Every few years we see a new campaign by a new multinational giant of an industry, peddling its version of globalised production. A new product that claims huge benefits --- cleaner, easier, cheaper, and healthier. Their usual modus operandi is to attack our traditional way of life, our traditional cuisines and the things we have been doing right for thousands of years. They attack our tradition with a huge propaganda campaign using their huge resources and marketing expertise perfected through decades of similar escapades and other poor “backward” countries like us. We all (hopefully) recognise it now.

First they attacked our local milk. A packaged milk brand advertiser showed a milkman pouring toilet water into the canister of milk he was about to deliver at your doorsteps for your children.

Next it was our ghee and butter that became their target. Ghee gave you heart attacks they said and told us to use our artificial margarine, it has vitamin A, B, C and D and even E (God knows what that is but they say it’s a good stuff and the good multinational has funded “research” to back up their claims. Our poor ghee and milkmen never stood a chance!

We all know how the story ends. In recent years, independent research from top universities has proven all their claims wrong. The new healthier, cleaner, cheaper, alternative these giants were peddling is now causing us the worst forms of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. The west is switching back to traditional foods—ironically ghee is the latest craze in the US for one of the healthier alternatives to oil. We all know this story of how the big MNCs fooled whole nations with their righteous sounding propaganda and bogus research, fooled us in abandoning our traditions and caused a huge health and economic (many of our great local companies were driven out of business) travesty which we are hardly beginning to recover from.

The story we don’t know however is that the story still continues. The multinationals’ current target is to drive local companies out of business in order to retain a defecto monopoly in their industry. The biggest case that recently got a lot of media attention is British American Tobacco (BAT) lobbying hard to drive down prices of cigarettes in Pakistan. While playing with our national health they claim lofty goals of driving up our national tax revenue while lowering taxes per pack by driving out “illicit trade”---a term they have invented for local cottage industry of tobacco producers---who BAT claims don’t pay their due tax.

The argument is that if we don’t increase taxes on tobacco products the MNCs will be able to get greater market share and since they pay full taxes the government will earn more revenue--- all these are backed up by fancy looking “research”. Remember the research that was presented to the Supreme Court of Pakistan which banned Shisha because it was unhealthy? Yes, that research – which ‘failed’ in the whole of the EU and North America. Each Shisha you smoke costs the MNCs because you buy less of their product. The cottage industry of Shisha cafés ended, while MNCs’ profits ballooned.

Interestingly, this ‘research’ was made by Oxford Economics, an organisation that resembles with the renowned bastion of wisdom in the UK. This company is a front for a cigarette producing MNC which pays for its business and gets the research results it needs. Our government officers are often trapped by fancy names and accept the research. The long arm of the MNCs boggles the mind.

We also know unfortunately how this tragedy ends. The resourceful MNCs will get their way. Our national health will suffer with thousands of new cases of lung cancer spreading. Our national companies that may have aspired to become exporters and the pride of the country will go out of business. But hey, at least the multinationals will profit, send millions of dollars to tax havens and we will continue dreaming of them bringing more foreign investment. This would be the real tragedy.

The writer is a practising lawyer based in Lahore.