IMTIAZ RAFI BUTT, A DYNAMIC PERSONALITY, A GREAT SON OF A GREAT FATHER
KANWAL SALEEM, LAHORE
Nov 12 - 18, 2007
Mr. Imtiaz Rafi Butt, founder-owner of the prestigious Rafi Group, which has given the city of Lahore some magnificent commercial arcades and housing schemes, is also the Honorary Consul for Malaysia in Lahore. He is the son of late Muhammad Rafi Butt, who had the distinction of being a close associate of the Quaid-e-Azam and sharing with the Quaid's vision of Pakistan's economic future. Late Rafi Butt was the first Muslim in Northern India to establish a bank - the Central Exchange Bank - in 1936. Mr. Imtiaz Rafi Butt is a great son of a great father rendering valuable services for the uplift of the country.
Much more significant than Mr. Imtiaz Rafi's business enterprises is his historical legacy: the dramatic discovery at the age of 40 that his father, Muhammad Rafi Butt, had the distinction of being a close associate of the Quaid-e-Azam and sharing with the Quaid's vision of Pakistan's economic future. Rafi Butt was the first Muslim in Northern India to establish a bank - the Central Exchange Bank - in 1936. He was also a leading figure of Pakistan Movement with a selfless passion for the uplift of Muslim community. This discovery had a tremendous impact on Imtiaz Rafi. It transformed his life, gave it a new direction and led to the founding of the Jinnah-Rafi Foundation in 1989.
Mr. Imtiaz Rafi Butt (IRB) is a debonair, energetic, warm-hearted person in his mid-fifties. He sits in Empire Centre and is the Chairman of Jinnah-Rafi Foundation. In an interview with the Pakistan and Gulf Economist (PAGE), Mr. Imtiaz Rafi talked about the aims and objects of the Jinnah-Rafi Foundation, Rafi Butt's contribution to the Pakistan Movement and the importance of Quaid's ideals.
PAGE- What prompted you to set up Jinnah-Rafi Foundation?
IRB-The reasons were partly personal and partly non-personal. On a Personal plane, it was the desire to find a father who had died at the age of 39 in November 1948 when I was two months old. As the years passed by, I heard much about my father - his success as a businessman, his contact with the Quaid, his ideas about providing a strong industrial base to the prospective homeland of the Muslims. However, this information was fragment and needed to be substantiated with documentary evidence. When I was 40 and well settled that I set out to accomplish this task and put together the pieces that made up my father's life and achievements. Having found the evidence I was looking for, I realised there was more to Rafi Butt than the filial bond and provided the idea to set up the Foundation.
PAGE- What are the objectives of the Jinnah-Rafi Foundation?
IRB- Promotion of research and publication on the Pakistan Movement, dissemination of the Quaid's ideals and inculcation of patriotism among the masses.
PAGE-Your father was a close associate of the Quaid. How close was he to the Quaid?
IRB-It was in the thirties that Rafi Butt became aware of the political stature of the Quaid-e-Azam. The Quaid's charismatic personality, upright and unbending spirit and devotion to the cause of Muslim freedom made a profound imprint on the mind of Rafi Butt. It was in the early forties that he began corresponding with the Quaid-e-Azam. If you go through the letters exchanged between the Quaid and Rafi Butt you will realise the nature of their relationship. Although the Quaid appeared to be distant and aloof to most people yet he had a great deal of affection for enterprising young men. By profession my father was an entrepreneur. He was a leading manufacturer of surgical instruments in India as well as founder Chairman of the first Muslim Bank, the Central Exchange Bank. He was also the Chairman of Hind Enamel Works and an active participant with Mir Laik Ali, Prime Minister of Hyderabad (Deccan), in the formation of Al-Mezan Corporation. Rafi Butt placed his money, resources and talent at the disposal of the Quaid for the cause of Muslim uplift. He offered a wide spectrum of suggestions to the Quaid for bolstering economic and industrial base for Pakistan. The Quaid was attracted to Rafi Butt and responded warmly to his proposals. He visited his factory in 1942 and was gracious enough to visit his residence a few times. The Quaid picked him out from a host of names and appointed him Member of the Economic Planning Committee and Chairman of the sub-committee on Mining and Metallurgy. Rafi Butt was a devout follower of the Quaid and had firmly committed himself to the Quaid's plan for establishing a strong Pakistan.
PAGE-What suggestions did Rafi Butt offer to the Quaid?
IRB-He urged the need for bringing out first-class English daily from Lahore for the effective publicity of Muslim League policies. He himself offered 25% towards its capital cost. The newspaper appeared as the "Pakistan Times" in February 1947. He proposed that a publicity organisation be set up in New York to counter the propaganda of the Congress against the Muslim demand for Pakistan. He discussed with the Quaid the matter of setting up a Chemical Fertiliser Plant and undertook to make satisfactory arrangements for financing the scheme. In 1945 Rafi Butt went on a six-month tour of the United States where he established valuable connections with the captains of industry. On his return he suggested to the Quaid that our country should be developed on the lines as of America in view of the "great similarity between the natural resources of the US and India".
PAGE-One objective of the Jinnah-Rafi Foundation is to awake the spirit of patriotism among the people. To what extent the Foundation has been able to fulfill the purpose?
IRB-The Foundation has by now become a national institution. It holds public functions on all national days. On Independence Day, for instance, the people and the government join hands to make the day a memorable one. There is one vital section of society in which this spirit of jubilation seems to be lacking. It comprises of the most affluent people, who are the backbone and crux of our society. They, for some reason chose to take a backseat. The Foundation is doing everything it can do to revive, particularly among the aforementioned group, that old spirit which inspired our founding fathers and made them accomplish deeds that were seemingly impossible. The creation of Pakistan itself is a miracle. The Foundation is committed to this task. It is doing its best to acquaint the younger generation with that spirit of freedom; to inspire them to take stock of themselves, in accordance with the dreams and aspirations of the Quaid.
PAGE-In the current scenario, do you think that fidelity to the Quaid's ideals can save us from current situation?
IRB-Yes, they can. Quaid had visualised social system built on civilised values, a democratic culture, time-honoured judicial traditions and a modern industrial non-feudal agricultural base. He had visualised a social system based on harmony, discipline, self-reliance and freedom from exploitation. He has left behind a first-rate blueprint for our guidance. Today, when we look at things around us we are struck with dismay. Terrorism, ethnic and sectarian strife, political and economic dissatisfaction threatens to block our way to democracy and progress. Unfortunately, we have pushed aside the ideals our national heroes had during their struggle for freedom. We have lost our inheritance through personal stakes, mercenary passions and shortsightedness. In addition, due to our strategic geo-political location in the world scenario, world powers also have their personal stakes in the region, which has great effects on our policies and directions. The solution to all these problems can be found provided we are prepared to readjust their priorities. I firmly believe that it is only by following the footsteps of the Quaid that we can make Pakistan the land of Quaid's dream.
PAGE-At the beginning of this century, what future do you visualise for Pakistan?
IRB-Pakistanís present is in a lot of confusion because of what this country had to go through in the past. It is combinations of the personal stakes of the world powers and the aftermath of our involvement in the Jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. It seems that we have an unprecedented opportunity; this time the interests of all the powers are inline with the interests of Pakistan. As there appears to be consensus amongst the international community, the only practical way to stop Pakistan from failing is to stabilize it permanently. This can only be done with the establishment of true democratic institutions and a stable progressive economy. Once our political house is put in order through the genuine democracy and stability is achieved, and the way the things are moving which is shifting the interests of world powers' political pendulum in Asia. Emergence of China and India as global players-not to forget vital Russian and US interests in the region, Pakistan does have a great future to benefit from its ever-important geo-political global position. I feel the worst part of Pakistan's struggle is at its last leg and it is poised towards a better future. From an insecure country to Nuclear Pakistan, its existence is secure. Now it has to stabilize itself politically and concentrate on its economic progress.
PAGE- You have been the leading pioneer concerning real estate for almost three decades now; please explain to us what had occurred during the previous 3 years in Real Estate Market?
IRB-The Abnormal hype of the Real Estate market was artificial and had reached absolutely unrealistic proportions, leading to the inevitable collapse which we all recently witnessed.
PAGE-Then, what is the current state of the Real Estate market?
IRB-The current market is unfortunately saturated with so many different projects that traditional investors can be easily confused and are left, unable to distinguish between the lost projects and great opportunities that can be availed in this slump. Due to the nature of this confusion, investors have become insecure leading to this decline in activity of the market.
PAGE-When you say "opportunities" could you please expand on that?
IRB-There has always been a balance between residential and commercial property, look we have to be realistic, the hype that originally caused such chaos in the market was almost completely obsessed with suburban land and then flowed into semi-commercial, commercial land missing commercial plaza all together. Pure land prices skyrocketed exponentially to a point where today there are no buyers and no equilibrium point between supply, demand and prices; although today, you can see that commercial built up property is still under valued. After the dust from the real estate storm settles active commercial plaza will be the logical facet of Real Estate growth and revival.
PAGE-Traditional investors in real estate who have been left with losses after the collapse, should they stay or seek greener postures elsewhere?
IRB- In answering this question one thing has to be realized that traditional investors always tend to stay near Real Estate due to familiarity with the business, like I said before that when the dust settles commercial property will jump straight into the limelight. I admit that the sheer volume of new plazas being advertised these days overwhelms investors but those investors who can cut through the fog and are able to get property in already completed projects will enjoy great appreciation as commercial Real Estate catches up with its residential counter part as so always happens, in order to maintain the balance in the industry as a whole.
PAGE-So the sentiment is that completed commercial projects will bring real estate's revival?
IRB-Is not just that as all investors and most people in general have constantly been bombarded with government statements concerning large increases in foreign investments which can be visibly seen by a lot of new Arab investments going into the billions of dollars, add to that the fact that Pakistan currently has a very significant GDP growth rate, all investment has to eventually flow through commercial conduits. It is common sense to invest in commercial property now while it is still undervalued. In today's commercial project you can see a great and let me say unrealistic disparity in the prices of completed and incomplete projects due to unrealistic margins and calculations of project that where envisaged during the hype which forced prices of land to unfeasible proportions, add to that increased construction costs and market expectations, any one who ventures into the market can see that some completed projects offer rates half as much as their incomplete counterparts. A wise investor always seeks activity within a commercial project because that is truly the heart and soul of a commercial project. Location is extremely important but activity is the crucial difference between a dead investment and a thriving one. In my experience investors who buy shops don't know exactly what to do with them, because of the lack of activity they don't get to see proper returns on their investments until many years if ever. When I realized the scope of this problem and the negative effect it has on the market as a whole, the way was clear, instead of going on and keep constructing new projects, Rafi Group took a brave turn into unchatered waters by gearing its entire infrastructure into value added property. We rigorously invested into creating activity in our current projects, for example Defence Shopping Mall has a brilliantly innovative anchor department/super store by the name of new TesMart, which has created unprecedented activity in a new project in just one year of it opening its door for business. Due to new TesMart our flagship Defence Shopping Mall has MashaAllah come to life and our clients who put their investments and trust in us already see returns and rapid appreciation on their investments. It is really worth visiting and seeing. Due to its success, Rafi Group has recently announced a simple yet extremely innovative investment plan designed for small to medium investors who have been bulled out of Real Estate and small retail business, due to chaotic market conditions. The plan will empower smaller investors with Rafi Groups entire infrastructure granting them the benefits of a large corporation while still remaining a small retail business.