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Opinion

April 8, 2018

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Elitistan

Two great things have happened, one after the other – seemingly unrelated but closely linked. The government has announced an amnesty scheme for owners of undeclared foreign assets and the honourable Supreme Court has ordered to regularise Banigala properties. This is how Elitistan has always worked in Pakistan and will always work unless the poor get their act together.

There are two kinds of housing models for the elite. The first are legal housing societies that follow the model of Western suburban housing. These societies have taken up much of the land around cities, promoted speculation, escalated prices and left almost nothing for the poor. This situation, and the lack of social housing, forces the poor to build houses in informal or illegal housing areas. Since the poor form a majority in Pakistan, such squatter colonies and informal housing settlements are in abundance.

The second model of elite housing copies the techniques adopted by the poor. The rich and middle class build their own illegal housing colonies, not only to save money but also to build large mansions in scenic locations that would not be possible in formal housing colonies. As these areas get populated or regularised, huge benefits can be gained from the escalation in prices.

A third variant is a mix of the two models, innovatively developed by the state itself. In Islamabad, large tracts of land have been allotted to Pakistan’s most powerful people as vegetable farms. After all, the capital does need its own fresh vegetables that can only be grown by senior politicians and senior government servants. Musharraf’s farm house in Chak Shehzad is one example of this model.

Banigala belongs to the second category. The zoning laws of the Capital Development Authority (CDA) forbid any construction in this area because it is too close to Rawal Lake, the lifeline for the residents of Rawalpindi. However, this area has been immortalised in history for all times to come due to the mansion of our saviour, Imran Khan. In fact, another saviour, Mohsin-e-Pakistan, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, was the first to build a house overlooking the lake in 1992.

A decade later, Imran Khan, the man who gave us the world cup and the corruption-corruption narrative, built his mansion on the top of a hill comprising 300 kanals of land. Banigala was a pristine place when Iqbal’s eagle built his nest here. As his presence bestowed a brand to the area, many more followed. Some built huge mansions while others were happy with their regular middle-class houses.

Imran Khan bought this land for Rs50 million, which amounts to Rs170,000 per kanal. Before the current regularisation, the average rate of a kanal of land in the area was 8,000,000. His land is now worth Rs2400 million only because it has been turned illegally into a housing area.

Imran Khan invoked the court to kick the ladder and stop further construction in Banigala. Once again, he got more than he had asked for, though in the process he had to give away more than he was willing to reveal. Imran Khan submitted an NOC, issued by the Union Council of Sohan in 2003; this was found to be a forged document. Muhammad Umar, former secretary of UC Bara Kahu, informed the court that “The [given] NOC is a computerised copy whereas the union council had no computer system and the work was done manually at that time.” Even more interestingly, it was found that Imran Khan was not the owner of the Banigala land in 2003 – which is when the NOC was ‘issued’.

According to reports, Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Saqib Nisar observed: “We think the map of Imran Khan’s house is not approved and the construction is illegal.” However, the CJP ordered the government to get the Capital Development Authority’s (CDA) regularisation plan approved by the federal cabinet in two weeks.

The chief justice also hinted at the secret recipe of a country’s progress during the hearing. He remarked that someone had messaged him in the morning, informing him of the reason behind China’s rise: the country fired around 400 ministers as it took action against all those found negligent.

The government, on its part, has announced another tax amnesty scheme for owners of properties abroad. This can be counted as the seventh such scheme in 18 years.

Accordingly to Zahid Gishkori, an investigative journalist working with this paper, more than 2,401 Pakistani nationals recently acquired costly properties worth over $4 billion in Dubai alone.

Interestingly, Imran Khan benefitted from a similar scheme offered in the year 2000 by military dictator Pervez Musharraf; through this Imran declared his earlier concealed London flat after a lapse of 18 years.

Like beauty, sadiq and ameen too lies in the eyes of the beholder. Nawaz Sharif was sadiq and ameen till a year ago, just as Imran Khan and Asif Ali Zardari are sadiq and ameen now. In fact, Zardari has proved his sagacity and righteousness by going through the process of legal scrutiny and there is every indication that he has become a Sadiq Zardari now. We do not know how long Imran Khan will stay sadiq and ameen, but we know that the rich will always be protected in Pakistan.

The amnesty scheme gives Pakistanis who have offshore assets the option to bring them back by paying only two percent as tax. If they choose to declare their assets to bring back at a later date, tax applicability will be three percent for property and five percent for liquid assets including cash, securities and bonds can be declared on five percent tax. Hidden local assets can also be legalised by paying five percent.

It appears that Elitistan protects itself by attacking itself. It thrives and survives by giving us the impression that there is a small Elitistan within the big Elitistan which is really the real culprit. We also learnt from BBC last week that in Kohistan, a district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – the land of revolution – 40,000 children are studying at 354 schools without buildings. Just wondering how many schools in Kohistan could have been built if our lords had ordered the auctioning of illegal houses in Banigala.

The writer is an anthropologist and development professional.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @zaighamkhan

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