What is next for Jahangir Khan Tareen?

Businessman-turn-politician Jahangir Khan Tareen might not have come into politics had his brother-in-law, and former mayor of Rahim Yar Khan not faced an educational degree conundrum, which prevented the latter from contesting the parliamentary election in 2002.

The family then asked Tareen to campaign. Needless to say, the businessman won.

From that day on, he never looked back. In the following years, Tareen won three more elections, using the platform of various political parties, the PML (Q), PML (F) and finally the PTI.

Prior to joining politics, Jahangir Khan Tareen, 63, was an entrepreneur. He had in the past headed the Punjab task force on agriculture from 1977 to 1979 and the provincial task force on wheat procurement and marketing from 2001 to 2002. His political assignments including being a special adviser to the then Chief Minister Punjab, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, before he became the federal minister for industries and production during the tenure of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.

However, before the 2008 polls, Tareen quit the PML (Q) and contested the election from the platform of PML (F). He was also appointed the party’s parliamentary leader in the national assembly, where he formed his own faction.

As one of the wealthiest politician and businessman in the country, Tareen’s political reputation was often controversial, even before he was bowled out by the supreme court in 2016. Within the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the politician survived several major onslaughts, such as PTI’s election commission report by retired Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed or the episode with Tasneem Noorani. Both men, who enjoyed a reputation of integrity, were left with no other option but to quit the party.

The party head, Imran Khan, also stood by Tareen, even when some of the founding members of the party, namely Hamid Khan, insisted that Khan review his relationship with the wealthy businessman.

Khan backed Tareen when the latter developed a serious political tussle with Shah Mehmood Qureshi to an extent that the latter accused him of playing a dubious role in his defeat in the provincial election of 2018. Qureshi claims that Tareen supported his opponent to prevent Qureshi from getting the top slot of chief minister Punjab.

The businessman’s 10-year-old journey in the PTI has been marked with one controversy after another. Still, he has managed to keep the party chief by his side.

Within two years after joining the PTI in 2011, he was nominated by Khan as the party’s secretary-general, replacing former chief minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Pervez Khan Khattak.

However, the 2016 apex court verdict shot down his dreams of being the chief minister Punjab or of becoming a federal minister after the PTI came to power.

Nevertheless, he continued to play an important role behind the scenes. He remained a key player in Bani Gala prior to the 2018 polls. Most seats in Punjab were allotted on his recommendations, and he also helped in cobbling together a coalition government for the PTI in Punjab.

When in August 2018, Imran Khan became the prime minister, he knew how crucial Tareen’s role was and thus he reposed his confidence in him despite reservations of Qureshi and other key leaders in the party.

But as they say, the honeymoon must end. In the last few months, Khan and Tareen’s relationship has hit a rough patch, due to the sugar crisis in the country, which put the government in an embarrassing position, a source told me. The prime minister was not fully convinced with Tareen’s version of the event that led to a sugar price hike, and thus ordered an inquiry.

Tareen has his own reservations when Qureshi, in recent days, starting getting closer to Imran Khan. The PM was impressed with the foreign minister’s diplomatic success.

Meanwhile, to further complicate matters, the prime minister began receiving negative reports about him after his coalition partners, like the PML (Q), MQM (Pakistan) and Balochistan National Party (Mengal), besides some six-party MNAs from Karachi, began grumbling about the ruling party.

It was also quite surprising for Khan when some allies insisted that Tareen be made a part of the government negotiating team.

One of the six parliamentarians belonging to the PTI, who created a group within the party and began complaining about lack of development funds, told me that Tareen in one meeting with them silently backed their demands. “We all know how close he was with the prime minister, but during the meeting, we felt something unusual about his relationship with Prime Minister Khan,” the MNA said on the condition of anonymity.

When Wajid Zia was named to head the sugar and wheat inquiry, Tareen already knew why the probe was ordered. He also knew what the outcome would be, as the terms of reference of the probe were very clear.

All in all, Tareen knows that he has started losing the confidence of Khan. And since the prime minister enjoys the complete backing of the establishment, there was no point in revolting at this stage. But, Tareen has been in the game for too long. He knows how to play it better than anyone. In his recent media interview to a TV anchor, he hinted that he knew too much about the 2013 and 2018 elections. The message was likely for the prime minister. His attack on Azam Khan, the principal secretary to the prime minister, was also a message.

For now, as the prospects of the Tareen-Khan dynamic remain unclear, I hear that the former is looking for options elsewhere including returning to his first party the PML (Q).

With no major political upheaval expected in 2020, due to the deadly coronavirus, this political episode will have to wait a little longer to unfold.

What happens between now and April 25, will be interesting to watch.

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