Here are the people who had Pakistanis buzzing last year—for better or worse.
The years spent in the political wilderness, on top of containers, and at increasingly feverish campaign rallies finally bore fruit for the cricketer-turned-politician as he became Prime Minister of Pakistan on the back of promises to establish an Islamic welfare state and bring an end to the endemic corruption plaguing the country. The bonhomie of his electoral victory, however, proved shortlived as Khan was forced to go back on principled statements that had been a hallmark of his campaign. Gone were the promises of a lean, mean cabinet (currently at 25, not including state ministers and advisers) and the promise of greater transparency. ‘U-turns’ suddenly became the hallmarks of great leadership and the ‘begging bowl’ of the IMF an urgent requirement. There is no denying that Khan is a first-time prime minister and there is a learning curve. Unfortunately, with all the crises facing Pakistan, that curve might prove several degrees too steep.
Mian Saqib Nisar
It was a banner year for the Chief Justice of Pakistan. After presiding over a case that disqualified Nawaz Sharif from public office in 2017, he set his eyes on securing his legacy, throwing the weight of his office behind a crowdfunding effort to build more dams in Pakistan, a country that is on the cusp of running dry if nothing is done to secure its water supply. He also tackled the exorbitant fee structures of private schools, alleged corruption from former president Asif Ali Zardari, the flashpoint case of Christian laborer Aasia Bibi, and the dilapidated state of the country’s public health facilities. He was far from done. From big business to missing persons to encroachments on public space, no case was too big or too small for the Chief Justice to take personal notice and ensure that justice was delivered. Set to retire on Jan. 18, 2019, his tenure is far from done. His words and deeds in the first few weeks of 2019 could shape Pakistan for decades to come.
Khadim Hussain Rizvi
If the PTI thought that it had seen the back of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan leader, it had another thing coming. The wheelchair-bound cleric who brought Rawalpindi to a standstill, with the PTI’s support, in the waning days of the PMLN government was back on the streets in 2018. This time around Rizvi and his cohorts wanted death for blasphemy acquitted Aasia Bibi. The party, which won two seats in the Sindh Assembly during the 2018 polls, promised to bring the country to its knees if anyone tried to stop it, urging mutiny in the military and death to politicians—including Imran Khan—who did not back them up. A stern warning by Khan was met with indifference and it was only after the government offered them zero repercussions that the protests ended. Thankfully, the powers-that-be saw fit to rein in the beast before it grew any further. Rizvi is currently in police custody, facing treason and terrorism charges. It’s about time.
Rarely has a day passed since the PTI formed the government that the information minister has not made headlines. From trying to justify P.M. Khan’s use of a helicopter to travel between P.M. House and his Bani Gala residence because it “only costs Rs. 50-55 per kilometer” to being barred from the Senate over his refusal to apologize to the opposition, Chaudhry has emerged as the PTI’s top bulldog. At times, it appears he just can’t help himself, as his recent attempt to diminish the impact of PPP Senator Sherry Rehman by claiming she “has zero contribution to the people,” a patently false observation. However, it would be a disservice to Chaudhry to forget all the positives he’s also accomplished. He helped state broadcaster PTV become more independent than it has been in years, and has ensured the PTI’s stance is never lost in our shortsighted 24-hour news cycle. He may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s no denying he gets the job done.
You may not know his name, but you certainly know his story: Rasheed was one of dozens of working class Pakistanis who found themselves in the crosshairs of anti-corruption watchdog NAB after it was discovered that bank accounts had been opened in their names as part of a money-laundering scheme implicating former president Asif Ali Zardari and high-profile businessman Anwar Majeed. A Joint Investigation Team report found Rs. 42 billion were laundered through 29 fake accounts, with some of the funds being diverted to pay expense of Bilawal House, implicating the PPP leadership even further. The ongoing case bodes ill for Zardari and could see him jailed for corruption alongside the PMLN’s Nawaz Sharif. None of that makes any difference to Rasheed: the rickshaw driver, who saved up for a year just to buy his daughter a bicycle, didn’t see a paisa of the Rs. 3 billion that passed through “his” bank account.
All hell broke lose when Shafi accused fellow-singer and actor Ali Zafar of sexually harassing her on multiple occasions. Her allegations, coming on the heels of the #MeToo movement that swept Hollywood and Bollywood in 2018, were seen by many as a bellwether for self-examination and -correction in Pakistan’s media industry. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Zafar’s denial, in which he accused Shafi of slandering him, prompted a wave of supporters to attack the actress, bizarrely accusing her of trying to gain fame by deriding Zafar. The case has since gone to court, where it is expected to languish for years due to the lethargy that is endemic to Pakistan’s judiciary. Shafi is an accomplished entertainer and she will be fine; the public reaction to her claims, however, will ensure that victims of harassment will think twice before daring to name their abusers.
Criticism does not always equal harassment; a lesson the 26-year-old singer learned the hard way after she accused human rights minister Shireen Mazari of trying to silence her “freedom of expression” over a tweet that slammed Mustehsan and Ahad Raza Mir’s rendition of local classic ‘Ko Ko Korina.’ Mazari, correctly, shot back that personal opinions have nothing to do with politics and expressing her dislike of a song rendition does not equate to her trying to silence the singer’s fundamental rights. Inevitably, social media users took sides, with the majority firmly siding with Mazari in that she had done nothing wrong and Mustehsan was over-reaching. The hullabaloo did prove, once and for all that the intersection between culture and politics is not quite as cut and dried as armchair analysts would have you believe. And one (wo)man’s opinion, no matter how influential, does not an official reprimand make.
Mohammed bin Salman
The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, a Western media darling for much of 2018 thanks to his ‘reformist’ agenda, found himself on the wrong side of global community after the CIA implicated him in the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The allegedly state-sanctioned assassination of Khashoggi, a close aide of the royal family before he went into self-imposed exile over his belated support of the Arab Spring, exposed to the wider world a darker side of ‘MBS,’ one that Riyadh has been struggling to overcome ever since. None of that matters to Pakistan, however. Shortly after the Khashoggi killing, Saudi Arabia was the first country to help Islamabad overcome a persistent financial crisis with a $6 billion aid package. It also wants to expand its investment in Pakistan, according to government officials. Money talks—and beggars can’t be choosers.
From our Dec. 29, 2018 – Jan. 12, 2019 issue