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Pakistani Businessmen villains or vilified ?

Are Pakistani businessmen villains or vilified ? The article looks at the facets of Pakistani business community and successive government’s times.

“While many businessmen in the business world of Pakistan were eager to see an armored savior taking over to put things right. Others wished to move out of the shadows of the past and partake in the process of economic restructuring.

Even the enlightened corporate leaders and businessmen fondly recalled the 60s, 80s and 2000s eras when they enjoyed official patronage and protection. There was a semblance of stability that allowed them to build and expand their business empires.

Some, however, acknowledge alienating from society in their zest to make most of the money-making avenues. They wished to reconnect by being socially more responsible for mending their public image.

“Who doesn’t need a social endorsement? said a top business tycoon.

“I have worked very hard to succeed. But in terms of respect, beyond my immediate circle, I am demonized, called names. It hurts. While country is set to make adjustments under the IMF tutelage, I urge the business class to delve into retrospection.

Let’s try to beat the competition on our own strength instead of looking for tariff shields. Honor all relevant laws, improve productivity, curb wastages, invest in the workforce. Why not share profits more equitably, stop splurging riches when people have fallen on hard times. Let’s shift focus from the laundry list of demands to finding ways pulling country out of current quagmire.

the Mistrust, chaos and negativity against Facts

In the background discussion on the trust deficit in society, particularly the dark perception of the business class, the role of trade union leaders and the media, which often portray the private sector in negative hues, was mentioned.

Names of Agha Hasan Abedi of Bank of Commerce and Credit International, Malik Riaz of Bahria fame, Shoaib Ahmed Shaikh of Axact and Arif Naqvi of Abraj also came up for their role in maligning the reputation of Pakistani firms as businessmen.

The questions were forwarded to key trade bodies such as the Pakistan Business Council, Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry and some relevant ministries.

They did not respond in time. However, some business leaders and officials did share their minds at length.

They found the topic relevant, which may be because the elite in Pakistan dread mob attacks on their assets if the economic situation worsens further, which they fear might happen before it improves.


“I don’t care if it’s one or the other party, a technocrat or an army general ruled. The slide must stop and stop right now. The bad situation is clearly waiting to turn ugly”. A nervous executive, expressing relief over some progress on the IMF deal said.

Bashir Jan Mohammad, the biggest edible oil importer, Chancellor IBM who heads multiple companies, sounded concerned. He advised his colleagues to learn to share their prosperity with their employees and society. He wanted the induction of professionals in family-owned business groups to improve their proficiency and match global standards.

A government insider believed that big businesses in Pakistan are viewed as outcomes of collusions and concessions. “The scepticism, however, is not unfounded given the dubious trades and trends known to all.

“Unfortunately, it has never been a priority or an intent to put institutional checks and balances in place to penalise the plunderers and promote entrepreneurship. The regulatory bodies responsible, like the Securities & Exchange Commission of Pakistan, Competition Commission of Pakistan, Federal Board of Revenue, etc, are also not designed for the job.”

connivance of officials

Majyd Aziz, President of Global Compact Network Pakistan, who headed multiple key trade bodies earlier, said even if the business class evokes public resentment, no one can deny its role in the country and its progress. He pointed out that the growing concentration of wealth is not possible without the connivance of officials and rulers.

“Workers are denied fair wages and consumers are overcharged, accounts are fudged, money is laundered and parked overseas under the watch of the country’s rulers,” said Mr Aziz.

He also blamed ‘envy’ and lack of appreciation for the work that goes into business success. He did not see a problem in profit per se but in its composition and distribution. “Sharing can’t be just with the shareholders and government but also with the employees and the community”.

Enlightened Leadership

On the way forward, he said, “An enlightened corporate leadership alone can save the corporate world from itself. The space for windfall profits and illegally accumulated wealth, monopolization, cartelization, and cronyism is narrowing.

There is a need to engage closer with workers and share success stories with youth, promote a culture of entrepreneurship and broaden the scale/scope of corporate social responsibility activities to earn public confidence.”

Nasim Beg, a well-reputed executive who sits on multiple boards, identified 11 factors that projected businessmen as villains. These included the rich closing their ranks by building deeper nexuses, the repulsive social conduct of the nouveau rich and the populist stance against 22 families.

Financial Security

Misuse of bank loans under the government’s patronage, the portrayal of tax evaders as hardened criminals, and the under-projection of model businessmen such as Babar Ali also vilify the business community.

The focus on financial as opposed to power corruption by the bureaucracy, selective vilification and dark portrayal of businessmen and lenders in all art forms make business people the bad guys. In his opinion, some other segments of the elite class in Pakistan are much worse, but flaws of business get more attention.

One way to address the issue is to expose the real culprits fearlessly besides greater participation of the business class in social causes like better health and universal education.

Corruption in Private Sector

Mr Aziz declined to accept Abedi, Riaz, Shaikh or Naqvi as true faces of the business community. “It would be unfair to consider business a crime. But it does show that corruption is not exclusive to politicians. The private sector has its share of world-renowned champions.”

“The lack of trust will continue as long the society fails to offer a fair chance of upward mobility to the public”.

Courtesy: The opinion article written by Afshan Subohi is origially Published in the The Business and Finance Weekly section of the Dawn

Zahra Sikandar
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