NO ONE could have predicted that a brief meeting with Nawaz Sharif at what used to be the Sheraton Hotel in Karachi in 1989 would launch the political career of trade unionist Mushahidullah Khan. And even if someone did have an inkling then, no one could have known that an ethnic outsider from Karachi would rise so quickly in the ranks of what is widely considered a firmly Punjabi party.
On Monday, when all eyes were on the National Assembly as voting on the 21st amendment to the Constitution was under way, a press statement appeared out of the blue, announcing Senator Mushahidullah’s appointment as a federal minister. His oath-taking was even more low-key, coinciding with the passage of the 21st amendment from the National Assembly and the Senate. But despite being rushed into the cabinet through the back door, the senator claims he doesn’t know what portfolio may come his way.
An outspoken and aggressive PML-N loyalist, Mushahidullah is not a man known to mince words. He has no qualms about hitting his opponents below the belt and it seems this unflinching, aggressive loyalty is what has endeared him to the Sharif brothers all these years.
Following the Oct 1999 coup staged by retired General Pervez Musharraf, when most of the Sharifs’ comrades-in-arms jumped ship and joined the king’s party, Mushahidullah chose to take on the military strongman head on.
Within 24 hours of General Musharraf taking over, on Oct 13, Mushahidullah convened a press conference where he was less than flattering about the newly-imposed military regime and summarily resigned from the two lucrative positions he held at the time; as administrator of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation and as adviser to the Ministry of Labour and Manpower. For his troubles, he was imprisoned and, by his own admission, had to endure several “atrocities” perpetrated by the military regime of the time.
“When the likes of Ishaq Dar and many others went underground, Mushahidullah stood firm. He could have milked the military regime, as many others eventually did, but he decided to stick with the Sharifs. That is something that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recognises,” a senior PML-N office-bearer told Dawn on condition of anonymity.
Even though well-respected in party circles, his temper and lack of a filter when it comes to making public statements often lands him in hot water. From quarrelling with fellow guests on TV talk shows to provoking opposition parliamentarians on the floor of the house, his fellow party leaders say that he seldom plays nice.
Mushahidullah has been a trusted aide of the current prime minister ever since the latter was forced into exile. First appointed party information secretary and later made a senator in 2009, he also served as the party spokesperson for many years. Currently, one of his daughters is a PML-N MNA on a reserved seat. With his appointment to the federal cabinet, one PML-N member commented that it seemed that he had reached the pinnacle of his political career.
“Though I have never asked the party leadership for favours, I am happy the PM recognised my services and gave me this opportunity to serve on the federal cabinet,” Mushahidullah remarked.
Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2015