Ahsan Iqbal & His Political Future

Federal Minister of Interior and Federal Minister of Planning, Development and Reform is Ahsan Iqbal. He has been criticizing the army ever since the former PM Sharif was disqualified. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find another attribute from recent memory except his biased criticism of the army to define his politics.

One thinks about the possible reasons behind the negative politics of Ahsan Iqbal and, I like many others wonder, what is his political future?

Before looking at his future, let’s look at his background and present status.

Background

Ahsan Iqbal was raised in a political family. His mother was an MNA during the Zia regime. Interestingly, Ahsan Iqbal’s grandfather, Chaudhary Muhammad Abdul Rehman Khan, was a supporter of the British Raj in India and was opposed to creation of Pakistan. He also supported Red Shirts Movement of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (another opponent of Pakistan).

Ahsan Iqbal first benefitted from Gen. Zia and the army in the 1980s. In 1993, he became a Policy and Public Affairs Assistant to then PM Benazir Bhutto. He is one of those Parliamentarians who took an oath from former president Musharraf. Basically, Ahsan Iqbal can work with anyone as long as he can get benefits in return.

Legacy of Ahsan Iqbal – None!

In democracy, a Parliamentarian’s legacy is formed by the legislations supported by the person and in Pakistan, also by the uplift of a politician’s constituency. Not a single legislature can be solely attributed to Ahsan Iqbal.

Ahsan Iqbal has won from the Narowal constituency several times but has failed the trust of his voters. As per a recent study, Narowal district has one of the worst education assessment results in Punjab. Poverty is rampant and some of the workers recently killed in Balochistan were from Narowal.

The condition of Narowal, should give picture of the legacy of Ahsan Iqbal – poor and undeveloped.

Performance of Ahsan Iqbal – Zero!

While Ahsan Iqbal is criticizing the army, and asking the competent officers to not comment on national matters, may be he should look at his own performance as a minister responsible for two ministries.

  • Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform – One can’t stop laughing when the web page of Planning, Development and Reform’s website comes up because it has pictures of the federal minister all over the page. His speeches and news about what he said etc. In reality most of the projects and plans are from previous governments and the current regime is taking credit for projects, CPEC etc., that were initiated by others. There is no significant reform achieved by the ministry thus the ministry has very little success to claim.
  • Ministry of Interior – The website gives an error message but there is a link on the page that takes you to the home page. The site has pics of ministers and details about the daily routine of the minister. This should suffice to give a clear picture of the performance of the Interior Ministry. One can hope that Ahsan Iqbal will soon realize that there is an important plan called the National Action Plan (NAP) that also deserves his attention. The performance of Ahsan Iqbal is zero.
  • Tackling of Dharna – Ahsan Iqbal not only completely failed in tackling the issue of dharna but also made Pakistan and its police a laughing stock in the region and beyond. Some believe that PML-N and Ahsan Iqbal allowed the dharna by Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) to destabilize Pakistan in order to distract the attention from the Panama Leaks issue.

If the success of TLYR is not facilitated then it is an utter failure of Ahsan Iqbal as Minister of Interior to tackle the situation. Now he is blaming the former Minister for Interior, the Islamabad High Court (IHC), the Pakistan Army and the Administration of Islamabad for the surrender of writ to TLYR. Ahsan Iqbal claims that he was not in loop on police action as IHC ordered the Administration of Islamabad. Really?? The order is           clearly addressing the executive that means the ministry of Interior. If there is any doubt then Ahsan Iqbal must look at the signatories of the agreement signed between the Govt and TLYR because he has also signed this agreement!

  • Where is the National Action Plan (NAP)?No-where to be found! The entire world knows that NAP will be “soon implemented” because this is the status consistently provided by the govt of Pakistan. Ahsan Iqbal has been repeating the same status since Aug this year. There is no implementation in progress and while Ahsan Iqbal is busy bashing the army at home and abroad the terrorists are busy attacking Pakistanis across the country. Protests by extremist elements in Islamabad in last few days is a reminder that the ministry of Interior needs a full-time minister that can focus on NAP instead of lecturing Pakistanis on democracy. This is how the world looks at Pakistan:

Thousands of supporters of a firebrand Pakistani cleric, many armed with sticks and iron rods, have blocked a main entrance to Islamabad since last week, demanding the resignation of the country’s law minister and a strict adherence to blasphemy laws. 

Present status of Ahsan Iqbal – in limbo!

There is a lot of uncertainty regarding the present and political future of Ahsan Iqbal. First, he was considered as a candidate to replace former PM Sharif but PM Abbasi was preferred over Ahsan Iqbal and others. This must have hurt Ahsan Iqbal’s ego and added more pressure on him. Had he focused on NAP and tackled the TLYR in national interest then he could have easily found a spring board to bounce off BUT both of his ministries have nothing to show off.

There are two obvious camps in PML-N, one supporting former PM Nawaz Sharif and the second under Shahbaz Sharif. Ahsan Iqbal is a Nawaz Sharif loyalist and as part of his camp’s strategy, Ahsan Iqbal is blaming the army and judiciary for Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification. This is another source of frustration for Ahsan Iqbal because he has realized that:

  1. PML-N will not win the 2018 elections and
  2. his own constituency is at risk due to popularity of the PTI

All of this simply adds uncertainty and chaos to Ahsan Iqbal’s present status.

Political future of Ahsan Iqbal – Hussain Haqqani II?

With setbacks in present status, Ahsan Iqbal is working hard to secure his political future. Following are the options for Ahsan Iqbal:

  1. Leader of the Opposition after next elections
  2. Become another Hussain Haqqani – speaker and an expert on South Asia etc.

Leader of the Opposition after next elections, it is possible for PML-N to have that slot because PTI is set to form the next govt in Islamabad and the PPP will not be able to win enough seats to claim the leader of the opposition slot. Can Ahsan Iqbal represent PML-N for this coveted post? Roadblocks are Maryam Safdar and Hamza Shahbaz but with pending cases, it seems that they may not be able to take part in elections. Additional roadblocks are senior members who will oppose him due to groupings and it will be very difficult for Ahsan Iqbal to become leader of the opposition and play any major role in politics.

In addition to the above roadblocks, it will be very difficult for Ahsan Iqbal to win the election as PTI has gained a lot of support in rural Punjab and also in rural Sindh. However, Ahsan Iqbal has already started his election campaign by playing as a political victim and as champion of democracy by maligning the army and judiciary. This negative campaign will not work as people are more aware than previous elections and issue today for voters is lack of deliverables.

Become another Hussain Haqqani – This is a more realistic possibility. If you look at Ahsan Iqbal’s recent statements and activities then, according to some people, he is working on establishing a support base in Washington D.C.

  • First week of Oct, a scene is created outside of court in Islamabad. Many people firmly believe that Ahsan Iqbal and staff planned this episode. His name was not on list and knowing full well that he will be stopped, Ahsan Iqbal tried to push through security. Timing is perfect as Ahsan Iqbal was going to be in Washington D.C. the following week. He exploited the situation and created a scene.
  • While in the USA, he publicly instructed the army to stop talking about economy. An attempt to show the world, specifically the USA, that he can take on the army.
  • Ahsan Iqbal has also established contacts/ relationships with strategic think tanks like Woodrow Wilson Center and John Hopkins SAIS.
  • On Oct 16, 2017 reported by The Express Tribune, Ahsan Iqbal warns that ‘Attempts to derail democracy will harm the country’ Who is he addressing here? Who is he trying to impress as a champion of democracy?
  • At the end of Oct, Ahsan Iqbal writes an article ‘Democracy vs. Technocracy’ and conveniently blames a troika of retired army officers, media and politicians for political disability in the country.
  • In an interview on Nov 04, 2017 with Salim Safi, Ahsan Iqbal again blames an imaginary troika.

I anticipate another statement in a few days that will put blame on the Pakistan Army for the dharna of TLYR. The above statements will continue because Ahsan Iqbal is desperately looking for siyasi shahadat but he must remember that the country has changed and the army has moved on as well. There will be no political victimization or siyasi shahadat.

Instead of blaming the army and judiciary, it is high time that Ahsan Iqbal should think about the following:

  • Why is he not acceptable to the Shahbaz Sharif group?
  • Why did Ahsan Iqbal and Nawaz Sharif pay ONLY 12,000 and 5,000 rupees in tax respectively?
  • Did Army asked the ICIJ to raise Panama Leaks issue?
  • Did the institutions asked former PM Nawaz Sharif to hide wealth earned thru corrupt means in off-shore companies and hide iqamas?
  • Can he blame the institutions for PML-N’s failure to deliver on promises to the people of Pakistan?
  • Who stopped him from making Narowal an exceptional constituency of Pakistan?
  • Why did he bend backwards in appeasement of TLYR?

I think that Ahsan Iqbal will not have answers to any of the questions above. The truth is that for now, Ahsan Iqbal is on the way out of the Pakistani politics. The first step will be loss in elections followed by a shunning by his own party. The last step will be becoming another Hussain Haqqani to safeguard his political relevance. In that case a meeting with Hussain Haqqani to learn the trade is probably on cards. Who knows they may have already met in Ahsan Iqbal’s last visit to Washington D.C.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Ahsan Iqbal leaves Pakistan, settles in a Western capital and then issue targeted statements against the army, judiciary and the next govt. This will help him in staying relevant like Hussain Haqqani. Parliamentary politics seems to be over for now.

References

Ahsan Iqbal – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahsan_Iqbal

Unionist Party – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unionist_Party_(Punjab)

Chaudhary Muhammad Abdul Rehman Khan – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaudhry_Abdul_Rehman_Khan

Narowal education – https://tribune.com.pk/story/1556781/1-quality-education-lags-behind-public-schools-punjab/

Workers killed – https://www.dawn.com/news/1371877

Who might be the next PM? – http://www.apnewsarchive.com/2017/A_look_at_who_might_be_Pakistan%27s_next_prime_minister/id-12844d6b786c4206b89153ae08c9376f

Planning and development site – http://www.pc.gov.pk/

Protests in Islamabad – https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/12/world/asia/pakistan-protests-khadim-hussain-rizvi.html

Woodrow Wilson – https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/ahsan-iqbal-discusses-urbanization-pakistan

John Hopkins – https://www.sais-jhu.edu/content/johns-hopkins-sais-host-%E2%80%9C-conversation-pakistan%E2%80%99s-efforts-internal-and-regional-security%E2%80%9D

Oct 16 statement – https://tribune.com.pk/story/1542036/1-attempts-derail-democracy-will-harm-country-ahsan-iqbal/

Article – https://www.thenews.com.pk/amp/240461-Democracy-versus-Technocracy

Salim Safi – https://www.thenews.com.pk/amp/240461-Democracy-versus-Technocracy

 

Imran Siddiqui
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Imran Siddiqui

Contributing Analyst at CommandEleven
Imran Siddiqui is an experienced professional in strategy, consulting, defense procurement and project management. He contributes to geopolitics and defense analysis and firmly believes in positive impact on economy of defense related projects.
Imran Siddiqui
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