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Pakistan Reader# 176, 21 May 2021

The curious case of Jahangir Khan Tareen



The political rise and fall of a sugar baron

Jahangir Tareen, one of the closest friends of Imran Khan and the former Number 2 in the party, has seen ups and downs in the short time he has spent in PTI. Despite being at loggerheads from the past few months, both Imran Khan and JKT know that without each other, they could face several disadvantages in the current political scenario.  

Abhiruchi Chowdhury

Jahangir Tareen is one of the richest politicians in Pakistan hailing from South Punjab. As Taren himself said in an interview to the Newsweek Pakistan, he was not born into a political family but married into one. His political career began in 2002 when he fought elections on the ticket of PML-Q and secured victory in NA-195. Having a prior background in the agricultural sector, he was appointed as Special Advisor on Agriculture to the then Chief Minister of Punjab Parvez Elahi. He also served in Cabinet for three years from 2004 as a Federal Minister for Industries Production. In 2008, he again won the NA-195 seat, but this time on the ticket of PML-F. Outside politics, Tareen is a successful businessman who is the main shareholder of the JDW group, owns six sugar mills and produces 18 per cent of the total sugar in Pakistan. 

Rise of JKT: 

Tareen was already a big name before he joined PTI. However, his rise as a mainstream politician spiralled after he joined PTI in 2011 with 30 other PML-Q members. (“Tareen, Legharis and other PML-Q leaders join PTI,” Dawn, 19 December 2011) Having an experienced technocrat like Tareen was something which the PTI was proud of, who was often projected as the main face behind the party’s plan of bringing economic, administrative, agricultural and industrial reforms so as to give the right direction to Pakistan’s economy. He was given the opportunity to lead from the front and was appointed as General Secretary of PTI in 2013. In addition to that, he also headed PTI’s macroeconomic and Poverty Alleviation Team. He contested the 2013 elections from NA-154, a constituency he believed was his stronghold due to his investments and charities, but could not win. However, in the By-elections of NA-154 held in 2015, he was able to defeat his opponent by more than 35000 votes. (“Jahangir Tareen: PTI’s money man,” Dawn, 16 December 2017) He was once known as the right hand of PTI chief Imran Khan and the second most powerful man in PTI, who in a real sense actually ran the party under the leadership of Imran Khan. Tareen was the link between PTI and the establishment and had also played a crucial role in bringing Electables, especially from Punjab to PTI. His role in the General Election and organizing Dharnas cannot go unheeded 

Fall of JKT

Tareen’s fall in politics started in December 2017 when he was disqualified by the Supreme court of Pakistan for not declaring his property ‘Hyde House’ in the UK and also for making a false statement that he had no interest in the offshore company SVL. He was asked to resign from the National Assembly seat and had been prohibited to hold any public office in the future. (“Imran Khan not out, Jahangir Tareen disqualified for being dishonest: Supreme Court,” Dawn, 15 December 2017) As a result, he had to resign from the post of General Secretary of PTI in 2018.  

Ever since PTI formed Government at the Federal level, the Kitchen Cabinet of Prime Minister Imran Khan which includes Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Asad Umer, Pervez Khattak, Shafqat Mehmood and Asad Qasier has tried to undermine the role of Tareen in the party which has ultimately led to him being sidelined from the decision-making team of the Government. The Anti-Tareen faction in the PTI has also created fear in minds of the Prime Minister that Tareen was leading a second power centre in the party which became one of the reasons for the fallout between Tareen and the party chief. 

JKT however holds the Principal secretary to the Prime Minister, Azam Khan as one of the key persons responsible for creating a rift between him and Imran Khan. Tareen had envisioned the idea of forming an expert committee that would act as a push factor for the bureaucracy in implementing the Prime Minister’s initiatives that were usually delayed due to bureaucratic hurdles which had the initial consent from Imran Khan.  However, Azam Khan was opposed to this idea and thought this move might leave him powerless and make Tareen more powerful. Things turned worse for Khan-JKT relationship when he was named as one of the beneficiaries of the Sugar crisis, which according to Tareen was sought by the Prime Minister under the influence of Azam Khan. The FIA has registered multiple FIRs against JKT under the Anti Money laundering act. The loyalists of the Tareen group have though denounced the Inquiry Report and continue to claim JKT’s innocence in the matter.    

PTI without JKT:  

Tareen was one such person in PTI who had maintained a good relationship with a lot of MPAs and MNAs, especially from Punjab. He would be the go-to person for a number of Assembly members whenever they would face any problems or issues in the party so that he could convey their grievances to their respective Chief Ministers. Being a close friend of Imran Khan, he also had direct access to him and could advise the Prime Minister on the issues which in the past were mishandled by the bureaucrats and unelected advisors, something which the Anti-Tareen faction in the Government was wary of. (Fahd Hussain, “Looking for a JKT,” Dawn, 30 January 2021) When one imagines PTI without Tareen, no such name pops in the head as an alternative to JKT.  

Tareen’s absence is deeply felt in the Agricultural sector as well as in Economic issues. With him being side-lined from the party, there is no one in the PTI who could stipulate conditions for actual change in the governance matters. PTI deeply owes Tareen for introducing reforms in KP that enabled them to win the elections in the province convincingly.(Mujtaba A Pirzada, “PTI missing Tareen,” 12 March 2019) In the present scenario of prices of agricultural commodities going up which has created an extensive hatred for PTI, Tareen’s expertise in the agriculture sector and his calibre in managing political affairs could have come handy. 

Also, PTI without JKT would be at risk of losing their provincial-level government in Punjab. A group of 30 MPAs pitched their support to JKT and have threatened the Khan Government of resorting to extreme measures if justice is not done with him on the Sugar inquiry case. 

JKT without PTI:  

Tareen without PTI would have three options for staying relevant in Pakistani politics. First, joining PML-N, Second joining People’s party and Third becoming the leader of the Pro-Tareen faction after its separation from PTI. An old and well-established party like PML-N can never offer Tareen a position in the party where he could exercise his influence and showcase his power like the way he used to do in PTI. Joining the People’s Party would also be political suicide since Tareen hails from Punjab and People’s Party’s at present lacks Political support everywhere in the country except rural Sindh. Forming a new party with the people who are in support of Tareen in PTI would also make no sense as the party’s main face is Imran Khan which Tareen also agrees, without which they will not be able to defeat PTI. Though there have been rumours of JKT intending to join PML-N and People’s party which was duly refuted by him, his future in politics lies in being a part of PTI. Therefore, without PTI, JKT would have only one option of quitting politics and returning back to his old businesses. However, returning to his old businesses without political backing would be a tough choice for Tareen who is already caught up in Sugar Mafia and Money laundering cases.  

The Current Scenario 

In a recent turnaround of events, Jahangir Tareen has announced a separate Parliamentary group of 8 MNAs and 32 MPAs from Punjab to put forward their collective demands in front of the Government. The group claims it was highly disappointed with the Punjab Government for specifically picking on them which is why they had to resort to such extreme measure. It has also threatened the Government of boycotting this year’s budget if the latter continues its vendetta against Tareen Loyalists. However, the move of forming a separate group within the party seems to be a pressure building tactic on Imran Khan government to ensure free and fair trial in the cases against Tareen.  

The case against JKT has now become a litmus test especially for Imran Khan whose entire political campaign revolved around eliminating corruption from Pakistan. PTI and Imran Khan are caught in a grim situation where it has only two options. First, to compromise on its corruption agenda and make a settlement with the JKT group which will be a complete betrayal with the PTI vote bank. Second, to stick to its principles, make no compromise on its corruption agenda and thus bear the risk of losing their government in Punjab. It remains to be seen what turn JKT-PTI relationship takes after the tabling of Budget 2021-22. 


About the author

Abhiruchi Chowdhury is enrolled with the NIAS certificate course on Contemporary Pakistan. He is also pursuing Masters in South Asian Studies from Pondicherry University. He is interested in exploring the Geo-politics and contemporary political happenings in West Asia.

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