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Opinion

May 6, 2011

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What do Karachiwalas want?

What do Karachiwalas want?
“What do the Karachiwalas want? Why are they against...?” Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto asked in a hurried meeting in Hyderabad. I was not ready for such a question at all. I paused, leaned back and exclaimed: “How can you expect Karachiwalas to be for you when they have to buy water to drink, when their children cannot be admitted in schools, and when their lives are disturbed with even mild rain. No electricity, no gas, no transport. Not to mention the law-and- order situation, which leaves a lot to be desired. No one is safe – men, women or children.”
It was now Bhutto’s turn to lean back – on the reclining chair that he sat on, and his body language suggested as if he had heard all of this for the first time! And, I was mistaken. Bhutto never meant to talk politics with me. He never meant the Karachiwalas as I understood them to be. By “Karachiwalas” he actually meant the business community. And, we were both tense: I for my own reasons, among others, having travelled fast for two and a half hours from Karachi to Hyderabad in the afternoon, wanting to return in time for the reception that I had hosted in honour of the outgoing president of the Overseas Chambers of Commerce and Industry. Uneasily, Bhutto asked why the Karachiwalas were not investing. Boldly I once again stated: “You have taken over their hearths and homes – nationalised everything that they had. You have taken over ten basic industries; nationalised banks, life insurance and a part of general insurance; and even taken over small units like those doing cotton ginning and the rice husking mills. What do you expect from them then?” There was a pause: Bhutto, visibly, went into deep thought.
I first met Bhutto in Sind Muslim Law College, where we were both part-time lecturers. Bhutto was, suave and generous. It was his pleasure to entertain all those there during the tea interval. One day, I stepped out and paid the bill. He looked at me, was surprised – nay, shocked. But, this, however, developed a relationship of mutual respect.
Bhutto was in his mid-30 when he was inducted as a minister and given the portfolio of foreign affairs in the cabinet, first by Sikander Mirza and then by Ayub Khan. As a minister, he did a great job till he fell out with Ayub Khan on his Tashkent settlement with Shastri after the India-Pakistan war of 1965. Bhutto resigned. He returned to power again, particularly after East Pakistan came into being, as civilian chief martial law administrator. Later, he started electioneering for the next term. I was president of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry – the premier Chamber – during this time. He called me and said he would like to use the KCCI platform in order to address the business community. I said I will have to consult the managing committee. The committee declined and said that the chamber’s platform cannot be used for any political campaign.
Sometime later, our paths crossed again at the Karachi Boat Club. He sat with Begum Nusrat Bhutto, his brother-in-law Brigadier Islam and the brigadier’s wife. An unintended skirmish took place between him and me which, through the sagacity of Begum Nusrat, was amicably resolved and bygones were bygones. And so we sat together for a while, as if nothing had happened.
When Bhutto was elected president, he started nationalising industry after industry. The situation became tense. It shook the private sector. The investment stopped – both local and foreign. Although the government started putting up industries there was a limit to investment from the public sector. The government started realising this and was seeking solutions, particularly since the private sector started approaching the opposition who were only too eager to listen. Most started leaving the country: Flight of talent and capital. Those who had no choice, particularly, the small traders, cotton-ginners, rice huskers, etc. whose industries were nationalised, created a bad atmosphere for the government. Even workers, professionals and the consumers, in whose name nationalisation was done, were hit hard – harder than before the nationalisation.
One day, I received a call in Karachi, at 3 p.m., from Masood Mahmood, then chief of the Federal Security Force (FSF). He said I had sought an appointment with the president, and he will see me at 5.30 p.m. in Hyderabad. I was surprised because I had not sought any appointment. For a reception in honour of the outgoing president of the Overseas Chamber a large number of guests were invited, both local and foreigners. However, I was advised that I must go at any cost. Anyhow, I reached Hyderabad at 5.30 p.m. – just in time to meet the president.
I found Bhutto ill at ease and not at peace with himself. We sat together rather at ease. And, lo and behold! he, at the very outset, reminded me of the Boat Club skirmish and my refusing him the KCCI platform for his address to the business community. I chose not to respond.
Bhutto then came out with his agenda of the meeting. Bhutto said: “You are the ‘badshah’ – the king – of the chamber,” implying that the chamber under my management and control had not allowed him to address the business community from its platform. I said: “I am the president of the KCCI and the business community is not happy with you, among other reasons, for your nationalising everything.” They are left with no choice but to contact everybody – whether he is for the government and against the government. He intervened and said: “Go and tell them that I have nationalised and it is only I who will denationalizes, and no one else. However, I am not going to nationalise anymore: in fact, I will rationalise the nationalisation.” This I understood to mean that at least smaller units would return, particularly cotton ginning units and rice husking mills. He would introduce a pattern of mixed economy which would revive and, in fact, strengthen the economy. So he said: “issue a statement on my behalf. Right at the reception that you are holding for the president of the Overseas Chamber.” He knew, about the reception, and perhaps I was called to Hyderabad at short notice for that purpose only.
LeVaillant, the president of the Overseas Chambers of Commerce and Industry for whom the reception was arranged, was called, and told that I was on my way back. And I was almost in time. Jawaid Bukhari, then of PPI, was there for the reception. I trusted him with the statement. He was thrilled with the news but wanted to be ensured that the news will not be contradicted, which I did. The next day, there was a banner headline: “Rationalisation of the Nationalisation, a job indeed well done.”

(To be continued)

The writer is the founder/chairman of the Atlas group of companies.
Email: [email protected]
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