PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan’s estranged friend Jahangir Khan Tareen has finally confirmed what has long been alleged by political observers across party lines. In an address to a crowd at his political base Lodhran this week, Mr Tareen for the first time talked about his key role in piecing together the Punjab government for the PTI.

He said he used his aircraft to approach independent candidates who had won in different constituencies in order to help Mr Khan. Though he didn’t furnish any details of how these independents’ loyalties were won over, he made clear that he delivered the results Mr Khan desired. Mr Tareen’s role in the wooing of independent MNAs and MPAs is hardly a secret. In fact, after the election, many jokes did the rounds about his cajoling the independents to join the PTI.

Before the souring of his relationship with the prime minister, he enjoyed the informal but powerful position of the party’s problem-solver, firefighter and political dealmaker. In fact, he was long believed to have been the party’s kingmaker and bankroller. The timing of this ‘revelation’, however, is interesting.

Why is Mr Tareen so keen to flex his political muscles now, at a time when the prime minister is embroiled in a crisis involving the appointment of the new spymaster? Is he showing his strength to those hedging their bets on the next election? Opposition parties have long accused the PTI of indulging in horse-trading and buying the loyalties of independent members using Mr Tareen’s money. What has prompted him to admit to his role three years after the election? Interestingly, not only is Mr Tareen known to be an electables’ magnet, he is also said to have cordial ties with the security establishment.

Read: Tareen admits to his role in Punjab numbers game

Though details are scarce, Mr Tareen’s admission has highlighted the unscrupulous practice of vote-buying and political wheeling and dealing during elections. Like other seasoned politicians in other parties before him, Mr Tareen was a political manager who lured independents into his party’s fold with the promise of a reward. Others have done the same in the past, whether it is by offering ministries, pledging party funds or more — none of which is made public or scrutinised. This dirty politics is unfortunately a regular practice in our democracy in which political bribes and bargains are made behind closed doors without any accountability. It is a custom that favours the powerful, undermines democracy and strengthens autocratic forces.

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2021

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