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KARACHI, Dec 8: It was really the late lamented Dr Mahbubul Haq who first sifted the few rich and mighty families from teeming millions in Pakistan. On April 21, 1968, Dr Haq, the then Chief Economist of the Planning Commission, identified Pakistan’s 22 richest families that, according to his calculations, controlled 66 per cent of the industries and owned 87 per cent share in the country’s banking and insurance industry.

Dr Haq placed Adamjees on the third slot after the Dawood and Saigols.

Among the other rich and mighty, he identified the following financial groups: Colony, Fancy, Valika, Jalil, Bawany, Crescent, Wazir Ali, Gandhara, Ispahani, Habib, Khyber, Nishat, Beco, Gul Ahmed, Arag, Hafiz, Karim, Milwala and Dada--the last holding total assets of Rs 90 million. And the big families went into big businesses in which they could summon the greatest expertise. Habibs laid the foundations of Pakistan’s first and the largest bank-- Habib Bank Limited -- and Adamjees set up the Muslim Commercial Bank.

The 22 rich and the mighty had flourished during the Ayubian era, only to be swept away by the wave of nationalisations that followed comrade Z A Bhutto’s coming into power.

A veteran industrialist recalls that in the six years of his iron-fisted rule, Z.A. Bhutto pulled into the nationalisation fold as many as 31 key industries; 13 banks; 12 insurance companies; 10 shipping companies and two petroleum companies.

Out of those, at least two dozen industries and almost all the banks and insurance companies belonged to the 22 families.

Some of those 22 have a record of surviving winds and storms that lashed across the country’s financial field.

Those who were unable to withstand the onslaught vanished into thin air. Fancy, Valika, Ispahani, Beco, Arag, Milwala, Khyber and Hyesons groups are alive only in the books of history.

A friend often refers to the Chinese proverb that says: “Great fortunes do not see third generation.”

The reason being that the grandfather works all his life to build the financial empire; his sons inherit and being brothers somehow manage to keep up the tie; but the third generation is that of cousins, with little love for the other. Thus a feud follows, resulting into disintegration and eventual collapse of many big businesses.

Old timers recall that some of the 22 families were unable to escape the natural divisions and disintegration, which follows one generation after another and thus faded into history.

The ravages of time now see grandsons and granddaughters of those who once frequented the then Karachi’s only five-star hotel ‘Columbus’ and drive around in Chevrolets, toil quietly at nine to five jobs in the US and Canada. But if nature abhors vacuum, it is nowhere more true than in case of Pakistan’s business, economic and financial world. As most of the old guards of communities (Khojas, Memons and Bohras) who had sown the seeds of business and finance in Pakistan, packed up what was left of their wealth and migrated mainly to the US and Canada, the top slots were quickly filled up by others who by the time had amassed the billions.No one is really sure of who owns the greatest amount of wealth in the country for it is in no way verifiable. The reason being that most conglomerates are into everything: industries; real estate; shipping and mainly trading. Since assets of only publicly-listed companies are exposed to the public eye, the entire amount of wealth of a conglomerate would be almost impossible to count.

But efforts have been made to identify groups that could today be placed among the richest. The last list (unofficial) was drawn of 40 families who command the greatest wealth in the country. Some of the known groups included: The Nishat ; Hashoo; Packages; House of Habib; The Saif; Crescent; The Monnoo; Dewan; Lakson; Sapphire; Dawood ; Best Way; Yunus Brothers; Gul Ahmad/Al-Karam Group; Bawany Group; The Servis; The Tata Family; Alam Group; The Guard Group; The Ejaz Group; Tabani Family; Tapal Group; Atlas Group; The Seth Abid Group; Sheikhani Family; Dadabhoy Group; Adamjee Group; Din Group; The Adil Group; Chenab Group; Sitara Group; The Colony Group; Arif Habib and Kassim Dada.

It is easy to check out a few common names in the list of country’s richest in 1968 and now. But the above list is by no means complete.

A knowledgeable old man in the industry says: “It’s just the tip of the iceberg.” Invisible to the public view are the assets of feudals; owners of privately held industries in such lucrative sectors as fertilisers, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and others. And the two sectors that have inarguably prospered the most in last six years: The stock broking and real estate.

Mr Shaukat Aziz and Mr Khursheed Mahmood Kasuri, who a little while ago had to vacate their seats of the Prime Minister and foreign minister, respectively, may be the two richest parliamentarians according to the data with the Election Commission of Pakistan, but all that the poor souls possess is on average Rs400 million! That alas is petty cash.