Having won elections from his hometown constituency of Sialkot on four consecutive occasions — 1993, 1997, 2002 and 2008 — Khawaja Muhammad Asif is again running from a National Assembly seat for the region — NA-110 (Sialkot-I) — in the May 11 polls. He is moreover contesting from PP-123, a provincial assembly seat for Sialkot.
Enjoying strong support of his Kashmiri community in Sialkot — a region where biradari has always played a pivotal role, the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) firebrand leader has remained unbeaten in all elections since his return to Pakistan in 1991 after living in the UAE for many years.
Born in 1949, he has also been a Senator between 1991 and 1993. He was appointed chairman privatisation commission with the status of a federal minister during Nawaz Sharif’s 1997-1999 government.
Asif briefly held the portfolio of federal minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources with an additional charge of sports before his party pulled out of the Pakistan Peoples Party-led coalition government in 2008.
Asif, considered close to PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif, evolved differences with Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan who is known for his assertiveness within party affairs. Reports of a widening rift between Asif and former PML-N MPA-now-PTI candidate from Sialkot, Engineer Imran Ashraf, also surfaced in March 2013 over the halting of development funds for PP-123.
The PML-N leader also faced court proceedings for allegedly having dual nationality. The charge was dropped by the Supreme Court after the accusation levelled against Asif was retracted.
In the run up to the 2013 election, objections were raised on the candidacy of the PML-N leader during scrutiny of his nomination papers. The objections alleged that Asif had failed to declare the actual worth of his assets. However, he was later cleared by the returning officer.
Asif has been a severe critic of rival party Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI) and has hurled allegations of misusing charity funds and money laundering on its chief, Imran Khan. The cricket legend-turned politician in response filed Rs10 billion law suit against the PML-N leader. Asif also dubbed PTI’s 2012 “peace march” to Waziristan a drama and was reported to have actively pursued Sardar Ghulam Abbas, a political heavyweight from Chakwal, to part ways with PTI and join PML-N.
— Research and text by Imran Kazmi