The Rise of Chiniotis

" We serve by setting up industries" Mian Habib Ullah

Chiniot is a small town of 200,000 inhabitants, on the banks of River Chenab, in district Jhang in Southwestern Punjab famous for the trading skill of its people, popularly known as the ancestral homes in their native town, then Chiniot might have the biggest concentration of millionaires per square yard in the world.

Ironically not every resident of Chiniot is entitled to call himself a Chinioti and this description is reserved for only those and their descendants who migrated to far off Indian cities in the late 19th or early 20th century, to eke out a living for themselves. Those who stayed back, to live on agriculture, even today are not Chiniotis but Kazis and Syeds.

Out of 100,000 people who proudly call themselves Chinioti, only 5,000 live in Chiniot and an estimated 2,000 of them are still living in Calcutta where they had the biggest concentration in the undivided India, with pockets at Kanpur and Madras. Compared to the Memons who had sailed to far off places, as early as 18th century, the Chinioti's migration was limited to India and today they pride themselves in the fact that they have not shifted abroad.

At the time of partition, Chiniotis were mostly rooted in leather, hides and skins trade and there was only one Chinioti group, Mohammad Ismaeel Maula Baksh group which had ventured and Haji Sheikh Maula Baksh who had set up their first ginning factory in 1889 and by 1946, when they split, the group comprised 14 ginning factories, four flour mills and oil extraction plants. The remnants of Maula Baksh group are still active in the Sunshine group of Aftab Ahmad Sheikh.

Muhammad Ismaeel Maula Baksh and Company was the parent company of the group with branches in Multan, Mian Chonu, Shamkot, Khanewal, Toba Tek Singh, Amritsar and Sarhand Sharif. Every factory was adorned with a crescent and star proclaiming proudly that it was owned by a Muslim, Farooq A Sheikh of Colony group recalled in an interview.

Colony group had started work on Colony Textile Mills at Multan in 1945 and Sheikh claimed that it was first textile mill to go into operation in independent Pakistan, followed on the heels by Valika Textile Mills in Karachi.

" The state of indusrial development in 1940 can be imagined by the fact that Colony goup shifted to Multan from Faisalabad to avoid competition with Delhi Cloth Mills of Sir Sri Ram, as two textile mills were considered as too many for Faisalabad, called the Manchester of Pakistan today", Sheikh recalled.

Mohammad Ismaeel had four sons, eldest Aziz A Sheikh followed by Naseer A Sheikh, Farooq A Sheikh and youngest Mughis A Sheikh. Like so many other industrialists, members of the Colony group also became active in politics, owned equity in newspapers and contested elections. Naseer A Sheikh was on board of Civil and Military Gazette and Nawa-e-Waqat while Farooq A Sheikh contested elections for the national assembly in 1970.

Colony was ranked among the top ten groups in Pakistan in 1970, with up to a dozen manufacturing companies under its umbrella while Maula Baksh group was ranked 27th by Lawrence White. In 1970, Maula Baksh group comprised F P Textile Mills, Peshawar, Absorbents Cotton Plant Multan, Second Linter Plant Multan, Sukdev Baksh Flour Mills Multan and cotton ginning factories at Mian Chonu. The group also held equity in Multan Electric Company and all the units in its fold were managed by the principal company of the group, Maqbool & Company.

Dost Mohammad Monnoo and his brother Mian Nazir Hussain had set up Olympia Rubber Works at Calcutta, in pre-partition India which was exchanged for a textile mills at Tongi, Dhaka whose name was changed to Olympia Textile Mills. Another unit Olympia Textile Mills-2, Nabi Ganj, Naryanganj was added to it but the death of Mian Nazir Hussain in 1959 led to the split of the family assets. Three sons of Mian Nazir Hussain namely Kaisar Monnoo, Shahzada Monnoo and Jehangir Monnoo are leading the main Monnoo Empire today comprising at least 20 industrial units and a 500 acre Olympia farm. The Monnoos held the franchise of Toyota motor cars in Pakistan and had plans for their progressive assembly and manufacture when Bhutto's nationalization scuttled all such plans.

At present, the Kaiser Monnoo group is made up of at least 15 textile mills with 175,000 spindles and assets totalling Rs 3 billion. A splinter is headed by Mian Munir A Monnoo who migrated from East Pakistan in 1971 and set up Olympia Textile in the name and style of the factory left behind in East Pakistan.

By 1970, very few of the Chiniotis had branched into heavy industry with the result that losses suffered by the Chiniotis in East Pakistan and Bhutto's nationalization were not heavy, as compared to the Memons.

Saphire-Gulistan and Monnoo suffered some losses in East Pakistan but apparently they had managed to salvage some of their investment in time which helped them is settling themselves afresh in the Western wing. Two other Chiniotis Mohammad Salim and Sheikh Mohammad Nasir of United group also lost their Usmania Glass Factory at Chittgong.

Mian Mansha narrowly escaped the effects of the fall of East Pakistan and nationalization since a family division had taken place in 1969 after the death of his father Mian Mohammad Yahya and the bulk of the assets in East Pakistan was inherited by his uncles.

Saigols had migrated to Calcutta in 1890 from Chakwal and are known as Punjabi Sheikh but Prof Pervaiz Ahmad of Islamia College, Chiniot claimed in an interview with the author that they are one of them, basically from Kot Shakir in Chiniot, going back to the days of Sher Shah of Sur.

Prof. Ahmad claimed that Chiniotis comprised different castes including Vohras, Maghoons, Mannoos, Vadhavans and Saigols and pointed out that several Saigols are represented on various organizations set up by the Chiniotis. Biographical Encyclopedia of Pakistan, 1970 carried biographical sketch of one Shafiq Saigol of Chiniot who had set up Bengal Belting Corporation and several other industries in East Pakistan before 1970. It also carried biographical sketch of one Vohra Chinioti, Abdul Majid of Khotian (The native town of Saigols) who had set up a shoe factory in Calcutta and a rubber factory in Dhaka).

Whether Saigols are Chiniotis or not, there have been inter-marriages between the Saigols and prominent Chinioti families particularly Monnoos.

Bhutto's nationalization- A blessing in disguise for the Chiniotis

In 1970 there were only five Chinioti groups among the top 42 families including Colony at no 5, Crescent at no 9, Nishat at 15, Monnoos at 26 and Maulabaksh at 27. However while nationalization shattered the will of the Karachi-based groups to invest in Pakistan and triggered a flight of capital, it proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Chiniotis who had been hitherto disadvantaged for lack of access to banking and other facilities.

In 1997, Chiniotis had 14 places among the top 45 groups controlling at least 110 companies at the KSE. There are several other Chinioti groups like Mahboob Elahi, Diamond, Guard, Kaisar group of Kaisar A Sheikh, MNA, Kaisar Apparel group and JKB which are known to be immensely rich but have little or no presence at the stock exchange and therefore, it was not possible to rank them.

While other business communities resorted to flight of capital, Chiniotis made progress after 1970 because the flight of Memons and other Karachi-based groups created a vavums that they were than willing to fill.

" Nationalization affected different business groups differently and in different degrees of severity ", recalled Farooq A Sheikh of Colony, the major Chinioti group to suffer in nationalization. He argued that insecurity had become the part of the Memon community's psyche because they had suffered greatly in partition and have failed to be anchored in the troubled waters of local politics, while Chiniotis benfited immediately, psychologically and otherwise since partition created an enviroment conducive to their return to native land.

The PPP manifesto had envisaged nationalization of big textile units and therefore the people who had already set up textile units between 1947-71 stopped further investment. This created a vacuum. A surge in the domestic and international demand for textile coincided with an era of import liberalization coupled with high tariff, ensuring lucrative returns, with the result that Chinioti who had very few textile mills up to that time but plenty of money entered the textile business. Almost all the Punjab-based groups of post-Bhutto era like Saphire-Gulistan, United, Tata, Fazalsons, Fatima and Sargodha have their roots in the textile units set up during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto govt or immediately after him.

Thus nationalization became a God sent opportunity for Chiniotis who were sons of the soil, had not been hurt in East Pakistan and had the skills to step into the shoes that had fitted only Memons in post-independence Pakistan.

Nawaz Sharif and Chiniotis

Table of Contents

Memons- The Sailor businessmen of India

Robber Barons of Pakistan