Monday Mar 11, 2019
Early last month, in an unexpected turn of events, a lawmaker in Punjab, Abdul Aleem Khan, was arrested by the anti-graft body on alleged charges of corruption.
Khan wasn’t just any provincial minister. He was in charge of the ministry of local government and community development in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province. In January, he was given the additional charge of running the ministry of planning and development. But more importantly, he was a senior minister: the only one who held that position in the 35-member cabinet of the province.
Khan was important in the ranks of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). His closeness to Prime Minister Imran Khan kicked up rumours, soon after the PTI came to power in August, that he was in the line for the throne in Punjab. Therefore, the chief minister slot. But corruption charges, many believe, dashed his prospects.
Now the former businessman is locked up. Chances are that he may petition a court to be released on bail. Once out, he could reoccupy the positions he left and simultaneously fight the graft charges against him.
That could be a long wait. Then there are no guarantees he would secure the bail.
So, till then, others are jockeying to take his place. Those aspiring to be the next senior minister, and take over Khan’s high-profile departments are: Mian Muhammad Aslam Iqbal, currently the minister for industries, commerce and investment and Mian Mehmood ur Rashid, the minister for housing, urban development and public health engineering in Punjab.
Rashid, an old PTI stalwart, has the strongest lobby backing him, which include the likes of Ejaz Chaudhry, the party president in the province.
As for Iqbal, he has been toadying up to those close to the prime minister, to clinch the slot for himself, according to those privy to the developments.
For now, the ministry of local government and planning have been handed over to Muhammad Basharat Raja, the provincial minister for law and parliamentary affairs.
Last week, a meeting of the chairman of district councils was presided over by Raja at the civil secretariat. Furthermore, the taskforce formed by the prime minister, to recommend a new local government system for the province, was also chaired by him.
“The chief minister and other senior leaders in the PTI-government want Raja to continue overlooking these portfolios,” said a government official, who asked not to be named. The chief minister’s support alone should put Raja ahead of the line. Still, others are aspiring to outdo him. One reason could be that the law minister is himself reluctant to be named the senior minister in Punjab.
At a meeting, last month, when the prime minister was visiting Lahore, Raja told Imran Khan that no one should now be made the senior minister, not even him.
“There is no senior minister position in Punjab anymore,” Raja told Geo.tv, over the phone, “Earlier this position was given to Aleem Khan because he was a senior worker of the party.” He further added that he was asked by the prime minister and chief minister to become the senior minister in the cabinet, “but I refused.”
That hasn’t closed the chapter. The race, as they say, is still on. Even though, Aleem Khan is not complete out.