People & Society Meteor

Jahangir Tareen: PTI's money man

Updated 16 Dec, 2017 11:58am
Illustration by Aan Abbas
Illustration by Aan Abbas

It has been a rough few months for Jahangir Tareen. Just a few days before the Raiwind rally, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) general secretary became involved in an internal fight, with the party’s youth wing, that quickly turned into a very public brawl. Posters calling for his dismissal were printed. Then, PTI Additional General Secretary Saifullah Niazi resigned from his post, allegedly after developing differences with Tareen.

Most damning of all, on September 25, 2016, Justice (retd) Wajihuddin Ahmed also resigned.

The former Supreme Court judge was commissioned to investigate “irregularities” in PTI’s intra-party election tribunal in 2015. “Buckets of money” had been poured into elections, the tribunal had concluded. Publicly stating that elections on several prominent seats were rigged, Ahmed called for the ouster of a few senior members, including Tareen. According to some reports, citing PTI members who wished to not be named, “a group within the party, led by Mr Tareen” strongly opposed the release of the tribunal’s report.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the vice chairman of PTI, has also openly spoken against Tareen. “The workers’ ideology will defeat the power of money,” he said at a campaign for intra-party elections in Lahore. Hamid Khan, one of the founders and a core committee member of the PTI, said he would not allow PTI to turn into ‘PTI-Q’ — a clear jab at Tareen, who was part of the Pakistan Muslim League–Quaid-e-Azam (PMLQ) during Pervez Musharraf’s years in power in the 2000s. Later, PTI chief Imran Khan made the two shake hands and Qureshi subsequently denied saying what he said. But the damage had been done; a weakness exposed.

He is perceived by his detractors – both within and especially outside of the PTI – as someone who is able to buy influence. Allegations of money laundering and loans defaulted continue to haunt him.

One of the wealthiest men in politics, owning thousands of acres of farmland, a private plane – that Imran Khan has been criticised for travelling in – and running some of the largest sugar mills in the country, Tareen (with assets worth around 1.18 billion rupees) has remained a controversial figure. He inherited his first sugar mill – in Rahim Yar Khan – from his father-in-law Makhdoom Hasan Mehmood, a prominent political figure in the 1970s and 1980s. Tareen’s critics allege his sugar business benefitted a lot during the Musharraf era when he remained the federal minister for industries for five years. He joined the PTI in late 2011, after resigning as a member of the National Assembly from a constituency in Rahim Yar Khan, as he felt his vision aligned with Imran Khan’s. He contested the 2013 general elections from a seat in Lodhran district — a place he has heavily invested in, in terms of business, charity and development. But he lost the elections. In the by-polls held for the same seat – after the Supreme Court annulled the results of the earlier election – Tareen defeated his opponent by a margin of over 35,000 votes.

He is perceived by his detractors – both within and especially outside of the PTI – as someone who is able to buy influence. Allegations of money laundering and loans defaulted continue to haunt him. In April 2016, he admitted to having an offshore company registered in the United Kingdom under the names of his children. The revelation comes as a blow to PTI’s most recent rhetoric and spate of protests, with Imran Khan demanding Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to admit to his and his family’s offshore accounts.

Tareen is known to fund many of the PTI’s protests and anti-government rallies, where Imran Khan promises ‘change’ and advocates ‘anti-mainstream politics’, with anti-corruption as their catchphrase. Tareen stands right beside him in these.

His presence in the upper echelons of the party is highlighting the rift between those who want to focus more on mobilising public support for the party’s original agenda of a corruption-free, just and fair Pakistan and those who want the party to focus on winning elections. He represents the latter group. The members of this group, including Tareen and several other PTI leaders – such as the former governor of Punjab, Chaudhry Sarwar and Aleem Khan in Lahore – argue that the party did not win in the 2013 election because it did not have sufficient influential candidates and did not invest as much money in the elections as its rivals did. The way Imran Khan continues to keep Tareen among his inner circle, to the displeasure of many in PTI, suggests that he is going to let Tareen’s group lead the poll campaign for the next elections. That will be Tareen’s biggest political test. It is uncertain whether he will succeed.

This was originally published in the Herald's October 2016 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.