FROM the very beginning it didn’t smell right. Perhaps it was just the general mistrust of infamous tycoon Malik Riaz, but even the basic premise didn’t add up. A $45 billion foreign investment in Pakistan at a time when the economy is barely growing? The world’s tallest building in Karachi — where would the tourists and companies needed to fill it come from? A prominent member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family so publicly adding his name to a project with one of Pakistan’s most controversial businessmen? Nothing quite added up, and Mr Riaz’s reputation didn’t help. So it was hardly surprising when ads, seemingly issued by the Abu Dhabi Group and completely denying any investment agreement, appeared in the national press this week. And until Bahria Town officially responds, which it seems reluctant to do, its silence will suggest the ads are genuine. In other words, the much-publicised ‘deal’ seems to have been to a large extent a fabrication.
Whatever the truth of the matter, one thing is for sure: it has made Pakistan look even more laughable as an investment destination. Drama of this kind is precisely what the country’s investment-starved economy doesn’t need. We already have a bad record of scrapping big-ticket foreign investment projects when new governments want to undo the achievements of their predecessors. Those projects that do get off the ground have to subordinate their business sense to the political whims of whoever is in power. And Pakistan’s security situation and political uncertainty are hardly attractive. On top of all this, for one of the country’s biggest businessmen to invent a partnership — with a major foreign investor — that doesn’t exist and launch it with such a splash achieves little more than embarrassing the country and ensuring that foreign partners will think twice in the future.