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The man with a mission

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Imtiaz Rafi Butt

A talk with Imtiaz Rafi Butt — Chairman Rafi Group and Jinnah-Rafi Foundation

By Tahir Faruqui
Feb 07 - 13, 2000

Imtiaz Rafi Butt is one of Pakistan's leading real estate developers and Chairman of the prestigious Rafi Group, which has given the city some magnificent commercial arcades and housing schemes.

He is also Chairman of the Jinnah-Rafi Foundation, which he set up in 1989 in memory of the Quaid-e-Azam and his father, Muhammad Rafi Butt. The Foundation is devoted to research and publication, national integration and the dissemination of the Quaid's ideas. "My dear Quaid-e-Azam" (Jinnah-Rafi Correspondence) and "At Quaid's Service", a biography of M. Rafi Butt, are two of its major publications.

Imtiaz Rafi Butt is also the Honorary Consul for Malaysia in Lahore. His office in Empire Centre, Main Boulevard Gulberg is an elegant piece of construction. Large spacious and well-organized, it is tastefully furnished with comfortable settees and other exquisite items of furniture. Dozens of photographs of the Quaid-e-Azam and M. Rafi Butt dating back to the years of the freedom struggle, line the walls and give the place an aura of a historical gallery.

Despite his many pursuits and pressing engagements, Imtiaz Rafi was kind enough to spare some time to speak about his early years, his efforts to discover his father and the effect the discovery had on him. He also spoke on the work of the Jinnah-Rafi Foundation, democracy, the current political and economic scene, the Rafi Group, his new Green Fields project and his vision of Pakistan.

Q. Your father's early death in an air crash must have proved catastrophic for the family.

A. Yes, greater than you can imagine. I was two months old at the time. My father was only 39 when he died. It was a great blow for my mother. A typical housewife, confined to the four walls of the house, she was called upon to do things which she had never thought of. But she stood up boldly to the challenge. She was both a mother and father to me. She looked after my schooling, prepared me for the future and also fought legal matters to retain the little property that she inherited. She wanted me to emulate my father. Held him up as an ideal before me. Told me he was a great man, an outstanding businessman and a well-known social figure of his time. Of course I was a young boy then and could hardly appreciate what my mother was trying to tell me. But as I grew older, the desire to discover my father also grew stronger within me.

Q. When did you eventually discover your father?

A. It was only when I was forty that I set about in right earnest to find out as much as I could about him. Today everyone knows that my father a was leading industrialist of the forties, a close associate of the Quaid-e-Azam, a staunch supporter of the Pakistan Movement. Till a few years ago, however, nothing was known about him. What little was known was based on hearsay. There was no documentary evidence to support his achievements. By a strange quirk of history, he lay in obscurity for forty years. It was only after six years of intense research that I was able to piece together the fragments of his life and discover the man he was.

Q. What impact did these revelations have on you?

A. A tremendous impact. They completely altered my outlook on life and compelled me to rearrange my priorities. To me as a son, the discovery of my father led to self-discovery, to the discovery of my identity and roots. Through Rafi Butt, I " re-discovered" the Quaid, the Pakistan Movement, and, in the final analysis, Pakistan. My newfound legacy impelled me to embark on a new mission to promote the ideas that were dear to the Quaid and my father. I set up the Jinnah-Rafi Foundation for the purpose.

Q. The Quaid died in 1948. Since then successive governments have played havoc with his legacy. Did not all this make the task of the Foundation a difficult one?

A. Yes, it did. It was like swimming against the current. Some heads of the government spared no effort to erase the memory of the father of the nation. The Quaid posed a threat to their reckless ambitions and schemes. They did not resist from their course even after they tore the country apart. Despite the dispiriting climate, the Foundation pressed on and highlighted the thoughts, words and deeds of the Quaid-e-Azam on all national occasions. It impressed on everyone who was willing to listen that the paramount reason for our failure as a nation lay in our ignoring the principles laid down by the Quaid. I took occasion to remind our leadership, time and again, through the courtesy of the press how imperative it was to rectify our course and make democracy, social justice, fair play, the corner-stone of our politico-economic edifice. It was happy to note that General Pervez Musharraf touched on this subject in one of his earliest addresses when he told the nation that to progress we must follow in the footsteps of the Quaid-e-Azam. His 7-point agenda for reform, including his desire to usher in genuine democracy, is close to what the Quaid had specified in his speech in the last year of his life.

Q. Talking of democracy, do you think it has a future in Pakistan?

A. It is not a question of democracy having a future in Pakistan. Democracy is a must; it is the sheet anchor of Pakistan. There is nothing wrong with democracy. But there is something positively wrong with some of its practitioners. These people are pseudo-democrats: democrat in words but fascist in deeds. They played havoc with democratic institutions. No wonder they brought a bad name to politicians and democracy. The Chief Executive is right when he says that he wants to get rid of sham democracy. Anything that undermines or impairs the true spirit of democracy must be eliminated. Representatives should represent the people and not their own vested interests. It will take some time before democracy becomes truly people-oriented and responds to their needs, hopes and aspirations. Democracy is the only system that holds out hope to the people of Pakistan.

Q. The military government has been in power for almost four months. Has it accomplished anything noteworthy during this period?

A. Yes, it has managed to control the rot and bring order and stability. It has, of course, not achieved its targets. These are still a long way off. But it has improved the socio-political climate of the country. It has restored the honour of the judiciary, the press and financial institutions. It is determined to reform the taxation, electoral and police system. And it has made visible headway in these areas. This is no mean accomplishment. Given adequate time it will certainly achieve its targets.

Q. The previous government had brought the country to the verge of an economic collapse. Has the present one managed to reverse the trend?

A. Yes, the government has taken some significant steps in that direction. It has tightened up the taxation rules and financial institutions. It has checked corruption and launched a recovery drive against the plunderers. It has had some success in this area but a lot more still needs to be done. The reckless attitude of the previous governments and the consequent political uncertainty had led to recession in the country. The overall economic situation was given with industry stagnant, stock market low and inflation on the rise. But a marked change has come about during the last two months. Things are beginning to look up. There has been a recovered turnover. The business volume has touched the 462 million mark. There is optimism in the market. The stock exchange index has shot up from 71 points to 133 points. Real estate too is bound to boom. Real estate has a bright future and is still the best safe haven for investors.

Q. A word about real estate development. You are a leading developer and Chairman of the Rafi Group. What has your Group achieved so far?

A. The Rafi Group has given the city of Lahore some notable buildings. It has pioneered multi-purpose commercial complexes. Landmark on Jail Road, Central Plaza in Garden Town and Empress Towers on Empress Road are noteworthy examples of our efforts in this regard. Empire Centre in Main Boulevard Gulberg introduced a new concept of a shopping mall. Green Acres farm-housing scheme was the first of its kind in the suburbs of Lahore. It attracted the Lahore elite who bought plots and constructed their houses collectively there. Defence Shopping Mall in Defence Boulevard is also a trail-blazer and the first to offer a "one-use only" shopping mall. There will be shopping activity on all the floors and plenty of places for car parking. Our basic principle is to deliver the future of tomorrow today. We are innovative in our outlook and welcome change.

Q. Your projects always attract a lot of customers. What is the secret of your success?

A No magic formula or shortcut to be sure. The secret, perhaps, lies in our professional attitude. The clients have confidence in us. They know that their investment will be secure; their money is safe. In land development it is the credibility that counts, not the number of projects that you have undertaken or completed. And in the matter of credibility, Rafi Group is right at the top in Pakistan. I may also mention that as Chairman I am very sensitive to complaints coming from my clients. I am glad to say that I have not received a single complaint so far. Apart from all this our success rests equally on sound planning. We weigh several factors — location, potential for growth etc. — before launching a project. We also ensure that the terms and prices remain within reasonable limits. I may add that every investor of the Rafi Group has profited over the last 20 years that the company has been in business. Our projects have by and large appreciated twofold or more over ranging spans of time.

Q. Is the Rafi Group planning to launch some new project?

A. Yes, we shall very shortly be launching the Green Fields farm-housing scheme. In 1987 we had launched a similar scheme, namely, the Green Acres farm-housing scheme. It was a great success. It was a new idea and offered 4, 6, 8 canal pieces with all civic amenities to those who were in search of a peaceful haven amid green surroundings away from the noise of the city. Of late there has been a growing demand that we launch a scheme on the same lines as Green Acres. We are doing so. Green Fields is ideally located on Raiwind Road and is just a 20-minutes drive from Liberty Market. Raiwind Road is also the spot designated for the setting up of the future Safari Park, Disney World and University of Information Technology. The Lahore Ring Road will also pass through this place. It is also now the most favoured Motorway exit and entry point from and to Lahore than the Ravi Bridge.

I may mention here that the prices of land have remained stagnant for the last ten years or so. Co-operative Banks had invested in real estate. The Banks collapsed but the prices did not rise; on the contrary they slumped. But own things are picking up. There are some positive indicators. Raiwind Road is a considerably developed area and the prices of land are already on the rise there. Many members of the elite have built posh houses on Raiwind Road and moved to this exclusive area. Green Fields will prove an attractive scheme, as it will provide the customer the best of both the worlds — the service and convenience of the city and the peace and tranquillity of the countryside.

Q. One last question. What future do you visualize for Pakistan?

A. Pakistan's tomorrow depends on the actions our leadership takes today. We achieved independence 53 years ago but we have not learnt to think like people of a free and sovereign nation. We have still not been able to divest ourselves of bigotry and prejudice, regionalism and sectarianism, nepotism and corruption, myth and superstitions. Democratic institutions wait to be strengthened. Look around you. A massive revolution has come about in the field of knowledge and information. We must take cognizance of these profound changes, overhaul our centers of higher learning accordingly, encourage professionalism and give primacy to research, science and technology. Pakistanis are bright and intelligent people — hardworking and dedicated. They have the zeal to forge ahead. After all it is our own bunch of scientists who have given us a nuclear umbrella, developed missile technology and who will accomplish much more in the days to come. We will certainly succeed in putting our house in order and will, in not too distant a future, stand shoulder to shoulder with the advanced and enlightened nations of the world.