LAHORE: The biggest test of Imran Khan’s political acumen will be choosing the right man as chief minister for the biggest and politically most sensitive province of Punjab. His choice will indicate the PTI’s future planning about Punjab. If a compromise is made on the candidate due to different pressure groups within the party, it will have to pay heavy price in future.
The powerful slot of CM Punjab has become an open tug of war between Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Jahangir Tareen groups. Both of these top PTI leaders want to bring their dummies as CM so that they can get the slot when legal and political requirements are fulfilled. Both cannot be candidates now but are ready to kill whole cow for their pound of flesh. With a strong opposition having almost the same strength as the PTI benches, it will not be easy for any chief minister from any group to smoothly run the government. Only a wise, crafty, wily and well-reputed chief minister can be successful in a system with a marginal majority. PTI also needs an established party face to give symbolic boosting message to the party workers.
The names being discussed include Abdul Aleem Khan, Maj (retd) Tahir Sadiq, Chaudhry Fawad Husain, Rai Murtaza Iqbal, Dr Yasmin Rashid, Raja Yasir and Aslam Iqbal. The front runner of the CM slot is still Abdul Aleem Khan, president of PTI central Punjab. He spearheaded the PTI campaign in Punjab for last four years, bearing heavy losses to his real estate business. He is said to have spent millions of rupees for the party sake. His residence and office in Lahore were a hub of the party campaign for the last many years. He enjoys the trust of Imran Khan and is fully supported by Jahangir Tareen as well. However, he has cases in NAB and is still not clear from them. It may be mentioned that the NAB first issues a notice to a person to clarify his position, after which investigation takes place if needed. An issuance of notice does not mean the person concerned is guilty of an offence. A person is declared guilty only if a thorough investigation in the wake of any new evidence establishes the commission of offence.
His supporters claim that if half of the Musharraf cabinet was involved in NAB cases why Aleem Khan can’t be given a chance. They say that Aleem Khan stood like a rock by Imran Khan and only a Lahore urbanite like him can defeat the well entrenched Sharifs in the heart of Punjab. They think that any other choice for this post will ruin the years-long struggle and the rivals from N League will recapture the space taken by PTI.
Aleem is the only PTI candidate who has experience of being a provincial minister under Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi. He is a Kakazai Pathan by caste and is married in a Jat family having connections in both biradaris. He being a party insider and loyalist can prove to be a game changer in the province if he keeps himself from his business interests.
The other big name for the CM slot is of Chaudhry Fawad Husain, a Vains Jat, though relatively young yet energetic. He is lawyer by profession but tasted politics in his teen days while living in the Governor’s House Lahore where his legendary uncle Ch Altaf Hussain ruled the roost. Another uncle Chaudhry Iftikhar Hussain remained a strong Chief Justice of Lahore High Court.
Chaudhry Fawad is also media savvy and handled media earlier for PPP and later for PTI very skilfully. He is the face of the party as spokesperson. His young age may be an excuse for not giving him this huge responsibility but he is the only one with innovative ideas and can prove to be an agent of change in the province of Punjab.
If the choice has to be made on the basis of the party performance in the different regions of Punjab than northern Punjab deserves to be rewarded. PTI has almost swept the region by winning 11 out of 13 National Assembly seats and 22 out of the total 27 provincial assembly seats. If PTI wants a strategic decision on the basis of regional politics than Major (retd) Tahir Sadiq is the obvious choice. An ex-military officer who served as a bureaucrat as well for a long period, Tahir Sadiq belongs to the Khattar family of Attock. Quite interestingly another branch of the Khattars ruled Punjab before the Partition. Sir Sikandar Hayat the first Punjab premier was also Khattar.
Tahir Sadiq has strong family credentials as he is married to the sister of Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, a Jat Warraich, but his joining of PTI without consulting his in-laws have estranged the two families having strong ties for many decades.
Tahir Sadiq has won two National Assembly seats and a provincial assembly seat in 2018 Election, showing his total political hold on his district and regional politics. Like all old and hardened politicians, Tahir Sadiq has also some forests department cases against him but in local politics such cases are not taken very seriously. His shortcoming could be his relatively new entry into PTI but his bold decision to join party while leaving his powerful Gujrati in-laws could be a plus point for him. He is zealous and hardworking. His selection will neutralise powerful and ambitious Chaudhrys and the retreating but revengeful Sharifs will be further marginalised in the northern region because of his strong demeanour.
The latest entry to the race is that of Rai Murtaza Iqbal of Chichawatni. A grandson of Rai Iqbal, Murtaza has been elected from both national and provincial seats.
The Rai family migrated from the village of Raikot, District Jalandhar, and is now well-established in the city of Chichawatni, District Sahiwal. His uncle has been a minister with Nawaz Sharif and another uncle Rai Hassan Nawaz was declared ineligible because of the misdeclaration of his assets. The name of this young Rajput is being tipped by the rivals of Aleem Khan who don’t want Aleem and Tareen duo to lead the province. Shah Mahmood has offered Imran Khan Khusro Bakhtiar’s younger brother Hashim Jawan Bakht‘s resignation from provincial assembly to get himself elected. Jahangir Tareen though not eligible yet but he is optimistic about his review petition in the Supreme Court. Both of these top players are desperate for the CM slot and Imran has to be careful in the selection so that no group feels defeated.
The list of aspirants does not end here. Aslam Iqbal, an influential Arain, from the heart of Lahore met Imran Khan recently to discuss the Politics of Punjab. His friends say he will make a very good choice for the top slot of Punjab because he has proved himself a leader of Lahore by winning election when N League was at the zenith of its power. Aslam Iqbal is an astute businessman running a bakery chain. His selection can unite scattered Arains voters around him which can give tough time to the Lahori Kashmiris led by Sharifs.
If it has to be someone new than Raja Yasir elected from Chakwal will also come into consideration. All and sundry know that the Chakwal group is the strongest clique nowadays so Yasir can benefit from this group’s influence.
Sabtain Khan, MPA-elect from Imran’s ancestral Mianwali can prove to be a dark horse for the coveted race of CM slot. Sabtain – a Blach Pathan of Piplan, Mianwali – is a seasoned politician and parliamentarian who knows the traditional politics from inside. He is related to both Jahangir Khan Tareen and Humayun Akhtar Khan. Interestingly, Sabtain’s elder brother Husnain is a childhood friend of Shah Mahmood Qureshi. Sabtain Khan, related to Khans of Dera Ismail Khan, enjoys the full confidence of Zinfandel Khan as well. But selecting him will mean too much focus on Imran’s home district Mianwali which may not augur well to other areas.
Last but not the least Dr Yasmin Rashid, elected on the reserved seat, can also be considered for a temporary period if Shah Mahmood Qureshi is to be given this slot ultimately. Dr Yasmin Rashid is a hard working politician married to the son of Pakistan Movement leader Kakazai leader Malik Ghulam Nabi. She learnt her politics from Malik Ghulam Nabi who remained a minister under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto .Shah Mahmood Qureshi has an eye on this slot since years. He even sacrificed his prestigious post of the foreign minister to be at the moral high ground during the Raymond Davis crisis with USA. But Qureshi’s defeat on the provincial assembly seat has proven to be an irreparable loss for him and his rivals within party won’t let him the chance to compete for the slot now.
The final decision has to be taken by Imran Khan himself. If he chooses right person his party can deliver in Punjab. But if he made a bad or a wrong choice, he will soon face a trouble in the biggest province of Punjab which can destabilise even the federal government.