KARACHI, May 29: Syed Qaim Ali Shah has not only clinched the unique honour of becoming the only chief minister in Sindh’s history to have completed the five-year term, he is also the first among his peers to have been nominated twice in a row as the province’s chief executive. He also equals Khanbahadur Ayub Khuhro’s record of being Sindh chief minister three times in all.
With his good buddy of youth, Syed Ghous Ali Shah, he is the second man from Khairpur to assume the top slot.While the Sindh Assembly’s website says he is going to turn 80 on September 13, some family members and close friends say he passed that milestone a few years ago.
Mr Shah was born and brought up in a middle-class family of Khairpur, formerly a princely state, where he attended his primary school. He graduated from the University of Karachi and obtained an LLB degree from Karachi’s Sindh Muslim Law College.He returned to Khairpur as a qualified lawyer and began his practice, where he developed good friendly terms with Syed Ghous Ali Shah when none of the two could predict then they were going to become leading politicians and long-time political adversaries.
Those two contemporaries started their political careers by joining the Muslim League where Pir Pagara, Shah Mardan Shah, was already there to guide them.He contested twice in Ayub Khan’s basic democracies elections and was second-time lucky. That was his first taste of power politics.
Residents of Khairpur vividly recall that almost one year to the founding of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party, Syed Umaid Ali Shah, a personality of Khairpur known for his interest in social work and art and culture and Mr Shah’s brother-in-law, took him away from Pir Jo Goth and arranged his meeting with Mr Bhutto to join the PPP.
As Mr Shah told many of his friends, he was bowled over by Mr Bhutto’s personality and believed instantly that he was facing a ‘born leader’.
Though he was in his late 30s then, Z.A. Bhutto asked him to galvanise the youth. PPP cadres claim it is not Imran Khan but Mr Bhutto who believed in the power of the youth and took concerted measures to motivate and energise them by forming student and youth organisations.
It was then when Syed Pervez Ali Shah, Mr Shah’s nephew, a former Sindh senior minister and now an estranged party activist, and other family members followed suit and joined the PPP.
Mr Bhutto fielded Mr Shah in the 1970’s epic general elections for the National Assembly, which he convincingly won and went on to become the federal minister for industries. He won the same seat from Khairpur in the 1977’s botched elections and remained loyal to the ‘born leader’, when General Ziaul Haq launched a bloodless coup and overthrew Mr Bhutto.
When most of his critics praise him for remaining loyal to his party in distress since November 1968, others accuse him of meeting President Farooq Laghari after the removal of Benazir Bhutto’s second government in 1996 – a charge which remains unauthenticated to date like the claim that he was mistreated by some hot-heated party youth during his first term in the coveted seat 24 years ago.Aside from myths and allegations, 1996 did not fare well for Mr Shah. He became centre of suspicion among his detractors, and subsequently he lost in the 1997 elections for the first time in his political career to his traditional antagonist Syed Ghous Ali Shah, whom he had defeated thrice previously in consecutive general elections. Then he lost the PPP Sindh presidency to Nisar Khuhro for the party’s worst performance in Sindh only to regain the top slot in 2002, which he still enjoys. However, he won a party ticket to become a member of the senate in 1997.
Mr Shah was not among Benazir’s famous ‘uncles’ accused of leaving the Bhuttos in the lurch. However, unlike many of his peers, he had never been a political prisoner either. During the 1983 campaign against General Zia’s dictatorial regime planned by the multiparty Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) he remained underground ‘as per party policy’ devised to keep some of its leaders out of jail to guide the cadres. When hundreds of party leaders had either volunteered their arrests or had been caught, he ‘successfully’ kept in hiding or opted to keep a low profile.
He became the Sindh PPP president in 1987 and went on to become chief minister for the first time after the 1988 elections. He remained on the top post for 13 months and made way for Aftab Shaban Mirani after being accused of failing mainly in controlling law and order in Karachi.
The situation in Karachi was not better during his second term when thousands of people fell victim to targeted killings and bomb explosions. However, he completed his term, first by any Sindh CM, though the PPP’s central government changed its prime minister after four years for a host of reasons.
Mr Shah won in the 1990 polls and became leader of the opposition in the Sindh Assembly and again in 1993 when Abdullah Shah became the chief minister and his son Asad Ali Shah was taken as adviser for finance, as a compensation as he had not been offered any post in the government.
He lost in 1997 to Ghous Ali Shah for various reasons, including a split in the party, which caused Syed Pervez Ali Shah and his sister Bibi Irshad Jilani to quit and field their own candidates against Mr Shah and his son, Asad. PPP leaders love to forget the day when results showed that the father-son duo lost to PML-N candidates.
When critics accused him of being unable to stand against the odds and easily succumb to pressures, others admire him for being a polite and soft-spoken person. Critics say Mr Shah was and is just a façade to conceal the ‘real’ rulers. He carried the burden of such allegations all through his tenure and is expected to continue it in his next government given the fact that the May 11 elections have brought some new faces, who were out of the assembly before but were suspected of running the main affairs.
A good volleyball player in his teens and an avid cinemagoer in his youth, who often watched Pakistani and Indian movies in Khairpur’s Javed theatre, Mr Shah once again defeated his old political adversary Ghous Ali Shah and avenged for the 1997 debacle.
His well-wishers accuse his detractors in the party that they had launched a smear campaign and had spread rumours about Mr Shah.
“He should be an example for those who admire healthy habits as he stopped smoking some 50 years ago. Since then, he has never adopted any unhealthy habit and has ideal health among his peers,” says a fellow PPP leader.
Mr Shah married three times, two of his wives have passed away. His third wife, married in 1989 when he was the chief minister for the first time, is of Iranian origin and a close relative of the ex-royal family of Iran.
He has four sons and seven daughters, all of them are highly educated and most of them in government service.
His eldest son, Syed Muzaffar Ali Shah, is a retired federal government officer; Syed Liaquat Ali Shah is a doctor, currently serving as a professor in the Ghulam Mohammad Maher Medical College. Syed Asad Ali Shah is a self-employed chartered accountant. He served as adviser to the Sindh chief minister for finance between 1993 and 1996.
Syed Afzal Shah is a mathematician and lives in the United States.
Of Mr Shah’s daughters, Naheed Shah Durrani is a CSS officer selected during the Zia regime. She is currently serving as secretary in the Board of Investment in the Sindh government.Nighat Shah is a gynaecologist and Nusrat Shah is also a doctor. Shamshad Shah and Najma Shah are housewives.
Journalist-turned-politician Nafeesa Shah served as the nazima of Khairpur district until 2007. She was an MNA in 2008-13 and is again on the top of the reserved seats for women in the National Assembly.
Nuzhat Shah is a person with special needs while his youngest daughter, Mona Shah, is completing her BDS from a private medical university.