(FROM left) Barrister Ali Zafar, Barrister Gohar Ali Khan, Sher Afzal Marwat and Sardar Latif Khosa.

How will PTI’s ‘black-coat brigade’ fare in parliament?

Most of the party’s old guard and loyalists, however, do not have complete faith in these newcomers.
Published February 27, 2024

IN the absence of Imran Khan, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Parvez Elahi and other political bigwigs, it seems the PTI’s parliamentary contingent will be spearheaded in the National Assembly by a number of prominent lawyers, including several who joined forces with the former ruling party following Mr Khan’s ouster from government in April 2022.

With the party now expected to occupy the opposition benches, the ‘soft spoken’ Barrister Gohar Ali Khan, ‘fiery-tempered’ Sher Afzal Marwat and former PPP stalwart Sardar Latif Khosa are likely find themselves leading a comparatively strong opposition than those seen in yesteryear.

Most of the party’s old guard and loyalists, however, do not have complete faith in these newcomers, and background interviews with a number of seasoned PTI campaigners reveal a sense among some in the party that these legal eagles entered the party via a ‘short-cut’.

While their recent services to the party and its founder, Imran Khan, are not in question, many workers and loyalists who have been with the PTI for decades do not seem to be too comfortable with the entry of these new faces in parliament.

There are two main reasons why the PTI seemingly awarded party tickets to so many lawyers in this general election.

Firstly, a number of prominent party leaders are either in custody or in hiding and have not been able to contest the elections. Mr Khan has himself expressed frustration at this, telling journalists during one of his media interactions at Adiala Jail that in the absence of the first- and second-tiers of his leadership, he was having to contest the elections with the equivalent of an ‘under-16’ team.

Secondly, since access to the party’s founder is limited to close family members and his legal team, the party is mainly keeping in contact with Imran Khan through these lawyers, who are actually allowed to meet him in Adiala Jail.

The legal minds

Barrister Gohar Ali Khan joined the PTI in July 2022. He contested the 2013 election from Buner on a PPP ticket but could not make it to the assembly. He is an associate of PPP stalwart Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, who has also been quite sympathetic to Mr Khan’s cause — being his neighbour in Lahore’s Zaman Park. Barrister Gohar also has close ties to property tycoon Malik Riaz, and has remained the latter’s legal adviser for some time.

Sardar Latif Khosa is a seasoned politician who has enjoyed top positions under the PPP regime, having been a senator, attorney general and even serving as the governor of Punjab. Once thought to be a confidant of PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari, he joined the PTI in December 2023.

Mr Marwat, meanwhile, is perhaps the ‘least-known commodity’ among them all. Starting his career as a judicial officer, he served in the Estate Office on deputation and was promoted to the post of director general of the Federal Government Employees Housing Authority (FGEHA). However, when former chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry repatriated all judicial officers from executive positions, Mr Marwat resigned from service and started his own legal practice.

Scores of black-coats became close to Mr Khan while he was struggling with the litany of cases registered against him after his government was toppled through a no-confidence motion. Marwat, too, initially represented former National Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser, which brought him closer to the PTI founder.

Succession question

Despite picking Shah Mehmood Qureshi as his successor, when Mr Khan was disqualified from contesting elections, he picked Barrister Gohar to replace him as party chairman since Mr Qureshi was also behind bars at the time.

However, the intra-party elections that saw Barrister Gohar elevated to the post of chairman were soon annulled by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), leading to the party being deprived of its iconic election symbol of ‘bat’ in the recently-held general elections.

But with fresh intra-party elections due early next month, the PTI founder had nominated Barrister Ali Zafar for the job of chairman. However, the latter has expressed his inability to head the party owing to his professional commitments.

Talking to Dawn, Barrister Zafar — who is also a sitting senator — said that since he is concentrating on Mr Khan’s appeals, he could not accept such a challenging assignment, adding that Barrister Gohar would remain the candidate for the party’s chairmanship.

Initially, there was speculations that Barrister Gohar and Mr Marwat were being considered for the role of opposition leader in the National Assembly. However, the PTI chairman subsequently nominated Secretary General Omar Ayub Khan as their candidate for prime minister, and according to Barrister Ali Zafar, he would also be the party’s candidate for leader of opposition in the National Assembly.

The reason for this, Mr Zafar said, was that the party required a seasoned and experienced politician for this role.

Insaf Lawyers Forum

Incidentally, Barrister Zafar rose to prominence as the chairman of the Insaf Lawyers Forum (ILF), who was tasked with organise the ILF in 2020, when the PTI was ruling in the Centre, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

He wrote the ILF constitution, under which the forum formed committees for regions across Pakistan, but these were dissolved in April 2022 when Hassan Niazi took over the ILF and Shadab Jaffery was made the chief organiser. The constitution written by Barrister Zafar was discarded and the new setup was assigned to write a new constitution and to hold elections in 150 days. However, those elections have not been held to date.

The ILF then became virtually dysfunctional, and this was the reason — according to ILF old guard — that lawyers who had not been part of the party’s hierarchy managed to get closer to Mr Khan, and subsequently obtained his nod to contest the general elections, a senior member of ILF told Dawn.

While some of them were defeated, others managed to win their respective seats. A number of them are now in parliament, they said, referring to the likes of Barrister Gohar and Mr Marwat.

Professional jealousy?

Another issue that is likely to rear its head when these colleagues of the bar come toge­ther in the assembly is professional jealousy.

For instance, Sher Afzal Marwat has repeatedly criticised fellow members of the PTI legal team — his public outbursts against Shoaib Shaheen and, more recently, Barrister Gohar being just two such examples.

Then, just last week, Barrister Zafar reportedly expressed displeasure as Mr Khosa — who is not even part of the legal team that is working on Imran Khan’s appeals against his conviction — announced that the appeals had been filed.

As a result, Barrister Zafar had to hurriedly file the appeals prematurely, and as a consequence the registrar office raised administrative objections on them. It took the team nearly a week to rectify the appeals.

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2024

Header image: (From left) Barrister Ali Zafar, Barrister Gohar Ali Khan, Sher Afzal Marwat and Sardar Latif Khosa.