September 2, 2010

The Bewildering Psyche of Pakistanis

The empathy of the Pakistani nation to brazen acts of publicity is bewildering. Over the last week or so, I have seen a huge fan following develop over the news that Malik Riaz has decided to spend 75% of his wealth to help the flood victims. Noble gesture indeed but scratching below the surface of his surreal announcement reveals a different story.

Malik Riaz shot to fame after his fabled Bahria Town became a hit across the entire Pakistani stratosphere for being a gated getaway for the elitist to enjoy the exuberant Pakistani lifestyle that has never existed for almost the entire majority of the Pakistani nation. How he was able to get his hands on the land that now forms Bahria Town remains controversial. Numerous reports of land grabbing attributed to him and Bahria Town have surfaced time and again in the media, but all were rapidly and briskly expunged.

But that is beside the point. Malik Riaz has never disclosed his income tax returns (I doubt if he even files them in the first place) so we can’t say for sure how much he makes, and how much he gives away. So let’s leave it at that. The more important question is, what credibility is attached to Malik Riaz, and why should people trust him to give up 75% of his wealth?

In earnest, the talk of him spending his wealth on the flood victims appears to be brilliant rhetoric. Probably Malik Riaz, who by his own admission copies ideas from Western gated elitist communities and replicates them in Bahria Town, saw Warren Buffet and Bill Gates giving away their money to charity and thought that’s a brilliant way of raising his public profile. And it has sort of worked.

The thing is though, people like Malik Riaz do not even eat if it does not bring them some sort of profit. The Government of Pakistan is in the process of receiving billions of dollars of aid from across the world and if the UN is to be believed, this aid will continue to flow for some considerable time. Some of this aid will invariably be used for infrastructure rebuilding including housing, a specialty of Bahria Town. So it’s quite simple; Malik Riaz will spend 75% of his wealth to build houses, and he has already stated his intention to do so, and he will sell them back to the Government of Pakistan at a profit. Quite a brilliant way of making unimaginable profit, and winning hearts and minds at the same time.

There is no denying the fact that Malik Riaz is a genius. He does not come from a known background but in spite of all that, he has still managed to achieve the impossible. However, his noble gesture does not fall in well with me because as it so happens, his credibility was always an issue.

I read a comment somewhere regarding Mr Riaz Hussain’s donation, where the commentator has written that so long as Malik Riaz gives back to the people, no one really cares where he got the money in the first place. This sort of incoherent mentality bespoke all of us Pakistanis, and says a lot about the nation that dares raise its fingers against people like Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif with nothing short of august swagger. So according to the majority of us, as long Nawaz Sharif keeps visiting the flood hit regions, as long as Asif Zardari keeps giving trivial sums to the PM relief fund, and as long as Malik Riaz keeps clamoring about helping the poor, we should let them continue robbing us.

I don’t know about you, but that is simply unacceptable to me.