INTERVIEW WITH AIR VICE MARSHAL(R) DR. M. ABID RAO
Aug 20 - Sep 2, 2012
PAGE: TELL ME SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR PROFESSION, PLEASE?
AVM ABID RAO: I spent most of my life in Pakistan Air Force. If I include five years of education at PAF schools at Lower Topa and Sargodha, I find PAF in my soul, body and mind. It spans from 1964 to 2005 when I retired. Earlier, I studied at Don Bosco High School Lahore, a school that I carry fresh in my mind even today for its commitment to education, social values and overall grooming of students. In the Air Force, I spent an excellent life as a fighter pilot, flew 19 different types of aircraft, visited most part of the globe and interacted with Air Forces of USA, France, China, UAE, Australia, South Korea and numerous other countries. I also obtained higher military education at E'cole Militaire (Paris) and National Defence University. In short, it was a rich experience of dealing with human being in horizontal and vertical echelons. Pakistan Air Force acknowledged my services and awarded me Sitara-e-Basalat (1987), Sitara-e-Imtiaz (1998) and Hilal-e-Imtiaz (2002). My last two years of service were spent as Deputy Director General Civil Aviation Authority. This was yet another very rich experience. Post retirement, I found my life extremely interesting and I finished my PhD on a subject that was always very close to my heart i.e. 'conflict between religion and nationalism in Pakistan'. I discovered a poet in myself and it took me four years to write, organise and publish my first book 'Aadha Sach' (the Half Truth). I am planning to launch this book and an audio CD of my ghazals sung by prominent Pakistani singers by mid September this year. Furthermore, I also served on the faculty of a private university (2009-10), worked on a Private TV channel as an anchor (and hosted over 250 shows). However, both of these activities could not continue due to my frequent travelling abroad. Presently I am engaged in both these activities as a free lance participant i.e. speaker at various forums and talk shows on national, political and defence matters. I am married, have two sons and two daughters. My elder son, Omair, is a Chartered Accountant working in the UK while the other son, Imran, is a Barrister working in Karachi in the Corporate Sector.
PAGE: HOW WOULD YOU COMMENT ON THE PROGRESS OF PAKISTAN SINCE INDEPENDENCE?
AVM ABID RAO: In short, it could have been much better than what we ended up with. Economic growth is embedded in a state of Political stability. Whenever our country enjoyed political stability (even if it were under military rulers/regime) the economy grew rapidly and steadily. In Ayub Khan's regime we saw exemplary economic growth. Many countries like Indonesia, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia found it worth emulating. Z A Bhutto reversed the whole process and nationalised major economic units while he did not prepare or possess teams to handle the new situation. Resultantly, national productivity fell sharply. While the country received huge foreign economic assistance, poor management and inappropriate utilisations of the funds did not let positive effects appear on the national economy. Zia ul Haq reversed the economic cycle again to privatisation. He was also lucky in receiving huge economic assistance from abroad but failed miserably in investing the money in the right places. Later, the four democratically elected governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Shareef did not give continuity to each other's development policies causing reversals particularly at the economic front. Both these leaders were removed each time for corruption, inefficiency, nepotism and intellectual dishonesty in planning and execution of policies. It was not even untrue.
In addition to the above, the wars of 1965 and 1971, Siachen conflict and Kargil proved unsuccessful and caused serious negative effects on the development of the country. The last ten years have dragged Pakistan into a war which does not have clear objectives, nor does it seem to have a defined culmination point. No end seems to be in sight nor is there any honourable disengagement strategy on the cards. The resultant cost of this war to the whole nation is insecurity, lack of development in the fields of education, healthcare, industries and has caused numerous other social problems.
To put in a nutshell, Pakistan has done well whenever Political Stability and continuity were provided. Pakistan's history will bear testimony to this statement.
PAGE: WHAT BIG CHALLENGES DO YOU THINK PAKISTAN HAS BEEN FACING SINCE INDEPENDENCE?
AVM ABID RAO: This is a complex question. Soon after independence the 'rauson d etre' (the reason to be) was put to debate i.e. Pakistan was created for Islam or Muslims? In either case the road map to national objectives would have been different. The second question raised (and it remains unanswered even today) was whether we are Pakistanis 'first' or Muslims first. This was to impact development of Pakistani nationalism in times to come. In my opinion, the place of religion remains undecided in our national life. This confusion has resulted in misplaced priorities in our social lives too e.g. culture and cultural activities are often pitched against the religious values and declared halal/haram. Therefore, over the years religion which was to unite this nation has in fact divided it. At the diplomatic level too, religion was employed as the choice making factor in selecting friends and foes instead of national interest. This vulnerability was exploited by Western countries on many occasions in using Pakistan against communism in their own interest. Even today, religious parties are running parallel policy on each major issue that often conflicts with the national policies and, therefore, hinders with the smooth functioning of governments. Zia-ul-Haqís tenure was the worst in this regard. He actually divided this nation on sectarian lives. He banned all sorts of cultural activities, all forms of Fine Arts in the name of Islam. He promoted intolerance and at the same time did not control drugs and weapons, mafia growth and derailed the political culture. This caused irreparable loss to the national social fibre. The ill effects of Zia's tenure are a serious threat to promotion of harmony and tolerance in our society. Promotion of Fine Arts is still under restrictions and reservations. I believe any human society without Fine Arts produces stones only and we are doing extremely well.
The second big challenge this nation has faced has been Army's intervention intermittently. Army rules have brought wars, disintegration of country, major diplomatic wrongs and above all denial to the political culture to get matured. Had we avoided military interventions we would have been a different nation today. Our political leadership despite all inadequacies is capable of running the country through crises. These challenges have prevented Pakistan from defining national objectives. Our governments have to rise and devise strategies to get out of this state of confusion and uncertainty.
PAGE: YOUR VIEWS ON POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC RATIONALE FOR THE REASON OF INDEPENDENCE:
AVM ABID RAO: When I was a student, I believed that Pakistan was created so that Muslims could live a life free from hegemony of the non Muslim rulers. Now at this stage of my life, I have heard numerous other rationales of creating Pakistan. Some believe that it was a result of the Second World War that left the British Crown weakened and it was forced to vacate all colonies and since India was too big a country (a sub-continent in fact), it had to be divided on religious grounds so that the new states continue to remain hostile towards each other for the times to come. Another rationale floated by some serious quarters on both sides of the divide suggest that it was the Congress that helped in the creation of Pakistan. This was done to divide the Muslims of the sub-continent. A recent book by an Indian journalist suggests that Pakistan is the continuation of the snapped 'Moghul Rule' on a reduced scale. In short all these opinions carry some degree of accuracy i.e. they are not wrong or right. I believe that the movement that was led by Quaid e Azam constrained both the rationales i.e. political and economic for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. It was our misfortune that Quaid e Azam died soon after independence. He did not get time to define the salient features of the state that were in his mind. Politically we have been independent in our practices. We may not have made all decisions wisely but our independence remains unquestionable. Similarly on the economic front the state of Pakistani Muslims remains better than that of the Muslims who remained in India.
PAGE: HOW HAS THE ISSUE OF POVERTY BEEN TACKLED IN DIFFERENT TENURES SINCE INDEPENDENCE?
AVM ABID RAO: Any government that has done well on economic policies has done well to reduce poverty. Poverty has attacked Pakistan in many faces. Partition brought poverty along as Pakistan did not get its promised assets; the population flow into Pakistan was much larger than outflow. While wars and natural disasters have taken their toll, uncontrolled population growth has always outperformed the economic growth. Ayub Khan tackled poverty by massive industrialization in the country, while Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto exported unskilled and semi skilled manpower to Gulf countries. This brought huge foreign exchange in the country and also supported the poor families. Poverty has to be tackled directly (by creating jobs according to the skills of the people) and indirectly by controlling the birth rate to as low as possible for next fifty years or so.
PAGE: HOW WOULD YOU COMMENT ON PAKISTAN'S RELATIONS WITH ITS NEIGHBORS?
AVM ABID RAO: Pakistan inherited hostile neighbours on the east (India) and west (Afghanistan) at the time of its partition. India did everything it could to hurt and destabilise Pakistan while Afghanistan opposed Pakistan's entry into the UNO and maintained a claim to Pakhtoonistan (claiming the NWFP). Afghanistan does not recognise the Durand Line even today. China emerged as Pakistan's reliable friend in 1963 when Pakistan made its departure from its only pro US foreign policy. Iran remained a very reliable friend till the Russians marched into Afghanistan in 1979 whereupon our interested clashed. With Russia the relations remained hostage to various factors like Pakistan joining the USA in the anti-communism block at the beginning of the cold war era, joining SEATO and CENTO, Russia signing a defence pact with India in 1971, invasion of Afghanistan and Pakistan fighting as the front line ally of the US. This is the historical summary of Pakistan's relations with its neighbours. Pakistan's relations with India have seen good and bad times. The chances of improvement of relations are extremely bright as the reasons to remain friendly are far greater than keeping hostilities alive. The major reason of division of Indian subcontinent was religion and now Pakistan should not fear a takeover or return to its mother state; a fear that was real and was kept alive in the early years of Pakistan. India also recognizes Pakistan as a reality and does not consider a military takeover as an option. Afghanistan, in my opinion, has been more hostile to Pakistan than India. Afghanistan has exported militancy, religious extremism, drugs and terrorism to Pakistan. All governments including Zahir Shah, Sardar Daud, Tarakai, Hafeezullah Amin, Babrak Karmal, Mullah Umer or present Karzai, have had one common factor i.e. hostility towards Pakistan. Pakistan needs to revisit its policy with Afghanistan extremely carefully.
For Iran, Pakistan needs to check the sectarian war that has been fought on its soil (funded by some of the Arab countries and Iran) since almost 30 years. Common interests have to be discovered and developed from mutual benefit of the two countries. Pakistan also needs to make dedicated efforts to make friends with Russia. The golden rule of diplomacy is 'make friends or at least do not make enemies'.