Faisal Vawda: Imran Khan's Former Confidante And PTI's 'Secret Keeper'

Faisal Vawda: Imran Khan's Former Confidante And PTI's 'Secret Keeper'
A handsome man endowed with generational wealth, obsessed with cars and women in his youth, considered a fixture in Karachi’s elite social circles, Faisal Vawda is complimented as a man with a joyful personality for his friends and a fiery temper for those who know him as a politician. This is the story of former Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) stalwart Faisal Vawda.

Now a former federal minister, Vawda regularly appears on talk shows to give political predictions and frequently drags his former party colleagues' feet to the fire. Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore him. Vawda is also considered a 'rating king' whose theatrics attract views on TV and even on Youtube.

The Friday Times sat down with him in his living room for the interview to discuss his political choices, predictions and what went behind the scene in his former party and Imran Khan’s government.

Anyone entering his living room would be bewildered at how an extraordinary force of heavily armed personal security is protecting him in his mansion, located in DHA Karachi’s Khadda market.

On the other hand, his luxury cars are parked in a way that will instantly make guests curious about his wealth and fortune.

The Fortune

Anyone thinking about Vawda would recall one or the other of his many political actions that ‘went viral’, but many also know him as the guy who rides his heavy bikes and drives his sports cars with official protocol around south Karachi.

His luxury cars are unmistakable: with a special plate that says “FVG” rather than the ordinary registration plates us mortals must use. The FVG stands for Faisal Vawda Group. This naturally feeds into curiosity over his fortune and family background.

According to Vawda, his family, especially his father, had been in the construction and real estate business for over 50 years. Later on, as the only son of his father, he ‘lent a helping hand’ and expanded the family business to other countries.

But is it really that simple? An old acquaintance of Vawda, currently residing in the United States, shared a fact about the growth of Vawda’s wealth and fortune, on the condition of strict anonymity.

According to the source, right before General Musharraf’s coup in 1999, Vawda started taking part in his father’s real estate and construction business, which was relatively ‘stable’ at the time. Young blooded Faisal Vawda began adding risk to the business portfolio by buying some important commercial properties in Karachi’s developing posh area proximate to the metropolitan city’s coast.

His luck worked: the ‘property boom’ of the Musharraf era yielded great results for him, and his decisions turned into a jackpot for an already established real estate family in Karachi.

The source also revealed that during PMLN’s last tenure (2013-18), some members of the Sharif family wanted to buy Vawda’s property in Hyde Park London that is adjacent to the Sharif’s own property, but Vawda reportedly asked them (the Sharifs) to sell him their property instead.

Personal Life

One of his classmates from Government Commerce College during the early 1990s, who wishes to remain anonymous, remembers him as one of the “jolliest characters” amongst their group of friends. He endorsed Vawda’s love for cars and women. He mentioned how they often spotted his maroon Honda Accord or navy blue Pajero parked outside fancy Clifton restaurants, quickly adding that they never peeked inside, since they knew their friend would be ‘busy’.

A tall guy with a fair complexion, Vawda was known for attracting the attention of many women across town. He too accepts that he was ‘famous’ amongst Karachi’s women, but avoids going into details because, according to him, “the past is the past”.

“Cars were my passion”, Vawda said. When asked if women were too, he blushed.

Foray into politics

The political journey of this 49 year old ‘one man show’ started a little while before 2010, when his relations with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan started to develop. However, he came into the national limelight after PTI’s famous rally in October 2011.

“I was never a part of PTI in Sindh. I had direct relations with my chairman Imran Khan, and that is where instructions related to my activity came from.”

If rumours are to be believed, Vawda was the main financier of the party from Karachi, which made him as close to Imran Khan as his two former comrades Jehangir Khan Tareen and Aleem Khan. When asked whether he was also one of the party’s main financiers like Tareen and Aleem Khan, Vawda smiled but refused to comment.

Looking deeper into Faisal Vawda’s politics, he was never seen as being close to his party colleagues or involved in the activities organized by the PTI in Karachi. However, he always had his own events which included rallies and solo press conferences; all planned his way, and always with an audience for it.

He contested for the seat of National Assembly in the General elections of 2018 from Karachi’s NA-249 Baldia town constituency, where he won the election by defeating the PMLN president and current prime minister Shehbaz Sharif by a very narrow margin.

The vote differential between Vawda and Sharif remained 718, but the high number of rejected votes - 2,684, more than the lead between the two candidates - raised many eyebrows. The PMLN president raised questions at the unusually high number of rejected votes. However, his plea for a recount was rejected by the returning officer (RO).

People speculate that just like other ‘surprising’ victories PTI scored in Karachi, Faisal Vawda’s constituency seat was also ‘managed’ by the establishment. But he refutes the claim, saying, “I must accept that it was a tough fight and I won with a very thin margin, but it was never rigged. The seat was so important and the media had great focus on it, therefore nobody contesting could even think of rigging”.

“In reality, it was Imran Khan’s popularity that won me my seat”, Vawda admitted.

He recalled that his election campaign was “phenomenal” compared to other PTI candidates in the city. For several days and nights, he personally conducted a door-to-door campaign in his constituency to canvass the voters and win their confidence.

As prime minister, Imran Khan gave him the portfolio for water resources with the status of federal minister. The ministry was in the national spotlight due to the “dam fund”, a campaign led by then-chief justice Saqib Nisar which has now faded from collective memory.

Despite being the federal minister for water resources, Vawda’s own constituency still remains the most water-deprived in all of Karachi.

Vawda claims that he wanted to do a lot for his constituency, but argues that “these services are the responsibility of the provincial government”. On the other hand, he clarifies, his ministry worked on K-4 water supply project, which would have benefited Karachi and his constituency of Baldia town as well. He claims that “deliberate hurdles were created and PM Imran Khan’s attention was diverted away from” this pressing issue.

Always in the spotlight

Faisal Vawda has an uncanny instinct of not missing any opportunity to occupy the spotlight, without caring for what impact it will have on his public image. Vawda was seen flaunting his American-made Glock sidearm during the November 2018 terrorist attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi.

Vawda suggested that “5,000 people in Pakistan ought to be hanged” because they had been accused of corruption.

Another act that went viral was bringing a military boot to a prime time news show and putting it on the table. The implication was that all politicians were ‘boot polishers’, and the news anchor was clueless or bewildered as to what he could do to stop Vawda. Vawda was given a light rap on the knuckles from premier Imran Khan for this act.

Courtesy: ARY News

Vawda often engaged in verbal spats with journalists on social media, especially those reporting on his dual nationality case and assets declaration. When Vawda was reminded of these incidents, he owned up to all of them, but did regret some.

“I once had a heated argument with journalist Matiullah Jan, which I now believe shouldn’t have happened. In spite of all my differences with him, I believe Matiullah is one of the most honest journalists in Pakistan,” Vawda said.

Nevertheless, during all these antics, his confidence reflected that he had strong backing from his party chairman, as well as the support of the establishment that was backing his chairman at the time. While Vawda may have lost his chairman’s support, the latter’s ‘distant warmth’ still remains.

Things have pretty much changed for Karachi’s famous Casanova since his former master Imran Khan canceled his party membership some three months ago. In Vawda’s contentious presser, another solo show conducted by Vawda and surprisingly broadcast live by state television, he warned Khan that his very own party’s march to Islamabad would be “bloody”. And in the very same march, Imran Khan survived an assassination attempt.

In the same presser, Vawda also took a different line on Arshad Sharif’s murder, vindicating the establishment of any blame even though his party has been accusing them viciously.

More beloved to Imran Khan than the party

“They were always after me”, Vawda said as he folded the sleeves of his shirt. He paused to light a cigarette, his third in the past half hour, and continued, “many in the party and the cabinet used to envy my close relations with the chairman, as I was not the kind of a person keeping their dirty secrets and would convey any corruption or wrongdoing within the party or cabinet to my prime minister Imran Khan”.

Adding to this, Faisal Vawda said that the PTI chairman had great trust in him and would immediately initiate inquiries through the Intelligence Bureau (IB) over his complaints. “But unfortunately, those involved from the party or the cabinet were very sharp, and they would sabotage the inquiries using the influence of a strong non-political figure”, Vawda said, alluding to this figure as ‘the Khaas’.

Once the closest aide of Imran Khan, Fasal Vawda is now skeptical about his political future, and believes in the policy of wait and watch. But he is sure that if Khan calls him late in the night, for any task, he will do it with the same loyalty and sincerity that he showed his leader in the past.

More beloved to the establishment than Khan

Apart from being closer to Imran Khan, Vawda has been evidently close to the most powerful quarters of the country - the establishment - as well.

He mentions that his relations with these institutions and their officials are based on ‘mutual respect’ and go back over more than a decade. “As a businessman, you often meet them in meetings and gatherings like FPCCI, KCCI and various business chambers of the country, and that’s where you start to develop these relations,” Vawda said.

He asked, “who in Pakistan does not want good relations with the establishment?” Few dare to talk about it openly, but Vawda says “some keep these relations secret, while others are waiting in line to be spotted by them”.

When asked if he tried mending relations between Imran Khan and Gen (retired) Bajwa after the former was ousted through a vote of no confidence, Vawda explains that ‘on his part’ he continued with his efforts. However, he laments that things could have gone in Imran Khan’s favour if Khan’s beloved advisors hadn’t kept pushing him to take an aggressive line against the establishment.

Assassination attempt on Imran Khan

He emphasized that he saved Imran Khan and a lot of other people from a disaster after unveiling the conspiracy that was being hatched by a very important person, who he referred to as special or ‘khaas’, to compromise Imran Khan and topple the PDM government as a result. Vawda added that this ‘special VIP’ is an over-ambitious man who, along with some top aides of the PTI, wanted the incumbent government to fall at the cost of Imran Khan’s life.

“I was privy to information that Imran Khan may get killed along with more than 50 people if things had gone according to the plan. And that’s how the 'khaas' (VIP) could have achieved his ulterior motives along with the three saanp (snakes), the top three PTI aides” to Khan, Vawda said.

The murder of Arshad Sharif

Vawda’s famous presser, the final straw that ended his association with the party, mostly focused on his anticipation of a bloody march, and his information about journalist Arshad Sharif’s murder in Kenya.

Sharif, a prime time news anchor, was known for discussing corruption scandals. Most of the time, Vawda appeared as his solo guest, to talk about the corruption of previous governments, especially of the PMLN. This was evidence, according to Vawda, that he was personally close to the slain journalist.

Vawda says he remained in contact with Arshad Sharif after he had gone into hiding. Vawda believes that the same ‘VIP’ (khaas) and the ‘snake’ (saanp) who he earlier alluded to, killed Arshad Sharif to initiate chaos in Pakistan and benefit from the situation.

“Sharif was used and misguided. This started happening six months before his murder. He was naïve and innocent. These people used an honest man like Arshad and lured him into their conspiracy theories, resulting in a breach in his relations with the institution. The poor man had already suffered a lot before. Finally, they got him murdered far away from his homeland”, said Vawda.

Vawda added that he would not let Arshad Sharif’s case linger on for years, and very soon he will reveal the identities of those who he believes were involved.

Several FIRs were lodged against Sharif in different police stations across the country for speaking out against state institutions. Meanwhile, the JIT investigating Arshad Sharif’s murder revealed that these FIRs were lodged when officials of intelligence agencies pressured local police to do their bidding.

Vawda admits that this happened, and that a ‘particular group of officials’ were behind a dastardly plot to implicate the current military leadership in the FIRs and link them to Sharif’s murder.

Two ‘Khaas’ and Three ‘Saanp

Vawda has not yet identified those who he refers to as the ‘khaas’ or the ‘saanp’. But he explained that the three top aides to Imran Khan who are seen to be the most active these days are the ‘saanp’, while the most important ‘khaas’ was a “non-political figure” who has led Pakistan’s most sensitive institution. “Let's assume he has been Pakistan’s chief sonar,” Vawda said.

“Allah has been very kind to me. I belong to a privileged class and I have no monetary ambitions for participating in politics or becoming a minister. This has been one of the reasons why the group behind all the conspiracies against Khan had been unable to influence me, but yes, they have finally succeeded in sidelining me”, Vawda explained.

In June 2020, it was widely reported in the media that a physical scuffle almost broke out between Faisal Vawda and Asad Umar in a cabinet meeting, but it was immediately de-escalated when then-PM Imran Khan intervened.

Vawda confirmed the incident, and said that he actually stood up to beat a minister and senior leader of the party for being over-ambitious.

Referring to Asad Umar, Vawda explained that the ‘mentioned individual’ had been pleasing the ‘khaas’ only, and not their party chairman Imran Khan, who was also the prime minister at the time. He claimed that Umar had prepared an official report wherein he blamed Imran Khan for failure in a specific task, only to emphasise that he was competent enough for the task, but failed in it due to the PM.

“I stood up to beat him, and I said it to his face that you have only prepared this report to prove that you are more capable than the prime minister, and you want to send this message to the establishment that you are more competent than the one they are supporting right now,” he explained.

Responding to a question on the influence of the ‘khaas’ & the ‘saanp’ on Imran Khan, and that he kept blaming these unnamed individuals for every blunder Khan made, Vawda responded that, “Khan sahab has started to realize, and with passage of time, he will see how he was misguided”. “But lets hope it’s not too late by then,” he concluded.

Imran Khan, the establishment, and the 'rule of revenge'

Imran Khan’s rule as prime minister began when his most significant political enemy, Mian Nawaz Sharif, and his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif, were already behind bars. Meanwhile, his government wasted no time in arresting other important people from the political opposition as well.

Vawda, who has been as vocal as Imran Khan is against the alleged corruption of political parties in Pakistan, now believes that all those arrested on corruption charges were either apprehended half-heartedly, or their cases were ‘managed’.

Vawda was himself seen celebrating most of these arrests, and often demanded inhumane punishments like hanging thousands of allegedly corrupt individuals, or dragging them behind a vehicle before doing so. Now he concedes that some arrests should not have been made, as they reflected revenge instead of accountability.

“Though I believe that our governance was comparatively better, we should still have focused more on it instead of continuously going after our political opponents. Most of these cases were genuine, but then we also knew the prosecution capabilities of our relevant institutions. Therefore, the focus should have mostly remained on serving the people who elected us,” Vawda explained.

He added that the PTI government was provided with great facilitation by former COAS Gen (retired) Bajwa. “This was not only helpful to our government, but the army chief too had his reasons for it. Instead, we used it against our political opponents, or to curb the media that was criticizing us, instead of ensuring better governance”.

Reference against Justice Faez Isa

While Vawda had been shedding light on important matters during the PTI government, he believes ‘unreasonable’ and ‘unjustified’ are inadequate words to describe the case against Justice Qazi Faez Isa.

“Our government did it at the behest of someone else to settle his (‘khaas’) score. It was linked to his judgment in the 2017 ‘Faizabad Dharna’ case. I, along with Fawad Chaudhary and Shireen Mazari, advised PM Khan not to pursue it, but the ‘khaas’ influenced him,” describes Vawda.

The Vawda & Sharif disqualifications

Vawda faced a fate similar to former PM Nawaz Sharif, who was also disqualified by the country’s apex court. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had, on February 9, 2022, imposed a lifetime ban on Faisal Vawda for concealing his dual nationality when filing papers to contest the election for a national assembly seat in the 2018 elections. The Supreme Court has now set aside the ECP’s decision, and allowed Vawda to contest the next general elections.

Today, Vawda hints that there could have been a ‘bias’ when Nawaz Sharif’s case was being decided by the Supreme Court. Vawda also believes that no politician should be banned for life.

Future of PTI and Imran Khan

Commenting on Imran Khan’s popularity, Vawda said that no one has any doubts about it, but Khan cannot contest on all the electoral seats across the country.

“I see Imran Khan legally being disqualified very soon, and there the bubble of the party’s popularity will burst. Its success in the next general election will become uncertain, and I believe elections are not happening this year. There will be absolute chaos in the absence of Khan’s leadership, but then this is what the 'khaas' and the 'saanp' really wanted,” he added.

Vawda said that PTI cannot continue with its politics of agitation, but its leaders believe their popularity lies in agitation, and that is one of the main reasons why there are hardly any dialogues on important national matters.

He said that Imran Khan has deftly created an aura that he is 'different' from all the other parties. "Therefore, we have seen that even in the most sensitive meetings, he refrained from attending or chairing those meetings where members of opposition were also attending," Faisal Vawda said.

Commenting on PTI’s future in electoral politics, he cited an example of PTI winning 14 seats, emerging as the top party in Karachi, and said that “we did not return the favour bestowed upon us by the people of Karachi”. He added that chances to defend all these seats in Karachi is very difficult, and people will only vote PTI in Karachi on the popularity of Imran Khan, otherwise “we had done nothing for them”.

A kingmaker in Karachi?

If one looks at how Faisal Vawda became relevant to the media again, it was him continuously releasing statements against MQM chief Altaf Hussain and his party, accusing them of being behind violence in Karachi. This context requires a brief recap of the political events in Pakistan's urban metropolis during the past decade.

After the 2013 general elections, politics took a new turn in Karachi after the MQM, headed by Altaf Hussain, began to lose its support from the establishment. On the other hand, the law enforcing agencies closed in on its workers, and raided its party offices including its head office ‘Nine Zero’, arresting many of its workers and leaders.

Fast forward to 3 March 2016: two of MQM’s senior and most popular leaders, Mustafa Kamal and Anees Qaimkhani, returned to Karachi after spending three years in Dubai under self-imposed exile. While the whole nation, including the press, was clueless about their plans - which they were supposed to announce in a press conference - Faisal Vawda pre-empted them hours earlier, already revealing to a news channel that the two leaders would be announcing their own political party in the coming days.

Whatever was happening in Karachi’s politics behind the curtains, Faisal Vawda was seems to be part of it or was privy to all the information.

In the end of 2017, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) led by Dr. Farooq Sattar, and Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) chairman Mustafa Kamal, held a press conference at the Karachi press club announcing a merger of both parties, but it was immediately dissolved as party workers termed it a "marriage of convenience". However, it was also speculated that PTI’s Faisal Vawda had been bringing the leaders of the two parties on the table, along with officials of an unnamed institution.

Vawda acknowledged that he was part of the meetings, and that he believed that these leaders of MQM had great stakes in the politics of the city, which is why he participated in unifying these former political colleagues for "sustainable peace and political stability in the city of Karachi".

He went on to add that he was still in contact with "all the leaders of all the faction of Muhajir parties" and had convinced them "personally" before they finally unified in the banner of MQM-Pakistan in January this year.

Faisal Vawda’s political future

It has been over three months since Vawda’s basic party membership has been cancelled by Imran Khan, but he continues to appear on TV with the same consistency. However, in proving his continued loyalty to his chairman Imran Khan, Vawda has not yet joined any other political platform.

From this conversation, it appears that he still wants to work with Imran Khan, if Khan "welcomes him back".

On casually being asked about other political leaders, Faisal Vawda termed PPP’s Asif Zardari as a ‘zabardast siyasatdaan’ ("amazing politician"). But when responding to a question about joining PMLN or PPP, Faisal Vawda said “I would rather leave politics”.