Land of opportunity

Published May 20, 2024
The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

FIRST: it’s not necessary that every investigative story like Dubai Unlocked can or will, in and of itself, cause the government to fall or the prevailing order to be unsettled. Sometimes, such journalistic works only confirm what we already know to be true which, in this case, is that Pakistan is a poor country with some very rich people.

And that, more often than not, those people are the very ones who tend to control the levers of power, often using them like the lever of a slot machine in Las Vegas, except with a near-guarantee of a massive payout.

All told, as per the data on record Pakistanis own about $12.5 billion worth of properties in Dubai, although former FBR chairman Shabbar Zaidi thinks the actual value is closer to, or possibly in excess of $20bn. Now, this may not be a huge sum by global standards but given the perpetual penury of Pakistan, it’s pretty darn staggering.

Also bear in mind that there are a lot of prominent and not-so-prominent Pakistanis who happen to be clearly resident or partially resident in Dubai but do not show up on this list, leading one to believe that the properties they ‘own’ are not in their names or the names of their relatives.

The Dubai leaks data can be the starting point for a deeper probe.

That said, some important disclaimers are necessary: owning property in Dubai or anywhere else in the world is not an illegal act or — in and of itself — evidence of any kind of financial fraud or wrongdoing as has been repeatedly stated by all the publications who have reported on the uncovered data.

Certainly, many of these properties have been declared with Pakistani tax authorities and are above board, but at the very least we must expect the FBR to inquire as to whether that is so for all the names listed in the leaks. Thus far, we have been promised that this will indeed happen with the FBR chairman promising that if he has access to the data as well as information on residence status, and if the political will is present, he will certainly go after tax evaders.

While that’s a lot of ifs and buts it would certainly be a more worthwhile use of the FBR’s time than trying to block the SIMs of non-filers. If nothing else, such data can prove to be the starting point for a deeper investigation in Pakistan, provided anyone has the will to do so.

And therein lies the rub: accountability, when it comes, usually tends to target politicians and that too, those politicians it happened to be convenient to target. In the not-so-distant past we have seen that an Iqama or an unpaid salary is enough to have a prime minster knocked out by using Black’s Law Dictionary as a cudgel.

We have seen a watch prove sufficient to imprison another former PM when the need arose, and at the same time we have seen much larger crimes go ignored and unpunished (or even rewarded) when it is expedient to do so.

An investigation, if one were to take place, must then also include those former military personnel who have such properties as well because while our civilian rulers do now and then find themselves at the receiving end of the authorities’ ire — selective as that may be — this part of our ruling elite is usually beyond any sort of reproach or accountability.

But despite all the hoopla and hand-wringing, Dubai is and will remain a safe haven not just for one’s wealth but also for one’s self; after all where better to flee to if the heat gets turned on here at home as it so often does?

Another thing that the leaks prove is that — contrary to popular opinion — Pakistan is truly a land of opportunity where one can rise from the humblest of backgrounds to be able to acquire pricey foreign properties, and all by dint of hard work.

There’s no better example of this than former SSP Rao Anwar himself who, despite having a salary of some Rs95,000, has managed to provide his wife with some five properties (unless of course she has the resources to acquire them herself) with two of those properties jointly owned by their son. One must, of course, appreciate a family man, as Mr Anwar so clearly is.

Then of course there’s Dr Mukhtar Hamid Shah, a highly successful doctor specialising in illegal kidney transplants, who is also listed as the owner of nine Dubai properties. Then there’s Hamid Samoo, whose profession is listed as a driver but who apparently drives so darn well that he can afford a property in Dubai.

Now, some may accuse these worthies of having gained their wealth illegally but I feel that’s just jealousy.

The writer is a journalist.

X: @zarrarkhuhro

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2024

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