LONDON: The name of Manchester-based millionaire property developer, Aneel Mussarat, is frequently linked with the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s ‘Naya Pakistan Housing scheme’.
In an interview with Dawn at his office in London’s upscale Mayfair district, he shares why the project is important to him.
For one, he is an old friend of Prime Minister Imran Khan. “Our friendship developed in 2004.
I used to pick him up from the airport when he used to come here [to the UK]. I found him to be extremely inspirational,” says Mr Mussarat.
Recently, he flew to New York to spend time with Prime Minister Khan while he met the world leaders and American businessmen on the sidelines of the UN event.
Second, the idea of affordable housing — that makes it possible for a working class person in Pakistan to own a home — appeals to him on a very personal level.
UK-based property tycoon says he is ‘distant adviser’ to the government
Now the CEO of a multimillion dollar business by the name of MCR Property, Mr Mussarat says he has come a long way from the days when he contemplated driving a taxi for a living.
He began his journey working at a fast-food restaurant in England after failing his O’levels.
“I left school at 17. I was academically pretty poor; it was a struggle for me, to be honest,” he says, adding that he was working at McDonald’s at the time and was considering driving a cab.
“But, I liked business. I liked working with property. After my father died, my mother was given a small property portfolio by my uncle and I helped her manage that,” he said.
Mr Mussarat says he bought his first house at the age of 18, through a 95 per cent mortgage from the bank and loans from relatives. “That’s how I started buying and renting out houses. I wanted to make something of my life. All of our family friends and relatives were doing really well. I was the black sheep, so I wanted to change that and be successful.”
This idea — that a bank in the UK gave him a mortgage to finance his home — is the underlying reason for his interest in developing a similar housing scheme in Pakistan.
He describes his role in the government’s project as that of a ‘distant adviser’. “Pakistan is a no-go for personal investment for me, because it would be a conflict of interest. I am purely a distant adviser if they need any guidance. I share my vision and my view,” he says.
Mr Mussarat courted controversy when he was pictured at a cabinet meeting and held a press conference to share news about the government’s housing scheme. However, he insists he is doing it without any monetary benefits. He also denies funding the PTI’s pre-election campaign.
“I am personally doing zero investment in Pakistan. I will get criticised for it because I am so closely associated with the prime minister and his cabinet,” he says, adding that his advice is free of charge.
When asked for details about the scheme, Mr Mussarat expanded on the idea and said development has kicked off in Quetta, Rawalpindi and Faisalabad.
“The government is going to be a facilitator in enabling development to take place in Pakistan,” says Mr Mussarat. “Pakistan needs a minimum of 10 million homes now, with a million more per annum. The idea is that the private sector develops them and the government provides easy access to capital, bank loans through either the World Bank or local banks so that mortgages are easier. End users should be able to get planning permissions and NOCs easily, without having to bribe people to get things like utility connections,” he adds.
There is little doubt that he believes firmly in Prime Minister Khan’s ‘Naya Pakistan’ fantasy.
“Generally speaking, the system in Pakistan is broken in virtually every area but it will get better. It will take time but the journey has started,” he maintains.
When asked to comment on the government’s struggle with stabilising the economy, the businessman said: “If you look at the macro level, all third world countries are economically struggling due to currency devaluation. Pakistan has had a tough time because of poor governance and no major structural reforms.”
The prime minister is not the only influential person Mr Mussarat rubs shoulders with. From Bollywood celebrities like Anil Kapoor and Ranveer Singh to the top officials in Pakistan — such as the army chief and former chief justice Saqib Nisar — he is often spotted out for coffee or a cricket match with bigwigs.
“The prime minister has not introduced them to me,” he said, referring to his meetings with officials in Pakistan. “I have met them on my own accord, through social scenes. For instance, I like Sheikh Rashid, I am a fan of his jokes. I think he is a wise man who has political experience. There is a lot to learn from him.”
Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2019