Pakistan’s most influential man is above the law

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In a recent development, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has declared the allotment of Bahria Town Karachi land illegal and stopped it from selling any further plots and houses. The decision came as a surprise as Bahria Town is the largest real-estate empire in Pakistan and its owner, Malik Riaz, is considered one of the most powerful and influential people in the country.

Riaz, a close aide to the politician Asif Zardari, has always enjoyed good connections in the corridors of power, and it is not the first time that he or one of his housing schemes has faced legal problems. Last year the Bahria Town rampage claimed the lives of two people, wounded around 150, including a dozen people who were paralyzed for life. The chief justice of Pakistan took notice of the incident, but nothing was done to bring the culprits to justice.

Since media groups (except for Dawn) do not run stories on Riaz and/or the alleged scams perpetrated by his housing society, Bahria Town, fearing a cut in his housing society’s advertising budget, he is almost untouchable.

The rise of Riaz is an interesting story in itself, as it shows how the legal, political and social structure in Pakistan can be exploited, and how it is tailor-made to strengthen the ruling elite and influential people.

Riaz was a white-collar worker trying to make ends meet by doing different kinds of work. In 1979, he took a loan of few thousand rupees from a friend and secured a small contract in the military engineering complex. This was the beginning of the largest Pakistani real-estate empire

Riaz was a white-collar worker trying to make ends meet by doing different kinds of work. In 1979, he took a loan of few thousand rupees from a friend and secured a small contract in the military engineering complex. This was the beginning of the largest Pakistani real-estate empire.

At that time, Riaz was a lower-middle-class man who was not even able to get his daughter treated in hospital and had to sell his wife’s jewelry to pay her medical bills. He also went through the pain of watching his children endure hunger. So he learned the lesson that this society only honors and respects the rich.

With the first small contract, he started building relationships in the civil and military construction sectors. Gradually, he started to build houses for the movers and shakers and finally came up with the idea of a housing society, one that can now easily be termed one of the most luxurious and largest housing schemes in Pakistan.

With the help of his connections, Riaz used the name of the Pakistan Navy for his housing society. Although it filed a case against him for using its name, not a single judge was able to pass a verdict against Riaz or stop him from using it.

Riaz, with the help of his strong connections in the civil and military establishments, gradually expanded his business. He grabbed land from people who were not ready to sell and also bought land all around Pakistan at low prices to expand his real-estate business across the country.

He successfully removed all the legal hindrances in his way by buying the judges in the courts and officers in law-enforcement and making friends in the establishment. In an interview a few years ago with Geo News, Riaz said that every man can be bought and that he used his money and influence to get approval for his housing authority.

Riaz established profitable relationships and provided perks and privileges to police officers, judges, politicians and a few high officials in the army,

In the words of the famous journalist and author, Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, Riaz can be best described as one of the many non-state actors that the Pakistani state is in the habit of partnering with. Be it Riaz, Sipha-e-Sahaba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba or others, these non-state actors have become a problem due to their links with the state, which they then in turn use and show off for enhancing their power. And now, Riaz is considered one of the richest and most influential Pakistanis.

Riaz’s success in building a business empire by exploiting the loopholes in the legal and political system proves that the lectures against corruption and discussions on morals look so fascinating and ideal on the talk shows and in newspapers but have nothing to do with reality. This is a situation where you have to pay a bribe even to get your child’s birth certificate; where you have to use contacts and influence to get admitted to a government hospital for treatment; where even getting a child enrolled at a government school requires either bribery or a phone call from an influential person; and where even to get a place to bury a loved one requires a bribe or phone call from an influential person. It is almost impossible not to surrender to the system by accepting that might is right.

So if Riaz, instead of submitting to the system and begging to the influential, decided to exploit the system to his advantage, which most of us also do in an individual capacity according to our ability and position, and as a result became such a powerful man that even the influential and movers and shakers are now in his hands, it is actually not his fault. It is the fault of our hypocritical standards and practices.

Until we start respecting the law and stop disrespecting people on the basis of their social position, and stop saluting the people who have big financial or influential positions and do not strive to make a balanced social structure, people like Riaz will arise every now and then.

A man who was once unable to take care of his children properly because of lack of finances has become a tycoon on whose charity thousands of people in Pakistan eat three meals daily or get their health treatment for free. He has earned enough even for future generations and has made sure that his grandsons and  their grandsons will not have to suffer the miseries that millions in this country suffer.

Whether the Supreme Court and government agencies are able to hold him accountable remains the most important question, as it is not about bringing a single individual to justice, it is about discouraging the mindset of exploiting the system and the weak in society.

If the courts and other legal institutions are not able to apprehend him this time, then it will appear that appeals to the rule of law, abiding by the law, saying no to corruption, and avoiding taking the law into one’s own hands are just sloganeering intended to somehow keep the common citizens submissive to this rotten, hierarchical and manipulative social order.

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