks, 9 insurance companies, 3 shipping companies and 2 petroleum companies belonged to the 22 families. The Saigols purportedly lost 70% of their assets and financial holdings. Previously the industrial families of Sind, Karachi had suffered majorly due to the amputation of East Pakistan earlier that decade and now most of them decided to diversify risks by investing abroad instead because of the unstable and tremulous economic and political conditions at home.

Thus while India continued to maintain a strong democratic regional presence and nurtured its economy from within, without panicking or getting cold feet that the Tatas or the Birlas were growing into gargantuan financial entities in themselves; Pakistan tried to incorporate political utopian ideology with selfish self serving means and waited for the miracle that couldn’t occur. Thus the problem stems from the top. Even the best of intentions turn sour when haphazardly executed and that’s what has been happening in Pakistan for quite a while now.  You will find people running ministries they have no technical knowhow or experience about; meritocracy here takes a backseat to give way to nepotism.

And it’s a shame. Pakistan hides within its folds some of the brightest most talented engineers and skilled technicians in the world. We once bought a 3.5 kW turbine for the Multan Electric Supply company and when the machinery was delivered we realized there was no over head crane to help lift and install that specific machinery. Phone calls and consultations with engineering companies in Germany led us to believe that it would take us at least two years for the machinery to be bought and installed, and yet local mechanics and engineers from Multan made that happen in twenty eight days using local girders to hoist the turbine.

We have been endowed with immense talent and have a lot of reasons to take pride in, but we don’t simply because we lack that sense of national pride and respect for skill in this country that would be celebrated and lauded elsewhere. A capitalist owner of a company does well eventually because he takes pride in his work, in what he has built over years. When China turned communist and nationalized its industries it handed the administration of the companies to their original owners because only a parent can truly nurture and care for what he has created, if he is divorced from the fruit of his labor he refuses to take ownership and dissociates himself from it.

Thus we mustn’t let solecisms of few, cloud the image and potential of the immensely talented people of this country. I’m extremely optimistic about the people that live and work here because they can move mountains if they want to.

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November 2015
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