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By Syed M. Aslam
Feb 19 - 25, 2001

Flight Lieutenant (Retired) Syed Asif Saeed is a rare example of human resilience and dignity personified. Asif joined Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Public School at Lower Topa, Murree in 1966 while still a grade eight student at the prestigious Happy Dale School, Nazimabad. After passing his Matriculation and Intermediate from Lower Topa, he applied for, and got selected, to join the GD Pilot Branch of the PAF. He graduated from as a Pilot Officer from PAF Academy Risalpur in 1974. In 1981 he left the PAF due primarily to family commitments and joined Dubai Air Force the same year as a fighter pilot plus flight instructor. While conducting a flight test in 1984 a technical fault resulted in a crash causing irreparable spinal injury to Asif. Three major operations, two in Dubai and one in the US, failed to restore Asif to his former self turning him into a 'paraplegic', a word he is not shy to use himself. The UAE Armed Forces, of which Dubai Air Force is a part, insisted Asif to work as a ground instructor for pilots. He remained associated with the Dubai Air Force till it was disbanded in 1998. He returned to his native Karachi the same year refusing many opportunities to settle in developed countries, the ultimate destinations of many of his countrymen. He works as Manager Reservations for Shaheen Air International.

PAGE: Did the plane crash change your outlook on life?

Asif: Not really. Outlook only changes if you are weak inside. I never think of me as paralysed. I enjoy all the activities that other derive pleasure from. I think that the crash has actually made me a better person. I have always been a people-friendly person and wheel-chair doesn't restrict my mobility. I remain a totally dependent person — I drive my own specially-fitted car, am deeply involved with my family which comprise my wife, a son doing BCS, two daughters doing their O Levels, and parents who live with me. I have hordes of friends. It were these considerations which primarily made me decide to come back here despite having opportunities to migrate to Canada.

PAGE: What do you say about the facilities for the handicaps in the country?

Asif: Facilities? What facilities? There are none. What's worse is that there is no realisation on the part of relevant authorities there are handicaps not to say that they are a part of this society. For instance, there is a virtual absence of officially designated car parking for the handicaps. It's almost impossible for a handicap to get a driving license. I was able to obtain one as I have connections but every handicap is not so fortunate.

PAGE: You drive a specially-fitted car. Is it easy to get the vehicle?

Asif: It's extremely hard. The whole procedure is plagued with red-tapism. While handicaps are allowed to import specially-fitted vehicles at a concessionary duty of 15 per cent the process is extremely discouraging. One has to first apply to the Ministry of Commerce for a permission to import a vehicle which is followed by an interview by committee which comprises Collector Customs, Surgeon General, Collector Income Tax and several Joint Secretaries. In additional, only those handicaps whose monthly salary range between minimum of Rs 5,000 and maximum salary of Rs 40,000 are eligible to import the vehicles. What about those who don't fit this criteria. Does this make them any less a handicap? Moreover, one is allowed to choose from 1300 cc Mitsubishi Lancer and Charade Daihatsu denying them access to competitive locally produced Japanese cars which are not only much inexpensive to maintain but enjoy a better resale value. One has to book a car locally from companies which does not even have photographs of the only two models allowed to be imported.

PAGE: What do you suggest?

Asif: The government should extend the facility to locally assembled cars and abolish the salary requirement. What good is the concessionary duty if comparative locally assembled models are available at a much lower price. I waited for months for my interview and was finally called in for it at the first floor of the FTC building neither served by an elevator nor having any access for the handicap. Me, alongwith my wheel-chair, had to be lifted by a number of people to be interviewed by people who, I must say, were more interested to avail their TA/DA perks. Ultimately I got myself a used car and fitted it with necessary hand control. So much for the so-called facility. Public buildings, roads, shopping plazas, etc., remain absolutely accessible to the handicap as there is no concept of building slopes for the wheel-chair. I am, however, thankful to Shaheen Air for not only providing me a proper job but also building ramps and slopes to exclusively accommodate access to office.

PAGE: What message would you like to give to our readers?

Asif: Always keep a positive outlook on life. Self-pity is destructive. Maintain self-dignity. I take pride to be better than those who give-up living for life is a never-ending challenge which must be faced head-on.