We are delighted to present to you our guest, Rana Ihsaan Afzal Khan, coordinator to the prime minister on trade and commerce, and one of the most recognised faces of the PML-N in the media. Known for his calmness, composure, and evidence-based arguments, Ihsaan Afzal Khan has earned praise not only from his supporters, workers, and party leadership but also from his political opponents.
PML-N’s Research and Policy Planning Unit takes pride in claiming Rana Ihsaan Afzal Khan as one of their own, having been an active part of the team before moving on to his current responsibility.
Horizon: Welcome, Rana Ihsaan Afzal Khan, or should we say welcome back?
RIAK: Thank you very much. I would say it’s more like “welcome back home.” The Research and Policy Planning Unit of PML-N will always be like family to me. I was fortunate to be part of this dynamic and talented team from the early stages of my political career. Working with such dedicated professionals and researchers from various fields groomed me and contributed significantly to my growth. I want to express my gratitude to Rana Mashhood Ahmad Khan, the founder of the unit, and Saira Bano, our team leader, for giving me this opportunity.
Horizon: That is wonderful to hear. So, let’s get to know more about Rana Ihsaan Afzal Khan. Can you tell us about your background and upbringing?
RIAK: Certainly. I was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1983, as my family had moved there due to my father’s work after he retired from the army. Our roots are in Faisalabad, Pakistan, where my father, Rana Afzal Khan, later returned and established a 100-bed hospital. My childhood was spent in and around the hospital, as our residence was on the top floor of the building. I was the third of four siblings. My mother, Najma Afzal Khan, is a doctor and later served as a member of the Punjab Assembly. My parents maintained strict discipline, but we also had the freedom to explore and grow. When I grew up a little, I got to work various jobs at the hospital as an intern — as a gatekeeper, a receptionist, and an accountant.
Horizon: That sounds like a unique upbringing. What is your educational and professional background?
RIAK: I am a graduate of LUMS, where I majored in economics. After completing my education, I joined my family business and played a role in diversifying it. We ventured into chipboard manufacturing, and I had the honour of serving as the Chairman of All Pakistan Chipboard Manufacturers thrice. Additionally, I served as a board member of Faisalabad Electric Supply Company (FESCO).
Horizon: You mentioned that you entered politics after the passing of your father, Rana Afzal Khan, who was a respected member of the National Assembly and a former state minister for finance. What motivated you to pursue a political career beyond his legacy?
RIAK: Participating in my father’s election campaigns allowed me to connect with the people and understand their issues. After his passing, I felt a strong sense of responsibility to continue his legacy of serving the people he cared deeply for. My experiences during those campaigns and my desire to make a positive impact on people’s lives compelled me to enter politics.
Horizon: Your dedication to public service is commendable. How did you transition into active politics, and did your family name significantly influence your journey?
RIAK: Although my father’s name did open doors for initial introductions, in PML-N, we are results-driven. Merely having a big name isn’t enough; one must deliver to be relevant. I joined the Research and Policy Planning Unit as Ihsaan Khan, where I had to prove my worth through hard work and dedication. We successfully published white papers and exposed the government’s falsehoods based on facts. Simultaneously, I started appearing in the media. That’s when I gained some recognition, and the party leadership noticed me, gradually entrusting me with additional responsibilities.
Horizon: Could you elaborate on the responsibilities you have undertaken within the party?
RIAK: After working in the Research and Policy Planning Unit, I was picked to serve within PML-N Punjab under Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz. Unfortunately, due to an unjust interpretation of Article 63-A of the Constitution by the Supreme Court, he had to vacate the office. Subsequently, I was called upon to work with the central government and joined the team of the federal finance minister. He allowed us to attend all high-level meetings to prepare us for leadership roles in the future. It was during this time that I fully realised the dire state in which the previous government had left our economy. Pakistan was on the verge of default. Our team spared no effort to avert this crisis and made difficult decisions in an election year. Normally, political parties avoid making such decisions even in the first year of government for fear of losing political capital. But our party places the love for Pakistan above everything else, and Alhamdulillah, we succeeded.
Horizon: As the coordinator to the prime minister, you work closely with him. How would you describe him as a leader?
RIAK: The prime minister is a man of action. He is incredibly focused and deeply involved in every aspect of his work. There is no room for idleness or a laid-back approach in his office. He excels in forming teams of highly capable individuals who consistently deliver results, as exemplified by the establishment of the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), where all stakeholders will collaborate to expedite decision-making. His meetings are characterised by remarkable efficiency, leaving no room for repetitions. Quick decisions are made, and he diligently pushes for their prompt implementation. If PML-N is elected again, I am confident that Pakistan will soon emerge from its current crisis.
Horizon: It’s inspiring to witness such dedication in leadership. Given your experience at the highest levels of government, where do you believe reforms are most urgently needed?
RIAK: Pakistan requires comprehensive political, economic, and bureaucratic reforms. One of the significant flaws in our political system is the barrier to entry for new and diverse voices. Many of our parliamentarians are property tycoons or, in the past, were traditional landowners (waderas). These individuals may not be motivated to bring about meaningful change in the system. We need to reform the system so that ordinary people can reach parliament, not just the super-rich. Second, we need strong local governments to deal with civic issues. Ideally, our national and provincial legislators should focus on legislation, but they are often bogged down with their constituents’ civic problems and issues of thana kachehri, which hampers their ability to legislate effectively.
Similarly, our economy calls for structural reforms. Revenue reforms should entail tax reform, bringing sectors that currently pay minimal or no taxes, such as retailers, agriculture, and property, into the tax net. We must also address tax evasion. Simplifying the tax system can increase direct taxes while reducing regressive ones. On the expenditure side, we need reforms in pension schemes, subsidies, and government size. Streamlining government operations at federal and provincial levels and empowering local governance can enhance efficiency. We must improve financial planning for government schemes and better manage state-owned enterprises. Additionally, the burden of debt needs to be shared with the provinces, as they receive a significant portion of the finances. Without these reforms, the status quo will prevail, hindering progress.
Reforms in the bureaucracy are equally important. The current practice of rotating central superior services officers across different departments lacks continuity. It is unrealistic to expect an officer to be an expert in health, finance, education, energy, and other diverse fields. This flawed model yields flawed results. Instead, we should allow professionals to grow within their respective fields, rather than constantly rotating them through various important positions.
Horizon: Why haven’t we been able to bring such reforms so far?
RIAK: Implementing these reforms requires bold decisions. Often, there is internal pressure within political parties to avoid challenging the system due to the potential impact on the vote bank. However, we must communicate to the public that these reforms are essential for Pakistan’s long-term prosperity, even if they entail temporary hardships. It is crucial to resist politicising issues like petrol, electricity, and gas prices, as the government should not subsidise these commodities.
Horizon: On a lighter note, what kind of music do you enjoy, do you play any sports, and what is your favourite food?
RIAK: My taste in music depends on my mood and the situation. When I’m at the gym, I prefer to listen to energising gym songs to keep me motivated. Sports have been a significant part of my life; I was part of the squash and swimming teams in school, and I also enjoyed playing football and hockey. During my university days, I joined the snooker team, and I have skills in skiing and riding as well.
As for food, one of my favourites is qeema topped with cheese, paired with roti.
Horizon: That sounds delightful! Is your wife also involved in a professional career, and do you have any children?
RIAK: My wife is a dentist, and while she technically could be working, she is currently fully focused on taking care of our three wonderful children.
Horizon: Family is essential, indeed. In conclusion, what message would you like to convey to our readers?
RIAK: I would like to urge all readers and supporters to stand by PML-N, the most progressive party in Pakistan, with a track record of delivering on its promises under the dynamic leadership of Mian Nawaz Sharif and Mian Shehbaz Sharif. Our party’s future looks bright, with enthusiastic youngsters and aspiring politicians in its ranks. The face of PML-N under Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shahbaz reaffirms our faith in democracy.
Horizon: Thank you for your time, Ihsaan.
RIAK: The pleasure is all mine. It is always good to be back home.