Pakistan: The ‘Lucky’ Luciano Model for Post-Pandemic Recovery

What Pakistan can learn from “Lucky” Luciano's deal with the US government during World War II? Should Pakistan enlist one of its most controversial cities and real estate magnate to revive its faltering economy?

Posted on 05/26/20
By Ikram Sehgal | Via ViewsWeek
Bahria Town in the port city of Karachi is the biggest project of Malik Riaz.

Millions of people have lost their jobs and more will still lose. The pandemic is not only taking lives but badly aggravating the economic crisis. As times goes on many industries and commercial entities will go down, some permanently, and it will be no easy thing to revive the economy, at least we must try. But how we do kick-start the revival of the economy, or least a part of it?  The Western world is risking this by gradually easing lockdowns, even then the economy is projected to take 12-18 months to revive somewhat, provided the second wave does not hit. There are signs that this could spike in the US. In time of crisis one must use all one’s resources, unconventional times requiring using non-conventional means to muster the support of unconventional people. The talents of people must be harnessed for the State even if they are controversial and have problems with the laws of the land.

One such example is the Italian-born American gangster and mafioso “Lucky” Luciano‘s deal with the US government during World War II. In 1942, the Office of Naval Intelligence was concerned about German and Italian agents entering the US through the New York waterfront. Sabotage in naval and port facilities added to their worries with the mafia controlling the waterfront, the Navy, the State of New York and Luciano reached a deal in exchange for a commutation of his jail sentence, Luciano promised the complete assistance of his mafia organization in providing intelligence to the Navy. More than that, Luciano promised no dockworker strikes during war. Far more than that he provided the US military with Sicilian mafia contacts for intelligence in preparation for the 1943 allied invasion of Sicily.

The US government utilized the access to Luciano’s knowledge, contacts and his organization. In reward for his wartime cooperation, Luciano’s jail sentence was commuted on the condition that he did not resist deportation to Italy. Luciano’s intentions in accepting the deal may have been less than patriotic and rather selfish: get relief from all his sentences that were hanging above his head and get back his freedom (and that of his many associates). While one can debate the moral side of the deal and whether justice was served or not, the danger that the country was in at that point made such deal acceptable to them and they acted according to the best interests of the US.

Though totally different in nature, another example of using the best possible expertise in a crisis was the reinstatement of Khalid bin Walid as Commander of the Muslim Army just before the Battle of Yarmuk. Beloved of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), Khalid Bin Walid was given the title “Saifullah” (the Sword of Allah), those interested may read the wonderful book by that name by Maj. Gen. Agha Ibrahim Akram, roommate (as cadets) of my father in OTS Mao in 1942 and father of Maj. Gen. (Retd) Agha Masood.

A gifted military strategist, Khalid would often exceed the orders of the Caliphs who succeeded Mohammad (PBUH). Not a great favorite of Hazrat Umar, when Khalid repeatedly flaunted his instructions, he was demoted from his command to a common soldier. Khalid continued his service as a soldier with his successor Abu Ubayda ibn al-Jarrah leading the army.  The Army of the Byzantine Empire confronted the Muslim forces of the Rashidun Caliphate at Yarmuk.

On seeing the armed might of the Byzantine Empire (about 200,000 soldiers in full armor) stretched out before him reportedly outnumbering him by 8 to 1, Abu Ubayda realized this was beyond him. Without any fanfare he handed over command to Khalid just before the battle. Khalid regrouped the Muslim forces and kept most of his cavalry in reserve. The series of engagements near the Yarmuk River lasted for six days in August 636, along what are now the borders of Syria–Jordan and Syria–Israel, east of the Sea of Galilee. On the sixth day when he finally launched his cavalry under Zarrar, this was a decisive victory. It ended Byzantine rule in Syria.

Historians credit the Muslim victory at Yarmuk to the cohesion and “superior leadership” of the Muslim army, in essence Khalid’s “ingenuity”.  Yarmuk is eulogized as an outstanding example of battlefield tactics and innovation by Maj. Gen. JFC Fuller in his book “The Decisive Battles of the Western World”. While Khalid certainly had his shortcomings, in the hour of need in a crisis he rose to the occasion and did his patriotic duty.

One must give due credit to Abu Ubayda for recognizing Khalid’s military genius at the right time and for the sake of all Muslims not stand on his ego during a crisis.  Can our politicians learn something from this?  Hazrat Umar did not punish Abu Ubayda for handing over his command. Indeed he subsequently made Khalid the Commander of the army till the walls of any city were breached. Thereafter Abu Ubayda was to take over and deal with the captives and the treasures.

Did Pakistan not use Seth Abid when we needed to? The only thing that deters India in any adventure is our nuclear deterrence. And countless others who came out of the “grey” when US sanctions against Pakistan almost crippled its armed forces.  And have we not turned to forbidden countries to get the critical equipment necessary to furbish our combat aircraft?  Even in normal times means that are not strictly legal (or rather quite illegal) are used by every state in the interests of the country.  Because of national security reasons one cannot give examples. The precedence exists for something similar in Pakistan today.

One of the ways to kickstart the economy is to deliver on Imran Khan’s promise of 5 million low cost houses for the common man. This would not only require mobilization of enormous resources in manpower and resources but also implementation of the plans. “Housing Starts” is what keeps the US economy going (other than “automobile starts”). This is because of the vast number of other industries and professions it provides employment.

Born in 1954 in a lower middle class family, housing tycoon Malik Riaz is a self-made talent who built his construction empire “Bahria Town” all on his own. While one is astonished at the many housing schemes he has done,  one also admires the sheer quality of his work. Above all he got the best out of Pakistani expertise talent and hard work.  The largest privately held real estate development company in Asia today, he has done it by using ‘unorthodox means’ and certainly dirtied his hands, several cases are pending against him with the NAB and various courts. He should be given the task to revive Pakistan’s construction industry would create jobs not only in the constriction business, but as well in allied domains like cement and construction material production, artisanry and others.

A deal must be negotiated with the government and the NAB. He must be persuaded in the national interest to return some of the ill-gotten money and pay at market rates for the government land that he has grabbed. Moreover he should concentrate on low-cost housing and only be allowed to complete his ongoing projects, getting into any of his other schemes, at least till he has delivered on the low cost scheme.

Malik Riaz has worked with all the previous governments and his good connections in the establishment does not exclude the superior judiciary and the senior military hierarchy of yesteryear. The fact remains he knows how in our corrupt and bureaucratic environment to successfully build an industry. He has openly said that without dealing with such people deal across the board, any one of them could scuttle any scheme at any time. He has not forgotten the plight of the social class from where he has come to this position. Doing must business in Pakistan means bribing, using connections patronage “Deep State” to good advantage. Please do read my article “The Untouchable Malik Riaz” dated October 17, 2018. I am not a fan of his shady dealings, albeit forced on him by our corrupt environment, but I am certainly a fan of his performance.

Despite his machinations and not paying taxes he comes across a patriot (and I for one believe that), a religious person and a known philanthropist who has given billions of rupees for charity.  Creating jobs for people to earn their living is more important than philanthropy.

The latest and most prominent deal he made in last year was the one with the UK government when he settled out of court with the National Crime Agency (NCA) paying a lot of money who cut a deal in the best interest of the UK government. Why was his “money-laundering” condoned by the NCA as not being a crime, the agreement remains secret (certainly to save UK government from revelations which could be embarrassing for UK).  Those who revel in the British monarchy probably ignore the fact that most of the titles from the 15th to the 19th centuries were purchased by English pirates and from 1857 onwards by the employees of the East Indian Company through their ill-gotten gains through plunder and loot.  Even nowadays Lordships and Baronetcies are mostly obtained by vast donations to charities (royal ones are preferred) and/or such “worthy” causes.

“Lucky” Luciano was an out and out criminal. On the other hand Khalid’s excesses had no criminality about them even though they did tend to exceed his mandate. While Malik Riaz is no mobster and he certainly cannot even be remotely compared to the great warrior Khalid, given the freedom to do what he is really good at, construction, I believe he can deliver for Pakistan. So let’s break this impasse and use his abilities to do some good for this nation. Maybe he will recognize this great opportunity to redeem himself from the criminal label that will persist and keep him in the “Twilight Zone” about respectability.   Breaking this logjam will be a win-win position for both the country and for Malik Riaz.

While certainly this is an unorthodox suggestion but we are living in extraordinary times. We must avail all of the means available for economic recovery and for feeding our people. One important factor is that Malik Riaz did not hoard, steal or plunder at the cost of the poor of our country and we should not compare Malik Riaz to Lucky Luciano, Seth Abid, etc.  Consider the striking coincidence of similar names (US) “Navy” in English translating into “Bahria” in Urdu? Let us bring this man out of limbo and put him back into construction for the good of Pakistan in this extreme existential crisis we are facing.

The writer is a defense and security analyst.


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