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Great, magical expectations


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IT is with a sense of great inadequacy, immense embarrassment that I admit I have never seen, met or talked to Malik Riaz, the property tycoon currently in the news.

If this admission makes you think I am a worthless former editor, a rubbish columnist, then don’t feel awkward about expressing your thoughts. You’ll only be mirroring my deepest, most honest assessment of myself, almost writing a chapter of my autobiography for me.

Malik Riaz’s power was, and I suspect will remain, so enormous that he was only ever mentioned in the media when he didn’t disapprove of the news item. Exceptions were there but they were just that: exceptions.

So now that he is being talked about openly in the media, is his power on the wane? Don’t jump to conclusions. At least six — or was it seven or eight? —journalists who have met the mesmerising man have said he wanted them to talk about him. Well not exactly about him.

He actually wanted them to talk about his allegation that his conglomerate had been paying huge sums of money to the chief justice’s son, mainly because of the young man’s lineage. There are suggestions (and nothing more) that this was done to seek judicial favours.

It is ironical that none of the journalists were impressed sufficiently with the ‘evidence’ Malik Riaz purportedly exhibited before them to make it the subject of a story. In fact, the journalist who eventually ‘broke’ the story from the US didn’t even say if he had met the gentleman.

He didn’t send the story for use by the outlets in the media empire that employs him as one of the apex editors, preferring instead to release it in the form of a web-TV interview from Washington. He denies his own group spurned/spiked his story. Several journalists belonging to this group are now on the list of those who’ll depose before the Supreme Court in a matter which (though there’s no evidence yet) may bring discomfort to the chief justice even though his own role is untarnished.

Pakistan is a country where, I am told only one medical malpractice suit has ever been decided because doctors don’t testify against doctors. Media practitioners have been no different and dutifully stayed away from criticising each other.

It is again the magic of Malik Riaz that this long-held unwritten rule is starting to fray as some of our talk-show hosts, for whom a friend uses the sobriquet ‘throats’, have started to attack other talk-show hosts in unpleasant terms. Charges are flying of plots, houses, even a foreign villa changing hands.

I am told the tycoon is a great property developer. He uses some of the best professionals in urban planning and design in his projects. He pays them top dollar, one of them told me. No, no. This isn’t to suggest his magic and power are due to these professional values.

His forte is said to be ‘value addition’. Get land cheaply and develop it well for extraordinary profits. On occasion when the seller hasn’t been willing, there are recorded instances of un-kosher means of acquisition. Who knows how many such instances are unrecorded.

Look at the total estimated annual advertising spend of no more than Rs30bn in Pakistan. Now see what the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is investigating in just one case against the developer: charges of Rs62bn of land grabbing. Fair to say no case has been filed yet.

Wouldn’t you say a man with such spending power can appear/disappear from the media at will, given that the recession has been a greater curb on media freedoms than perhaps dictatorship was in times gone by?

Compromises have certainly been made even if editorial principles have not been totally slaughtered at the altar of commercial interest. More competition, a fierce struggle to hire and retain talent with spiralling costs, unreal ambitions have hit all media groups hard.

Goes to prove Pakistan is still to have someone with the power to rival Rupert Murdoch whose News International empire publications could beat the biggest political parties in the UK to submission. This is not to say some may not harbour such ambitions.

Here similar power will only be in the hands of a super-wealthy wheeler-dealer. Also, wouldn’t it be naïve to express surprise when the tentacles of this power seek out the most seemingly secure, unreachable and incorruptible of power centres. That he is a generous friend, mentor and even an interlocutor to top political parties/politicians in the country is a matter of public knowledge. If his executive jet is at the disposal of a minister, opposition leaders ride in his armoured SUVs. I’m told he’s a financier of political rallies.

He is a business partner with the army in the DHA schemes (and surely with army men elsewhere) and if the list of his staff present at the Supreme Court hearings is any indication, after Fauji Foundation he must be the biggest employer of retired army officers.

In fact, journalists have speculated on who might be behind the ‘conspiracy, the plot’ against the chief justice. Depending on their orientation, they have blamed the PPP or the agencies.

Don’t you wonder why nobody has thought that it could be the same spook that avowedly and so arduously created the democratic structure in 2002 and designed its control mechanism?

Yes, if the good general could head the ISI’s political cell to further his boss’s interests, could he not be heading the Bahria (c’mon, not the Navy) political cell to do exactly the same for his current boss? I admit this is mere speculation.

One could go on but stop one must. There are far more fundamental issues at stake. Do you think the quality of my research on the magic of the man was magical enough to get me a villa on the French Rivera? As a dodgy dual national that’s the least I expect. I am waiting by the phone.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

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Abbas Nasir is a former editor of Dawn.

He tweets @abbasnasir59.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (11) Closed

Cyrus Howell Jun 09, 2012 04:46pm
"The real rulers in Washington are invisible, and exercise power from behind the scenes." -- Felix Frankfurter, Supreme Court Justice
BNS Jun 09, 2012 02:37pm
Very interesting, safely written. Sure, you never know! If everyone is so cautious there must be a reason.
mohammad saleem Jun 09, 2012 01:16pm
excellent column sir
@RKzoy Jun 09, 2012 12:39pm
Great dissection as usual by Abbas Nasir. Some sanity amid smears and hooting.
@MeTousif Jun 09, 2012 11:57am
Cyrus, you are absolutely right. Our problem is not only the visible government but also the invisible government(s) or the institutions who are not mandated to govern people but want to do that by hook or crook, mostly misusing their legal authority. If I want to correct some thing I am ready to act illegally to do that without realizing I am ending up doing something illegal myself. And statesman, well this is a commodity unheard of in this country, except for a small perios of 10 years, before the current government.
Noman Khan Jun 09, 2012 11:13am
Abbas Nasir sahib, very informative, analytic, interesting and entertaining article. Keep it up!
Cyrus Howell Jun 09, 2012 08:30am
"Behind the visible government there is an invisible government upon the throne that owes the people no loyalty and recognizes no responsibility. To destroy this invisible government, to undo the ungodly union between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the task of a statesman." -- Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, during his 1912 election campaign
Cyrus Howell Jun 09, 2012 08:31am
"The world is governed by very different personages from what is imagined by those who are not behind the scenes." -- Benjamin Disraeli
Razzaq Jun 09, 2012 07:46pm
An exellent and hard hitting article. UN-KOSHER means, I love it.
sketchy.scribe Jun 09, 2012 09:24pm
More columns / analysis please
ahmed waseem Jun 10, 2012 09:15am