Sometimes he’s a sarkari Wizard of Oz, sometimes the uncouth desi Donald Trump, sometimes the only eligible bachelor to have walked the earth. Other times, not suitable to be an office messenger of the current Pakistan prime minister, but he thinks he’s a general without uniform. So, his political loyalties don’t matter as much as his loyalty to Gate Number Four of GHQ Rawalpindi. In his free time, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad poses as a crusader of blasphemy politics, as long as his opponents are on the receiving end, part-time interior minister and, most recently, a cricketer who no one knew.
What we now do know is that since 1992, all the heartbreaks that Pakistani fans suffered in the World Cup matches against India were due to Sheikh Rasheed. For he says he has played in every game till Dubai 2021. Now count the odd one out. Heartbroken fans of the 1996 World Cup quarter-final, who vilified Aamer Sohail for getting bowled over by Venkatesh Prasad after pointing his bat towards the cover boundary and throwing away the match, can now rest in peace. It was actually all done by a certain Sheikh. Though cricket statisticians might have no record.
Having secured a two-day off from Prime Minister Imran Khan, this ‘player’ arrived in Dubai to watch the India-versus-Pakistan T20 game, but on the eve of the clash, he returned home to deal with some issues of national importance. What could be more important than a cricket match for Pakistan’s interior minister, you’d think? Islamist Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) protesters marching towards Islamabad demanding the release of their chief Saad Hussain Rizvi and the expulsion of French ambassador from Pakistan. Elated with his performance in the cricket field, not on the negotiation table with TLP, Rasheed burst into a passionate speech. And why not, Labbaik protesters challenging the writ of the State is a bi-annual affair, whereas winning against India is once in forever.
— Sheikh Rashid Ahmed (@ShkhRasheed) October 24, 2021
Posing in front of a laal haveli backdrop, the interior minister declared that Pakistan’s win was a victory of Islam. “Entire alam-e-Islam was proud of Pakistan win against India.” If the 13th match was a victory of Islam, then who lost the previous 12 times? Leave alone being proud, why would the Islamic world be bothered with a game it doesn’t even play at the highest level. No one gave us the memo that a T20 match is actually a holy war for Pakistan. Bangladesh and the new-found ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ would thankfully feel left out. Pakistan’s alam-e-Islam delusions go as far as calling its own nuclear weaponry an ‘Islamic bomb’. Now game wins are portrayed as feats for the greater good of the ummah. While back in the real world, Pakistan continues to take financial handouts from Saudi Arabia to run the country. So yeah, World Cup match is a win for Islamic world, but Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman still has to make a financial deposit of $3billion.
Guns and roses
Staying on the nukes, wars and wizardry, Sheikh Rasheed has a special gift to predict events, like when governments will be toppled – ‘Qurbani se pehle qurbani hogi’. The war with India will begin in November-December 2019, he had assured everyone. Because Pakistan hadn’t made an atom bomb for Diwali or Shab-e-baraat – always a favourite hook line. “Neither will any grass grow in India nor bells will ring in the temple of Balaji after this war,” he threatened.
After the abrogation of Article 370 by India, things got real with Sheikh. Then a railway minister, he got a jolt from a mic he was holding at a rally and saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi behind it. He claimed Pakistan and India had fought 10 wars. Now I, for one, want a copy of the Pakistan Studies book he’s reading from. A figment of his imagination, Rasheed also said India should fear Pakistan’s ‘smart bombs’ because it could divide the country into ‘22 parts’. His theory of 125-250 gram bombs for India was as real as us buying aik pao yoghurt and telling the shopkeeper: “Double shopper kar dena (Give me an extra big bag)”. Bomb in a shopper bag, the future of bombs was here. Then there were the ‘precision bombs’ for India’s non-Muslims that Sheikh and some scientist discovered, which stay in their drawing room now, we assume. But never underestimate the man’s love for his country – he is ready to fight on the border with India. Even though he ran away on the day of the nuclear tests for which he now claims credit and also says that then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had no role in driving the policy.
“BRAVE” Pakistani Min. of Railways Sheikh Rasheed-Waqt aane par Border par ladunga😂 Same Rashid fled Pakistan at time of 1998 nuclear tests😂 pic.twitter.com/24dRuPKbh4
— Rosy (@rose_k01) August 10, 2019
Now haters are going to say that most of Sheikh Rasheed’s political rhetoric is just what it is supposed to be, rhetoric. Serving at the pleasure of multiple rulers in a career spanning 35 years, you do become more than nuisance value, especially when you are the country’s interior minister. Statements that you then give are a driver of your office, but no one in this hybrid regime seems to care. The ins and outs of politics, who’s meeting who, what’s the military establishment thinking, are some things the local media believes is in Sheikh Rasheed’s patari (basket). His nemeses would say he meets the chaprasi (office messenger) and tells everyone “Meri sahib se mulaqat hui hai (I’ve met the boss)”.
شیخ رشید چپڑاسی سے گپ شپ لگاکر کہتا ہے کہ میری “صاحب” سے ملاقات ہوئی ہے 😂
رانا ثناء اللہ pic.twitter.com/YhEwSiQqQR
— AyaanBabo فیصل آبادی چڑا (@Ayaanbaboo) October 13, 2020
Chaprasi was something Prime Minister Imran Khan didn’t plan to keep Sheikh Rasheed as, that’s why he is now his interior minister. There was mutual disdain – Sheikh Rasheed thought Khan was a ‘mamooli kaptaan’, and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf was a ‘tonga’ party with one seat in the national assembly. Back in the day, Khan was vocal about Sheikh’s jihadi connections in Kashmir and his camps in Rawalpindi. The same estate that is now known as Freedom House, a farmhouse of sorts where the minister is often seen spending quality time riding, boating, fishing and even feeding ducks. Not at par with Amrish Puri and Shah Rukh Khan’s ‘aao aao’ pigeon-feeding moment in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, but we’ll still give him 250-gram bombs for effort.
— Syed Talat Hussain (@TalatHussain12) December 11, 2020
Often seen with cigars, Sheikh Rasheed is a foodie at heart, whose favourite chicken piece since childhood has been the ‘leg piece’ or the drumstick. Something he had to fight for with his siblings, now drumstick lovers can all relate to that.
‘Duniya haseeno ka mela, melay mein Sheikh akela’
Among other things of national importance has been Sheikh Rasheed remaining single. “Aapne shaadi nahin ki, koi mili nahin? (Why haven’t you gotten married?)” reporters would ask him. “Mera dil koi supermarket nahin hai (my heart is not a supermarket),” he’d tell. He believes an express train never ‘weighs’ a passenger, whatever that means. Seemingly romantic at heart, Rasheed shares how he would be impressed by a woman who was khoonkhaar (fiesty) and whose presence could be felt: “Double B ho toh B2 a2=a+b, then it impress me.” Now this is a formula that single men at 70 must apply.
Rasheed’s most bizarre take yet is that if you can get fresh milk from the market, don’t buy a buffalo. The same mindset that led him to launch a rather vulgar attack against Reham Khan after her marriage with Imran Khan ended, equating her to a ‘tawaif’ on a tv show and saying that even ‘ka***rs’ have some values. This is not the first time though. He called slain prime minister Benazir Bhutto a ‘taxi’ in the national assembly and Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari ‘a manufacturing defect’. But such behaviours are never ostracised and so it continues to thrive.
The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.