INTERVIEW WITH AIR VICE MARSHAL (R) ZULFIQAR AHMED SHAH

KHALIL AHMED
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
June 13 - 19, 20
11

PAGE: TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF.

AVM: I hailed from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and was born in the year Pakistan came into birth. Despite a conservative background, my family was ardent believer in the value of education, especially female literacy. I studied in Peshawar, which at that time was a very quaint little town and had excellent educational facilities. I joined the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) at a young age and have the honour of serving it with over 34 years of Commission Service, initially as a fighter pilot and then progressively ascending leadership positions. I participated in the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war and flew active combat missions. I have had the opportunity to command a fighter squadron, a fighter wing and one of the largest operational bases of PAF. I have wide-ranging academic and management experience. I am a graduate of the Air Command & Staff College of Air University, USAF; the National Defence College, Pakistan, where I also served on the faculty.

I also have the distinction of serving as the Commandant of the PAF Air War College, the highest seat of learning for Air Force officers in Pakistan. After retirement from the PAF, I have joined the private sector and work in the textile industry. I have been an active sportsman all my life and have played tennis, squash and cricket at the competitive level.

PAGE: WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ABOUT DEFENSE BUDGET?

AVM: I am a firm believer in parliamentary oversight of the Defence Budget. In order to exercise oversight, the parliament must work through a parliamentary subcommittee with members having a financial background. The committee must act responsibly and wisely by eliminating waste and not use the forum for petty point scoring. There is no doubt that our defence spending, as a percentage of GDP, is extremely high and is not tenable in the long run. The budget for the armed forces should be slashed gradually and they should be made leaner and sharper by concentrating on their core functions. However, we must not forget that we are in the midst of fighting an un-declared war. The involvement of the armed forces in internal security is a very expensive affair. So what should be done? At the outset the parliament must accept ownership of the fact that Pakistan faces an existential threat. The armed forces cannot fight this battle alone, with the civilian leadership simply standing by. No, the civilian leadership must be fully involved and extend unquestionable moral and material support to the armed forces. In recent years there is a paradigm shift in our threat perceptions. The threat lies within our midst, it's internal. Together with the armed forces, the threat must be analysed in its full dimension. We must come up with a National Counterterrorism Strategy that must have everyone on the same page. We need a cohesive response. And, we definitely require re-visiting the strategic depth doctrine that has landed us in the present mess. As a part of the National Strategy, we must reduce the involvement of the armed forces in internal security. But, to do that we have to strengthen police and the para-military forces and extricate the army gradually. Both short term and long term plans must be made with adequate financial allocations to boost police and the para-military forces. Furthermore, we have to integrate FATA in mainstream Pakistan by introducing a number of reforms, something that the parliament must address with priority.

PAGE: GIVE YOUR VIEWS ON ALLOCATION TO THE EDUCATION SECTOR.

AVM: Education has traditionally been the most neglected sector in Pakistan. The education system is steeped in corruption, mismanagement and lacks visibility. The parliament must address this critical issue on a war footing and come up with a comprehensive educational strategy after consulting all stakeholders. The national strategy must identify present weaknesses, improve capacity and chalk out a roadmap with a timeline and measurable indices that are to be achieved. The curricula need to be revised drastically. This is essential as our students lack necessary technical skills as they step into the job market. Three tiers of classes are required to be established. The first tier must be from Class 1-8. A uniform syllabus must be made that should comprise the study of Urdu, English and the local language. The students must also study basic mathematics, science and social science. The social science subjects could comprise the study of hygiene, ethics and relevant information about your own country. The second tier must be from Class 9-12. This is a mid level tier which must have specific aims. While the study of English and Urdu should continue, advanced mathematics and science must be taught along with one elective subject that the student must choose if he wishes to go to a college and pursue a career in a given field. Additionally, one set of a hands-on skill must be learnt that can help the students to get inducted in the job market. This could be plumbing, electrician, computers or an auto-mechanic course etc. While the theory can be taught by the faculty, expert technicians can be hired as a consultant who can impart education through practical skill learning. The third tier must be from Class 12-16 for a college degree. The HEC has already done remarkable work in improving the curricula and that must continue to be funded. All colleges must be accredited to a University with a proper system of educational oversight. The accreditation to foreign institute of excellence must be adopted as originally envisaged by the HEC. The problem of lack of infrastructure can be addressed by a double shift system initially. A morning shift could be for classes 1-8 followed by an afternoon shift for Class 9-12 in the same institution but with a different faculty. All schools must be equipped with a library, computer lab, science laboratory and play grounds. The faculty for every institution must undergo a teacher training program, similar to what the Citizen Foundation Schools have been able to implement. Lastly, financial budget and allocation for education as a percentage of GDP must be guaranteed by the parliament, even to the extent of amending the Constitution.

PAGE: YOUR VIEWS ABOUT INDUSTRIAL SECTOR IN PAKISTAN.

AVM: The industrial sector in Pakistan is suffering a major recession through multiple causes that are well known. The lack of power, gas, and availability of financing at favorable terms put us at tremendous disadvantage. The cost of doing business is going sky high, forcing a number of units to close down. We definitely require an industrial policy that aims at boosting manufacturing. Another big worry is the deteriorating law and order situation. No foreign investments would take place without addressing this critical need. The government must act as a facilitator, regulator and a watchdog against predatory practices. The state must not be in the practice of installing manufacturing capacity, except where heavy capital investment or strategic industries are involved. Even there private- public partnership options should be preferred. A major structural weakness that the industrial sector suffers from is a lack of documentation. All industrial units must be registered and subject to a proper annual audit by certified firms. Incentives for registration and documentation could be provided by a 30 per cent reduction in corporate taxes.

PAGE: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE IMPACT OF LAW AND ORDER ON INDUSTRY?

AVM: I have already touched on the necessity of maintaining law and order. Buyers have refused to visit Pakistan for striking any deals and instead prefer Dubai for face to face meetings. This increases the cost of doing business. The system of extortion or Bhatta is a well known phenomenon and is a definite indicator of abdication of state authority. Most of these extortionists are on the payroll of political parties and have their absolute backing. This has to stop if Pakistan has to progress. If the political parties are forced into not extending support through amendments to the electoral laws, there will be a drastic improvement in law and order. Police must be made independent by establishing a Police Commission. Each major city must have a Police Commissioner. Madrassahs are known to be a breeding ground for terrorism. All madrassahs must be registered with an annual audit of their accounts. Foreign funding for these madrassahs must be strictly monitored by the state. The rule of law must firmly be established and adhered to by everyone.

PAGE: YOUR VIEWS ABOUT PAKISTANI YOUTH.

AVM: Pakistan is blessed with a very large portion of its young under the age of 25. This can both be a blessing and a headache. It will be a blessing if we can utilize this God given asset into productive use. But, if we fail to train our young men and women, most of them turn into a life of petty crime. The huge success of the Taliban and the large number of suicide bombers they continue to use is simply a collective failure of Pakistan. Our youth of today are much more informed and socially conscious. Their ability to access media and the Internet has made them very aware of what they want. They will not accept status quo. Things have to change. Our civilian leadership has to understand this changed reality. We have to channel their energies into healthy pursuits. Small and timely investments now would yield great dividends. We have to invest into their education and training. The parliament must dedicate themselves in chartering out a futuristic policy towards the betterment of youth.