GVS Magazine Desk |
GVS sat down with Muhammad Zubair Umar, Sindh’s 32nd Governor, to understand the complexities of the province and of Pakistan’s largest and most dynamic city, Karachi. Governor Sindh sheds light on the province, Karachi and the world of business in Pakistan.
GVS: Why is the position of Sindh Governor given more importance as compared to other provinces?
Zubair Umar: There are several reasons. One is Karachi, the capital of Sindh was suffering from a serious law and order crisis for decades. In 2013, it was considered one of the most dangerous cities around the world. Karachi isthe financial hub of Pakistan, so if Karachi remained – what it was for almost last 20 years, crime and mafia ridden – then any possibility of turning around Pakistan’s economy is far-fetched.
Obviously, there is a direct interest for the federal government because the Rangers are operating here and it comes under the federal government, so the role of the Governor is important, because there are issues that come up every now and then that need resolving. This is a role that is not needed in Punjab or KPK. Historically, when Pakistan did very well in its first forty years, its growth rates were around 6-7%, it was Karachi led growth.
There is traditionally a concern over Islamabad’s lack of accessibility, by the business community in Karachi. Over 90% multinational companies and financial institutions are head quartered here, the Pakistan Stock Exchange, Cotton Exchange and the State Bank of Pakistan are all in Karachi. As a major port city, it holds the economic future of Pakistan. The business community and the corporate executives feel that Islamabad is too far away and according to them it doesn’t understand the reality of how to move Pakistan’s economy forward and they do not listen either.
The role of the Governor helps to focus the city’s concerns and relate them directly to the central government. The third thing that drives the importance of the office is the kind of rural urban gap that exists nowhere else in Pakistan, but in Sindh that gap is not just in form, it’s in the cultural and language aspect, but even more so it is in the income levels. The divide is enormous and I think we need to do something to bridge it. Karachi used to be the number one city in the entire region, compared to Bombay, Calcutta even Dubai till the mid 1980’s.
The gap between urban Sindh and rural Sindh, is a day-by-day widening one. The gap between Sindh and some of the other places in Pakistan like Punjab is also getting bigger and bigger with the passage of time; there is a huge difference between Lahore versus Karachi. And that exists in all sectors whether you look at education, health care, or infrastructure.
Imagine already how much turnaround has taken place. Just remembering a few moments of the last 10-15 years illustrates the change that has happened in the past four and half years.
According to some people, it is posing a serious threat to Pakistan’s upward progression because of the fact that millions and millions of people living here are getting far behind as compared to those in other parts of the country. I think that it is the function of someone who represents the federal government to understand this and take the initiative and stop the slide.
If you continue to allow that gap to widen, then Sindh will get left far behind. The reasons could be different; one set of people would say its’ because ‘Punjab looted it all away from us’ and ‘everything is being spent there’ and then others say, ‘Our rulers are useless’. Whichever side you look at it from the reality remains the same. Infrastructure has been devastated, as has the quality and quantity of education.
If you read any report from public sector corporations or private entities with regards to health care facilities, with regards to education, Sindh is competing only with Baluchistan. According to reports quality of education in Sindh is second last in the country, much lower than Azad Kashmir, much lower than Gilgit Baltistan, much lower than KPK and far lower than Punjab. This includes Karachi; if you take out Karachi, then imagine what the position of Sindh would be.
GVS: Have businessmen been able to express their concerns to you?
Zubair Umar: I had been very bold in telling the former Prime Minister that you need to have someone in Sindh that understands their needs. It never crossed my mind that I would be placed here, but it was obvious to me that there has to be a mechanism to listen to these guys about their concerns. There are so many institutions in Islamabad; federal institutions and ministries. The fact is that most of the economy related federal ministers need to interact with all of these people. That’s another reason for the importance of the Governor that he/ she has to represent the federal government and if we have someone who understands the business dynamics, then it’s a benefit that the businessmen and federal government can have, without working directly with the ministers concerned. I have set up this office to revolve around that, with the foremost objective being the economic turnaround of Pakistan.
GVS: So you have changed the focus of the Governor’s office?
Zubair Umar: Yes absolutely, I redefined the focus. It came to me when I was called by the former Prime Minister to be informed that I am being appointed as the Governor. He said to me ‘just one thing though’, which was that he didn’t want to listen to any complaint from any business now. I confirmed with him, “Karachi businessmen?” He said, ‘No, businessman from all over Pakistan.’ I said, ‘Isn’t that too much that you’re asking? ’to which he responded, ‘you’re the one who has always been fighting their cause.’
If Unilever has a problem with the Food Authority in Lahore, they call me and if Microsoft has an issue with CDA in Islamabad, they ring me because I’m available and they have access to me and I understand their concerns. I will call the concerned minister in Punjab to say, do you understand what Unilever is, it’s not any ordinary restaurant, where you barge in, take a cameraman with you and try to show that you have caught someone. It’s a world-renowned corporate entity in the country that is contributing so much. There is a way to handle that situation.
GVS: Lets’ go back to what you said about a declining Sindh. Can you do something? What do you intend to do?
Zubair Umar: People ask who is responsible for whatever is happening in Sindh. It has to be the rulers who have managed this province, whether you’re talking about People’s Party who have been in power for the last ten years or the MQM who has been in power in one way or other for the last 30 years or so, or the military reign of General Pervez Musharraf. Obviously, all of them have to take responsibility.
So, what do we do to move on from here? Let me share with you that it was part of our economic plan. l prepared the economic plan for the party in power (PMLN). When I was making a presentation around January 2013 to Mian Nawaz Sharif and his team, I said ‘Mian Sahab, you can do just about anything, but you will get nowhere in terms of economic achievement, unless you fix what I then called serious impediments to Pakistan’s economic growth on a sustainable long-term basis.’ The first thing is law and order and security.
This has three sub-headings, Karachi, Baluchistan and overall extremism. All three have different dynamics and require different solutions. The second one is the energy situation or the lack of it, as in 2013 we faced constant imminent black outs. There was not a single project in June 2013, which was under production that we could say that next month it would come online and you’ll start adding electricity into the system.
Even if you had all the orders from the world, from an export standpoint, you could not fulfill them because you had no electricity. Imagine already how much turnaround has taken place. Just remembering a few moments of the last 10-15 years illustrates the change that has happened in the past four and half years. One is the Karsaz devastation when Benazir came here, but more famously Iftikhar Chaudhry’s movement.
He was going around the whole country, very peacefully and mostly driven by Aitzaz Ahsan. Not even a stone was thrown at him in his long 20 plus hours drives from Peshawar to Rahim Yar Khan, etc. The same guy, the same movement, comes to Karachi and could not come out of the airport. Sixty people were dead and the whole city looked like a war zone and even the electronic media was under attack. Talat Hussain was doing that famous show on Aaj TV when he came under attack.
This was Karachi compared to the rest of Pakistan where there was a level of unparalleled uncertainty. This city could be closed on 10 minutes notice as we have seen. MQM would make an announcement, firing would start and the business shutters would hurriedly begin to go down. The public vehicles – rickshaws, buses, and taxis – would stop because they were usually the first target. Imagine hundreds of thousands of people, including girls who had come out to work in the morning by public transport, how would they go back to their homes?
The whole city used to be chocked and it was never a peaceful shut down. This is what Karachi was like till June 2013 when PML-N was forming the government. You are talking about things related to economic turnaround and so on but that is why we did what we did.
I think our proudest contribution is to bring Karachi back from the abyss. General Kayani – Chief of Army Staff, was called by Nawaz Sharif on a Sun day to his residence in Lahore and he asked the General, ‘what do you think is the solution to Karachi and is the operation inevitable?’ The General said, ‘it’s inevitable and we are just waiting for the government. Well, it’s not just the direction that we are waiting for; there are certain things we need.’
He asked that the first thing he wanted was some powers to be given to the Rangers. The government passed a bill through parliament and changed the Article, which famously gave the Rangers powers like detaining people for 90 days, and picking up someone suspected to be involved in an illegal act.
That was one of the things that the Rangers used very effectively. But the most important thing, when you are going for an operation and within the background of Pakistan, where no operation has been successful- Karachi in 1992 backfired within days – first you have to take everyone on board. This includes all the stakeholders and create a consensus. This was done with a lot of effort because MQM and PPP were two of the major stakeholders; and they would be affected when launching an operation.
GVS: How was PML-N able to do it when the previous government had failed?
Zubair Umar: I can share some of the things that I was involved in. The message that we gave to MQM and PPP was that this is to their benefit more than anyone else’s. We told them the fact of the matter is, that there is a widening gap between Karachi and Lahore, even between Sindh and other provinces, people will question you about the difference. This is the best thing that we did. We said that the federal government will not interfere at all and therefore we requested everyone else to do the same. On September 4, 2013, here in the Governor House, the Prime Minister at that time made the announcement for the operation.
I think our proudest contribution is to bring Karachi back from the abyss.
The Chief of Army Staff was there, ISI Chief was there, Corps Commander, DG Rangers, IG Police and all the major political parties relevant to Karachi including ANP, Sunni-Tehreek and others were also present. One of the most important requirements was for the success of the operation that our people should not interfere at all. There will be several moments when there is collateral damage. Someone is hurt or affected for no reason because we were going in small areas.
The second important thing was that there has to be no favouritism, so the PM said, ‘even if I call IG Police or DG Rangers, and request you to do something you must bang my phone.’ Believe me, this has been a record. You cannot even quote once that in the last four and half years, and I have been involved in the last year, the order was not to spare anyone at all, When PSP and MQM started talking about uniting for peace in Karachi, my response was, first, there is peace in Karachi. Second, peace is ensured through application of the rule of law. There is no other way. There is no way of doing this by combining two or four parties.
GVS: Do you think these gains that have been made in the last four years are sustainable? Is Karachi going to hold?
Zubair Umar: One is the lesson that you have learnt on how it went wrong in the first place. I think, the most important reason how it went wrong was that you started looking the other way because of political reasons. MQM is an important player in the politics of Karachi, both in the formation of the provincial government and federal government and all political parties were looking the other way and thinking that these are small things, till it became so problematic you didn’t know how to handle it by then.
Read more: Imran Khan – KPK & Sindh to get a “surprise”
Altaf Hussain as leader, who was the coalition partner of General Pervez Musharraf, when sitting in Delhi, condemned Pakistan’s partition, calling it the worst tragedy in the world. Not a word came from the government, not a single word of condemnation. They remained coalition partners and they had the license to say and do anything. The keys to loot and plunder were given to them. The number of police guys who were eliminated during Musharraf’s era runs into hundreds.
All those who had been involved in earlier operations with General Naseerullah Khan Babar and under PML-N in 1988. For example, just think that any witness against Haqiqi was erased even while being in police escort. Afaq, the leader of Haqiqi was in jail, so whoever went as a witness, upon return, was murdered in daylight on Shaheed-e-Millat road. If we learn these lessons Karachi will hold.
GVS: Do you think the gains you’ve made are sustainable?
Zubair Umar: They are sustainable. Of course, you can always go back to that madness, but I think that was an era that had several things, which are not possible now. It’s like a situation of post Nazi era where you say good things have happened to Germany but will it go back? Yes, if all Germans become mad as they became during those 12 years under Hitler. One of the reasons which started this, was the MQM phenomenon, the ethnic aspect of this and that is a very relevant question as Karachi’s peace is still a very sensitive area.
You have major ethnic groups living here in large numbers and all have fears. Mohajirs say we burnt all our ships behind us and you have to understand their psyche. There is no parallel in history, that you leave your country, where you lived for centuries, where families split apart, fathers leaving behind sons and vice versa. The Sindhis suddenly realized they have been living here since centuries, Karachi was a Sindhi-speaking city and suddenly overnight it becomes an Urdu-speaking city. Even the Lahoris would not let that happen. It’s impossible.
To make it worse the Mohajirs were smarter, more educated and they started to dominate in bureaucracy and in business and the Sindhis felt wrongly, but rightly also, that they are being marginalised. They have this fear and you can’t just brush aside their concerns, about the fact that they had been here for 5000 years and now they are being overrun by other ethnicities. Then there are Pathans. Karachi is the largest Pashtun city in the world. Bigger than Peshawar and now there are Katachiite Pashtuns, for example, Shahid Afridi; he’s Pathan but a Karachiite.
His father came here, but his children were born here. Now the new generation claims that this is their city as much as it is of the Mohajirs’ Then there are large segments of other populations, which have become my number one concern and that is the treatment given to the Pakistani Bengalis. There are close to 3 million of them who are denied citizenship, they don’t have ID cards, and they don’t have B-forms. It is a serious issue because fishing business in Karachi is largely dependent on Bengalis. There was a Bengali girl who got the second position in Intermediate but couldn’t get admission because her ID card has been blocked.
GVS: With this complexity and also the limitations of your Governor’s office, what initiative you have taken to meet these expectations?
Zubair Umar: I gave you the example of Bengalis. I am trying for the change in law to give them rights. For laws to be changed in Parliament, first a committee was made, which was constituted under Deputy Speaker which has finalised its recommendations. PPP typically opposed. PML-N Sindh guys seemed to oppose for no reason, as they said there would be local backlash.
I think we are close to changing this law now. Second, I realized within a few months, that I am carrying the expectations of the entire business community. I strongly believe that the government is only there to ensure a conducive environment that includes law and order and basic infrastructure. The rest of the things are to be led by the business community.
They are the most important stakeholders as far as the future of Pakistan is concerned. If we are discussing, for example, in a government meeting in Islamabad, how to manage or boost the hotel industry, then I used to say that you must ask this from the hoteliers, Avari, Hashwani, etc. Since when are politicians capable to manage hotels? Why are we debating by ourselves? Likewise, for the cement sector, financial institutions, fertilizers and so on.
On the other hand, the business community that we work with has to give logical proposals that are win-win for them and the Government. The business community needs to understand that you can’t just say give us a tax break; they must understand the limitations of governments as well. If Rs.4,000 billion is the FBR target and you’re asking for Rs. 500 billion tax break that’s not going to hold up.
GVS: What are expectations of Karachi businesses from you or your Government?
Zubair Umar: Their expectations are simple, they think that given the right environment and policy, there is a huge potential for Pakistani businesses. Most government people overlook the fact that any major decision that you will take to boost businesses could have short term reversals. It’s only in the medium to the long term that you have to evaluate the viability of its success.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly asked me whether I am on his side or businesses. I am clear to him that I’m on their side. The government has to plan for the long term; many businesses are not working, worried that their cash flow might stop because our tax refunds department is not so efficient, so there has to be solution. However, businesses must also understand that government has its limitations too. In addition, in the first three years, the government had its own restrictions as we were under an IMF program and the IMF had us on targets.
There is nothing wrong with those targets because when you go to a banker, the banker tells you his own conditions and mostly that disciplines you. In the short term, you will be saying, I have to pay on 1st of each month, but in 5-10 years, you will say that at least I built my own home and I used to spend money in a disciplined way. It is the same case for the economy. IMF never ever dictates that you should do this. IMF says that deal with us in a way that it’s a onetime solution, in which you can fix your economy, not that you come back after four years asking for more money. If you can’t achieve it and then talk against IMF then I think that’s pretty unfair.
GVS: You have been on a number of road shows. How successful were those international road shows?
Zubair Umar: I think the logic is very simple for going on roadshows. We think the reality here is far better than what is perceived and we want foreigners to come and see that; they need not fear the law and order situation. When they will come and meet people; students, businessmen or media persons, they will find Pakistan nothing like what they had perceived.
You can’t sit stuck here and let people think whatever they want about Pakistan, especially after the disqualification in Panama. It was very important that you go out or invite people to speak to them about what is happening in Pakistan; still being a very good story, still a country where investment opportunities are enormous and far better than countries like India, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh, etc. That’s with whom you are competing.
GVS: Do you think our investment opportunities are better than India?
Zubair Umar: Yes, in a sense our investment policy is more liberal than any of the other countries. This is the only country that allows 100% equity in almost every industry except for arms, ammunition, etc. India does not. The repatriation of profits and others is far more liberal than any other country. Of course, we had to have that kind of policy, because there was a long queue of foreigners in India and no one was ready to come to Pakistan.
GVS: With all these aspects, why do you think investors don’t come here in Karachi?
Zubair Umar: Well, the first three years, you had to be mad. I mean no one was ready to come for a day trip, so why would someone come for investment.
GVS: Apart from law and order, what other major problem exists in Karachi still?
Zubair Umar: The major problem exists in Karachi still? Law and order is not a problem any more in Karachi. Infrastructure is the biggest issue now. There are seven industrial zones. Just go and have a look at those places. That’s where I am using the prime minister package mostly; although my party workers are annoyed at me, they want us to do short programs that can be shown to people.
I also want to spend on that, but I prefer things that have long-term benefits. If we are asking Hyundai and other companies to come and manufacture here, how will we take them to Port Qasim? By a boat telling them the view is better? Or do we hide their faces on the way on road so that they don’t see the condition of the city! What the federal government is trying to do is to improve the infrastructure of the industrial zones so that their network improves.
The way we see it is very simple and I think we sell it pretty well. The last time we went to the US with corporate CEO’s, we had meetings at the New York Stock Exchange. During our roadshows, we had over 100 corporate meetings both with individuals and in joint meetings with corporate, financial institutions, equities, bond markets in New York, Boston the second largest financial center and Chicago.
Then we met the policy guys in Washington, State department, Commerce, Treasury and others. This is where I have differences with my own government, and senior members were opposing me when I told them, you have just a one-dimensional US policy, that is defined by what is happening in Afghanistan and India. There is another part of America, which is corporate America, which is a very influential segment of American policy making and to what is decided in Washington.
Of course, there is Congress and the media, but the 200 countries where corporate America operates and gets its money is what makes America what America is. How can the policy makers in Washington not listen to them? The likes of Citibank, IBM, Microsoft, McDonald’s, Facebook, Twitter, I mean you just name it.
GVS: So how was your experience in engaging with these corporates in the US?
Zubair Umar: They have 2 concerns, of course – law and order and energy. The latter, we have really put on the back foot. You can go and ask Karachi Chambers of Commerce, I always attend meetings there. These two issues always came up. Recently, I visited Karachi Chambers of Commerce, after 7-8 speeches when my turn came, I reminded them that when I used to come in 2014 to this chamber, there were only two topics that were talked about and today no one mentioned them.
Energy projects have crossed investment of a staggering 34 billion dollars, and not a week passes in which we are not inaugurating new power projects. One LNG terminal was inaugurated two months ago and a 660-megawatt coal-fired power planted has been inaugurated a month ago which was completed in a world record time in only 23 months in Port Qasim.
A second coal-fired power plant of the same capacity is opening soon. If you want to see a living story, go to Thar, where the world has changed. We have been hearing about the coal resources there since our childhood, but nothing was done until now. Now there are mining and power companies that are setting up power generation plants. 4.5 billion dollars has already gone in the power sector in Thar.
I went to Lyari, for the first time in the early 80’s. When I went there recently, I was wondering was Lyari better back then or now? And I am definitely sure that it was better back then.
GVS: When will this power/energy come to the Karachi business community? What is the deadline?
Zubair Umar: There is no shortage of energy today to Karachi’s business community. Not one of them can say so. Industries are getting electricity throughout the country for the last one and half year, unless they have some problems. But please remember we didn’t have to put on just the industries, we have put on transmission lines with them as well.
Six billion dollars have been spent on the transmission lines, out of the $46 billion originally of the CPEC, $34 billion was for the power sector alone. PTI can say whatever it likes but the world progresses by fixing the infrastructure. It’s a basic public requirement to get public transportation, roads networks, highways, motorways, energy, airports, etc.
GVS: It’s interesting that you’re talking about infrastructure because there is a joke that people often make in Karachi that we want Shahbaz Sharif as the CM here! Punjab has done so well in terms of infrastructure, why is PML-N not able to win any seats here?
Zubair Umar: I was at an event recently. Around 400 people were there including many businessmen; it was about CPEC. Mr. Arif Habib, the famous businessman was addressing the participants and he turned to look back at me and said ‘Governor Sahab’ when we come from Lahore it makes us cry as soon as we exit the [Karachi] airport.
They have awesome infrastructure over there and what do we have here? When and how would we be able to get the same? When it was my turn to speak, I said, ‘Arif Sahib, if you like Lahore so much then the solution is very easy. On a lighter note, I said “elect the rulers here who are ruling there. That’s the fastest way to turn around Karachi.”
The next day, I found that PPP and PTI have filed a petition against me saying that I was doing politics. I responded ‘you are trying to kill the message by attacking the messenger. You’re attacking me, but is this not the reality? Forget about the solution, and as I said I am saying it on a lighter note.’ I can add many reasons for criticism against Shahbaz Sharif.
But in terms of his administration, in terms of his infrastructure, I don’t think anyone can beat him and it takes a lot of effort. You’re getting it done from the bureaucracy in Pakistan. They drive you around in circles that literally a person like me puts up his hands. You don’t even understand what’s happening. You can criticize that they have over-focused on infrastructure at the expense of some other sectors, that is a possibility, but how can you deny that Metro Bus Service should not be made, when they [PTI] are making one in Peshawar.
There is no other option. Show me a city the size of Lahore, in the whole world that doesn’t have a mass transit system, except for Karachi. It’s an essential public need. Our logic on why we spend on infrastructure is very simple. You first need to create a fiscal space and then we can work on other important sectors. Everyone says work should be done on education.
Of course, there is no question on the importance of education, it’s a solution to all your problems; poverty, ignorance or extremism, there is no denying that, but first you need the revenue. How can we create that if our focus is on education? First, you create the fiscal space and then you spend on welfare. Look at what Dubai has done.
Is there any Pakistani who is not impressed by what has happened in Dubai? No one ever talks about the great education system in Dubai or the great health care system. They only talk about the infrastructure that has attracted the world to Dubai, they created that fiscal space and now they have the money for welfare.
GVS: So as Governor, you have made an improvement in infrastructure an important objective?
Zubair Umar: Absolutely, that’s a basic need. When your luggage goes out of the port, how fast it reaches the rest of the country has economic implications. The whole road network that we opened, over 1700 kilometers, across the length of Pakistan, is staggering. The dilapidated road network that you have here in Karachi – where you get stuck in traffic as you are going towards Port Qasim, makes you think if this was Lahore, would Shahbaz Sharif have left Port Qasim, the most important industrial zone in the country, in a state that exists here.
I mean this is ridiculous. I spend on infrastructure and that is what CPEC is all about. It includes electricity, energy, industrial zones, seaport and airport in Gwadar, which includes motorways and highways around the whole of Pakistan; that is what we are doing. This will encourage the private sector to come in and with the economic activity comes job creation.
GVS: Karachi is littered with heaps of trash lying around. Who is responsible for this?
Zubair Umar: And this is what you see is Clifton – imagine the rest of Karachi. There are three main players to whom you can assign the responsibility. One is the MQM as they have the local government, PPP that is the provincial government, and General Musharraf’s government when he was there. Who else you would blame? It is the dirtiest city in the country. Infrastructure wise it is worse than Rahim Yar Khan or Bahawalpur or any other major urban centre of Punjab.
Even in the Hazara belt the world has transformed. My wife’s village is near Tarbela. The first time I went there was around 30 years ago; now the world has changed there. The youth there thinks differently; they are all into education, chartered accountancy, have MBA’s; they are almost urbanites. There are internet cafes, there is no shortage of technology or anything else. By comparison, I have been to almost all of interior Sindh in the last one year, Hala, Mithi, Mirpur Khas, Sukkur, Nawabshah, Larkana, Thatta, Sujawal; very often sitting next to the driver or any person, I ask what has changed in the last years and they say nothing.
By the way, you don’t have to go interior Sindh, you can go to Lyari, which is the centre of PPP power, in many ways. I went to Lyari, for the first time in the early 80’s. When I went there recently, I was wondering was Lyari better back then or now? And I am definitely sure that it was better back then. It has the same roads which are now broken, it has far more rubbish, sewage overflowing in every corner, the only good thing which has been set up by PPP is the Shaheed Benazir Bhutto University which is an awesome contribution. Under the 18th amendment all of these responsibilities are now of the provincial government.
Total tax collection was Rs.1,900 billion in 2013 when we got elected and according to NFC formula, 60% goes out to the provinces and they have to spend on healthcare, education, on road network, water issues and so on. This year, Rs.4,000 billion taxes were collected, it has never happened in history. We have not used one new formula, arm-twisting or anything. It means that out of Rs. 4,000 billion this year, Rs. 2,400 billion is going out to the provinces, doubling the amount that they can spend on education, road networks and all of these things.
Although let me be very clear that I am not completely satisfied with the tax policy of the government. There is far more that we could have done. However, there was only a 3% growth in taxes during the PPP regime in the five years and that was a high inflation period. Inflation has a direct impact on how much taxes you collect because custom duties are directly related.
“Jinnah of Pakistan” by Stanley Wolpert I have reread, so as I was reading it again, sitting here [Governor’s office] with the history being defined in this place. How the Quaid came here the first time, he died in this place, he worked here, it’s just about Quaid e Azam.
GVS: How do you explain that PTI is your main opposition party and their main financial person is your brother and here you’re sitting talking about finance on the other side?
Zubair Umar: Because, Asad has changed his policies. He has become a socialist. Truly, genuinely a socialist he wasn’t so in the past, but now he challenges the Engro chief that I’m on the farmer’s side. He’s changed. He was pro-privatization then, he’s anti privatization now.
GVS: Is there a philosophical difference be- tween you or is it as people think that the same family has leveraged itself in different parties?
Zubair Umar: No, no, there is a reason why I came into PML-N and there is a very valid reason that he went to PTI. It happens abroad in the UK or USA, that there is a two-party system, generally and then there are conservative and liberal values and that defines the economic policy. In the Pakistani context, they are four to five main issues that define Pakistan today.
Civil-military relations, the supremacy of the law, respecting the constitution, business policy and its dynamics, and the pro-privatization, anti-privatization, the role of the government, Pakistan-India relations, and the role of Islam and so on and so forth. In all these things, there is a fine difference. In 1982, Mian Nawaz Sharif’s politics was different, which is a reality and there is no denying that.
But the PML-N that I joined, I truly believe there is no dispute on the importance of the constitution and role of the supremacy of the civilians. It’s not like that if civilians will give space then it will be military involved; there are no ifs and buts about it because the constitution doesn’t say that.
Who will decide whether space has been given, whether there is a governance issue when you get into that, you get into the mess and then you come back after 10 years and say no, it’s the people who will decide. We’re very clear about Pakistan and India. We are very clear that Pakistan has to move on to improve relations with India.
GVS: Even if India doesn’t want that?
Zubair Umar: Yes, even if India doesn’t want that and let me explain that to you. First, you don’t decide who will be the leader in India. The second thing, the same Modi is perfectly all right with all other 55 Muslim countries, in fact, some like Saudi Arabia have given him the highest civilian award. Even if he has bathed Muslims in their own blood in Gujrat, Saudi Arabia is fine with him. Turks are fine with him. Qatar is fine with him.
To what extent you can argue with, it does not mean that you sell yourself; it means that you continue to have a dialogue process to improve the relations, that’s all I am saying. You negotiate the best for your country. If you don’t trust me, if you think that I am going to sell, it would put pressure on me even by shaking hands with an Indian everyone back home will be looking.
Read more: India’s dirty war inside Pakistan
Look at the tweet of Asad Umar, I am referring to him, because he’s the finest guy on the other side. He tweets with a photograph of Modi shaking hands with Nawaz Sharif and writes that have you ever seen the prime minister this happy when meeting some Pakistani. You can criticise him over policy decisions but you shouldn’t stop the prime minister from meeting people.
GVS: You are sitting in this amazingly beautiful historical building. Do you feel the weight of history on your shoulders?
Zubair Umar: In addition to becoming a Governor. Obviously, I had never ever thought about becoming a Governor. I love reading books and have read a lot for decades. Recently, I have read, two books “Jinnah of Pakistan” by Stanley Wolpert. I have read before, so as I was reading it again, sitting here [Governor’s office] with the history being defined in this place.
How the Quaid came here the first time, he died in this place, he worked here, it’s just about Quaid e Azam; then the two Governor Generals who followed, who lived here and worked here and then the two Presidents Iskandar and Ayub Khan, till the General decided that it was too much of a hassle coming from all the way from Pindi to Karachi, so let’s just take the capital there.
The second book, is a new book, Mr. and Mrs. M. A. Jinnah. It obviously covers his politics, but it is more about his relationship with his wife and its fascinating. It also speaks about how forward-thinking Quaid e Azam was, his thinking, his outlook, how modern his wife was. Imagine the kind of clothes that she used to wear in those days. People who were coming out at that time were very conservative with beards.
So, it was not that easy for him to break through that barrier. The book relates an incident about, I’m forgetting the name of the gentleman; his wife was told that Quaid e Azam has called for her and she used to observe burqa so when she was leaving her husband asked her are you going to meet Quaid e Azam in a burqa? He’s a very modern man so take off your burqa when you meet him.
When she was entering to meet Quaid e Azam, she was trembling of course, she never shook hands with any male except her husband, but when Quaid e Azam forwarded his hands, she shook hands. Now as Chancellor of all the Universities in Sindh, when I go I notice this thing, except for Aga Khan and IBA, I dare not shake hands with any woman. 75% of them are often in burqa and most of them do not even have the confidence to speak to men.
GVS: How will you leave your mark?
Zubair Umar: That is for the people to decide. I know that I have no intention of being Governor for fourteen years at least. In my entire life, I always tried to move on as fast as possible.