In conversation with Mr. Ahsan Iqbal: “There is only one leader in PML-N Nawaz Sharif”Team Horizon had the honor of interviewing General Secretary of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Mr. Ahsan Iqbal in the party secretariat.
orizon: Sir, first of all we would like to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule for this interview. We are honored to have you as our guest.?
AI: I was keen to meet the dynamic team Horizon which is putting in a lot of effort and that too voluntarily for the party and its leadership. I have read the previous publications and I must commend the quality of the work your team has done.
Horizon: How was your childhood and what is your educational background?
AI: I have fond memories of my childhood. As you all know, my mother was a religious scholar so my upbringing was also done in the same manner. Due to frequent transfers and postings of my father, who was an engineer working for a multinational oil company, my student life is spread across Pakistan; from Convent of Jesus & Mary and Aisha Bawany School in Karachi, to St. Anthony High School Lahore, back to Karachi in Cantt Public School and then PAF College Sargodha. I attended Government College Lahore for my intermediate studies, after which I joined the prestigious University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Lahore. My session was 1976 mechanical engineering. I was elected President of Student Union UET, Lahore for the 1980-81 session. After engineering, I went to the USA for higher studies and did my MBA from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
Horizon: If you could do it again, in which institute would you like to take admission again?
AI: Certainly the Wharton School. It doesn’t mean that I rate UET any less, but the learning environment I experienced and the academic resources provided in Wharton were truly exceptional. The US is a world power not due to its military, but it is the universities there that provide it the backbone of global leadership through superior research and innovation.
Horizon: You were in a Right-Wing Student Organization during student life and now you are General Secretary of a progressive party, how will you explain this change?
AI: During my studies, I was inclined towards right-wing politics therefore I joined that student organization which I still think was a better option at that time when compared with the alternatives available during that era. However, I continued to learn and evolve and today here I am in front of you. I must say that learning must continue, there must be no stop to ideological evolution, only then can societies progress. Quaid e Azam started his political journey from Congress but eventually became leader of AIML.
Horizon: How do you see the future of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)?
AI: The PDM is an alliance of different political parties united for the cause of democracy. This is not an electoral alliance. We all might be competing against each other in general elections based on our manifestos, yet we are on one platform to defend the constitution. At the moment, all the parties are focused on restoring democracy in its true essence and free from interference by the establishment. Our call is, “Respect our Constitution, Respect our Vote and Respect our Rights”. Pakistan is a federation, who’s survival and future depend on constitutionalism and federal parliamentary democracy. Pakistan has all the ingredients to become the new Asian Tiger, but due to political instability, it has been going in circles for the last seven decades. It is about time that we reset our course, otherwise history will not forgive us. All stakeholders must show responsibility. After the by-election results, this government has lost its moral ground and it must resign so that general elections can be held to elect a new government, one which will be a true representative of the people and which will continue working for them. This is the only solution that can get Pakistan out of this present mess.
Horizon: You contested your first election as an independent candidate, is that true?
AI: Yes, and it is actually a very interesting story. I came back from the US in 1986 and I joined PML-N in 1988. I applied for the PML-N ticket during the 1988 elections, the ticket was awarded but later withdrawn on the pressure of local politicians with the promise of a ticket for the next elections. I again applied for a ticket in 1990, but the same lobby once more forced the party to withdraw my ticket, despite Mian Sb’s commitment. Mian Sb (Mian Nawaz Sharif) again asked me to wait till the next elections for a ticket, but I requested permission to contest independently on the condition that if PML-N was in danger of losing, I would withdraw. I had been campaigning in the constituency for the second time and if I had withdrawn again, supporters in the constituency would have never taken me seriously after. Mian Sb, being ever gracious, permitted me. I remained a part of Mian Sb’s team and actively campaigned with him against President Ghulam Ishaq’s dismissal of his government. Finally, I was awarded a party ticket in the 1993 elections for National Assembly from Narowal, which I won. I won again but in 1997, but in 2002 my election was rigged under instructions of General Musharaf. Yet since 2008, my constituency has Alhamdulillah honoured me with victory in every election with quite handsome margins.
Horizon: You were the victim of a life-threatening firing attempt prior to the 2018 elections? How do you recall this incident and what effects did it have on you?
AI: Well, when I was shot, I had just received a call from a local spiritual leader; the posture of my elbow while receiving the call acted as a shield. The bullet hit my elbow and slipped in my belly and was still inside. If it were not that call and my arm covering my chest, the bullet would have hit any vital organ. Allah Almighty has his own ways of saving life. When I was being taken to hospital, it was a handshake with death not knowing whether I would make it or not. It is very difficult to explain the feelings of that time, but Alhamdulillah i remained calm and was giving directions to the staff for the rescue effort. When I was recovering, I realized that we have become a society where hatred is used as a political tool. Innocent people are fed hateful messages that trigger violent extremism; a very dangerous sign for any society. After I recovered, I thought I should pay back for my second chance. After consulting friends, I decided to establish an “International Islamic Institute for Peace”. This institute will InshaAllah become a centre of excellence for promoting peace and countering violent extremism; and has become my life goal. We were about to launch a funding campaign and donors were also on board but then COVID-19 happened and it had to be put on hold for the time being. This institution will also work for interfaith harmony, cooperation among civilisations and engage scholars from all over the world.
Horizon: What are your views about the media in Pakistan?
AI: Media is the fourth pillar of democracy and it has to play its role for strengthening democracy and with the advent of digital “New Media” it is no longer possible to black out certain ideologies, unlike traditional media, and hide the facts from the larger public. In this age of “New Media”, anyone with a smart phone & access to internet is a reporter with global reach. This has not only made information flow easier but is also being used to spread fake information simultaneously. We all need to stay vigilant so that we do not become a victim of fake information.
Horizon: There are rumors in the media about two factions in PMLN, as General Secretary of PMLN what do you have to say about it?
AI: Absolutely wrong. PMLN has only one leader and that is none other than Nawaz Sharif. In democratic parties people do have different opinions and this difference in opinions is a catalyst for growth, progress and development of the party. In the end, after mutual consultations, whatever is finalized by the leader is followed by the party. Without a doubt, the entire party stands firmly with the leadership and vision of Mian Nawaz Sharif.
Horizon: We also heard about your midnight snacks?
AI: Yes, Chocolates and nuts are my midnight snacks and I absolutely love them.
Horizon: Mian Sb tasked you with the reorganisation of the Party. What is progress in this regard?
AI: We have completed our organisational tiers: national, provisional, divisional and district. Now, we are moving towards the organizational set up at union council level. This is the biggest restructuring of the party since its foundation, so it is taking some time, as we are strengthening the party by achieving the consensus of all the stake holders at all levels. PML-N has also evolved and this is very heartwarming. Our upcoming young leadership is highly educated and filled with true democrats. I can proudly say that PML-N is better than ever and is always improving. Our vision and criteria have always been merit, performance and public service.
Horizon: You were a central figure in implementation of CPEC projects, how do you foresee the future of CPEC?
AI: CPEC is no doubt a game changer for our region. CPEC is a part of One Belt, One Road initiative of China, which will link the whole region economically & it will have a progressive impact on population & regional states; when the focus will be on economy & not offense against other nations. This will uplift the lives of hundreds of millions of people, decrease poverty & enhance provisions of facilities to the public.
I, to the best of my abilities, did everything for the implementation of CPEC projects & this has been recognized by our Chinese Brothers as well. We realised an investment of $29 billion in three years, which is unprecedented in the history of Pakistan. I hope that the incumbent selected regime, despite all their incapability & incompetence, will follow our footsteps and complete the CPEC projects for betterment of the people of Pakistan.
Horizon: On a lighter note, we heard that you are a big fan of the movie “Gladiator” and have watched it seven times, is that true?
AI: Yes, I like the movie, it has some good lessons for statecraft. I plan to watch it again soon.
Horizon: Sir, thank you so very much for your time, any message/advice for our readers, especially the youth?
AI: Work hard, believe in yourself, be a team person, remain true to the cause and stay on the right path. Success will come your way.
Horizon: Sir, Thank you very much for your precious time. It was a pleasure.
AI: It was absolutely wonderful to have your team. I am pleased to have such energetic volunteers working for the party. Thank You.