Gun & Warlords, Biggest worry of Pakistan: Ch Ahmed Javed Hassan
Army in Pakistan may have fewer weapons than civilians
If any footsteps tiptoed in Pakistan with fancy footwear it was either from Bata or Pakistan’s foremost Servis shoes. While many became paupers due to Indo-Pak partition, Servis Industries never gave up and entered the newly born Pakistan’s market with its brand of shoes that competed with the only other brand existing at the time.
Today into big time, the scion of the Servis Industries has held high the flag of his company. Chaudhary Ahmed Javed Hassan owner of ‘Servis Shoes’ is a popular figure across both partitioned borders of India and Pakistan. His Dahlia flower saplings come in hundreds from India during the planting season, people bring him Amritsaris fish, ladoos and mathees from India and as a grand patriarch, he distributes the goodies among all his friends and relatives. As he talked about their multi-billion dollar company that still rules the local and international markets, he also revealed to RASHMI TALWAR in his palatial home in Lahore, Pakistan, how unlicensed guns were the biggest trauma and challenge of Pakistan.
Q: What is the success story of Servis Industries more popularly known as Service Shoes now?
Ans: The story of ‘Servis’ began with three freshers from college, who set up the Servis Industries before partition in 1941 in Lahore. They were Ch Nazar Muhammad, Chaudhary Muhammad Hussain (my father) – both from Gujarat and Chaudhary Muhammad Saeed from Gujranwala. They flourished and their products of handbags and sports goods became popular all over India.
Then partition happened and only Bata was there in the shoe industry when we entered. Initially we started with military boots for the army as well as canvas beddings and hold-alls in 1948-49, soon after partition. Then came daily shoes and later fancy shoes. The material for footwear was imported from Europe and it used to be very costly. I joined the family business in 1966 by which time Servis shoes had arrived and established.
Q: How do you describe your company’s presence in terms of global status?
Ans: From a single retail footwear outlet, our brand has more than 400 stores in Pakistan. More than 2000 dealer-base, and a growing international footprint in Europe, Middle East, and many other regions of the world. Today, the the company produces world-class shoes, tyres, tubes, and rubber in its units in Gujarat and Muridke. Servis is an exporter of footwear has also developed brand partnerships with international brands like Hush Puppies, Nike, Urban Sole, Pierre Cardin. Our proudest moment was that Servis won FPCCI Trophy for six times for ‘Best Export Performance’.
Q: Your Lahore factory faced closure in Pakistan under President Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law?
Ans: We took on governments during all martial law regimes in Pakistan. We did not abide by any instructions that went contrary to law. One particular incident is when we preferred to close our Lahore unit instead of bowing down to pressure.
This was during the reign of Lt Gen Ghulam Jilani Khan who was then the 14th governor of Punjab province during the military rule of President Gen Zia-ul- Haq, when we defied and eventually declared a shut down of our unit.
Gilani started issuing us instructions about whom to employ and whom to dismiss. When Gilani ordered us to take back 15 employees out of the 200 we had dismissed. We told him we shall re-employ 185 back but would not take back the select 15 he had specified. Eventually we sold off the Lahore unit after the closure and set up at Muridke.
Q: How do you describe the period from Gen Ayub Khan to Bhutto’s times?
Ans: Gen Ayub was the military dictator from 1958 until he was forced to resign in 1969. During Gen Ayub’s times, earlier, things were cheap and rather peaceful.
Post the 1965 war and during 1966, street protests started due to general scarcity following the war. Instead of appeasing the public by some benevolent means, Gen Ayub started making petty money and became unpopular. I too became a student leader then and led a street demonstration in Gujarat.
Then came Yahya Khan in 1969, Yahya dissolved the Ayub government and declared martial law for the second time in Pakistan’s history. Eventhough in 1970 he held the first free elections, that saw Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s political party Awami League party in East Pakistan win the majority but Yahya was pressured by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, whose party had won in West Pakistan but had less votes. Under this pressure, Yahya decided to delay handing over the reins of power to Mujib. Thus, civil unrest erupted all over East Pakistan, Yahya tried to smother the rebellion and also fell into disgrace over the defeat in 1971 war against India and Bhutto came to power and formed the government with his Pakistan’s People’s Party and placed Yahya under house arrest. This is of course history. but on the economic front Bhutto nationalized industries such as Ghee manufacturing, foundaries, banks; healthcare, educational and therefore new entrepreneurs were discouraged to set in new industry or other service facilities. Hence unemployment rose sharply. Bhutto’s aura fell and he was dethroned by Zia-ul –Haq in a bloodless coup by alleging rigging in elections that Bhutto won. Since it was the case of ‘my (Zia’s) neck or his (Bhutto’s) neck’. Zia got Bhutto executed.
Q: Did any emotional wave of sympathy come after Bhutto was hanged?
Ans: Not much because then as Bhutto had become unpopular and Zia ruled with an iron hand. Later Benazir unleashed the emotional quotient by reminding people of the Bhutto legacy of sacrifices. Later she too was assassinated and that catapulted her husband Asif Ali Zardari to power, as the world knows.
Q: How did you manage during Zia-ul-Haq’s regime?
Ans: Zia was no maulvi. He was a liar and never stood by his words. It was the worst period for Pakistan. He exploited religious sentiments to fight the war against Russian occupation of Afghanistan for America. He created the Punjabi Taliban, exploited youth and made them fanatics by saying ‘Jihad karo, Jannat mein Hurrein hongi tumhare liye’ (Fight the Jihad and you will be treated to beautiful women in the Heavenly Paradise). He deliberately created illiteracy to exploit youth. America used him and then lumped him off in an air crash along with one of their own Ambassadors.
During Zia’s reign came the ‘weaponry’. As America provided arms and ammunition to Pakistan to fight the Russians, the guns found their way into homes of warlords and private armies came into power especially in the rural belts. Every house had guns including automatic or semiautomatic. Obviously these guns went into wrong hands. Even though government can try but these guns will never be surrendered now or ever. They are used freely and the assailants dare and slip away. If police or security comes after them, they give them back in a formidable fight.
Even in villages they have Uzis’, Kalashnikovs, AK series, anti-tank guns and shoulder missiles and launchers. Fighters from Chechnya also joined in the fight. That time ISI too got a free hand. It was not reporting to anyone and was getting back channel support from America.
Zia always had double standards. Today Pakistan faces the biggest challenge of domestic arms and ammunition. In Pakistan, cities have smaller sophisticated weapons and crime is abundant. The availability of arms is not an issue. They are easily available to whosoever has the price to pay for them. The general feeling is if one doesn’t keep arms and ammunition one becomes vulnerable to those who do. This is the vicious circle that Pakistan faces and no solution can be found to it. The arms are hidden, whenever government announces civilians to surrender weapons. These very guns from America were diverted to fight in Kashmir. Interestingly army in Pakistan may have fewer weapons and civilians may have more.
Q: Do you also keep guns? (I ask sheepishly)
Ans: I do not wish to comment on that.