The politics of Jahangir Tareen and Ahmed Mehmood
Jahangir Tareen was introduced in politics by now estranged Ahmed Mehmood, the former Punjab governor, in 1997. Makhdoom Ahmed Mehmood was then a key member of the Nawaz Sharif cabinet and has a personal friendship with Shehbaz Sharif.
Ahmed Mehmood introduced Tareen to Shehbaz Sharif, who was impressed by his (Tareen’s) insights of progressive agriculture and innovative ideas and made him the Chairman of Agriculture Task Force. Tareen used the position effectively to build his profile and gain proximity to the chief minister. When the military coup ended the PML-N government, Tareen was considered more influential than the elected ministers.
However soon after the military takeover, Tareen was one of the first to jump out from the PML-N’s sinking ship. He and Ahmed Mehmood decided to further their political ambitions in line with Pervez Musharraf’s agenda. This decision got Ahmed Mehmood released from the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) after a few days of his arrest in 2000.
Informed people know that when Begum Kalsoom Nawaz was waging a struggle against Musharraf, she even approached Ahmed Mehmood and Tareen, who plainly refused to join the PML-N campaign and aligned themselves with Musharraf and Chaudhrys of Gujrat.
As a result, Ahmed Mehmood became Nazim of Rahim Yar Khan and got Tareen elected as MNA from his ancestral seat of Jamal Din Wali from where no one, other than Ahmed Mehmood or his father or their nominee, ever returned since the establishment of Pakistan.
Tareen now started advancing his political ambitions in PML-Q, but at the same time cultivated close contacts with Musharraf and generals closely linked to him especially the heads of the premier military or military-led intelligence agencies. Soon after getting elected to the National Assembly, he became a key advisor to Chief Minister Pervez Elahi, and also got reenacted the agriculture task force of Shehbaz Sharif days.
This time despite being MNA he was formally notified advisor to Chief Minister Pervez Elahi. Simultaneously he started building his profile in Islamabad through interaction with diplomats, heads of Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank, and ambassadors of important countries.
A key tool of this endeavour was the private aircraft owned by Jamal Din Wali Sugar Mills Private Limited. He would frequently airlift these foreigners and military and civil service elite in this jet and entertain them at his farms in Lodhran and Ahmed Mehmood’s estate at Jamal Din Wali, where Mehmood maintains a palace with a private airstrip and many vintage vehicles including a Rolls Royce which was used by Queen Elizabeth when she visited Pakistan.
Tareen had ministerial ambitions which could not materialise during Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali’s tenure. Soon after Shaukat Aziz induction as the premier, Tareen was made minister for industries. However, he wanted something more cross-cutting and horizontal. Through Musharraf, he crafted a special portfolio unheard of in the federal government, as he was made minister for special initiatives. Through this mechanism, he conceived a clean drinking water project, an agriculture water courses project, and a presidential health initiative. He was frequently seen marshalling the chief ministers since these projects were essentially provincial subjects.
Having achieved a large stature, Tareen stepped on toes of some senior bureaucrats of Pervez Elahi team, who alerted Chaudhrys of Gujrat against his political profile and ambitions. Senior bureaucrats plainly advised Chaudhrys that the manner in which Tareen has built his image of a pro-development politician in eyes of Musharraf, his key generals and diplomatic and financial institutions like ADB and World Bank, his next flight will be for the position of the Punjab chief minister.
Pervez Elahi having seen politics from close quarters immediately got alerted and hence began parting of ways between Chaudhrys and Tareen. Pervez Elahi started supporting a group led by Chaudhry Munir of Rahim Yar Khan in order to neutralise Ahmed Mehmood and Tareen. This soon generated into open war and Tareen resigned from the office of the advisor of the chief minister and said good-bye to Chaudhrys. In a way, history came full circle since his association with Shehbaz Sharif.
In 2008 again, Tareen and Ahmed Mehmood decided to jump the sinking boat of Musharraf and PML-Q and contested elections on the Functional League platform. Ahmed Mehmood became MPA and Tareen MNA, the only two seats secured by this party in Punjab.
Soon after 2008, sensing that the PML-N will be in power, Ahmed Mehmood and Tareen announced support for Shehbaz Sharif in Punjab and Yousaf Raza Gilani in Islamabad. Mehmood made an effort to create a role for Tareen in the Shehbaz Sharif team. Tareen accompanied Shehbaz Sharif to his first visit to China also. However, Sharifs known for not to trust associates, who left them in 1999, did not give any key role to Tareen or Ahmed Mehmood.
Tareen, in the meantime, on the advice of old friends, decided to explore alternatives and formed a group comprising Legharis, Ishaq Khakwani, Sikandar Bosan and Ghulam Sarwar Khan, and collectively decided to explore future politics from the PTI platform. However, Bosan and Legharis later abandoned the PTI and joined the PML-N.
Although Tareen was elected from Rahim Yar Khan, he was trying to develop an alternate constituency for himself in Lodhran, where he has some 1,500 acres of the large corporate farm. He strategically launched two NGOs in Lodhran called the Lodhran pilot project and Ali Tareen Foundation. Both ironically were provided a foothold by Shehbaz Sharif in 1999. Tareen sold a reform project to Shehbaz Sharif and took control of three Basic Health Units (BHUs) in the vicinity of his farm as a private-public partnership model.
He intelligently used this to raise his standing as a philanthropist in the area. Again in 2008 in the initial stage of his second political honeymoon, he convinced Shehbaz Sharif to give 50 government primary schools to his NGO, Ali Tareen Foundation, to launch a project of running stated-owned educational institutions through private participation. He succeeded in clinching this initiative despite immense opposition from the local MPA of PML-N, who could see seeds of politics in this innocent-looking NGO initiative.
These two NGOs form the basis of Tareen’s politics in the area. He donated funds from his public limited sugar mills to advance his political ambition in Lodhran. He got donor funds from World Bank, USAID and DFID for these NGOs. Although later developments proved that NGOs were part of large political launch and image building exercise. A visit to the Facebook page of these NGOs gives a feeling as if it belongs to the PTI.
This alternate arrangement soon came in handy when Tareen fell out with Ahmed Mehmood after a dispute pertaining to the management of Jamal Din Wali Sugar Mills Group which owns four sugar mills and is the largest single sugar producing group in Pakistan. Ahmed Mehmood is its chairman and Tareen the CEO.
Ahmed Mehmood alleged corporate fraud and inside trading resulting in Tareen getting majority shares in sugar mills group originally owned by the Ahmed Mehmood family. The dispute was resolved through the intervention of major banks, which feared a crisis for the financial sector since the group owed billions of rupees as loans to more than a dozen banks. A commercial arrangement was worked out, which resulted in the removal of Tareen’s two personal servants from a position of independent directors and the induction of Ahmed Mehmood’s wife as a director in the company and joint management under which one of Ahmed Mehmood’s son also started sitting in the company office.
However, the parting of political paths was permanent as Tareen had to resign from the Rahim Yar Khan seat of the National Assembly from where Ahmed Mehmood got his son elected. Hence, Tareen reverted to his plan B and contested 2013 elections from Lodhran and lost to Siddique Baloch, then an independent candidate, with the PML-N being a distant third.
Can Ahmed Mehmood be a game-changer? Only time will decide.