Ali Nawaz Memon: Intellectual Solutions for a Nation in Crisis
By Imran Hussain Khan Sudahazai
Ali Nawaz Memon, former Chairman of the National Power and Electricity Regulatory Authority (Pakistan), international civil servant with the World Bank, and author of such titles as ‘Pakistan: Islamic Nation in Crisis’, ‘The Islamic Nation: Status and future of Muslims in the New World Order’ and ‘Sindh Development Thought’ talks to Pakistan Link about his experiences and life, both in the United States and Pakistan. He candidly recalls his professional working relationship with Benazir Bhutto before she left tragically for Pakistan last year and what is required of Pakistanis to make Pakistan work.
Q. When did you first arrive in the United States of America?
A. December 31st 1960. So I have been here for quite a while!
Q. Why did you decide to come to the US?
A. I came to study and complete my education. I finished my undergraduate studies in Electrical Engineering at the University of Illinois in 1964 and then pursued an MBA from the University of Oregon in 1967.
Q. How did you feel upon arrival in the US?
A. I loved it! Reflecting back on that time with the benefit of hindsight there is no doubt that settling in was difficult. However, once I got into my studies, I really became enamored with my course, university and student lifestyle, so it was an excellent experience.
At university I was working in a cafeteria to make ends meet. In Pakistan this would have been an almost criminal offense from a societal perspective. A young man from a well to do family working as a waiter. But here in the US, it didn’t matter a dime!
The people were very cordial and open and in the 60’s all foreign students were treated like dignitaries and you really felt privileged to be here. You can say that it was a very revolutionary era not just in political or industrial semblances but also economically, technologically and most pertinently, on the social and cultural front.
Q. How well do you think Pakistanis have adjusted to life here in the US?
A. I think Pakistanis have done extremely well in the USA. By distance America is a long way away from Pakistan. Especially when compared to the Middle East or Europe and the UK. So the only type of people that ever contemplated and eventually moved out here were bright students and very highly educated young professionals.
However, now one sees more working class lottery based immigrants and relatives of the original immigrants. As a community, who began life in privileged circles, we have over time, dropped in our social standing to a middle/lower class level as more non-professional and non-college educated Pakistanis have settled here. Although I may be painting a slightly pessimistic picture the reality is that we have finally reached an even ground from which our Pakistani community is now finding its place and evolving to create an identity for itself.
Q. How has the climate and culture changed since you first arrived?
A. I think the whole world has changed. But specifically focusing on the US, I think the 1967 war between the Israelis and Arabs changed a lot of perspectives. For the first time really the US media was concertedly focused upon a foreign conflict that didn’t involve the Americans per se, and they chose sides. The media was forthright in its support for the Israelis whom they championed as little David fighting bravely against the marauding Arabs who were identified Biblically as the Goliath of their times. From thereon you have the oil crisis of the 70’s and an image of Arabs builds up that portrays them as wasteful, licentious and crude. So this present precedence of Islamaphobia was established whole-heartedly during that period. However, 9/11 has done enormous damage to our new homeland of USA and to Muslims citizens and immigrants.
Q. What do Pakistanis feel about the attitude of the US government towards Pakistan?
A. Pakistanis have always been allied politically and culturally with the US from a historical perspective. However, since 9/11 many Pakistanis feel that Pakistan has not been asked or requested but forced into a position whereby the Pakistani Government and society is stuck between a rock and a hard place. There is no tangible reward or recognition for their sacrifices. A major war is underway just across the border in Afghanistan and thus by de-facto historical connotations interlaces the Pakistani North West Frontier into the conflict. In addition to this Pakistan has become unstable, witnessed greater sectarian, ethnic and terrorist linked strife and turmoil than any other nation (apart from Iraq) in the world. Just look at the day-to-day bombings and killings within Pakistan. We don’t have to go to far back to remember the murder and assassination of the daughter of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto. What a heavy price to pay for someone else’s war! Many Pakistanis are becoming skeptical and disillusioned with American foreign policy.
Q. What now for Pakistan? Where does Pakistan go from here?
A. The first point we must keep in mind is that we are only 60 years old. We are actually carrying this huge baggage of colonialism that we have yet to shake off.
Our every institution, way of life and our history has been shaped by it. Today you experience the qualms of colonialism when you study Kashmir, NWFP (especially the whole issue with the Durrand Line), economically deprived interior Sindh and the abject alienation of Baloachistan.
Pakistan has yet to become a nation in the truest word. The United States of America is a federal state that really encompasses 50 nations. USA is more divergent and has a greater landmass to unify, yet it has managed all the factors required for success through a strong, calculated, visionary manifesto and constitution.
I had the great fortune to work with the late Benazir Bhutto during the last four to five years on her manifesto and policies for Pakistan and I can honestly tell you that she was ready for change. Her vision had become very broad yet very much focused on the development of the nation through education, employment and a common identity that bonded people together as opposed to promoting regional and tribal quagmires for political gains and motives alone. We had discussed her plans for the first 30 days in office, then sixty days, then six months, a year etc…. Private sector development would have been greatly enhanced. Within public sector, a new ministry would have been created and the main point we always agreed upon was the creation of employment and economic security for all. A new ministry would have been created that would specifically have been tasked to both seek out and then create employment opportunities for our graduates and improve the stock of the working class. This “Ministry of Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” would have been directly accountable to the Prime Minster herself and would have actually been assigned the highest priority and importance in achieving its mission. The eradication of nepotism and incompetence was a high priority for her. She understood that the establishment of law and order would only come through education, economic security and political stability.
We had planned for the establishment of 100,000 educational scholarships in Sindh alone. This target would have increased to over 1 million scholarships throughout Pakistan. We also discussed the need to invest in female education through attractive incentives and provide at least one job per family in the impoverished rural areas as they do in India. This one job per family policy would also apply to widowed families.
The money to provide for these ambitious yet perfectly viable projects would be raised and generated from a variety of sources that would include redirecting funds from the military coffers, private sector, and international donors.
Social projects within Pakistan have almost become drought-ridden. This has effectively starved ordinary law-abiding Pakistanis into a frenzy of extremes ranging from violent religious fundamentalism to blatant open-ended corruption.
Since the passing of Mohtarama Benazir Bhutto I have contacted Asif Zardari but he has yet to act on and lead in what Benazir had certainly set out to achieve.
Q. How can ordinary overseas Pakistanis affect change?
A. I think great leaders with vision and integrity attract those like them. They also attract the younger members of our communities who are blessed with the enthusiasm and drive required to build and develop for the future.
Pakistani youngsters can contribute through their professionalism and education; investors can invest in major projects and take ownership and create a much desired entrepreneurial environment. You can create a Peace Corps type organization to send youngsters and working professionals to Pakistan every year and aid its growth and contribute towards the future of less fortunate Pakistanis through charitable donation of their time and efforts.
In comparative terms, Israelis and to some extent the Indians are a paragon of excellence when we discuss such models. Instead of always pitting ourselves against them, we should take a moment to assess their ‘raison de etre’ for success and sustainability and thus follow suite.
However, it is up to the incumbent Pakistani Government to foster and create this atmosphere. I am fully confident that if the Pakistani Government extended its hand of welcome to Pakistanis abroad, it will find many hands to support its vision and development if the government’s intentions are open and honest.
Q. What is the final point you would like to close upon?
A. We have this beautiful world, which is developing and growing in so many ways. The US still has the most open society in the world and wonderful opportunities are to be availed here. We the Americans of Pakistani origin have to exercise our rights and become active within the political sphere and both defend and demand our rights and democratic ideals as exemplified in our Bill of Rights and Constitution.
We must always demand justice, truth and honesty in all affairs. There must be FAIRNESS IN FEDERATION for all Pakistanis living in all parts of Pakistan or it will explode from within.