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February 16, 2015
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Too little, too late

Opinion

February 16, 2015

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I have learnt from a press report that the government has decided to bestow the ‘Sitara-e-Imtiaz’ on Agha Hasan Abedi almost 20 years after this legendary figure has passed away. The news item was carried rather surreptitiously and sheepishly.
Abedi’s status cannot be captured in any discussion, no matter how articulate. Words fall short to reflect his true persona. Agha Sahib was a true patriot – a Pakistani who gave so much to this country. He was possessed by the spirit of patriotism. Just hear from the father of nuclear technology Abdul Qadeer Khan about how highly he regards Abedi, especially his contribution on arranging funds for the laboratory. Abedi has to his credit the establishment and running of the third largest bank of the country in addition to the international bank that scaled new heights in the global arena.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto stole Agha Sahib’s bank, due to the era of nationalisation yet Abedi was the most vehement supporter of ZAB when Ziaul Haq gave the orders for ZAB to be hanged. Abedi pleaded for clemency for him through the courtesy of the then ruler of the UAE. He was a kind and forgiving man.
His bank lent $100 million to support the balance of payments deficit for the country against a security of ungrown paddy stack – a security that had not yet sprouted out of the ground. Such was his immense trust in the country and its potential. His instructions to senior management were to never turn down any request from Islamabad. He gave maximum opportunities to young bankers in international as well as domestic markets.
He trained a great generation of bankers and some of them are doing very well in their careers, and even heading financial institutions across the length and breadth of the country. Of course there were some who paid only lip service to the high ideals of Abedi from the lot, but that is not due to any fault of Agha Sahib’s.
When East Pakistan fell apart, the refugees who poured into West

Pakistan, as ex-employees of UBL, were all reemployed by Agha Sahib. He reinstated them all at their original packages and even offered them rehabilitation bonuses.
His social contribution to Pakistan and the global village with charitable organisations in the UK, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and India has been significant. He established Infaq Foundation whose major beneficiaries have been SIUT, National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases. There are also Lady Dufferin Hospital, Sir Syed University of Science and Technology and GIK in Topi.
Abedi was a man who wore many hats. He was a master, an articulator of new management concepts, which in that era was equivalent to heresy to much of the commercial world. Abedi addressed many issues outside the confines of banking and business. He exhibited the depth of his soul by speaking on compassion, empathy, humility interdependence, tolerance, forbearance and interfusion. He was a living example of people management.
He took the role of a great leader, and also played the part of a mentor for his staff and was a source of inspiration for the entire financial sector. He possessed inexhaustible energy. He was always smiling. Under his leadership, improvements in processes were rewarded and appreciated in the work culture he fostered. The motivation level of employees was incredibly high and was a key factor anchoring employees to the institution. A young banker once wrote a letter to Abedi thanking the management that he had been given a new purpose in life through his institution.
It is my firm belief that had his health not declined he would have rescued the bank from closure. He was a personal and private banker to the high and mighty just like a former banker-prime minister, only that he was better than the latter. The only issue with his bank’s setup was that it was an Arab-owned bank managed by Pakistanis in 73 countries with 450 offices globally.
Abedi was a man of peace. He rubbed shoulders with Jimmy Carter, James Callaghan and Deng Xiao Ping. Consequently he found himself on the international radar, and being from a Third World country he paid a heavy price for it.
A few years ago the government of Pakistan bestowed on Yusuf Khan, aka Dilip Kumar, an actor of great talent, the ‘Nishan-e-Pakistan’. Although I am a great fan of Dilip Kumar and his movies, but bestowing the ‘Sitara-e-Imtiaz’ on Agha Sahib, a ceaselessly true patriot, leaves me feeling extremely disappointed. Is that all he deserves?
The writer is a senior banker. Email: [email protected]

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