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Shafqat Mahmood, Imran’s new media czar, was his strongest critic – by Umar Cheema


ISLAMABAD: As Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) is flooded with newcomers, the appointment of a fresh recruit, Shafqat Mehmood, as secretary information has raised many eyebrows as he was one of the ardent critics of Imran Khan, terming him a “signal failure”.

In a strange twist of fate, Shafqat Mehmood has replaced Omer Sarfraz Cheema, as secretary information who had been regularly sending rejoinders to Shafqat’s diatribe against Imran Khan, not realising that this man would soon be grabbing his position as the party grows in size and space.

Shafqat wrote in an article on Imran that as a “westernised liberal person” while he was railing “against something called western culture, which was a straight forward rejection of modernisation.”

His article published in The News on May 15, 2009 titled “Imran Khan’s strange politics” (http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=177589&Cat=9&dt=5/15/2009) and Omer’s subsequent rejoinder defending Imran, are quite instructive to determine how the wind of change leaves an impact on hearts and minds.

Lauding his contribution in sports and social work in that article, Shafqat then started counting Imran’s shortcomings: “When it comes to politics and policy though, the same Imran is unfortunately a signal failure.”

“It can be truly said of him that he never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” wrote Shafqat about Imran. He was probably right as he never missed an opportunity to grab a good position.

A former bureaucrat, Shafqat was joint secretary in the Prime Minister’s Secretariat when appointed Special Assistant to PM Benazir Bhutto, then got elected as PPP senator, later took oath in President Farooq Laghari’s caretaker cabinet after Benazir was sent home. He didn’t stop here.

Shafqat also served under Pervaiz Musharraf in the Punjab’s cabinet. But when it came to attacking Imran, he criticised him for joining hands with Musharraf in his early days. In Shafqat’s word, Imran “flip-flopped with Musharraf — supporting him in the rigged referendum, opposing him in the ensuing general election — and got the worst of both worlds.”

By the time, his article was published in May 2009, Shafqat was voicing support of Mian Nawaz Sharif while lambasting Imran for foolish choices and missing opportunities. He continued: “He (Imran) could have teamed up with Nawaz Sharif in 1997 and got his party a presence in parliament. He did not.”

A politician should know, he went to explain, which battles can be won and which are a lost cause. Shafqat then thought that “Imran is on the wrong side of history.” His frustration against Imran was also based on the latter’s stance on militancy as PTI chief was opposed to army operation in tribal areas and Swat and thought that Imran is opponent of modernisation.

According to Shafqat, Imran’s biggest policy blunder was his stance on militants: “But, all these mistakes pale in comparison when measured up against his obsessive, single track refusal to understand that these barbarian hordes targeting Fata and Malakand division are a threat to our country. He has just one mantra that this is America’s fault, America’s fault, America… etc. America has contributed to it but is that the only problem we confront?”

Terming himself a westernised liberal, he wrote: “If he does not want to believe a ‘westernised liberal’ like me, he should read Saleem Saafi in Jang or others that know these people well.” At the end of his article, he urged Imran to stand with the people and armed forces.

Omer’s job at the time was to defend party leadership’s policy, right or wrong, that he did through issuing a rejoinder published four-days later (http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=178276&Cat=11&dt=5/19/2009), not realising that this man would usurp his position doing the same job, no matter it is intellectually right or wrong.

Responding to a set of queries, Shafqat told The News that he now has had a change of heart towards Imran and that he has “always liked Imran” and his misunderstandings about PTI chief removed after having detailed sittings with him.

“Imran is a good politician. The change we dream of is only possible through him,” said Shafqat whose opinion has transformed now. Imran has two essential qualities a leader must possess: honesty and determination, he explained, and clarified that the slot he has been given was not his dream position as he wanted to focus on policy matters.

Talking about the above-quoted article, Shafqat said he had lambasted Imran for opposing operation against militants without clearly understanding what PTI chief really meant. “But detailed discussions later on convinced me about Imran’s vision on how to combat militancy,” he said.

Asked about his speculative plan of joining PML-N in 2009, Shafqat acknowledged that he had several meetings with the N-leadership but those were all about policy matters and he was invited as an analyst, not a potential new entrant.

He acknowledged working under Musharraf but declared it as a wrong decision. Shafqat said he had served in bureaucracy and politics but nobody can point fingers towards his financial integrity.

Source: The News

Source: Daily Jang