On The Side

Fawad Chaudhry: The megaphone

Published 20 Feb, 2019 09:47pm
Illustration by Maria Huma
Illustration by Maria Huma

Fawad Hussain Chaudhry lives in the present. The past does not concern him and the future isn’t here yet. Last month he went after the two political parties he once belonged to. During a visit to Karachi, Chaudhry made a thinly veiled threat of dislodging the Sindh government with the help of allies of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in the provincial legislature and also called for Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah’s resignation. That he served as an unelected special assistant to the prime minister in the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government in 2012-13 does not bother him when he lashes out against his former boss Asif Ali Zardari.

Neither did his past affiliation with the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (PMLQ) weigh him down when he claimed a forward bloc was emerging in it even though the party is the PTI’s coalition partner in Punjab. His statement angered the PMLQ leadership so much that a provincial minister belonging to it resigned citing interference in his ministry and the party has decided to take up its grievances directly with Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The information minister, indeed, thrives on confrontation. In his short tenure, he has managed to rile up politicians, journalists, judges and bureaucrats. He has tendered apologies and offended again soon after. He has also been barred from attending a Senate session for using non-parliamentary language. But Chaudhry appears to be immune to the onslaught. In many ways, he is echoing Sheikh Rashid’s role during the 1990s when, as a close confidant of Nawaz Sharif, he spared no opportunity to discredit political opponents with personal attacks. Rashid still sometimes seems to aspire to have Chaudhry’s job.

Even the media – of which Chaudhry himself has been a part as a talk-show host – fails to faze him. He talks of the need to regulate television channels and newspapers even when he once used them to deride politicians. His government has also proposed a highly controversial new media regulatory authority. But when confronted by a journalist about newspapers facing financial and censorship pressures, Chaudhry nonchalantly (and inaccurately) cited this very magazine’s closure as proof of the irrelevance of traditional media. Relevance, in fact, is a concern for his own ministry.

With every province and every federal ministry having its own spokesperson, the press information department, which comes under the federal information ministry, has become fairly redundant. Other appointments – such as the recent induction of Nadeem Afzal Chan as the prime minister’s spokesperson — also belie the need to have one authoritative disseminator of the government information. It, however, is another argument as to who Chaudhry is actually speaking for.

Born in a politically active family in Jhelum, he first dabbled in electoral politics when he contested the 2002 elections from a Punjab Assembly constituency and managed to secure only 161 votes. He then joined Pervez Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) as its media coordinator and remained affiliated with it till 2012 when differences between him and Musharraf over the latter’s decision to return to Pakistan led him to quit the APML and join the PPP. Just before the 2013 general elections, he jumped ship once again and contested the polls for the National Assembly on a PMLQ ticket, albeit unsuccessfully.

Three years later, Chaudhry was ready to make a move again. In June 2016, he joined the PTI, a party he had chided on many talk shows including one he hosted himself. He was rewarded with a ticket to contest a National Assembly by-election in Jhelum but lost. It was finally in the 2018 general elections that he won both National Assembly and Punjab Assembly seats in his native district but decided to retain the former and was inducted in the federal cabinet. It is to his credit that he manages to secure box seats in whichever political theatre he decides to walk into — with or without electoral victory. So, for now, Chaudhry’s faith in the PTI and Imran Khan seems unshakable. In any case, he embodies Khan’s propensity for and belief in U-turns. But who knows what the future holds and who Chaudhry will be speaking for come tomorrow.

This article was published in the Herald's February 2019 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.