Recently the Prime Minister (PM) spoke of creating an environment for the return of expatriate experts. As a political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has always recognized the knowledge base of Pakistanis living abroad. Perhaps Pakistan and India have the highest number of gemstones serving in foreign countries. In India, a vast plan has already been implemented to take advantage of this expertise.
The overseas Chinese have made a huge contribution to the rise of their homeland as a global economic power. Unfortunately, most of the Muslim countries including Pakistan have not been able to take advantage of this resource. As I myself have passed through this painful loop, my experiences can be put to good use for the good of the country.
A look at excerpts from the past
During my studies in the 1980s at the University of Arizona, College of Mines, I discovered the first large-scale mining project that was planned in Balochistan. Located near the Pakistan-Iran border, the Saindak copper and gold project was started by the Resource Development Corporation (DRC) led by an imminent geologist, Dr Sabihuddin Bilgrami.
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My teacher, Dr Naseer Sheikh, was sent to Tucson to conduct bench studies on the ore deposit at the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), a mining consultancy company where I worked part time. . During my visit to Pakistan, I personally met Dr Bilgrami and we agreed to keep in touch with a possible future role in the project. Finally, when I returned to the land of the pure in 1992 to start my own consulting business, I received a phone call from Quetta.
As a qualified foreign expert, I was invited to review the project. With an investment of Rs 16 billion, it was the largest enterprise of the federal government. When I arrived, I was first briefed at the head office (HO) in Quetta. I was told that RDC had ceased to exist, a new entity had been created under the name of Saindak Metals Limited (SML) headed by Yakub Bizenjo, a retired bureaucrat. Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) was the contractor for a turnkey contract.
Under the agreement, there would be a 90-day overlap for handing over the current facility to local management. After the briefing, I asked for the Technology Transfer (TOT) package which did not exist. Almost everyone seemed distraught. There is a famous Punjabi saying that best describes the situation; “Annay hath Bataira” (Quail hunted by the blind). While I wanted to use my professional experience in the Arizona copper mines, I was forced to follow the line of non-professionals who were at the helm. With my challenge, I went all the way to the Federal Minister and the Secretary, but no one seemed interested.
Finally, as planned, the operation was entrusted to the Chinese entrepreneur who was able to extract and ship the concentrates to his home for refining and added value. Now, after twenty years, the same company wants another extension to harness our resources. If we had succeeded in Saindak, the same team could have developed Reko Diq which is not too far away.
The World Bank Project
The next meeting was the World Bank (WB) project for the privatization of PCSIR Labs. The Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) had prepared a plan under which the WB offered to provide a loan of $ 5 million from the lab’s assets. The amount was to be used to restructure the organization in order to make it profitable. The whole effort was misdirected. It is almost impossible for a research organization to turn into a profitable entity. I was offered a position in the implementation of the plan if I gave up my opposition.
I wrote to the PM’s office. Benazir agreed with me. Finally, it was decided that I would hold a one-on-one meeting with the WB program manager and agree on the way forward. My hat to the late Sheikh Mahmood Ahmed, an excellent professional who agreed with me at the cost of losing his own job. The entire program was put on hold while PCSIR was recorded.
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Then came the development of Thar coal mines. As President of Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF), I started the project in 2004 with a primary focus on mining. My tenure ended in 2005, but I continued as I had large-scale mining experience which was not available locally. In 2006, ENGRO decided to generate electricity from Thar coal. We had a meeting with the group in Karachi where we were briefed on their plan. The program manager was a qualified local chemical engineer who has now been tasked with looking after the CPEC as a special assistant to the PM (thanks to his former boss).
According to the plan, mining was to be carried out by the Sindh government while ENGRO planned to generate electricity by burning the mined coal. It was clearly pointed out that both approaches were incorrect. The provincial government did not have the capacity to launch a mining operation of this size, and Western credit institutions were no longer lending coal burning projects. Finally, there has been a change in leadership and approach. A SEMEC (Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company) joint venture was started under the leadership of a fine professional Shamsuddin Sheikh of ENGRO who then mined the coal. The plant was funded by China under the CPEC.
Pakistan as a coal-rich country
In August 2018, I was invited to visit the site and touch the Black Gold. It was a dream come true. The same team is now positioned to develop Reko Diq. My most recent article titled; “An Integrated Coal-Based Energy System for Pakistan” was accepted for presentation at the Pittsburgh International Coal Conference scheduled for September 2021. Today, Pakistan has emerged as a major player in the field of coal. coal mining mainly through the efforts of three people (myself, Shamsuddin Sheikh, Nauman Dar)
Abdullah Gul the former president of Turkey during his last state visit to Lahore held a separate session with experts. He said the same words as the Prime Minister when he said, “You have experts overseas who can help you, why don’t you seek their expertise? He said we have invited our overseas experts in all major fields. They sat around the table and guided the local actors, together they found solutions that made the turnaround possible. The problem in Pakistan is that no one is ready to listen. The Prime Minister calls them ‘Mafia’ but they are well established.
In the words of Steve Jobs; “Either lead or go away”, but in the land of the pure, they remain without leading or being pushed back. Personally, I have a long list of battles that I continue to fight as an Overseas Expert who has decided to launch into his country of origin. In 2002, I was offered to lead the new organization Pakistan Standard’s and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) which was headquartered in Karachi. I personally met the secretary with a request to move the head office to Islamabad which was refused, reluctantly I had to refuse the offer.
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Finally, after twenty years wasted, the ministry decided to move the CEO’s office to Islamabad. My denial caused a lot of heartburn in the ministry, but I managed to be selected on merit as President of the Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF). In this position, I worked very hard for the commercialization of research and I launched several projects. I was refused the extension despite producing results and was replaced by a 74-year-old retired scientist. During my farewell visit to the ministry, the secretary’s farewell words were; “Dr Sahib you worked very hard but never followed our guidelines.”
In response I said; “I had the choice between delivering or following your instructions.” So ended my stint at the PSF. I then joined PITAC (Pakistan Industrial Technical Assistance Center) as CEO. I had started my career here as an apprentice engineer in 1977 and I understood the organization well. Unfortunately, PITAC had been placed under a new TUSDEC (Technology Upgaradation and Skill Development Company) which was run by private sector individuals with a serious conflict of interest.
The TUSDEC has turned out to be another disaster that needs to be investigated. I tried to restore PITAC to its original glory, but there was too much interference from members of the private sector who had no idea of running public sector organizations. I left with a heavy heart. Finally, when PITAC managed to regain its autonomy, recognizing my efforts, they decided to invite me to lead their advisory committee.
Recognize the incompetence of our system
Pakistan is fortunate to have foreign experts, but we need to create a space for their expertise that does not exist. Mafias or entrenched allamas and all-powerful bureaucrats stand in the way. Despite his clear intentions to follow merit, nepotism prevails under the nose of the Prime Minister. The favorites and former assistants qualified and subordinate locally are appointed without due process. Unless we field our best players, the team won’t be able to deliver.
CPEC is currently the most important project in the country, after the resignation of the president, the position must be filled through a transparent process, the appointment of former assistants will harm the project. As a qualified overseas expert overseas, I had to struggle to maintain my professional integrity developed through years of education and exposure abroad.
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The environment in the land of the pure is not conducive as the focus remains on personal and non-national goals. The PM is willing, but not his team. Like the nondisclosure agreement, all federal ministers / secretaries, special assistants, committee chairs should be required to sign an anti-nepotism pledge to ensure the merit of all appointments, otherwise their subordinates, colleagues and relatives will occupy all positions. important directly under the nose of the PM. For the country to move forward, this must change
The author is the former president of the Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.