Javed Malik
"I must have done more than a thousand television shows and countless hours of live broadcasts. I interviewed presidents, prime ministers, and almost all the major opinion makers in Pakistan," says Javed Malik Image Credit: Supplied

Soft-spoken, always gracious, always articulate. Javed Malik is all these things and more. A famed media person, Malik as a talk show host in the formative and the most important decade (2000-2010), to date, in Pakistan media interviewed former prime ministers in exile, had debates on issues that mattered, and asked the hard questions without ever raising his voice or ego. Malik, an eminent overseas Pakistani, utilising his qualities of tact, composure and persuasion went on to have a brief but illustrious career in the sphere of diplomacy as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain, and Prime Minister’s Special Envoy in the GCC. Currently, Malik is the Chairperson of Overseas Pakistanis Business Council.

Pakistan’s wellbeing and people-centric development are the unchanging motifs in Malik’s professional achievements, and in his narrative as a former diplomat and, currently, a business leader.

I asked Javed Malik a few questions:

What was the motivation behind your decision to opt for a career in diplomacy when you had already made a name for yourself in the field of media?

Javed Malik: For me the motivation to work in media and later in diplomacy was somewhat the same: a desire to do something positive for my country in whatever humble capacity I could.

My work in media is more recognised as it had more limelight. But people who are close to me are aware that being an overseas Pakistani I was always quite actively engaged in the overseas Pakistani community in London, and later in the Gulf. And that is the reason that even when I started doing television shows in London, the topics we covered often revolved around issues related to overseas Pakistanis. I always valued that aspect of my media work as it provided a voice to the community and enabled us to raise awareness on issues that they faced.

When I joined Pakistan’s first independent news channel, also the one with the largest viewing then, the scope of my show also expanded. We were covering a wide range of topics and interviewing the top tier of Pakistan’s leadership. For almost a decade that I was associated with media, we were able to initiate a dialogue on almost every topic of national significance including Pakistan’s foreign relations and economic development.

I must have done more than a thousand television shows and countless hours of live broadcasts. I interviewed presidents, prime ministers, and almost all the major opinion makers in Pakistan.

It was at that juncture that I started asking myself that while media had been an excellent medium to raise awareness and identify problems, but was that all I could do? Is there a limit to what we can do to make a real change? Is just identifying the problems enough? Or should I somehow be part of solving some of these problems too? Perhaps there is another way in which I could serve my country in a better way?

When the opportunity presented itself where I could make the transition, I took the plunge. To briefly answer your question, the motivation was the same: to play a humble role in service of my country.

During your highly visible work as the Ambassador of Pakistan to Bahrain, which are the accomplishments that you consider the most prominent highlights of that tenure?

Although Pakistan and Bahrain share a historic relationship, I am happy to say that during my tenure as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain our bilateral diplomatic relations were upgraded to a Joint Ministerial Commission. Foreign ministers of both countries chaired the first session of the Commission in 2017, which laid down a comprehensive framework of cooperation between Pakistan and the Kingdom of Bahrain to reinvigorate our ties.

Realising the significance of strong economic bonds, we worked tirelessly to organise the First Pakistan Bahrain Business Opportunities conference in which the Bahraini Minister of Commerce led a 100-member business delegation to Pakistan. The visit was provided an excellent platform for business communities to explore ways to expand their bilateral economic cooperation.

However, to me the highlight was when we signed the agreement to establish the King Hamad University in Islamabad as a gift from His Majesty King of Bahrain to the people of Pakistan. The foundation stone laying ceremony of the university was held in Islamabad in 2017 for which His Majesty nominated his brother to personally visit and take part in the ceremony along with the[then] Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif. I was present on that historic day.

It gives me happiness to share that the work on the building of the university is ongoing, and the King Hamad University will stand tall as a historic landmark and symbol of the close bonds of love and brotherhood between the people of Pakistan and the Kingdom of Bahrain.

As an overseas Pakistani your constant grievance is the underutilisation by all governments of Pakistan of the talents and abilities of the overseas Pakistanis. How do you think the overseas Pakistanis can play a robust role in the progress of Pakistan?

I strongly believe that overseas Pakistani business and corporate leaders have a great potential in contributing towards the progress and prosperity of Pakistan not only through their investment but also their skills and expertise. However, while successive governments have claimed to understand their issues there is still a major disconnect between the overseas Pakistani community and the successive governments.

On many occasions we saw that the ministry [of overseas Pakistanis] was handed over to a coalition partner, and therefore, many commitments could not be adequately fulfilled.

I believe that just like reforms are needed in many areas of our governance structure, there is a real need to evolve a national policy on the potential of overseas Pakistanis. For the policy to be both effective and result oriented, it should be framed in consultation with all stakeholders and not by some people sitting in bureaucratic offices in Islamabad.

Sadly, another major issue is lack of continuity. If one government has done something good, the next government should not undo it simply because it was done by their political opponent.

It is very important to look beyond political affiliations when it comes to overseas Pakistanis, and therefore this ministry should be handled and working in a different manner.

You are the founder of the Overseas Pakistan Business Council and the Positive Pakistan Forum, platforms to unite Pakistanis around the world. What is the agenda in terms of Pakistanis having a significant participation in these organisations?

Being an overseas Pakistani myself, I have had the unique opportunity of being part of the community as well as serving in government in roles that brought me in close contact with Pakistanis living across the world. I must say that I have always been extremely impressed with their talent and abilities, and how they have established themselves in different countries in business and other professions, and in some cases, in senior government positions. Today, we see Pakistani origin billionaire business leaders, highly placed CEOs, members of parliament, mayors, and ministers in many countries.

The Positive Pakistan Forum is a global network of distinguished Pakistanis that not only connects them with one another and other Pakistanis but also creates opportunities for them to contribute towards Pakistan’s progress and prosperity.

The Overseas Pakistan Business Council was originally formed in 2009 after my discussions with the then prime minister [Yousaf Raza Gillani] who very graciously agreed to become its Patron. It was a global initiative to provide an interface between the Pakistani Business Councils operating in different countries, and to connect them more closely with Pakistan. The OPBC organised various initiatives in Pakistan, London, and UAE, including the Friends of Pakistan Conference under the chairmanship of the then prime minister of Pakistan. It was held in Islamabad in 2009, and six British Members of Parliament specially travelled to Pakistan to attend it.

Through this forum we also tried to narrow the gap between government and the people. We also regularly invited ministers, governors, and senior officials to directly interact with the community to address their issues, including the then foreign minister and minister of overseas Pakistanis.

Having personally known and worked in different capacities with all the prime ministers of Pakistan in the last two decades, who has impressed you the most with their commitment to their office, implementation of their policies, and work ethic?

Yes, circumstances created opportunities for me to personally know and work with almost all the prime ministers that were in office in Pakistan from 1988 to the present day. While all of them had leadership skills to reach the highest office, personally, I was always very impressed with Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s global vision. Her charisma was unmatched, and she was the embodiment of a true stateswoman. Sadly, we lost her too soon.

I was always amazed by the way Nawaz Sharif was able to navigate the country through complex economic hurdles and launch some mega projects. Whether it was the motorways, power projects or making Pakistan’s defence impregnable, Mr Sharif has an impressive track record despite his somewhat “shortened” stints in office.

I think no one can match Asif Zardari’s acumen when it comes to understanding the intricacies of Pakistani politics.

Yousaf Raza Gillani always attached a great deal of importance to his presence in parliament.

Having met and interviewed Imran Khan [before the premiership] several times, I feel that during his days in opposition he raised people’s expectations to a very high level. Even if Mr Khan can deliver 50 percent of what he has promised he would have done a good job. But for him to do that he may need to revisit his economic team and his governance model.

Mehr Tarar, Special to Gulf News-1592296810288