IT is with a sense of great inadequacy, immense embarrassment that I admit I have never seen, met or talked to Malik Riaz, the property tycoon currently in the news.
If this admission makes you think I am a worthless former editor, a rubbish columnist, then don’t feel awkward about expressing your thoughts. You’ll only be mirroring my deepest, most honest assessment of myself, almost writing a chapter of my autobiography for me.
Malik Riaz’s power was, and I suspect will remain, so enormous that he was only ever mentioned in the media when he didn’t disapprove of the news item. Exceptions were there but they were just that: exceptions.
So now that he is being talked about openly in the media, is his power on the wane? Don’t jump to conclusions. At least six — or was it seven or eight? —journalists who have met the mesmerising man have said he wanted them to talk about him. Well not exactly about him.
He actually wanted them to talk about his allegation that his conglomerate had been paying huge sums of money to the chief justice’s son, mainly because of the young man’s lineage. There are suggestions (and nothing more) that this was done to seek judicial favours.
It is ironical that none of the journalists were impressed sufficiently with the ‘evidence’ Malik Riaz purportedly exhibited before them to make it the subject of a story. In fact, the journalist who eventually ‘broke’ the story from the US didn’t even say if he had met the gentleman.
He didn’t send the story for use by the outlets in the media empire that employs him as one of the apex editors, preferring instead to release it in the form of a web-TV interview from Washington. He denies his own group spurned/spiked his story. Several journalists belonging to this group are now on the list of those who’ll depose before the Supreme Court in a matter which (though there’s no evidence yet) may bring discomfort to the chief justice even though his own role is untarnished.
Pakistan is a country where, I am told only one medical malpractice suit has ever been decided because doctors don’t testify against doctors. Media practitioners have been no different and dutifully stayed away from criticising each other.
It is again the magic of Malik Riaz that this long-held unwritten rule is starting to fray as some of our talk-show hosts, for whom a friend uses the sobriquet ‘throats’, have started to attack other talk-show hosts in unpleasant terms. Charges are flying of plots, houses, even a foreign villa changing hands.
I am told the tycoon is a great property developer. He uses some of the best professionals in urban planning and design in his projects. He pays them top dollar, one of them told me. No, no. This isn’t to suggest his magic and power are due to these professional values.
His forte is said to be ‘value addition’. Get land cheaply and develop it well for extraordinary profits. On occasion when the seller hasn’t been willing, there are recorded instances of un-kosher means of acquisition. Who knows how many such instances are unrecorded.
Look at the total estimated annual advertising spend of no more than Rs30bn in Pakistan. Now see what the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is investigating in just one case against the developer: charges of Rs62bn of land grabbing. Fair to say no case has been filed yet.
Wouldn’t you say a man with such spending power can appear/disappear from the media at will, given that the recession has been a greater curb on media freedoms than perhaps dictatorship was in times gone by?
Compromises have certainly been made even if editorial principles have not been totally slaughtered at the altar of commercial interest. More competition, a fierce struggle to hire and retain talent with spiralling costs, unreal ambitions have hit all media groups hard.
Goes to prove Pakistan is still to have someone with the power to rival Rupert Murdoch whose News International empire publications could beat the biggest political parties in the UK to submission. This is not to say some may not harbour such ambitions.
Here similar power will only be in the hands of a super-wealthy wheeler-dealer. Also, wouldn’t it be naïve to express surprise when the tentacles of this power seek out the most seemingly secure, unreachable and incorruptible of power centres. That he is a generous friend, mentor and even an interlocutor to top political parties/politicians in the country is a matter of public knowledge. If his executive jet is at the disposal of a minister, opposition leaders ride in his armoured SUVs. I’m told he’s a financier of political rallies.
He is a business partner with the army in the DHA schemes (and surely with army men elsewhere) and if the list of his staff present at the Supreme Court hearings is any indication, after Fauji Foundation he must be the biggest employer of retired army officers.
In fact, journalists have speculated on who might be behind the ‘conspiracy, the plot’ against the chief justice. Depending on their orientation, they have blamed the PPP or the agencies.
Don’t you wonder why nobody has thought that it could be the same spook that avowedly and so arduously created the democratic structure in 2002 and designed its control mechanism?
Yes, if the good general could head the ISI’s political cell to further his boss’s interests, could he not be heading the Bahria (c’mon, not the Navy) political cell to do exactly the same for his current boss? I admit this is mere speculation.
One could go on but stop one must. There are far more fundamental issues at stake. Do you think the quality of my research on the magic of the man was magical enough to get me a villa on the French Rivera? As a dodgy dual national that’s the least I expect. I am waiting by the phone.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.