ISLAMABAD: The government on Friday appo­inted former Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief Ijaz Shah federal minister for parliamentary affairs.

The decision sparked controversy — for the opposition in general and for the Pakistan Peoples Party in particular — because before her assassination in Dece­mber 2007, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto had claimed that he was among the people who had hatched a conspiracy to kill her.

President Arif Alvi had accepted Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recommendation to appoint Mr Shah federal minister for parliamentary affairs, Minister for Information Fawad Chau­dhry told Dawn on Friday. Mr Shah served as IB director general from 2004 to 2008, and was accused of using the organisation for political victimisation.

Retired Brigadier Shah, a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf MNA from the constituency of NA-118, Nankana Sahib-II, was said to be a confidant of former president Gen Pervez Musharraf and was reportedly accused of orchestrating the formation of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q before the general elections of 2003 by acquiring the loyalties of PML-Nawaz adherents. Later, that election was won by the PML-Q.

Refuting the PPP’s allegation that Mr Shah was nominated by Ms Bhutto in one of her letters to then president Musharraf and some international journalists for his “possible” involvement in the eventuality of her assassination, the minister said that Mr Shah had been cleared in a number of inquiries conducted after the death of the former prime minister. “He is a clean man as he had been cleared in all inquiries conducted against him,” he maintained. Responding to the question of whether almost all close aides of Mr Musharraf had been inducted into the PTI, the minister that said a number of legislators in the former president’s assembly had joined the PPP, including former foreign affairs minister Hina Rabbani Khar.

Asked why Mr Shah was appointed federal minister for parliamentary affairs despite being a former head of the IB, Mr Chaudhry said that he had ‘expertise in security issues’. “We want to strengthen our parliamentary affairs’ team because presently, all matters that relate to parliament are being dealt with by Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammed Khan.”

When contacted, PPP leader Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokar said that Ms Bhutto had, in her letters, named Mr Shah as someone who should be investigated in case she was assassinated. She suspected him to be conspiring to eliminate her, but he was never implicated in her assassination case. He expressed the fear that with the decision over Mr Shah, the government had obviated the opposition’s support and consensus on important national issues, including the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP).

Mr Khokhar said that the appointment had disappointed the PPP, while another party leader, Dr Nafeesa Shah, also expressed the party’s reservations saying “Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s suspected murderer has been appointed as a minister by Imran Khan. […] After Mr Shah’s addition [to the federal cabinet], there is no difference between Pervez Musharraf and Imran Khan’s cabinet,” she added.

Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2019