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JKT factor fast coming as the most convincing challenge for the ruling PTI

ISLAMABAD: The multiparty opposition alliance; Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) seems no more a threat to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). Things have been quite different at the PDM platform after the two PDM constituent parties; Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) resorted to constant bickering on the occasion of March senate elections. The alliance has almost met an unnatural demise, it’s no more a threat to the government at least for the time being but at the same time, Jehangir Khan Tareen (JKT) factor is fast approaching as the most convincing challenge for the ruling party. Having claimed the support of over thirty members of Punjab Assembly and the National Assembly, Jehangir Khan Tareen has all the potential to upset the ruling party, the insiders believe.

The JKT saga dates back to April 2020 when PM Imran Khan released the report on the Sugar and Wheat Crisis. In August last year, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) launched an inquiry against Jahangir Tareen in the money laundering. A joint team of the FIA and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) has been actively investigating the known and unknown assets of billionaire Jahangir Tareen. FIA contacted public and private institutions which have a record of wealth and business of Jahangir Khan Tareen. Formal notices were issued against JKT and 19 officials and private entities on charges of money laundering and corporate fraud. In issuing the notice, the Sugar Commission 2020 Inquiry Report was taken into account. The information sought included almost every property of JKT, then a close confidant of Prime Minister Imran Khan and the people around him.

Earlier, the federal government had consti- tuted a high-level combined investigation team to probe an alleged financial scam of over Rs20 billion involving three biggest groups running sugar mills in the country.

The CIT headed by FIA’s Wajid Zia initiated legal action against JDW Group of Companies owned by PTI leader Jahangir Khan Tareen and Alliance Sugar Mills owned by RYK Group with major share of family of then Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar and PML-Q leader Chaudhry Moonis Elahi.

The sugar inquiry commission — formed on the directives of the Prime Minister to probe the rise in the price of the commodity had revealed names of many bigwigs, including Tareen, who had allegedly benefitted from the crisis. On the other hand, Jahangir Tareen rejected the allegations in the sugar inquiry report. Surprising- ly, it all happened at a time when the PTI desperately needed Jahangir Khan Tareen to play a role in neutralizing the opposition’s anti-government movement.

Then JKT quietly departed for London in June last year despite being a prime suspect in the sugar scam. In June 2020, Tareen along with his son flew to the UK for a ‘medical check-up’. There were widespread speculations that Tareen left for the country to save his skin before the start of the government’s punitive action on the findings of the report of the Sugar Inquiry Commission that implicated PTI leader and other leading political figures and businessmen in the sugar scam. PTI’s

isolated leader; Tareen returned to Pakistan from the UK in November last year after spending several months in the United Kingdom. The PTI leader’s departure had prompted backlash from the opposition. The PML-N had raised questions over Tareen having been allowed to leave and had accused the premier of pursuing selective accountability.

On March 22, the FIA booked estranged PTI leader Jahangir Tareen and his son, Ali Tareen, for fraud and money laundering. Two separate cases were registered under sections 406 (criminal breach of trust), 420 (cheating of public shareholders) and 109 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), read with sections 3/4 of the Anti-Money Laundering Act. Responding to the development, Tareen lashed out at the FIA and said the accusations against him and his family were totally fabricated.

Tareen was the PTI’s mind, political organiser, planner, fixer, and troubleshooter. He was also Imran Khan’s adviser on matters that went beyond the mandate of his party designation. Imran Khan led the party, but JKT ran it, according to the political experts.

Annoyed with the top party leadership over what he views as political victimization, Tareen has been showing his support on the occasion of his appearances before the court. An unseen unease exists in the ruling party over the JKT issue. Some of the party leaders are urging the leadership to resolve the issue before it really swells to a political complication.

Tareen and his supporters, majority of whom are from Punjab assembly, have been demanding ‘justice’ from the party. They believe they can persuade the PM of the fairness of their demands once they meet the latter. In the latest of the developments, the estranged PTI leader has said that he had been assured of a meeting between his group of supporters and Prime Minister Imran Khan “in a few days”. Speaking to the media outside a Lahore sessions court, Jahangir Tareen said he had hosted an Iftar dinner for his allies earlier this month. “A day before, some individuals from Islamabad contacted me and said that our group would have a meeting with the premier in a few days. Our entire group will meet the prime minister soon,” said Tareen, adding that his relationship with the premier was not “weak”.

According to the party sources, Prime Minister Imran Khan has been avoiding meeting with Jehangir Khan Tareen after blaming him for benefiting from the sugar crisis last year. The two are not on speaking terms even as the reasons that led to his exit from the party are still around. Interesting- ly, the people that allegedly led to his exit are also still around. Tareen and his supporters had been blaming SAPM Barrister Shahzad Akbar and Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Muhammad Azam Khan for hatching a conspiracy against him and creating misunderstanding between the two. SAPM Barrister Shehzad Akbar is supervising the FIA investigation against the sugar barons.

Now the question is whether JKT — one of the prime architects of the PTI and who helped propel PTI to power — is in a position and really intends to upset the PTI government in Punjab or Centre. What’s the worst JKT could inflict on PTI? What options Tareen has and whether he is really exploring new political avenues in the wake of his party’s ‘indifferent attitude’ towards him.

It can go either way; the shared interest may convince the leadership to welcome Tareen into the party again, and he may not ‘satisfy’ the PM on his alleged role in minting money through the sugar crisis. The game is on.

According to the sources, few of the members from National Assembly now also supporting JKT didn’t vote for the PTI candidate Hafeez Sheikh against PPP’s Yusuf Raza Gilani in the senate election. It is to mention here that Jehangir Tareen’s

wife is the first cousin of former prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. The political observers believe that Imran Khan is not in a position to take action against those allegedly voted for Gilani in the senate election or now openly supporting Tareen as he did in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, as his government in Punjab and Centre is standing on the very thin majority. However- er, according to the party insiders, these disgruntled members may not get party tickets for the next general election. The other political parties also seem not interested in taking the JKT in their folds and quietly observing the development.

The cracks within the ruling party are quite visible and widening as the time passes. The PTI members in the Punjab Assembly and National Assembly standing by JKT may form a forward bloc, initially. In all sense, Jehangir Tareen group would ultimately prove to be a game changer. With the JKT being the central character, the game is in the hand of nearly 30 PTI MPAs and MNAs. If these numbers were to break away from the party, the Imran-led party could lose its majority both in the National Assembly and Punjab assembly. If the things continue on the same trajectory in the coming days, the ruling party may face difficulties in the upcoming local government elections as well. One of the reasons of PTI losing the recent by-elections was infighting.

The JKT issue has now become more political than the legal one. Some powerful people have jumped in to ‘manage’ the situation before it does further damage to the PTI. As Tareen and his supporters seek ‘justice’ from the party, the question arises whether justice means quashing of the FIRs against JKT and his son. It’s not a personal or political issue between Imran Khan and Jehangir Khan Tareen. What can the PM do under the circumstances? Should he intervene in the FIA affairs? The opposition was already terming the registration of FIRs against Tareen as an effort on part of the government to balance the NAB and FIA action against the opposition politicians. The opposition would be justified in asking whether it was accountability or political victimization of Jehangir Khan Tareen if the FIA withdraws charges against Tareen. Then, what a possible meeting between Jehangir Khan Tareen and Imran Khan would reflect on the political landscape? Here’s where things get a bit complicated.

If Imran Khan and Jehangir Khan Tareen don’t come closer in the coming days and the stalemate continues, according to the political observers, both the sides will keep waiting for the best until the budget is presented — both in Islamabad and Lahore. Then every number will count and JKT group would be setting the prospects of relation between the party and the disgruntled.

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