How deep is your love?

Loyalists in Pakistan's political parties are rewarded for falling on their swords

How deep is your love?
The Supreme Court wants to know what prompted PML-N Senator Nehal Hashmi to threaten those “who were investigating” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family in the Panama Leaks case, in a video that went viral on May 28. Hashmi has since been kicked out of the party. This would be tantamount to political suicide but Hashmi has only accomplished what so many politicians in Pakistan have done for decades: fall on their sword to prove their loyalty to the party supremos.

Hashmi joins a line of PML-N loyalists. Senator Mushahidullah Khan resigned after an interview in which he alleged that a former spy chief had tried to stage coup during the dharna. Senator Parvaiz Rasheed stepped down after a Dawn story on a high-level civil-military meeting on banned outfits. Advisor Tariq Fatemi was also removed in this case. Defence Minister Khawaja Asif was only one who scraped by in ‘DawnLeaks’ but it took an apology-like declaration in favour of the armed forces.

Mairaj Muhamamd Khan being beaten in a teacher protest in 1974 and was arrested. ZAB was PM - Photo-MM Khan Collection

But for every loyalist who has fallen on his sword, scores others have been rewarded. Mamnoon Hussain has been made president and Iftikhar Jhagra the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. According to inner circles, Mamnoon Hussain used to send food for Nawaz Sharif from his kitchen during his incarceration in Karachi. Iftikhar Jhagra’s major qualification is his loyalty to Kulsoom Nawaz.

Khawaja Asif

This is because in Pakistan the cult of the persona has trumped party loyalty since 1958. These commitments were strengthened with the 18th Amendment which made changes to the Political Parties Act. This made having a difference of opinion with the party line tantamount to floor crossing, that ran the risk of loss of seat. This has made politicians commit themselves even more to the cult. But lest we think that this is a singularly Pakistani phenomenon, consider the case of the former FBI director which shows that despite a history of democratic development, personal loyalty is still very much currency in the West.

History is littered with examples of victims and victors.

Parvaiz Rasheed

In Pakistan the cult of the persona has trumped party loyalty since 1958. These commitments were strengthened with the 18th Amendment which made changes to the Political Parties Act. This made having a difference of opinion with the party line tantamount to floor crossing, that ran the risk of loss of seat


The most conspicuous show of loyalty was made when the death sentence was announced for ZA Bhutto in 1978. “Many political workers from the Pakistan Peoples Party set themselves on fire,” recalls Dr Syed Jaffar Ahmed, a former director of the Pakistan Study Centre. If ZAB inspired such devotion, he only knew it too well. He expressed loyalty to Field Marshal Ayub Khan to the extent that he is said to have even called him ‘daddy’ before he parted ways with him, according to Raja Anwar’s book The Terrorist Prince: The Life and Death of Murtaza Bhutto.

Bhutto was ultimately a feudal who would brook no disloyalty. His rise has been attributed to support from the Left—from students, peasants and workers on the forefront against the Ayub regime. But they were sidelined when he consolidated power after 1971. Those who believed in ideological loyalty found themselves on the wayside. First, loyalists from the mass movement of 1967-68 were co-opted such as Mubashir Hassan, Mairaj Muhammad Khan, J. A. Rahim. Party founding member J. A. Rahim, who wrote the party’s first manifesto and came to the PPP with hopes of a socialist movement, was beaten up for using critical language for ZAB. Mairaj Muhammad Khan, a romantic from the left, was bloodied as he tried to come to the aid of teachers protesting for better working conditions. His temerity to show solidarity with an anti-government labour protest landed him in jail. And so, soon the idealists were marginalized with the rise of the center and right in the party. These figures included former Jamaat-e-Islami member and Lahore chief Kausar Niazi.

Those who proved their fealty and dared not counter Bhutto were rewarded. Aftab Khan Sherpao was a recipient of Bhutto’s largesse. Sherpao’s brother Hayat was killed by Pashtun separatists in a bomb blast. At the time, Sherpao had been serving in the Pakistan Army but he left on ZAB’s advice and joined the PPP. He became Bhutto’s most trusted man in NWFP and was elected chief minister twice. He only parted ways with the PPP when Benazir Bhutto cast her vote of confidence in favour of Farooq Ahmed Leghari for the top slot. Leghari had been a staunch PPP member from 1973. He was elected president in 1993. But he proved disloyal three years later when he dismissed her government.

“Party loyalists are not rewarded for their thinking and performance but for their loyalty to the Bhutto family,” Louis D. Hayes writes in his book, The Islamic State in Post-Modern World: The Political Experience of Pakistan. “The assassination and martyrdom of Benazir Bhutto in 2007 added to the mystique of the PPP, something created by Zia’s execution of her father Zulfikar, and eventually led to her husband’s election as president.”

Benazir understood this equation well, if not through lessons from her father’s life but her own experience. She also rewarded labour and student leaders, especially those who played a role in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in the 1980s: some names are Rahila Tiwana, Masroor Ahsan and Khwaja Muhammad Awan. Khawaja Muhammad Awan was awarded the ticket from Landhi and appointed provincial labour minister. Then there were the likes of Faisal Saleh Hayat who had shown loyalty in other ways. He used to visit Nusrat Bhutto and Benazir in jail after ZAB’s judicial killing. He was given the portfolio of Commerce in 1988-90. (However, he later joined the Musharraf regime to avoid cases). In 2004, Benazir could not say no to a youth who set himself on fire for her sake when he wanted a job later on. She also rewarded with jobs and homes the families of the workers killed and injured in the assassination attempt on her homecoming parade in 2007. The party workers had formed a human shield around her bulletproof vehicle.

The difference between Benazir and her father, however, is that BB rewarded her critics. For example, she tolerated Fauzia Wahab’s criticisms on policy matters. In fact, she sometimes went 15 to 20 days without speaking to her out of anger only to realise later that Wahab had been right.

Asif Ali Zardari is best known for his friendships. Many friends were made during his Cadet College Petaro days from 1966 till 1972. They included Dr Asim Hussain, Zulfiqar Mirza, and Major Masood Sharif Khattak. Masood Sharif was appointed chief of the Intelligence Bureau and was close to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. When Murtaza Bhutto was assassinated in 1996, it was Sharif who dared to inform the PM. Sharif was later appointed PPP senior vice president in 2002. However, cracks emerged when a former director of the FIA, Rehman Malik, was instrumental in a successful deal with the Musharraf regime that culminated in an amnesty to Benazir and Zardari and a number of his friends. Masood Sharif was left with no choice but to say goodbye to the PPP. He joined the PTI.

Zardari spent eleven years behind bars—three in early 1990s and eight when Benazir lost power in 1996. During these periods, he grew close again to his Petarian friend Dr Asim when he was treated at Ziauddin Hospital. At that time ironically Dr Asim was closer to the MQM. However, later Asim was elected senator and controlled the lucrative oil and gas ministry. At present he is in hot water with the law for which he underwent 19 months of interrogations and jail. When he came out, he was made president of the PPP in Karachi.

Another doctor who Zardari got to know in jail was Dr Qayyum Soomro who was affiliated with the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F). One day, he and his friends went to meet Maulana Fazlur Rehman at a gathering at Qari Usman’s Karachi seminary. Dr Qayyum asked Rehman to help transfer him from Civil hospital to Karachi Central Jail. Rehman sent the application ahead and health minister Abdul Hakim Baloch signed off. Hardly three days had passed when the PPP government came to an end. And in the coming days Dr Qayyum ended up playing a role as messenger between Zardari’s people such as Salman, Usman Faruqi and Sharmila Faruqi. Dr Qayyum became a senator from 2009 to 2015. For her jail time, Sharmila was rewarded as advisor to Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah.

Lawyer Farooq H. Naek was rewarded for defending Benazir and Zardari in corruption cases by being elected senator from Sindh in 2003 and law minister in 2008. Naek become chairman of the Senate for three years. Other loyal lawyers are Babar Awan and Latif Khosa. Awan was appointed law minister and Khosa Punjab governor. While in jail, Faisal Raza Abidi and Maqbool Shaikh had developed ties with Mr Zardari. When he became president, Shaikh became the chief security officer and Abidi a senator.

Zardari’s decision attracted criticism from old Bhutto loyalists. Benazir’s political secretary Naheed Khan and her spouse, former Senator Safdar Abbasi, for example, were sidelined after BB’s murder. She had been with Benazir for almost 25 years. “The bosses, sitting at the helm of affairs of the country, are directly targeting veteran Bhutto loyalists who not only suffered long jail terms and rendered matchless sacrifices but also kept on working to uphold Bhutto legacy despite heavy odds,” she said. According to her, the ‘Bhuttoists’ included Ibne Rizvi, Malik Mazhar, Israr Shah, Chaudhry Aslam, Sajida Mir, Anwer Sindhu, Safdar Abbasi and Qadir Shaheen.

Yousaf Raza Gilani is another loyalist who fell on his sword. He had to spend several years in prison to prove his loyalty to the PPP before he was made PM. He was disqualified, however, by the chief justice for refusing to open fraud investigations against President Zardari.

Mushahidullah Khan


It is, however, in the personality cult of Imran Khan that we have seen a new kind of loyalty in the shape of the Twitter troll. Anything the Great Khan says is defended on social media just as his detractors, or those of any party members, are skinned on social media by an army of typers.

Imran Khan has worked much the same way as any party supremo, however, when it comes to elevating his backers. Despite strong opposition by ideological activists against the appointment of Pervaiz Khattak—who was previously loyal to Aftab Khan Sherpao and the PPP—Imran Khan made him chief minister of KP. Contesting candidates like PTI Central Deputy Information Secretary Shah Farman withdrew in favour of provincial president Asad Qaiser but Imran threw his weight behind Khattak. Shah Farman said: “Our support for the CM seat is with Asad Qaisar as he is an ideological activist who worked hard to strengthen the party. He deserves to be the next CM.”

And just the like others, Imran does not tolerate a departure from his line. He made former friend Lt Gen (retired) Mohammad Hamid Khan director general of the KP accountability commission. However, when he initiated a broad accountability process, the provincial government promulgated a number of changes in the Ehtesab Ordinance, 2015 to clip his wings, which eventually culminated in his resignation.
Despite strong opposition by ideological activists against the appointment of Pervaiz Khattak-who was previously loyal to Aftab Khan Sherpao and the PPP-Imran Khan made him chief minister of KP


Awami National Party’s president Asfandyar Wali Khan knows the value of friends, for they were the ones who came to his side when he faced political opposition from his stepmother Begum Nasim Wali Khan in the early days. One of them was Abdul Nabi Bangash, a businessman from Hangu, who came close to Asfandyar even though he was associated with a nationalist movement. Before his election to the Senate he was asked to take provincial assembly members on a tour of Dubai for a few days where he ran a business.

Another confidante is Senator Shahi Syed, who runs the ANP in Sindh. He is said to be involved with Asfandyar in business abroad, but both of them have denied this allegation repeatedly. Shahi Syed has hosted and supported Asfandyar’s son Aimal Khan in Karachi  while he completed his education and Aimal eventually married Shahi Syed’s daughter.

Another loyalist is Afrasiab Khattak who decided in the 1990s to support Asfandyar against Begum Nasim Wali to end her influence in party affairs and that of her staunch group of Fareed Tofan and Mian Iftikhar Hussain. Afrasiab was instrumental in introducing the ANP president to the US State Department and Afghan president Hamid Karzai and US envoy Zalmay Khalizad which eventually culminated in support for the US war on terror. In return for his services, he was appointed secretary general to the party and Senator.

Tariq Fatemi

The difference between Benazir and her father, however, is that BB rewarded her critics. For example, she tolerated Fauzia Wahab's criticisms on policy matters. In fact, she sometimes went 15 to 20 days without speaking to her out of anger only to realise later that Wahab had been right


But if any party leader has openly spelled it out openly, it has been Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Altaf Hussain:  Everyone knows: ‘Jo Quaid ka ghaddar he, wo mout ka haqdar he’ (Whoever betrays the supreme leader, is liable to be killed). He was and perhaps still is considered its supreme leader. Although he left Pakistan in 1991, he was able to destroy anyone who tried to take his place. When you join, you have to actually pledge allegiance to Quaid-e-Tahreek.

But what perhaps stood out about the MQM was that Altaf Hussain made it a point to elevate grassroots workers. Part of this strategy was simply to prevent the party’s top tier from becoming too powerful. Over the years, Altaf has blessed loyalists like former Sindh governor, Ishratul Ibad Khan, former mayor Mustafa Kamal, former federal minister Babar Ghauri, Farooq Sattar. But if you try to leave the party, you end up like Azam Tariq and Imran Farooq, even if you were one of the founding members. Numerous police families will testify today that woe betide you if you were part of the operation against the MQM in 1992.

Altaf’s anger over disloyalty is blind to party hierarchy. In 2013, members of the Rabita Committee were beaten by charged workers, because Altaf was angry they had not defended him against Imran Khan’s accusations in the murder of party leader Zahra Shahid Hussain.