Influence peddling

December 17, 2018


The writer is a poet and analyst.
The writer is a poet and analyst.

CONGRATULATIONS! If you are a subscriber of a national daily, you are most likely among the top one per cent of wealthy people in Pakistan. Wait, there is more ego-satisfying news. You may probably be among the top 1pc of wealthiest people in the world. Yes! True. Because the world has seven billion-plus people, 90pc of whom own only 10pc of the world’s assets, a net worth of $872,000 (Rs12 crore at the current exchange rate) let’s you join the dubious company of the top 1pc of the world.

Before you break out into a jig or pop open a bottle of bubbly — nonalcoholic of course — consider how you got there. The simplest answer is: influence peddling. We are all beneficiaries of capitalism and two of its accompanying menaces, cronyism and influence peddling. The bleeding-heart liberals who went to the Ivy League or Oxbridge on scholarships bankrolled by the big bad Uncle Sam and John Bull while still reading Russian novels lent by the Soviet-era Friendship Houses are no exception. Influence peddling continues to fly right under the radars of the most ardent anti-corruption warriors.

So you made your money by the dint of hard work? Right. Back in the day when commercial schools were not around, who got you into one of the few remaining good public schools? Dad? Because some uncle owed him one for delivering hordes of voters back in the hometown? This is influence peddling.

So you made your money by the dint of hard work?

You broke your back working 18-hour days including weekends. Such hard work and dedication helped you navigate the choppy waters of an international financial institution. So true, but remember the internship you helped secure for the chief secretary’s son? The one that resulted in the government’s loan request for a billion dollars?

The seth who learned the tricks of the family business while nominally attending the very public and very peela neighbourhood school has to be a shining example of the market economy that rewards talent, ambition and work ethic. However, while his competitors were being kidnapped for ransom or hounded by the taxman, his ‘contribution’ to a wide variety of ‘causes’ provided him the security that led to so much barkat in the business.

Ah! But what about the hardworking CSP officer? That epitome of can-do attitude who glows white-hot with self-belief and meritocracy. Gave tuitions while still a student. Held multiple part-time jobs, studied under the streetlight and topped the competitive exam. Could have opted for any moneymaking job, but opted for Foreign Service. Marries the corrupt politician or retired general’s offspring. Bingo! The cushiest postings in the English-speaking parts of the world await. Keep the counterpart diplomats and their governments happy and juicy post-retirement consultancy contracts and more influence peddling awaits.

Write columns in newspapers. Appear on TV shows first as a guest commentator and then as the chief tormentor (read anchor). Rip into people, expose their double dealings. Skewer the politicians for their corruption and ineptitude. Expose the generals who just retired and build up the incoming lot as ‘soldiers’ soldiers’. Run down the lower judiciary and praise its superior arm for its activism. Start a PR firm, get image-building contracts from your victims. Drop a favourable word about them in your columns. Make a positive comment during a talk show. Armoured vehicles with jammers, farmhouses, commercial plazas, condos here and abroad are guaranteed. No, your book has not sold millions of copies, nor has anyone bought movie rights to it. You made it through influence peddling.

Last but not least, there is the august civil society. The men and women who burn their candles at both ends — mostly during vigils. The few and the proud who give up what could have been lucrative careers to fight for all our rights and freedoms and get lampooned for sporting sunglasses or huddling under parasols. Ask them why they are the ones who go on foreign junkets and never their underlings, or when was the last time they got their funding audited and suddenly you are the worst oppressor to have walked the earth. Why? Because a large number, if not the majority is guilty of influence peddling.

So are there no Pakistanis, past and present worth their salt? There definitely are. Dr Salam, Asma Jahangir, justices Rana Bhagwandas and Dorab Patel, Drs Adib Rizvi, Shershah Syed and Shah Mohammad Marri, Hussain Naqi, Perveen Rehman, Roland D’Souza, Edhi, Jalib and Malala — different level of recognition and adulation leads to mononyms — just to name a few. Some of us are witnesses to how these luminaries may have put their influence and good names to use. Always in aid of the disadvantaged, the disenfranchised and the voiceless. Nothing wrong with having connections and using them. To what end is the question. This is what differentiates the sublime from the parasitical.

The writer is a poet and analyst.

Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2018