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April 7, 2020

Is JKT now IK’s liability?


April 7, 2020

Jehangir Khan Tareen was not part of the PTI, led by its chairman Imran Khan, when it was launched in 1996, when no one was even sure of its success in years to come.

He joined the party after the party tested its popularity on October 30, 2011 at Minar-e-Pakistan, with a mammoth crowd in Lahore. He like many others joined the bandwagon, when Imran Khan opened party’s doors for ‘electables’ and ‘lotas’ in the party without even looking at their past track record. He further made party’s narrative flexible against the status quo.

There is no doubt that the prime minister made a bold decision to make the make the FIA inquiry report public but what was surprising was the fact on what basis he had said earlier that he had seen the report and denied any involvement of JKT and federal minister Khusro Bakhtiar in sugar or flour crises. The real test of the PM is between now and April 25, when the final report will be made public after forensic. One also wonders when the government did not wait for the final report.

One man who emerged strong in between was Panama-fame chief investigator, Wajid Zia, but it will be interesting to see whether the premier will ask KB to quit and go for ‘political social distancing’ with his closest aide and key political adviser or JKT or like in the past rescue him.

However, IK may once again face pressure from JKT’s political rivals in the party led by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to decide the fate of JKT, as he has again caused embarrassment to the party and to IK.

In the cases of party leaders like Azam Swati, Babar Awan or Aleem Khan, they will return in the party’s rank and file after some time. JKT, who in the past known for changing loyalties like many others soon came close to Imran Khan. Belonging to a rich background with massive wealth he became the key player in the party and a possible candidate for the Punjab chief minister’s slot. This also created a rift within the party between him and other new entrant Shah Mehmood Qureshi, as both of them were post-2008 PTI and not among the original players.

The first task which Khan gave to JKT was to organise the party at the local bodies’ level as he intended to hold the party elections between 2012 and 2013. However, IK received the first setback about JKT, when his own party’s election commission, led by Justice Wajihuddin Ahmad (retd), man known for his integrity in its report against the alleged rigging in the party elections levelled serious allegations against some of IK’s favourites including JKT. But in the end it was Wahijuddin, who was blamed for giving a biased report, something which was not the mandate of the PTI’s election commissioner. He quit the party and later even other chairman of party’s election commission, Tasneem Noorani also resigned.

The 2013 elections which IK believed should not have been held just before the general elections as it divided the party between different groups but he stood behind JKT, to the disliking of another important player in the party, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, whose differences with JKT, persisted rather sharpened after 2013 elections and even more in 2018 elections, when SMQ won the NA seat but lost the provincial seat. His close circles at that time believed that JKT and his men were behind it as he could have been the most automatic choice for the Punjab chief minister, after JKT was disqualified by the Supreme Court.

Many within the party were of the view that had party been united and divided within, the Punjab result could have been far more better than it turned out to be. Today PTI’s government in the province was completely dependent on the support of the PML-Q led by Chaudhrys of Gujrat.

However, IK’s confidence in JKT continued even after the latter was disqualified for life by the Supreme Court. He publically and in interviews with different TV channels expressed his displeasure over the verdict but left with no choice but to accept it.

When the PTI emerged as the single largest party in 2018 elections, and IK planned his first victory speech, JKT was seen around amid criticism from cross section of society and even within the party SMQ and some others were clearly unhappy with the situation.

SMQ time and again had advised IK not to engage JKT in political and government affairs but the prime minister ignored SMQ’s views about the disqualified leader of the party and gave JKT additional responsibility to ensure smooth sailing for the formation of his government at the Centre and particularly in Punjab.

Opposition parties accused Imran of allegedly using JKT like ATM machine, when the latter turned the tables in PTI’s favour whether it is the crisis in Balochistan or bringing electables like Janobi Punjab Mahaz, MQM-P and others in the coalition government.

Imran’s critics believe that prime minister is a victim of his own narrative that no one with conflict of interest should be part of politics or at least at a time when in the government. He had taken this position at numerous occasions in the last several years, even just before his party came to power.

Irrespective of what the PM decides, it is high time for JKT to quit the PTI, as he had compromised his position more than once and put the party in difficult position, both, on moral ground and political. Will he do it? Let’s wait and see. More than his reputation is at stake. He is free to do his business but not at the cost of the party. As for the premier, it is time to go to PTI’s basics as those with clean record had brought party where it was on October 30, 2011.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO