By Syed M. Aslam
Oct 07 - 13, 2002


Ali Akber Rizvi is the pioneer of Pakistani carpet industry and is affectionately called by many as its 'father.' Born in Azamgarh, the literary center called "Shiraz of the East", he graduated from Banares University and joined the Ministry of Industries in the government of pre-partition India and was initially posted in Calcutta. He was transferred to Delhi Secretariat, called "lat saheb's office" or "office of the Lord Master," year-and-half later continue serving as a civil servant for another couple of years before he opted to migrate to a new country called Pakistan. He was in Karachi on August 10, 1947 exactly four days before Pakistan emerged on the map of the world as an independent and sovereign state. He joined the Development Department of the Ministry of Industries and witnessed the transformation of Karachi from a slumbering non-industrial city to industrial heart of the country. "Karachi then had only two units that passed for industry the Dalmia Cement factory and Zeb Tun Textile mills, which manufactured one-and-half count thread. The government offices had no stationery and workers used to buy it themselves. Construction of government buildings had just begun on and around Frerer Road." With sons managing the business, he is intensely involved in many social works, particularly education-related, and is also writing a three-volume book, his seventh.

PAGE: How did you happen to embark on carpet manufacturing?

Akber Rizvi: I took a risk, most probably because both in pre-partition India and newly independent Pakistan I worked for the Ministry of Industries. I had already rented a showroom to start a carpet retail business in the Saddar area while still working for the Development Department of the Ministry of Industries. At Banares University I developed close friendships with a number of students belonging to affluent families of Badoi and Mirzapur, suburbs famous for their hand-knotted carpets. One such friend, a Hindu, sent me Rs 80,000 worth of carpets, a princely amount then, on 'open delivery' meaning that I had to pay him at my convenience.

A Hindu competitor, who also ran a carpet showroom, asked me the price of the entire shipment and offered to buy the entire consignment on cash 10 per cent over the actual cost and any expenses. He was a thorough gentleman and asked me to collect the money the same day.

PAGE: Were carpets manufactured in Pakistan then?

Akber Rizvi: No. Carpets were not manufactured not only in Karachi but entire Pakistan then, not even on the level of cottage industry. However, the government had established "Refugees Rehabilitation Finance Corporation" near Hyderabad to set up small industries itself as well as finance small projects to help create employment. It did help encourage small scale manufacturing of many items including carpets and blankets. A little later the free trading between India and Pakistan stopped and it was during this time that I resigned from the government job.

PAGE: When did you move from retail to manufacturing?

Akber Rizvi: I set up Pakistan Carpet Industries in 1950, at the same premises I am sitting with you here today. I must add that the decision to resign from the government job was also influenced heavily by the death of the Founder of the Nation, Quaid-e-Azam, in September 1948. We were the first to set up a commercial carpet manufacturing plant in the country not only to introduce Pakistani carpets in the international market but to also give it a distinct identity in terms of artisanship and to help earn foreign exchange for the country in process.

PAGE: What has been your role to help develop the carpet industry in Pakistan?

Akber Rizvi: As already stated I set up the first commercial carpet manufacturing unit in the country to help tap the international market which did not exist before we established the unit. I am the founder of Carpet Manufacturers Association which provided a concrete platform to push manufacturing and exports of Pakistani carpets.

PAGE: Do we have abundance of required raw materials?

Akber Rizvi: Yes, except for the imported dyes and chemicals. The situation remains unchanged today. We were also one of the first to establish the mechanized carpet manufacturing.

PAGE: During last decade carpet exports have suffered a serious blow due to the issue of child labour. What are your comments?

Akber Rizvi: The issue is certainly genuine but it has been blown out of proportion by the developed West who seem not to understand the ground realities. It should be realized that we as a poor country where many people cannot afford to send their children to school and instead choose to send them to factories for gainful employment. There has been exploitation on the part of the industry but child labour just cannot be eradicated without finding viable solutions. However, the industry has been successful to address the concerns of the West to a considerable degree by reducing the number of minor workers to a greater extent.

PAGE: What's been the impact of increasing imports of machine-made carpets on the local industry?

Akber Rizvi: It is causing an immense damage to the industry as wool comprise the basic raw material of all Pakistani carpets, be it hand-knotted or machine-made. On the other hand, imported carpets are made entirely of artificial fibre. Thus, Pakistani carpets just cannot compete with the imported counterparts in terms of price. This is depriving the local industry a large segment of local market which finds imported fibre-made counterparts much more affordable.