KARACHI: Naeem-ul-Haq, special assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan on political affairs and founding member of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, on Saturday passed away after a battle with cancer, officials and party sources said. He was 70.

Survived by a son and a daughter, Mr Haq was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago but his health started deteriorating a few months ago. He was moved to Aga Khan University Hospital in the first half of the day after his condition further destabilised.

A banker by profession, Mr Haq was considered one of the very close aides to PM Khan on the basis of more than three-decade-long association between the two.

His close associates, party colleagues and family friends shared his life journey with Dawn. Born on July 11, 1949 in Karachi, Mr Haq completed his MA in English Literature from Karachi University in 1970 and then pursued LLB from Sindh Muslim Law College in 1972.

He practised law with Khalid Ishaq before joining Jamil Nishtar’s team at the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP). As a young banker, they said, he was part of the team that established the NBP branch at UN Plaza in New York City, after which he moved to London in 1980 as a merchant banker for Oriental Credit Limited.

His friends recalling his 35-year experience in banking, finance, corporate sector and law in Pakistan, London and New York said Mr Haq also served as an adviser and managing director of Aero Asia Airlines, Chairman and CEO Metropolitan Steel Corp and Managing Director, Credit & Leasing Corporation.

“During his professional stint in London in the early 1980s, he became close friends with Imran Khan, who used to play county cricket at that time,” recalled one of his friends. “Imran would frequently visit Naeem and his wife, Nazli Jamil who Naeem called Nazo. Naeem and Imran Khan became especially close friends when Imran developed a debilitating stress fracture in 1983, and Naeem famously gave his exercise bike for Imran’s recuperation.”

Before meeting PM Khan and joining the PTI, Mr Haq had already experienced political activism in his life. In 1984, a friend of him disclosed, Mr Haq joined Air Marshal Asghar Khan’s Tehreek-i-Istiqlal party in London and moved back to Karachi a couple of years later to set up his leasing company business and pursue political aspirations.

“In the post-Zia era, he contested the 1988 elections on a Tehreek-i-Istiqlal ticket from Orangi Town. Although he lost the election, he continued his interest in politics and kept abreast of economic matters,” he added.

In 1996, Mr Haq became one of the five founding members of the PTI along with his close friend Imran Khan. As a trusted aide, he helped PM Khan manage the party affairs and overcome the election setbacks of 1997 and 2001.

“After the death of his wife in 2008, also due to cancer, Naeem fully devoted his life to the PTI, where he became the Central Information Secretary and President of Sindh. He was credited with organising the huge December 2011 rally in Karachi that helped establish PTI’s popularity as a national party,” said another PTI Karachi leader. The following year Mr Haq moved to Islamabad as confidant to the PTI chairman and an integral part of the PTI core committee leading into the elections of both 2013 and 2018. “He worked extremely hard and directly with Imran Khan in organising the party at the grassroots working across the board with workers and party office-bearers. He also intermittently served as the information secretary of the party during this period playing an important part on the party’s communication strategy.

In January 2018, almost eight months before the general elections, Mr Haq was diagnosed with blood cancer. Like a true party loyalist, he soldiered on, working long hours prior to the elections while undergoing treatment.

Condolence messages from the Prime Minister to senior politicians and sports celebrities to showbiz stars started pouring in over the broadcast and social media. PM Khan tweeted he was “devastated” over loss of his “oldest friend and most loyal” party member. “Am devastated by one of my oldest friend Naeem’s passing. He was one of the 10 founding mbrs of PTI & by far the most loyal. In 23 yrs of PTI’s trials & tribulations, he stood by me. He was always there for support whenever we were at our lowest ebb,” he tweeted minutes after the news of his demise hit the headlines of news channels. As the PTI called his death an “irreparable loss” for the party, federal Minister for Technology Fawad Hussain Chaudray remembered tweeted: “Naeem Ul Haq fought like a lion against Cancer, a friend, elder and a colleague .... will always be missed... may Allah Rest his soul in peace.” The same gestures were shared by opposition Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president Shahbaz Sharif, who expressed their grief and condolence with the family of Mr Haq. The PML-N president tweeted: “Very sad to hear about the passing away of Naeem-ul-Haq. My profound condolences to the bereaved family and the PTI. May Allah rest his soul in peace.”

Former minister Begum Mehnaz Rafi said Mr Haq recalling her long association with him to the time of Tehreek-i-Istiqlal said: “I am deeply in grief to hear the sad demise of Mr Haq. May Allah rest his soul in peace and give strength to his family and friends to bear this loss.”

Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar also expressed deep sorrow and grief over the sad demise of the PTI founding member.

Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2020