“I’ve transformed into a new human being”

November 5, 2023

“I’ve transformed into a new human being”

Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad served most recently as the 38th interior minister of the country (from 2020 to 2022). He is also the founder and leader of the Awami Muslim League.

Previously, he has been a member of the National Assembly and a part of several political parties, including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid.

He has also served as the federal minister for information and as the minister for railways.

In this exclusive conversation with The News on Sunday, the senior statesman talks about the May 9 mayhem, the cypher issue and the way forward.



he News on Sunday: You went missing from the political scene for several weeks. Where were you between September 17 and October 22? There were suggestions that you had been arrested.

Sheikh Rashid Ahmed: First things first: I have already condemned the May 9 violence. I condemn it again. As for your question, well, I was on chilla.

I have always been on the side of the Pakistan Army and never had anything to say against it. I have been consistent and loyal in my friendships and alliances. I am proud of my relationship with the military establishment. I believe that our armed forces are among the best in the world. I have always urged Imran Khan sahib to establish a good relationship with the armed forces.

TNS: Many people who had been part of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf have condemned the May 9 incidents and either quit politics or joined the Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party. Do you have similar plans?

SRA: I will contest elections from two constituencies from the platform of my own party, the Awami Muslim League. The election symbol is the familiar qalam-dawat (pen and inkpot). I’ll run against the Pakistan Democratic Movement). My party is one of the smallest in the country. It has mostly been a one-seat party. From day one, I have been on the same side as the armed forces of Pakistan. When I started in politics, Lt Gen Akhtar Abdul Rehman helped me and I became a councillor. In the current context, my nephew Sheikh Rashid Shafique has taken a similar decision. He was previously elected an MNA on a PTI ticket, but he is no longer a part of the PTI. He was disturbed by the May 9 incidents and has strongly condemned those. He will look after his father and family business and not contest the election this time. I will contest both the seats. I never shy away from elections. If I am arrested, I will still contest.

TNS: After your interview with a TV channel was broadcast, a V-logger claimed that you had been tortured? Is that true?

SRA: No. I was not tortured between September 17 and October 22. I was either with the city police officer or at a cold place where I was on a pilgrimage that transformed me into a better human being. It gave birth to a new Sheikh Rasheed. They used to provide me with hot water when I woke up for night prayers. I used to study the Quran day in and day out. Previously, I had failed to pray at night, but Allah Almighty had provided me with this opportunity to transform myself. During this chila, all the stakeholders were cooperative. The time went by amicably.

TNS: After the vote of no confidence, Imran Khan raised the cypher issue. He alleged that the US had conspired to oust him. You were the interior minister at that time. Did you feel that there was a US conspiracy against him?

SRA: As interior minister, I attended both the National Security Council meetings. My signatures are on record. I cannot say that I wasn’t present. I cannot disown it. I was present at his rally, too. The three individuals who were negotiating things with the establishment have all formed their own parties. When people from the MQM talked to me about it, I realised that our days were numbered.

TNS: You might recall that Imran Khan had started calling some of the top military leaders names, including Mir Ja’far, Mir Sadiq and Dirty Harry. He also made neutral sound like a pejorative. What was your viewpoint at that time?

SRA: I believe that political leaders should never do that to army officers. This country cannot be run without its national institutions. The politicians and these institutions must join hands to run the country. Whenever a politician chooses to fight a national, it is always the institution that prevails.

Honestly speaking, we were not justified in picking up a fight with the establishment. I used to warn my colleagues. I asked Khan sahib if I could play a role in bridging the gap over the cypher issue. But Khan sahib asked me to stay away from the matter.

TNS: What was the purpose of Imran Khan’s long march? Was it meant only to ensure free and fair elections?

SRA: Well, some people have said much more than that. Let’s not get into the debate. The motives stand exposed.

TNS: Why did Imran Khan want to stop Gen Asim Munir from becoming army chief?

SRA: As a political worker, I believe that this was our biggest mistake. I believe that politicians should not interfere in this matter. Some people close to Imran Khan used to tell him that they had the support of some senior officials within the army who would support them. I have been aware since my school days that the army goes by whatever the army chief decides. It is a very disciplined force.

TNS: How come a seasoned politicians like you was unable to distance himself from such blunders?

SRA: I used to tell him [the prime minister] that we must stay in our domain and not poke our noses in every matter. The problem was that I represented the smallest party in the coalition. I also had no other political options left as I was not on good terms with Nawaz Sharif… I believe it was Twitter that landed me in trouble.

TNS: Did you ever think that something like May 9 would happen?

SR: Well, as a politician Imran Khan lacks flexibility. I believe that what happened should be condemned even in Friday sermons. It was the blackest day in the history of Pakistan. I will do what I can to getting all the people released – the innocents as well as the guilty. I will ask for a universal pardon. I believe that it is the right thing to do. I will request the army chief to announce a pardon for all the citizens who were brainwashed to act so irresponsibly.

TNS: You are have been condemning the May 9 incidents, and yet you also say that the guilty should be pardoned. Do you think it was a one-off?

SR: Look, some people built a narrative and it went viral and it had a reaction that led to the May 9 incidents.

The interviewer is a journalist based in Lahore. He reports on politics, economy and militancy. He can be reached on X at @Hassannaqvi5

“I’ve transformed into a new human being”