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The rich boys of Pakistani politics

November 17, 2011

ISLAMABAD: Size up that house of yours and see if it comes close to one of the following: the Mian brothers' sprawling mansion in Raiwind, Lahore; the Mian brothers' apartment in the posh Park Lane neighbourhood of London; the Bhutto family's Surrey Palace in England; Zardari's properties in France; Imran Khan's hill-top farmhouse in the scenic suburbs of Bani Gala, Islamabad; or the residence of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief in London. (Well, skip the last for what we have seen and heard, it's far less extravagant and ostentatious than the ones before it.)

If the answer is 'no' then you don't 'size up' for the media men of this country and are not worth air time. For the time being, who owns what and where has taken everyone by storm.

It had all started when the new blue-eyed boy of the nation, Imran Khan, during his October 30 rally in Lahore threatened to launch a civil disobedience movement if politicians did not declare details of their assets both within and outside the country.

The civil disobedience we are as yet uncertain of, but he did manage to shake politicians and political parties as everyone since then has gone into over-drive – faces known and unknown come on television, defending what their Quaids and chairpersons own and do not own.

Senator Faisal Raza Abdi of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) argued that it was forefathers of President Zardari who had bought a palace in France for summer vacationing. Senator Pervez Rashid of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) could be heard offering to resign from the party membership and lose his seat in the Senate if someone could prove any wrong committed in erecting the Raiwand-homes by the Mian family.In a similar vein, Omar Cheema of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) carries more than one explanation to justify the legal ownership of Mr Khan's property rights in Islamabad.

Just the other day while talking to a private TV channel, Mr Khan himself explained how he sold his property in London and bought a sprawling piece of land in Bani Gala of Islamabad. In a detailed response, the PTI chairman said he was in possession of all his income records from day one and willing for scrutiny at any forum.

And it is the regular contribution of die-hard party loyalists that keeps the party's office in London running, explained MQM spokespersons.

But the fundamental issue here is far deeper than what who owns. Regardless of whether these properties were erected through legal means, one is awestruck to see them and hard-pressed to ask this simple question: can those who reside in such mansions and palaces be able to feel or even understand the pain of somebody whose mud-made house had been swept away by floods in Sindh, can they ever reflect on the feelings of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who are shelter-less, or know what it is to toil on land like a poor farmer and yet be insulted by the landlord daily?

If these people and their families have had such astute business skills, why not use those skills for the betterment of their constituents? I can rant and rave and talk till I am blue in the face, but lesser said the better.

For now the attitude of the country's political class or rather the elite can be summed up by F Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 short story titled 'Rich Boy', whose opening passage says: “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.”

Indeed, the rich boys of Pakistan are different and for now they will not understand what it means to be “not rich”.