Split in the PML-Q

August 30, 2009


CHAUDHRY Shujaat Hussain's PML-Q recently expelled Humayun Akhtar from its ranks for violating party discipline.

The day after his expulsion (Aug 19) Mr Akhtar and some other party notables who were said to share his 'ideals' — Hamid Nasir Chattha, Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri and Salim Saifullah Khan — claimed that they spoke for the “real” PML-Q, and that the group surrounding Chaudhry Shujaat did not constitute the party.

They assembled a group of their own, which they said was the party's general council. It elected Humayun Akhtar as the party's chairman, Salim Saifullah as president, Hamid Nasir Chattha as secretary general, and Khurshid Kasuri as chief organiser.

It is evident that these gentlemen had come to hold Chaudhry Shujaat in low esteem while their self-esteem had risen. They considered themselves to be superior to him as politicians. It may be useful to examine his and their credentials to figure out the basis for their new assessments and the split in the PML-Q they have created.

Let us begin with Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain (born 1946). His father, Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi, was an exceedingly wealthy industrialist and businessman. Chaudhry Shujaat graduated from the Forman Christian College in Lahore in 1966 and worked with his father in managing some of their businesses for the next several years.

He entered politics after his father's death in 1980.

He belongs to a large Jat clan whose support he has in Gujrat and the neighbouring districts. He has won five elections to the National Assembly and served as a federal minister, holding various portfolios in the governments of Ziaul Haq, Nawaz Sharif and Pervez Musharraf and acted as prime minister for a few weeks in 2004.

He is a masterful player in the wheeling and dealing variety of politics. He believes in getting along with the establishment. He supported the military regimes of Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf. He

seems to have a sense of loyalty to friends and benefactors witness his continuing support for Musharraf even after his ouster from power.

Salim Saifullah comes from an influential political family of the NWFP made prominent by the active role his mother played in politics. He graduated from the well-known Carnegie Mellon University in the US. Currently a senator, he has served both as a provincial and federal minister for a number of years. He is also a wealthy businessman; indeed, reckoned as one of the richest men in the country.

Humayun Akhtar (born 1955) is a son of Gen Akhtar Abdul Rahman, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, who was killed with Gen Ziaul Haq in an airplane crash on Aug 17, 1988. Humayun was educated at Canadian universities where he specialised in business mathematics and actuarial science. He worked in Canada and the US as an actuary, returned to Pakistan after his father's death and later entered politics.

Starting with the partyless election of 1985, he won five elections to the National Assembly, four from constituencies in Lahore and one from Rahim Yar Khan, mostly as a nominee of the Pakistan Muslim League headed by Nawaz Sharif and later by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain.

He joined the PML-Q after it had come into being. At some point he became one of its senior vice-presidents. He served as a federal minister for investment and later as a minister for commerce, holding each of these portfolios for several years. He is co-owner, with his brothers, of sugar mills, textile mills, a bottling business and a soft drink franchise in Lahore.

In sum, Humayun Akhtar comes from a wealthy and powerful family, is well-educated, a successful politician and administrator and a business entrepreneur.

Hamid Nasir Chattha (born 1946) comes from Gujranwala and, like Chaudhry Shujaat, belongs to a Jat family. He graduated and received a Master's degree in political science from Government College Lahore in 1966, then went to London, enrolled at Lincoln's Inn and became a barrister-at-law.

He is currently a member of the Punjab provincial assembly, having lost the election to the National Assembly in 2008. But earlier, he had won elections for the NA in 1985, 1990, 1993 and 2002. He served as a provincial minister for health and education in Punjab, federal minister for information and broadcasting (1985-86) and for planning (1991-93). He had earlier served as speaker of the National Assembly (1986-1988). He is one of the highly respected and influential politicians in Pakistan.

Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri (born 1941), son of Mehmood Ali Kasuri, a celebrated lawyer and jurist, went to Government College Lahore and topped the list of successful candidates in the Punjab University's BA (honours) examination in 1961. He got a law degree from Cambridge University, did some postgraduate work at Oxford and was called to the bar from Gray's Inn in London. He served as Pakistan's foreign minister from 2002 to 2007.

The question arises why did Humayun Akhtar and associates disown Chaudhry Shujaat?

The answer to this puzzle may be that they have finally gotten tired of his operational style. First, he tends to be ambiguous, ambivalent, seemingly devious and manipulative in dealing with both friends and foes. Next, he does not stand for anything in particular. He prefers to leave the status quo alone and get along with the powers that be. Third, he is not, and does not even aspire to be, a mass leader. His wealth and biradri connections are his main political assets. These may be the reasons why the dissidents have concluded that he is not good enough to be their leader.

Why now, one may ask, considering that he is the same today as he was before. That is hard to say. It is possible that he did or said something personally demeaning or offensive to one or more of these men.

The PML-Q has been a nondescript organisation. It remains to be seen whether and how Humayun Akhtar & co can and will remake it.

The writer is professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts.