Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi is now the newest chief minister of Pakistan’s Punjab province. And Imran Khan is preening and being congratulated for being on the right side of history. But not too long ago, Khan had called Elahi “the biggest dacoit.” On the other hand, Elahi had accused Khan of destroying Pakistan’s institutions just like Nawaz Sharif had. Their relationship embodies the fickle nature of friendship. It takes ‘frenemies’ to a whole new level.
In fact, after the Supreme Court gave its verdict on Punjab CM elections by choosing Elahi, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) decided to observe ‘Thanksgiving Day’ on Wednesday.
The relationship between the 76-year-old career politician who has weathered many storms and the cricketer-turned- prime minister who was forced out of power, embodies the fluidity of love and hate when the stakes are high. And Punjab is the jewel in the crown.
PTI’s conduit to power
Khan sees Elahi as his conduit to power in Punjab, but there is no guarantee of that. Their relationship has blown hot and cold, as shown in Imran’s dacoity claims against Elahi. Moreover, during Khan’s political crisis, Elahi had commented that “Imran Khan has landed in a crisis of his own making.”
Speaking on a private TV program, Elahi said that there is an uncanny resemblance between Khan and Nawaz Sharif in how they both spoiled their relationship with the institutions that bestow power upon them. However, he concluded by saying that Imran Khan is an honest man, who only wants to work for Pakistan.
The former PM, however, had a sudden change of heart and urged his party to vote for Elahi in the Punjab elections while addressing a joint parliamentary meeting of PTI and PML-Q on 21 July. Earlier Imran Khan had threatened civil unrest if Elahi was not voted as Punjab CM. Such is the nature of Pakistani politics.
Pakistanis took to Twitter to celebrate the Supreme Court’s judgment, calling it a big win for ‘democracy’.
I appreciate our SC judges for standing firm & upholding the Constitution & law, against all manner of threats & abuse. I want to thank Barrister Ali Zafar & his team. I want to thank the people of Punjab for coming out in unprecedented numbers in bye elections against rigging.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) July 26, 2022
Three heroes of Pakistan❤️
Thanks for making the whole nation proud by telling the whole world that there is still hope and justice exist in Pakistan. #Supreme_Court_Of_Pakistan #PervaizElahi https://t.co/Y1MLFu7yrB
— Mehwish Zafar (@mehwishzafar73) July 27, 2022
— Naureen Farooq Ibrahim (@NaureenIbrahim) July 27, 2022
Pakistanis on Twitter balked at the sheer irony of the union between Imran Khan and Pervaiz Elahi. In fact, Pakistani Twitter was flooded with memes after the Supreme Court verdict. To say that netizens were pleasantly surprised would be an understatement.
Imran Khan and Pervaiz Elahi last night: pic.twitter.com/witET8wuD1
— Havoc (@3avoc) July 27, 2022
The making of Pervaiz Elahi
With an industrialist father, Chaudhry Manzoor Elahi, and a prominent politician for an uncle, Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi, Pervaiz Elahi’s entry into politics was a given. His cousin Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, (who temporarily served as Pakistan’s 16th prime minister in 2004) and son Moonis Elahi, are part of the family trio that leads Pakistan Muslim League—Qaid-e-Azam group (PML-Q). Moonis has been a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan since 2018, and was former Minister for Water Resources between 2021 and 2022.
Pervaiz Elahi himself was the first and only Deputy Prime Minister of Pakistan in 2012, and has been Speaker of the Provincial Assembly of Punjab since 2018.
Pervaiz Elahi’s roughly four-decade long career has had several ups and downs through the years—from his rift and subsequent fallout with PML-Q founder and former Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif to his bitter rivalry with Khan.
If his relationship with Khan is one of foe-turned-friends, his equation with Sharif was the exact opposite. Sharif had allegedly promised Pervaiz Elahi Punjab if he won the 1997 general elections.
Elahi had been instrumental in Nawaz Sharif’s election campaign. PML-Q achieved a thumping victory, but it was Sharif’s brother, Shehbaz Sharif, who took over Punjab. While Elahi supported Shehbaz Sharif’s appointment, he did not join his provincial cabinet. As a result, the relationship between the Sharifs and the Chaudhrys remains ruptured.
The Chaudhrys were the first to recognise Nawaz Sharif’s growing prominence in center-right politics and aligned themselves with him. Nawaz Sharif’s charm was his political charisma, but he lacked essential political connections and support from Pakistan’s industrial elite. This alliance with the Chaudhrys guaranteed him that, given the family’s connections.
Spat with the Bhuttos
The Bhutto-Chaudhry rivalry dates back to the 1970s—as early as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s PM tenure. Several cases were registered against Pervaiz Elahi between 1993 and 1996, during Benazir Bhutto’s term. He was detained by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in 1999 on corruption charges and unpaid bank loans. The charges were later dropped, as the NAB cited ‘lack of evidence.’
Elahi holds the Bhuttos responsible for the death of his father, who was detained and tortured by Zulfikar Bhutto, and eventually assassinated by al-Zulfiqar—a militant group led by Murtaza Bhutto. Pervaiz’s uncle, Zahoor Elahi, reportedly purchased the pen used to sign Zulfikar Bhutto’s death warrant at an auction. To this day, the pen remains with the Chaudhry clan.
Benazir Bhutto later named Pervaiz Elahi and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Chief Hamid Gul, as a threat to her life in a letter to former premier Pervez Musharraf. Benazir claimed that the duo was abusing their powers and positions. Elahi’s name was also included in the investigation of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination case. The head of Pakistan’s Joint Investigation, Mohammad Khalid Qureshi, claimed that those ‘nominated by Benazir were never investigated.’
However, former president and Benazir Bhutto’s spouse, Asif Ali Zardari, made headlines when Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) joined PML-Q. The so-called “alliance of convenience” was further cemented with Elahi’s appointment as Pakistan’s first deputy prime minister in 2012. In April, Zardari had commented that he’d like to see Pervaiz Elahi back in the political sphere. This is only as messy as Pakistan politics can get.
Pervaiz Elahi is said to have successfully run the most populous and politically important region in Pakistan, all under Musharraf’s guidance. Musharraf, who has gone down in political history as a rather controversial and unpopular leader, has had Elahi’s unabashed support for several years.
“Pervez Musharraf has a strong influence in Pakistan, and it will remain for another 5-10 years, we have worked together for more than 5 years, and he has been so helpful in guiding me in many areas for the development of Punjab, and we have a very close relationship,” Elahi said. General Pervez Musharraf had also called a meeting to convince Imran Khan to support Chaudhry’s party, the PML-Q. But he stormed out in anger.
It is clear that being at each other’s throats and then cuddling for power is not a new concept in Pakistani politics. Pervaiz Elahi’s move to mend ties with Imran and PTI is certainly a calculated one, and a marker of his strong political acumen. Perhaps, Imran’s end isn’t near. At least not for now.
(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)