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Thursday, February 15, 2024

The unprecedented rise of the Sharifs of Gawalmandi

While in Gawalmandi, Mian Sharif lived with his six brothers in a few-marla house in a side street and struggled to survive; their current Jatti Umra Estate is spread over 175 acres of prime flat land with the canal running in front of it.

Now that Gawalmandi is being discussed both by the leader of the house and opposition, I decided to share my memories of the place. As a person who grew in the city, I usually ask my students about various locations in the metropolis. There are several approaches to the place, get on to the Hall Road and keep going and you will get there, or go to Shimla Pahari and follow Abbot/Nisbet road and it will be on your right opposite from the Mayo Hospital gate.

The place is known for its eateries. As my father loved to eat, we went there quite regularly. Of particular interest were the green oranges or ‘meethays’ as they’re called, which were chilled in a huge slab of ice and served fresh after sprinkling black pepper. There were small medicine shops to support the hospital. Then there was a huge Evacuee Ahata from where the Government Transport Service (GTS) operated its minivans and station wagons. My father’s friend, Dr Pir Ifthikaruddin had his clinic there. Dr Akhtar Ali founded the first Diagnostic Clinic called Cardex.

Shifa Medicos was another big name of the area that has grown manifold but not even close to the unprecedented rise of the Sharifs, the non-entity of the area. While respectable people lived there, it was never considered a high-end part of the city. Mostly we went there either for food, medicine or travel to Rawalpindi in the comfort of air-conditioned coaches.

Read more: Is Nawaz Sharif speaking Ajit Doval’s language?

GTS then built the Transport House across from Faletti’s Hotel on Empress Road and started to operate their service from there. Occasionally I had to go to the few shops adjacent to Masjid Mai Laddo, where rubber seals and joints were built for automobiles (commonly known as ‘jan’ by the mechanics). Also the red buses of the Model Town Society (MTBS) turned back from the roundabout in front of the hospital gate where the electricity office was located in a place called Bharat Building. It was once the head office of the company that supplied power to the city of Lahore before WAPDA took over. It was certainly a very busy place where common folks lived and worked for a modest but honest living.

In the year 1963, while cycling through the area, I met with a very serious accident outside the gate of Mayo Hospital. It was a deep head injury; thanks to a staffer of the Daily Pakistan Times—my life was saved by his timely action. After my operation and hospital stay in the best medical facility of its time, I returned home. A year later, I had the chance of visiting someone’s house in Gawalmandi. One of my father’s distant relatives was married to the son of Sheikh Islamuddin, a very old and well-respected family of the area. Sheikh Sahib had just passed away and we went there for condolences. It was a large carpeted room with very little furniture, we sat on the floor; what surprised me was that our relative was a widow, the son had died earlier but she continued to live with her in-laws despite being issue-less. They were very honourable people who kept and supported the widow of their son till her last day.

Rise of the Sharifs

The Sharifs of Gawalmandi were non-entities who had a small foundry near Ram Gali not too far from there. Here they melted scrap to produce manhole covers which were then supplied to the Lahore Municipal Corporation (LMC). The business was named Ittefaq Foundry, which was manned by Mian Sharif and his six brothers. Mian Sahib was very popular in official circles as he was known for lavish tipping of the lower staff and gifts for the officers. It is widely rumoured that the stolen covers were purchased and then resupplied by this business outfit.

Read more: Shehbaz Sharif admits to meeting with COAS, DG ISI before APC

They got a big break during the industrialisation drive of the Ayub era. Two industrial plots were allotted to them in the Kot Lakhpat area, on one they built the Ittefaq Foundry, while on the other they managed to build seven mansions after getting NOC (no objection certificate) from the ICI Paint factory next door.

During that period, two large foundries were built in the industrial area of Lahore. Batala Engineering Company (BECO) was owned by Mian Latif, an outstanding engineer himself. It was a state-of-the-art facility much ahead of its time. Premier Chou-en-Lai visited the factory during his state visit in the sixties. Compared to BECO, the Ittefaq Foundry owned by the Sharif brothers was primitive. Both factories were nationalised in the seventies by the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB). While Ittefaq was named LEFO (Lahore Engineering and Foundry), BECO was called PECO (Pakistan Engineering Company).

In 1976, to complete my degree in Metallurgical Engineering, I was sent to LEFO for an internship. It was a dirty and primitive place. Cow dung was used as a binder for mould making. After every mould, I had to wash my hands several times to get rid of the odour. The day my internship was completed, I thanked my stars with a wish never to return to such a 19th century facility where corners were cut to make money while ignoring human dignity and values. After the takeover, the family fell on hard times as their empire built on short cuts collapsed. The Ittefaq Group then diversified into other businesses like ice-making and land development. After the change of government in July 1977, their fortune changed again.

In order to consolidate his power, Zia wanted to create a new but subservient leadership in Punjab. Lahore was the bastion of the People’s Party; Bhutto willed to be buried here. Lt. General Ghulam Jilani Khan who was the governor at that time was asked for names. He sent three nominations: Nawaz Sharif from Lahore, Hamid Nasir Chatta from Gujranwala and Chaudhry Ghafoor from South Punjab. Nawaz Sharif was inducted as Finance Minister and later Chief Minister (CM) and finally managed to become the Prime Minister by using the age-old and tried colonial election manipulative mechanisms.

Read more: Nawaz Sharif joins Twitter

With their influence on the rise, they managed to get their foundry back on very favourable terms from state control. C M Latif was offered BECO together with its accrued liabilities which he refused. PECO is now defunct and shut down, while Ittefaq Foundry was demolished for land development and the sale of plots.

Sharif group: From a few-marlas house to 175-acre Jati Umra state 

With political power and their tried tricks of business, Mian Sharif decided to form the Sharif Group with his three sons, leaving his brothers behind. From political nobodies of Gawalmandi, the Sharif fortunes started to grow manifold mostly by overriding serious barriers of conflict of interest. While in Gawalmandi, Mian Sharif lived with his six brothers in a few-marla house in a side street and struggled to survive; their current Jatti Umra Estate is spread over 175 acres of prime flat land with the canal running in front of it.

Across the road, there is the Sharif Medical City and Education City. The roads and the waterway have all been built with public funds. The entire security apparatus and staff was also paid for by the Punjab Government. The Raiwind Area has been developed around the Sharif Complex while the city remains a mess where real people live together with the Tableghi Jamat.

There is no shame in earning money through honest hard work but the backdoor approach adopted by the Sharifs must be condemned. They have built an empire but face serious charges of corruption, money laundering, land grabbing, record burning, their business specific SROs have created a mess in the civil administration.

By contrast to the Sharifs of Gawalmandi, Dr Akhtar moved his Cardex Clinic to Jail Road very close to the Punjab Institute of Cardiology, which is now a full-fledged hospital.Two journeys that started from Chowk Mayo Hospital have taken very divergent paths. While Dr Akhtar’s rise and service to humanity will be long remembered, the Sharifs have been declared fugitives that rely on medical opinions of doctors like Dr Fayaz Shawl of Srinagar, now based in Maryland and Dr David Lawrence of Sri Lanka, who now practices in London.

Read more: ‘Controlling Pakistan from London’: The ‘violent’ tendencies of Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussein

In 1999, the followers of Lawrence of Arabia came to the rescue of the Sharifs, let us see who comes this time to bail them out as their friends in the House of Saud, Donald Trump and Narendra Modi are all in serious trouble of their own. The savoury delights of Lahore available at the Food Street of Gawalmandi are still great and worth a visit, but there is not much left there to write home about. Gawalas moved out soon after partition, thugs were mostly recruited in the Punjab Police by the Sharifs while the Butts have also moved out; some of them have joined the Gullu Butt gang that operates within the fold of the party named after Nawaz Sharif of Gawalmandi.

Dr. Farid A.Malik is the Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. (Fr. General Manager PITAC, Process Engineering Manager Intel Corporation Engineering and Management Consultant). He was a Shadow Minister PTI and Co-Ordinator of the PTI Think Tank where the framework of the Welfare State was developed. The article was first published in The Nation and has been republished here with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.