Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi Might Not be So Interim After All
TORONTO: KHAQAN is not a common name in Pakistan. So, once you hear it, chances are that you remember it.
Air Commodore (retd) Khaqan Abbasi was a wealthy land owner who owned some of the precious hectres amidst Margalla Hills and military dictator Ziaul Haq picked him and inducted him in his cabinet as production minister.
On a balmy afternoon in May 1988, he was travelling from Rawalpindi to Islamabad on picturesque Murree Road a missile hit his car and he along with his son Zahid were killed. Khaqan on the spot, and Zahid died in 2005 after remaining in coma for 17 years.
However, it was not a target killing. The missile was one of hundreds that rained down at civilian population from their depot at Ojhri Camp. It looked like an accident at first and the Zia-ul-Haq regime hushed up the matter of some 93 deaths and 1100 injured.
Later it appeared in several books published in the United States that the Pakistani military fired those missiles intentionally when they heard that an audit team of the Pentagon was arriving to take an inventory of the Stringer missiles. The missiles were supplied by the military to Afghan warlords to fight the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. However the CIA got the wind that those missiles were being sold to Iran. Hence the accident.
Shahid Khaqan’s real uncle Major General Muhammad Riaz Khan was ISI chief when Zia hanged Bhutto in 1979. He was replaced later by Lt General (retd) Akhtar Abdul Rehman who is still considered the architect of the Afghan jihad. Shahid Khaqan’s sister Sadia Abbasi was a PML-N senator during the Musharraf days in 2002-2008.
So far Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is known to a common Pakistani for two corruption charges that stuck to him - PIA and now LNG import. When Abbasi became head of the family, he won six National Assembly elections from his Rawalpindi-Murree seat, losing only once in 2002.
After the 1997 Sharif landslide, Abbasi was appointed Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) chairman. During this stint he was accused without proof of taking massive commissions in the purchase of aircraft and its parts. Also he stuffed the already struggling airline with PML-N workers.
Though there is no evidence and there was no trial that culminated into a sentence it is a known fact that PIA was in far worst condition when he left it in 1999. The airline had lost during his tenure several routes and persons per aircraft ratio jumped due to political appointments. However PIA, which was on his to bottom, kept sliding so fast that even aviation watchers lost count on which chairman was the most harmful.
PIA never recovered and it is in shambles today but soon after leaving PIA, Abbasi had so much wealth and expertise that he started his own airline Air Blue which has 10 aircraft today including some expensive ones. Today PIA is no match to Air Blue as they compete for routes and seats.
However Abbasi is an educated man compared to his comrades in cabinet. He got his bachelors in electrical engineering from UCLA and completed his masters in electrical engineering from George Washington University. He worked in oil and gas sector in the US and the Gulf before returning to Pakistan.
When Nawaz Sharif returned to power in 2013, he awarded the most lucrative ministry – ministry of petroleum and natural resources – to Abbasi. Ministry of Petroleum not only oversees day to day prices of retail fuel but also has the power got award contracts for CNG, LPG and LNG.
During his four-year stint he was accused by his detractors of working hand in glove with multinationals like Shell and Total. Abbasi denies any wrongdoing. However one contract stood out and once again stuck to Abbasi’s reputation. The award of LNG contract to a state company of Qatar owned by the same prince who rose to fame in Pakistan during Panama Case hearings against Nawaz Sharif.
The award of LNG supply was done in the dark and despite repeated queries, Abbasi never told Press or the People that what are award’s condition and how much retail price it would fetch. Abbasi’s opponents say that the deal was brokered by Saifur Rehman, close business confidante of Nawaz and once chairman of National Accountability Bureau during 1997-1999 tenure.
The biggest challenge in front of Abbasi is how to keep the party united for the interim period that may extend to 10 months as there are signs that PML-N is second-guessing on vacating Punjab and sending Shahbaz Sharif to Islamabad.