ISLAMABAD: The man tipped to become the first mayor of the federal capital has a direct line to the Prime Minister’s Office, strong personal links with nearly all members of the Sharif clan, and knows that the way to a man’s heart lies through his stomach.

Sheikh Ansar Aziz, recently elected to the Islamabad Metropolitan Corporation (IMC) on a seat reserved for technocrats, is well-known among party circles for being quite close to the first family of Pakistan.

A businessman by profession, Mr Aziz’s relationship with the Sharifs was always envied by other members of the ruling party, and news of his selection as the mayoral candidate for Islamabad will certainly ruffle a few feathers in government circles.

Having won 18 of the 27 seats reserved for women, workers, peasants, youth, non-Muslims and technocrats, the ruling party is in comfortable position to win the mayoral election. Earlier, the PML-N had only managed to win 21 chairman seats out of the 50 UCs in Islamabad, which left it open to a challenge from the PTI, which had a total of 16 seats in a house with 13 independents.

Ever since he was tipped to be the head of the IMC, general interest in Mr Aziz has piqued, with nearly everyone in Islamabad clamouring for more information about their prospective mayor

Dawn spoke to several ruling party members, as well as others close to Mr Aziz, to find out more about him.

“No doubt, Mr Aziz is one of those PML-N members who remained loyal to the party even when the Sharifs opted for exile to Saudi Arabia in the year 2000. However, it’s the services that Mr Aziz has rendered to the ruling party over years which, I think, has brought him closer to both Sharif brothers,” a senior PML-N lawmaker, who has watched him operate over the years, told Dawn.

A loyal aide of the Sharifs for many years, Sheikh Ansar Aziz knows the PM’s weakness for good food

Knowing PM Nawaz Sharif’s weakness for good food, Mr Aziz used it to good effect, the lawmaker said, adding, “as far as I know, he knows somebody in Rawalpindi who makes delicious Gushtaba (a traditional Kashmiri meatball dish), which he always procures whenever the PM is in Islamabad and wants to enjoy a good meal. I have personally overheard the PM appreciating this dish.”

According a party office-bearer from Islamabad, Mr Aziz was in the construction business and regularly offered his services to the Sharif family, building their homes in Murree and Islamabad. Another of Mr Aziz’ old acquaintances told Dawn that when the Sharifs were in opposition, he used to look after their travel arrangements, particularly flight bookings.

Very few people know that when the PML-N returned to power in Punjab in 2008, Mr Aziz was made a member of the party’s central working committee (CWC).

While sources say that Mr Aziz’ candidature has been approved by the PM himself, he is still cautious about the news. “It is not yet confirmed, but I am hopeful,” he told Dawn.

However, his confirmation as the mayoral choice for Islamabad will definitely put pressure on Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry, the current state minister for the Capital Administration and Development Division (CADD). According to party sources, Dr Chaudhry, who led the PML-N election campaign in the capital, has been feeling cornered as of late.

“After having led the campaign for the local bodies elections, Dr Chaudhry wanted to play a key role in picking the mayoral candidate. But with Mr Aziz joining the race, the CADD minister has no option but to retreat.”

Dr Chaudhry is probably worried that once Mr Aziz takes charge, he will certainly try to wrest back some of the powers which currently reside with CADD. The development has come as a boon for Dr Chaudhry’s opponents, who are feeling avenged by his prospective sidelining.

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2016