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"I think very strongly about education as an enabler".

DRIVEN: "Education and promotion of education is an idea that I have harboured almost all of my adult life," says Qazi Muhammad Asghar.

By Mudassir Raja

It's hard to chronicle the expat life of someone who has relentlessly fostered a spirit of kinship amongst a large diaspora for more than 40 years. Qazi Muhammad Asghar, 70, moved to Qatar after a chance conversation with his friend in the Pakistani capital city of Islamabad in 1976, and, despite a congenital talipes equinovarus CTE (or clubfoot), ended up inspiring multitudes of compatriots on how to be a citizen ambassador in a diverse society such as Qatar. Community recently interviewed him on his legacy and the long goodbye from Qatar. Please let us know about your roots and how would you best explain your journey to Qatar? I trace my origins to the colonial resort-town of Abbottabad in the Himalayas. When I was one, my parents died due to natural causes within a gap of 15 days, leaving a young group of four brothers and one sister to face life. We ended up spending our childhood in Rawalpindi, which straddles the boundaries of Pakistani's capital city Islamabad. At a very early age, I discovered that my late father held a BA in Education and an LLB from the prestigious Aligarh University in pre-Partition India and was the first Muslim principal of a government-run school in Abbottabad. My mother, too, was a scholar of religious studies. This instilled a lifelong love for education and promotion of education. With education comes enlightenment and the requisite sense for civic participation. All of us siblings eventually became associated with student politics. Being the youngest child, I had the example of my older siblings to replicate. I eventually, became the Secretary-General and then, the President of the Islamabad Government College for four consecutive years (1971-1974). In the great South Asian conventional template for life's trajectory, I was searching for work after my graduation when a chance conversation with a friend in Islamabad threw up the option of moving to Qatar. The year was 1976. My first employer in Qatar was the Gulf Contracting Establishment, run by Buti Salim Khalifa. GCE used to be an A-grade contractor and you can see the Jaidah Flyover as a longstanding example of its quality work. After Buti's death, the company was wrapped up and I took up association with the Taleb Group until my retirement. What have been some of your significant achievements in Qatar? Qatar was a different place in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Pakistani community, then, used to be the largest group of expatriates in the country -- i.e., close to 100,000 of the total population of 300,000. When a group of friends laid the foundation for the first socio-cultural forum of Pakistanis in Qatar in August 1981, I knew we were setting up a platform for not just the community but those outside it to come together and exchange ideas and understanding. Setting up something like Pakistan Youth Society (PYS) is not easy and credit goes to founders Tahir Mahmoud Chaudhry and Rashid Niaz and a few others for their resilience. Our first event was a stage show planned for August 14 in 1981. I still remember vividly how an army of volunteers chipped in: someone wrote the script, a few volunteered to act, one electrician volunteered to set up the stage lighting, and so on. After 15 days of practice and dozens of rehearsals, it was finally show time, albeit the constant fear that no-one will turn up. A few hours later when thousands of people began trickling in we knew we had established something bigger than a community group. Soon enough, academic colloquiums, cultural events, sport competitions, debating challenges, entertainment programmes and anything that involved people-on-people interacting and networking followed. Many of our former members went on to become community leaders back home. Our guest list since the 1980s features individuals who have won global fame and admiration. For example, Ata-ul-Haq Qasmi (a renowned man of letter and a former Pakistani ambassador to Norway and Thailand), Amjad Islam Amjad (acclaimed playwright and poet), Jansher Khan (former World Number One in Squash), Hakeem Saeed (philanthropist and founder of Hamdard Group), Mian Azhar (former Governor of Punjab), Professor Pareshan Khattak (Prof Emeritus Pashto Language), Mir Mohammad Nasser Mengal (Former Pakistani ambassador to Qatar and Chief Minister of Balochistan), to name just a few. How and when you came up with the idea of setting up the school? Education and promotion of education is an idea that I have harboured almost all of my adult life. I think very strongly about education as an enabler and how it provides upward mobility as well as enlightenment to an individual. I have often searched within myself why I carry this passion toward education and I think mainly it was because of the legacy of my father whom I unfortunately never got to know. During one of my number of stints in the Qatari job market, I also spent a short amount of time at the Pakistan Embassy-run school and this stoked the fire even strongly in setting up a school of mine. My dream finally came true when the Bright Future Pakistani School (BFPS) officially threw open its doors to the community in 1995. It was a long time coming. I recall how in the early days we used to celebrate each new enrolment but when it went past three digits we knew our model will work. BFPS was the first community school to offer both the Federal Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (Pakistan) and the General Certificate of Education (UK) systems. This choice of direction was well received by parents and today, the school operates from accredited and purpose-built premises with excellent teaching staff and management. It has even rebranded to become Bright Future International School and welcomes students from all communities in Qatar. Tell us about your works for the Pakistani community in Qatar. In the 1980s, I began writing dispatches from Qatar which used to appear in Pakistan's foremost Urdu daily, the Nawa-i-Waqt. In fact, the newspaper became the first nationally-circulated daily newspaper in Pakistan to create a dedicate space for expatriates and Qatar dispatches became a regular feature from 1989 to 2000. In a way, these dispatches introduced Qatar and its society to Pakistanis. I also began bridging the two cultures -- separated only by the Arabian Sea but otherwise, historically-linked -- by promoting avenues of mutual interest in a number of spheres, from culture to economics. I have also promoted soft diplomacy in bringing the Pakistani community closer to others in Qatar. On a side note, this is the fantastic part about Qatar -- the kind of diversity you experience here and the opportunities you receive to interact with people who you would otherwise never be able to meet in your home countries is absolutely remarkable. Beyond PYS and BFPS, my work inspired others in the community to come forward to replicate the model of community engagement. This, therefore, bodes well for the next wave of Pakistanis in Qatar. What role had Qatar played in making your life and career a success? How do you read progress and development of Qatar since you first came to the country? Coming to Qatar as a 28-year-old with nothing but determination and going on to lead the community on a number of fronts as well as owning a slew of businesses, is an arc that offers tremendous pride to me. I have seen Qatar led by three generations of the much admired Al-Thanis and I have to admit that the one unifying theme amongst the three has been their benevolence to the people here -- whether guests or natives. You can see the sweep of progress and cannot help but notice that a system was put in place which rewarded hardwork and dedication. Many countries have prospered in the last four decades on the back of growing human skills or utilisation of natural resources but how that prosperity was made to trickle down and how it was used to build world-class schools, urban infrastructure, an integrated healthcare system and so on is unique to Qatar. Moreover, let's examine this pace of progress against the backdrop of any major global rankings -- whether on peace, human development, or transparency -- and you will see that Qatar almost always tops the entire Middle East. It literally, is the Scandinavia of the region. To give a personal example, in recent years I developed a form of motor neuron disease. Despite the fact that I am a foreigner, the Homecare Geriatrics management as well as the Emergency Medical Services that were extended to me -- and for a long period of time -- are unmatched anywhere in the world. What piece of advice would you give Pakistani expatriates living and planning to work in Qatar? The first reaction of any expatriate when asked this question is to say this place is my second home and I leave with a heavy heart. For me, Qatar became and will remain my home. Without utilising the analogy of nominative determinism; my family name Qazi translates as judge in Arabic, I would simply advise that as expatriates we need to uphold the laws of our host country and extend respect to our host society. Pakistanis in Qatar today, are doctors, high-end engineers, media-persons, amongst other fields, and we need to continue being a part of the success story of Qatar. In Pakistan, I am overseeing the publication of a magazine about Pakistan-Qatar relationships. This will eventually be a periodical. I am also in the process of instituting the Pak-Qatar Retirees Association so the seeds planted here continue to be germinated by the community. I want to see that happen as my enduring legacy.

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Publication:Gulf Times (Doha, Qatar)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Mar 26, 2018
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