PTI stalwart Jahangir Tareen on Monday acknowledged he was no longer as close to Prime Minister Imran Khan as he used to be but maintained that the premier was still his friend and that he continues to stand by the PM's cause.
Tareen was talking exclusively to DawnNewsTV's Meher Bokhari in her show NewsEye just a couple of days after a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) team released reports on the sugar and wheat crises and beneficiaries of subsidies obtained by the industry's bigwigs and just hours after news began circulating that Tareen had been sacked as the chairman of the Agriculture Task Force in light of those findings.
Rejecting once again that he was fired from any position because he "was never appointed in the first place", Tareen did however confess he was not as close to Imran as he once was.
"But I'm still his friend, I'm loyal and still believe in him".
A source had earlier told Dawn that the prime minister and members of the FIA inquiry commission had been "threatened with dire consequences if the reports were made public". The sugar cartel had also threatened the committee that if the report was issued, the commodity would be vanished from the market, the report added.
But the FIA reports were made public on the directives of the prime minister who, according to Special Assistant on Accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar, had ordered stern action against those found involved in the crises “irrespective of their status and party affiliation”.
"I'm in touch with Imran Khan on WhatsApp and that is likely to continue. I have no issues with him, the party or his vision for the country. As prime minister, it's his discretion to work with whoever he wants. I have no bitterness with his decision making. He is the prime minister of Pakistan, after all," Tareen said during the show.
He also acknowledged that he has a long-running conflict with Azam Khan, the principal secretary of Imran Khan.
"When we came into power, I had a different vision on how to govern the country. He (Azam Khan) has a different one. I had told Mr Khan that the government's job was not to enact incremental change but to transform the entire country," Tareen said.
Tareen was responding to a question regarding his relationship with Azam Khan, whom Prime Minister Imran had appointed as his secretary soon after taking oath as the premier.
Azam had previously served as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief secretary and was the main architect behind the revival of KP's tourism sector, which brought him closer to PTI chairman Imran.
"Azam Khan disagrees with my vision for the country because he realises that enacting a transformative agenda would leave him powerless. I have always been against bureaucratic hurdles," Tareen explained.
The sugar baron also revealed that a vast majority of the prime minister's cabinet agreed with his vision for the country.
"I think 70 per cent of his cabinet agrees with what I say. But the prime minister fully trusts Azam Khan. But he also knows me. He knows the kind of man I am. He knows I get things done," Tareen said.
Asked whether an "anti-JKT lobby had become dominant" in the ruling PTI which led to the allegations against him, Tareen said: "I think that is a more credible explanation than any other explanation."
Tareen also criticised the inquiry reports on sugar and wheat crises, calling it a report without context.
He said that the truth was yet to come out because the report was incomplete. "The weakness of this report is that it has no flesh, it consists of bare bones," Tareen said.
Responding to allegations that he pushed the prime minister to approve sugar exports, Tareen said: "I've never manipulated [Imran] ... I've never given wrong information to Khan sahib, never can and never will."
He said there was no correlation between sugar exports and the rise in the commodity's price because there has been no shortage of sugar in the country. "Sugar prices rose only because sugarcane's price increased," he added, saying 80 per cent of sugar's cost of production is the price of sugarcane.
Tareen claimed that he had exported less sugar than his market share.
He rubbished opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif's claim that he (Tareen) had been given a "gift of Rs18 billion" by Prime Minister Imran through subsidies, saying no player in the industry receives direct transfers.
"Are you heartbroken?" Bokhari asked Tareen about the developments of recent days.
"Not at all," responded the PTI leader. "I am happy in every situation. I am somebody who has faced ups and downs in life. What goes up comes down, what comes down will also go up."
He said he does not have any "political mission" for the future and "would rather concentrate on my family and my business".
On Saturday, two reports on the sugar and wheat crises in the country were made public, exposing ruling PTI’s bigwig Tareen, Khusro Bakhtiar, PML-Q's Monis Elahi and their relatives as being involved in the scam and benefiting from export subsidies at a time when the commodity was short in the country.
Yesterday, terming the inquiry reports on sugar and wheat crises in the country “unprecedented”, Prime Minister Imran said he would wait for a detailed forensic report on the matter before taking action against anyone. He vowed that no powerful lobby would be able to gain undue profit and create an artificial shortage of essential items in the future.
Today, in a surprise move, the prime minister reshuffled his cabinet for a third time since forming his government in August 2018, removing among others the minister for national food security, Bakhtiar, who was also named as a beneficiary in the FIA reports, instead assigning him the portfolio of economic affairs.