The lockdown in most parts of the country, amidst addressing the challenges of coronavirus pandemic, has largely impacted industrial activities, and, resultantly, economic regression. The situation demands that, besides handling the other issues related to the deadly virus, government embarks on the plans to revive industrial activities as soon as practical.
Seemingly, the government has prepared a roadmap for revival of major industries. As a first phase, the construction industry has been given incentivized package, and a Construction Industry Development Board is being constituted to spur the construction activities. Also, the Chinese team is currently in Pakistan conducting due diligence for the Pakistan Steel Mills at Karachi, which has been closed since long and now is offered for divestment. These are salutary signs.
At this juncture, one is reminded of critical role the erstwhile Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) played. The emergence of Pakistan had witnessed a very few small and medium industries located mostly in the Punjab, Sindh, and East Pakistan. The PIDC, established in 1952, had constructed, operated and managed (mostly transferred to private sector later as a matter of policy) as many as 59 industrial units across the country by 1970. These units were set up in diversified sectors, such as food, paper and paperboard, chemical and petrochemical, jute, cement, sugar, steel and engineering, including the Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works. Thus, the country was made self-sufficient in basic and strategic industries within a short span of two decades.
This could be possible due to dedicated and honest leadership the PIDC had from its initial days. Towering personalities such as Ghulam Faruque (1952-1958), Nawab Malik Amir Muhammad Khan of Kalabagh (1958-1960) and Lt Gen Haji Iftikhar Ahmad (1960-1965) served the corporation as its chairmen. The name of Ghulam Faruque is synonym with the industrialization in Pakistan, and, fortunately, his legacy continued for long.
In the late 1960s there was a shift from consumer to capital goods industry such as machine tools, heavy industry and iron and steel. Pakistan Machine Tool Factory (PMTF) was established by the PIDC in Karachi. China extended technical and economic assistance for setting up Heavy Mechanical Complex (HMC) and Heavy Electrical Complex (HEC) near Rawalpindi.
On my return after completion of postgraduate training in mechanical engineering in the USA, I joined the PIDC in August 1966 to work at HMC project at Taxila. A group of 32 engineers and technicians of HMC was to shortly leave for training in China, and Chairman AMK (Ashiq Mohammad Khan) Mazari (1965-1969) hosted a grand dinner for the trainees in a hotel in Karachi. Unfortunately, the period of Mr Mazari, a CSP officer, was marred by malpractices and favoritism. A dismissed Executive Engineer of Punjab Irrigation Department was appointed in-charge of civil works at the complex. A diploma-holder in welding was given position of a graduate engineer.
Also, against all norms and principles, he was issued a revised appointment letter, weeks after his joining HMC, enhancing his salary and perks. Among other glaring examples of nepotism, a fresh PhD in engineering was appointed in a senior position against prescribed rules and regulations, who later served at Taxila project.
Reflecting on the past, there are a few imprints on my mind about the high moral values, ethics and principles of seniors of the bygone era, which, sadly, have been eroded in the society over a period of decades. For many years I worked as staff officer to chief executive Brig Ishtiaq Aziz (1967 to 1979), and am thus privy to many interesting, dramatic and inspirational experiences, which may well serve today as beacon of light for present generation.
The PIDC board of directors meeting was in session at HMC, Taxila when Mr Mazari received a call from the presidency i.e. President Ayub Khan. (Chairman PIDC reported directly to President of Pakistan until the Ministry of Production was established by Prime Minister Z A Bhutto, and PIDC was split into various sectoral corporations). As there was no phone connection in the board room, he attended the call in chief executive’s office.
He listened the call quietly, came back to the board room and continued to finish agenda of meeting. At the end, he announced that he was no longer the chairman, and handed over the charge to finance director there and then.
When chairman Mukhtar Masood (1969-1971) visited HMC he recognized the in-charge of construction who was dismissed as executive engineer of Punjab irrigation on corruption charges by Mr Masood himself when he was the deputy commissioner of Faisalabad (the then Lyallpur). The officer was immediately sacked. Though still at construction stage, the labour has formed union and were demanding various benefits from the management. Chairman Masood was gherao-ed in under-construction fabrication shop of the complex that he was visiting. In an unprecedented move, all the engineers and officers present formed a protection circle around the chairman, asking labour leaders to dare harm them before they could touch the chairman.
He was replaced by MAK (Mohammed Azam Khan) Alizai of Sui Northern Gas Co, a close friend of Mr Bhutto. He was more interested in doing public-relations rather than the work the position demanded at that time, and thus could serve for few months only. Interestingly, whenever he would travel between Lahore and Rawalpindi/ Islamabad by air or by road, a standby car and an ambulance would invariably follow him till his destination. The period of chairman Said Ahmad (1971-1972), an acclaimed economist, was short but eventful. Colonel Ishtiaq Aziz (later promoted as brigadier while continuing with HMC on deputation) received a phone call from Punjab governor Mustafa Khar directing him to reinstate the dismissed labour leaders of HMC. The chief executive took a principled stand and regretted.
The powerful governor was obviously annoyed. Within few hours, the colonel received a call from the chairman who desired to see him in the PIDC’s Rawalpindi office next morning as he was to call on finance minister Dr Mubasshir Hasan the same day.
The chairman was briefed on management’s point of view on the issue. When the chairman returned from meeting he told that the finance minister had asked him to sack the colonel, which he refused and said that instead he, the chairman, be sacked as he supports the stand. That was the end of it.
Nonetheless, Mr Said Ahmad did not survive long and resigned to take up a job in Saudi Arabia.
In the annals of history there are numerous cases as to how the institutions were made and how the institutions were destroyed. Today, the PIDC is an insignificant organization with no contribution to its credit since long.
The writer is retired chairman of the State Engineering Corporation