Profile: Asad Umar — from corporate corridors to PTI trenches

18 Apr 2019


Asad Umar stepped down as finance minister on Thursday. — AFP/Illustration by Hufsa Chaudhry
Asad Umar stepped down as finance minister on Thursday. — AFP/Illustration by Hufsa Chaudhry

The youngest of seven siblings, Asad Umar is the son of Major General Ghulam Umar. His 27-year career with Engro Corporation began in 1985 as a business analyst with a stint abroad in Canada while the company was still a subsidiary of ExxonMobil.

A graduate of Karachi's Institute of Business Administration from the class of 1984, Asad joined Exxon Chemical Pakistan in February 1985. He returned to Pakistan in 1997 and rose to the rank of President and CEO of Engro in 2004.

Born in September 1961, Umar retired early at the age of 50 in 2012, credited with "dramatically transforming a chemical company into a major Pakistani conglomerate". He joined Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) the same year.

But while his admirers pointed to the corporation’s ballooning revenues [from Rs13 billion in 2004 to Rs114 billion in 2011] during his tenure, his critics highlighted the dismal drop in Engro’s shares — largely the result of a fertiliser plant Umar pursued adamantly.

He was awarded the Sitara-i-Imtiaz in 2009 for public service.

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In the August 2013 by-elections, Umar, who also enjoyed the backing of Jamaat-i-Islami, bagged 47,650 votes against the 40,566 received by Ashraf Gujjar of the PML-N for Islamabad's NA-48 seat.

In the 2018 general elections, he was re-elected to the National Assembly from Islamabad, this time from NA-54. He received 56,945 votes and defeated PML-N's Anjum Aqeel Khan.

Writing for The Telegraph, British journalist Peter Oborne had described Umar's joining of the PTI as Imran Khan's "biggest coup". Remaining at Imran's side throughout the years that the PTI rose in popular ranks, he was the one person whose seat and portfolio in the cabinet were, unsurprisingly, always a given.

Following PTI's victory in 2018, Umar was sworn in as the Federal Minister for Finance, Revenue, and Economic Affairs in August.

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In September 2018, Umar presented the incumbent government's amendments to the budget for fiscal 2018-2019, stressing that the PTI-led government had only two priorities as it grapples with "difficult times": protect the poor and support exporters.

In January, he presented the third finance bill for the current fiscal year, which he called "a corrective package aimed at addressing various sectors of the economy" and which was passed in March despite protest and boycott from the opposition.

Umar with his corporate experience was expected to pull the country out of its economic crisis and bring it back from the brink of doom, even as the prime minister himself pronounced populism.

But his nearly eight-month-long stint as finance minister was marked by various hiccups, with a lethal combination of low growth and high inflation hitting the economy and the dollar rising beyond Rs145 against the rupee.

Earlier this week, the former finance minister reported that Pakistan and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had finalised, documented and signed a bailout package on exchange rate, public finance, fiscal deficit and energy prices and that an IMF mission will be visiting Islamabad in the third week of April to work out technical tables.

On April 18 [Thursday], Umar stepped down as the finance minister after days of speculation, saying it was time to make some "difficult decisions" to stabilise Pakistan's economy.