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Chaudhry Shujat Hussain: “We are a resilient nation”

Chaudhry Shujat Hussain: “We are a resilient nation”

Chaudhry Shujat started his political career from the grassroots and over the years has firmly established himself as one of Pakistan’s leading political figures. With his humour, his grassroots realism, his warmth and humility, he has not only captivated the public imagination and won favour with the masses, making him one of Pakistan’s most popular personalities, he is also recognised as past master of consensus politics. He is a former prime minister of Pakistan, leader of the house and interior minister. He is President of the Pakistan Muslim League

Chaudhry Shujat was born in the village of Nath, near the fabled Chenab River in Gujrat in 1946. It is said that in the days of antiquity some Chinese Buddhist pilgrims came upon the river and were so impressed that they called it ‘Chen’, meaning beautiful in Chinese. Later, the Persian word for water, ‘ab’, was added to it and its name became ‘Chenab’. Shujat’s family settled in Lahore and after completing his Matriculation from Central Model School, he graduated with a BA from Forman Christian College in Lahore. He also went to Watford College where he received a diploma in Industrial Management.

After completing his education, Chaudhry Shujat got involved in his family’s highly successful textiles business. However, after the assassination of his father, Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi, in 1981, Chaudhry Shujat was compelled to join politics. Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi was a leading politician who had played a central role in the restoration of democracy in Pakistan. For his services to democracy, he was honoured with the Prisoner of Conscience award by Amnesty International and his untimely death made him the first political victim of terrorism in Pakistan.

Chaudhry Shujat has played a pivotal role in enhancing relations between Pakistan and India and promoting interfaith harmony through the restoration of the ancient Hindu Temple at Katas. He invited L.K Advani to the inauguration of the magnificent temple. The gesture carried immense symbolic significance as L.K Advani had led a mob of Hindu religious extremists in 1992 to demolish the Babri Mosque, which caused much distress and outrage among Muslims. Chaudhry Shujat had also arranged for Advani and his family to perform puja at a shrine of Shiva. Advani was overwhelmed. “I felt that I owed a debt of gratitude to Shujat Hussain, a debt I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay,” said Advani.

His business interests have been criticised by his detractors. However, Chaudhry Shujat won a landmark case against the iconic British newspaper The Guardian in 1991, which falsely stated that he and his family members had accounts at the ill-fated Bank of Credit & Commerce International (BCCI). His lawyer at the time was the late Ijaz Hussain Batalvi, one of Pakistan’s leading intellectual figures. Chaudhry Shujat won the case andThe Guardian published an unequivocal apology on its front page for any distress and embarrassment caused by the baseless allegations.

Chaudhry Shujat has been President of the Pakistan Muslim League since 2003. He served as Prime Minister from June 2004 to August 2004. In addition, he has held an array of portfolios: he was Minister for Interior and Narcotics Control from 1990 to 1993 and 1997 to 1999. He has also served as Minister for Industries & Production from 1987 to 1988 and in 1986 he was Minister for Information & Broadcasting.

In the wake of the 2005 earthquake which devastated Pakistan’s northern areas, Chaudhry Shujat received the country’s highest honour, the Sitaar-e-Isaar, in recognition of his efforts for earthquake relief. He also received Korea’s highest diplomatic award, the Heung-In Medal and is Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Korea. He is also Chairman of the Sufi Council of Pakistan.

With a wealth of political experience both in government and the opposition, Chaudhry Shujat has witnessed Pakistan’s tumultuous political and economic journey. He shares his fascinating insights with Blue Chip.

As Interior Minister for five years, what were the highlights of your tenure?

CS: “There are many highlights but I will just relate the interesting ones. The establishment of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). Saif ur Rehman was the chairman but then he started vicitimising people through unfair means, I opposed him. In one particular incident, when NAB applied for the extradition of Asif Zardari for financial embezzlement, the UK courts said this was not their jurisdiction, they could only consider extradition if it related to narcotics. Saif ur Rehman got the case registered in a Lahore court and then applied for extradition but the UK courts still would not entertain it because they wanted it to be done through the Anti Narcotics Force which was under the purview of the Interior Ministry. When I came to know of the case, I called in the DG and ordered him to dismiss the charges as false. Since I declared the case false, the appeal made by the Government of Pakistan for Zardari’s extradition was dismissed. For this, both Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari thanked me.

I also spearheaded the establishment of the National Database known as NADRA. On the basis of this, Pakistan received a Narcotics Free Country certificate from the US which it was failing to receive for the last four years.”

What about the criticism against your family over your rapid financial growth and business interests?

CS:  “My uncle started the business with four small hand looms. After this, we acquired power looms and then set up a textile mill. We expanded out textile business. In 1950 my uncle was the first person to import machinery from Japan for textiles.

During Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s tenure, our land was nationalized and converted into a housing scheme. We fought court cases for two or three years. Our appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court. We could not claim any compensation for the development we had undertaken on this land as it was declared disputed property by the Supreme Court. That land which was previously worth Rs 500 per marla was know sold at Rs 50,000 per marla.  Similarly our land was seized in Faisalabad. Land worth Rs 500 per marla was sold for rs100, 000 per marla.

We had invested in sugar and textile mills but by the Grace of God, we never got a single paisa written off by the bank. It is all propaganda. The current position is that none of our business concerns are leveraged. We have divested our sugar and textile mills and are now involved in dairy and pharmaceuticals and we have not taken any loans for these.”

You were Prime Minister at a critical, transitional phase in Pakistan’s history, can you elaborate on some of the memorable events of your tenure as Prime Minister?

CS: “When I was Prime Minister, I received a summary from the US requesting the deployment of Pakistani troops to Iraq. The Pakistan government refused. However, the Arab states thought that the US request was for the purpose of establishing a peacekeeping corps. A proposal came from the Arab states to send a peace corps to Iraq from Pakistan. The interesting this is that no one had carefully read the summary. The request did not mention the word ‘peace’ at all but was to protect the US presence in Iraq. The word ‘peace’ wasn’t even used in the letter. I refused to send troops from Pakistan.

I then went to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and spoke to the then Crown Prince Abdullah and explained that the request for troop deployment was not for peace. He called a cabinet meeting and on this basis, Saudi Arabia also refused to send troops to Iraq.”

What are your views on foreign intervention in local politics?

CS: “Senator Biden stated on CNN: ‘If PML-Q beats all odds and ends up being the winner here, I think it will be viewed a totally discredited undertaking.’ Biden was accompanied by Democratic Senator John Kerry and Republican Senator Chuck Hagel in observing the polls.”

What is your vision for the future for Pakistan and are you optimistic?

CS: “Absolutely. We should not be pessimistic, we should not despair; we have the potential to succeed; we are a resilient nation.

However, when policies are motivated by personal interests, when policies are formulated for personal gain, this is most damaging to the country. For example, when import and export policies or defence policies are framed to suit personal interests; this is deeply harmful for the country.

We are an agricultural nation. The government should invest in agriculture and should give it greater focus. If the UAE, which is a desert, can transform into a fertile region and grow all kinds of crops, why can’t we? In Tabuk, Saudi Arabia, tulips are exported everyday to Holland. Pakistan’s agricultural sector has untapped potential which must be developed for the economic prosperity for the people and the country.”

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