Well, this post is just because I’m fed up of telling sane minded, non-mentally challenged people again and again that there are no ‘official’ lists of wealthiest Pakistanis, or one prepared by a reputable financial outlet (ala Forbes’ listings). Still, the kind of idiocy that goes around has no limits.
Since fake fortune lists are ever more viral and are now annually distributed (with updated numbers) as ‘official’ richest Pakistani lists (and even cross-posted to Wikipedia), I thought it’d be appropriate to take a proper look at the background of these fake lists.
In summary, they are offshoots, developed from a 1998 book called “Who Owns Pakistan” by Shahid-ur-Rehman. He based his work around the 22 families list of 1967 and then worked on that to developed a list of 44 large family conglomerates, some reports from the early 90s when wealth tax was a thing, his analysis of family conglomerates’ ethnic breakdowns, power struggles, corruption scandals and asset details of some of the business groups. It’s a fair read, but it’s Pakistani journalism, with often little substance behind great claims, declarations and massive factual errors that one can spot from the moon.
In the first iteration of the list on the web, 44 people, were included. It is from 2005 and 2006, and seems to have been aimed at spreading rumours about media barons, as they where spreading their wings and viciously attacking Musharraf then. At that point, Mir Shakil (Jang Group) and Majeed Nizami (Nawa-i-Waqt Group) were placed at Nos. 2 and 4 as they were the politically relevant fishes to attack. The list was basically the same as Shahid-ur-Rehman’s list of conglomerates, heck even the biographies of the families were abbreviated from Shahid-ur-Rehman’s book for the most part, adding JS and other names from the stock market boom, and removing old names like Rupali, Calico etc that the new Pakistan wasn’t going to remember. I have no idea about the origin of this list, but the inclusion of Mir Shakil and Majeed Nizami is a possible clue to the origins lying in the shoddy outlets that work for Aabpara. Think the Moin Ansari/Rupee News pool.
In late 2007, with elections looming, a new ‘list’ was issued, reworking on some of the names and adding others to make it seem current (AKD, Malik Riaz etc) and expatriate business owners whose names had come up in other countries where there is more to fortune listings than fake viral material. This list is the father of the current lists, and the ones that have been roaming the Internet since 2007. The names of the political targets were added to bring back the corrupt politician mantra. During the 2005-6 list season, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto/Asif Zardari were nowhere in the lists, as they were not a political threat of signficance. In 2007, conveniently, Asif Zardari and the Sharif made a jump from nowhere in the list, to being at the 2nd and 4th spots respectively. Money they would have made between 2005-2006 and 2007-2008. With the revival of ‘krrrupttt navve ki dihaayi ke siyastadaan’ necessary, the list surfaced in December 2007 on email groups, and made it’s first popular landing at the blog of the dentist son of Arif Alvi, Awab Alvi. From there on, it spread widely and made it to third category newspapers of various kinds, or Aabpara ones, and if I remember correctly, sometime later even noted by mainstream publications like The News. When third rate papers publish the list, in an effort to make it be worth the frontpage, they add that “the list has been prepared very carefully in consultation with leading Real Estate Barons, Stock Moguls, Business Leaders of Virtue and Senior Bureaucrats” after mentioning that the ‘facts’ “[have] been disclose in a list released in the Internet”.
Since then, the list is annual, figures adjusted sometimes, and sometimes even that amount of effort is considered too much. They have convincing political effect and that’s all that matters. To convince the less mentally gifted, a Wikipedia reference is enough, where editors don’t seem to be policing this article. For Nawaz Sharif’s $9.8 Billion wealth (it used to be $1.8 Billion earlier), the references are for American-Pakistani Shahid Khan’s Forbes net worth profile and the annual Forbes List, where Sharif is not mentioned. The Wikipedia reference to Zarari’s alleged wealth is still the third rate paper’s republishing of a viral internet list that was re-purposed for political purposes. For ones interested in a more international approach to verify anecdotes and false stories, The Telegraph’s South Asia correspondent who showed no desire to curtail his hate for BB (openly tweeting about it, and the Pakistan correspondent being an Imran Khan underwear wearing one), provided some ‘PROOF’ with merely converting the alleged $1.8 Billion into pounds and having that printed up. This spirals to listickle websites/sections of outlets picking it up, eg Business Insider picking up The Telegraph numbers to put Zardari at 19 in a list of the richest politicians, citing numbers from a hilarious looking bottom of the pool ‘World Luxury Guide’ list, which lists ‘sources’ as Wikipedia et al. For the other end of the spectrum, long disconnected from reality revolutionaries like Tariq Ali are allowed to rely upon fake lists to allege Zardari’s status as the 2nd richest person (or 4th or 5th, depending on the day of the week), in The Guardian, since comment sections are unpoliced generally.
The only Pakistani ever to make it to a list, where there is some actual investigation into net worth, is Mian Mansha, who in 2010 was #937 in Forbes’ list, having almost made it in 2009, and getting off the list the very next year. American-Pakistanis and British-Pakistanis of course have made it a few times to Forbes as well.
In short, Nawaz Sharif does not have an estimated worth of $1.2 Billion or $1.4 Billion and Zardari definitely is not hovering at $1.8 Billion or more. These are huge sums. In the case of the Sharifs, their wealth is distributed amongst a large family (Mian Muhammad Sharif was one of five brothers) which has split ownership multiple times. A subsequent post will analyze the publicly declared, the publicly known and the controversies of their assets, and their tax statements.