When China embarked on its great quest for development through investment, the edifice of the massive foreign direct investment (FDI) was originally founded on the committed stream of investment by the diaspora abroad. In Pakistan’s case, however, the FDI remains low despite various endeavours. The key to spurring investment here would be involving its nine million-strong diaspora. But for that, quashing fears about investment in Pakistan is a must. Unfortunately, this perception is based on facts rather than myths. Land grabbers and “qabza mafias” have spread their tentacles in most institutions of the state. While Prime Minister Imran Khan has instructed Pakistan’s diplomatic missions abroad to ensure the facilitation and welfare of our expatriate communities, the fact is that most of their serious complaints are about the security of their assets back home, particularly in real estate. Sadly, the state of property rights protection and enforcement of contracts remains dismal with a highly corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy and a justice system, which has been ranked 128th out of 138 countries. One often comes across harrowing stories of how investments in real estate by overseas Pakistanis are lost to qabza groups, with the police and courts providing scant protection. This is largely because the mechanisms for such issues have been rendered absolutely dysfunctional. At the heart of this problem (ruining the lives of millions of Pakistanis, both living in the country and abroad) is the way urban development agencies, lower courts and police stations operate. It is well known in Lahore how the extremely overburdened Lahore Development Authority (LDA)–due to massive irregular recruitments by previous governments– mismanaged the development of new residential districts. At one point, almost half of the plots in Johar Town had multiple ownership files. It was for this very reason that people stopped buying plots in LDA or Capital Development Authority (CDA) sectors and started preferring Defence Housing Authority (DHA) where things worked efficiently; even if they were in far off locations sometimes. If a case moves at a snail’s pace despite the SC direction to conclude it within six months, what should be expected of others’ fate? Recently, I came across a classic example of how the property rights of genuine buyers are being trampled in Pakistan and how their safeguarding has become an impossible task. Located on 4 Ali Block, Garden Town, Lahore, a roughly three-Kanal plot was sold by LDA in 1997 through an open public auction, as per rules and procedures. But soon, thereafter, a claim was made by certain individuals on the plot in question as per exemption file no US-288. An inquiry ordered by LDA Director-General revealed that the said plot had been inserted into the exemption file by tampering with its content since the compensation plot for the land acquired from the claimant had been exempted decades ago. In fact, it even explained how exemption file no US-288 was full of forgeries and tampering so much so that a fraud had been committed with the connivance of some LDA officials. After such a damning inquiry report, the matter should have been instantly resolved, but the then LDA did not follow such rules. Soon afterwards, the original inquiry report disappeared from the file. Related records also started disappearing and things came to a standstill; forcing the purchaser of the plot to seek redressal from courts. The ensuing litigation eventually ended up in the Supreme Court of Pakistan where the then chief justice ordered in 2008 that the plot in question be transferred to the rightful owner who had purchased it in the open auction. But in another twist, an inter-court appeal in the Supreme Court by the exemption claimant decided that the technical merit of the claim would be assessed by a trial court, where they had petitioned, within six months. Despite this directive, the matter still lingers before a civil judge even after 13 years with no end in sight. Even if a decision is delivered tomorrow, appeals can go all the way to the Supreme Court that would consume another decade or so. During the last 13 years, several applications by the purchaser of the plot– who had paid the full price of the plot as per his highest bid–and subsequently by his heirs living abroad (when he passed away without getting justice), failed to convince any LDA DG to order a “regular inquiry” of the matter. Though this could have settled the issue beyond any doubt, it would have been open defiance of extraneous pressures. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) should take cognisance of such matters. Corrupt elements within the LDA or the CDA should not be allowed to wreak havoc upon the rights of genuine buyers at the behest of any land mafias. If such instances are resolved in an exemplary manner, matters of property rights would not linger in courts for decades, where a lack of technical expertise or outdated procedures often results in inordinately delayed justice. Of course, judicial reforms are also essential to ensure adequate and expeditious justice through courts. If a case moves at a snail’s pace despite the SC direction to conclude it within six months, what can be expected of other cases where no such directives are given? If the PTI government sincerely wishes to boost domestic and foreign investment in the country, these are the type of issues it needs to address so that overseas Pakistanis feel secure in investing their hard-earned money. The writer is Associate Editor (Diplomatic Affairs), Daily Times. He tweets @mhassankhan06.