Surkhiyan recently had an opportunity to speak to Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz’s (PML-N) General Secretary Ahsan Iqbal at tete-a-tete where conversation moved from his childhood, personal life, educational background to internal rift in PML-N, future of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and other lighter topics.
Surkhiyan: How was your childhood and what is your educational background?
Ahsan Iqbal: I was a very good boy. As you all know, my mother was a religious scholar so my upbringing was also in the same manner. Due to transfers and postings of my father, who was a government servant, my educational career is spread across Pakistan, from Convent of Jesus and Mary Karachi to St. Anthony Lahore and Cadet College Sargodha. My schooling is majorly from Karachi and Sargodha. Whereas, I did my Engineering from the most prestigious Engineering University of Pakistan, UET Lahore. My session was 1976 Mechanical Engineering. After Engineering, I went to the USA for higher studies and did my MBA from Wharton.
Surkhiyan: If you could do it again? In which institution would you like to take admission again?
AI: Wharton. It doesn’t mean that I rate UET any less, but the work ethics and emphasis on learning which I experienced in Wharton was exceptional.
Surkhiyan: You were in a Right-Wing Student Organization during student life and now you are General Secretary of a party which claims to be 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 the process of learning must continue, there must be no stop to ideological evolution, only then can societies progress.
Surkhiyan: You have a very busy schedule; how do you manage time for your family?
AI: Unfortunately, I do not have a lot of time for my family and I understand that family gets neglected but at the same time, my family is very cooperative and they understand my responsibilities to the people and party and support me. All that I have achieved in life would not have been possible without the support of my family.
Surkhiyan: “Bhabhi se Dartay hain Ahsan Iqbal sb?”
AI: (Laugh) Har Mashraqi Khawand Apni Biwi se Darta hai. Yahi Gharelo Zindagi ki Kamyabi ka asool hai.
Surkhiyan: You contested your first election as an independent candidate, is it true?
AI: Yes, and it is actually a very interesting story. When I came back from the US, I applied for the PML-N ticket during the 1988 elections, but the ticket was awarded to a local senior politician due to some internal issues with a promise of a ticket for next elections. In 1990, I again applied for a ticket and the same internal issues were raised again. Mian sb (Mian Nawaz Sharif) told me to wait for the next elections for ticket, but I requested him to allow me to contest independently or else all the political support I had gathered in the constituency will be lost. Mian Sb being ever gracious, allowed me. I contested, but lost against the PML-N candidate, proving Mian Sb’s decision to not award me a ticket, right. Finally, I was awarded a party ticket in 1993 and I won. I won again in 1997 but lost in 2002 and then since 2008, my constituency has honored me by electing me thrice, consecutively.
Surkhiyan: You were the victim of a life-threatening firing attempt prior to 2018 elections? How do you recall this incident and what effects did it have on you?
AI: Well, when I received a bullet, I had just received a call on my mobile phone, the bullet hit my elbow and slipped to my belly and it is still inside. If it wasn’t not that call and my hand was not covering my chest, the bullet would have hit me in the chest, Allah Almighty has his own ways of saving life. When I was being taken to hospital, all thoughts were will I make it or not? It is very difficult to explain the feelings of that phase. When I was recovering, I realized that we have become a society, where diversity of thoughts is not accepted. This is a very dangerous sign for any society. Then I decided to establish an “International Islamic Institute for Peace”. This institute has become my life goal. We were about to launch a funding campaign and donors were also on board but then this pandemic happened and it has been put on hold for time being. This institution will also work for interfaith harmony and engage scholars from all over the world.
Surkhiyan: What are your views about the media in Pakistan?
AI: Media is the fourth pillar of state in democratic setups and it has to play its role for strengthening democracy and with the advent of digital “New Media” it is no more possible to black out certain ideologies/parties from traditional media and hide the facts from the public.
Surkhiyan: There are rumours in the media about two factions or two groups in PMLN, one is Nawaz’s group led by Maryam Nawaz and the other group is that of Shehbaz Sharif and they are not on the same page, as General Secretary of PMLN what do you say about it?
AI: Absolutely wrong. PML-N has only one leader, Nawaz Sharif. In democratic parties, people do have different opinions and this difference of 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. All of us are workers of Nawaz Sharif and nobody has any doubt about it.
Surkhiyan: In your opinion what is the future of PDM?
AI: 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 stances and manifestos. But, at the moment all the parties are focused on reinstatement of true democracy free from the clutches of anti-democratic civil martial-law administrator Imran Khan. After the by-elections, this government has lost its moral ground and it must resign and general elections should be conducted so that a government, which is a true representative of the masses is formed and works for the people.
Surkhiyan: On a lighter note, we have heard that you are a big fan of “Gladiator” Movie and you have watched it seven times, is it true?
AI: Yes, I love the message given in the movie and I plan to watch it again soon.
Surkhiyan: We have also heard about your midnight snacks?
AI: Yes, Chocolates and nuts are my midnight snacks and I absolutely love them.
Surkhiyan: Thank you very much for your time, any message/advice for our readers, especially youth?
AI: Work Hard, believe in yourself, remain true to the cause and stay on the right path. Success will come your way and it was absolutely wonderful to have your team here for an interview.
(Note this interview was conducted in collaboration with Team Horizon, a research wing of PML-N)