In the current byzantine palace intrigue, Azam Khan has clearly won this round against Jehangir Tareen. While I don’t know the two well, I have had a few interactions with both. Before sharing my perspective on Jehangir Tareen’s apparent “Sugargate” or “Sugarloo”, here’s a personal insight into the PM’s Principal Secretary. In the PM’s early days, I had the privilege of meeting him a few times. In one particular meeting, accompanied by the late Naeem ul Haq, we were discussing his government’s future and agenda. The PM was going hammer and tongs on how Rs.55 billion worth of CDA state land had been stolen by qabza groups through the connivance of a PML-N Minister and the CDA bureaucracy. Suddenly, in walked his Principal Secretary, Azam Khan carrying a file, and requesting an “urgent and immediate” decision to appoint an acting head of a prominent public sector institution whose former head had been sacked earlier that morning by the ChIef Justice of the Supreme Court. “When was he sacked?”, asked the PM, quite surprised at not being informed about these developments. “This morning sir”, was the embarrassed response. It was about 7 pm in the evening, now! “And why wasn’t I informed?”, asked the PM. Receiving no response, the PM sought recommendations on who should be appointed. What followed was a most insightful window into how our bureaucracy operates and how information is provided, at the highest levels. “Well sir,” said the PS to the PM, “this first person has previously headed this same organization and this second person is currently in the organization at such and such role. So we can appoint either of them, but we need to do it immediately, given the need for financial approvals in the organization…” Coincidentally, I had some insight into both individuals and while it was clearly not my place to intervene, in my opinion, appointing any one of the two would have been politically disastrous for the PM. I sought permission to speak and strongly advised against appointing either of the recommended individuals The first person did not enjoy a particularly clean reputation and had in their past stint as head of this same organization managed it very poorly. The other individual’s appointment could be a potential political time bomb for three reasons. First, this person was closely related by marriage to one of the most powerful people in the country, who had cautioned even his own organization to keep away from that person and their spouse, in case they approached the organization for any favors using his name as a reference. Second, the media would have torn the PM to shreds, already under allegations of help from “Khalai Makhlooq” in his election as PM. Third and finally, in my opinion, this individual was professionally unsuitable for the role, based on my personal interactions with them. “Did you know this?”, the PM asked Azam. “No sir”, said Azam, quickly disowning any role in selecting these names, and rapidly exiting from the room while mumbling that the names were given to him by the Secretary of a particular division, who was waiting outside and could answer these questions. So in rolled the two back into the room. The PM, smartly feigning complete ignorance of what had just transpired, asked the Secretary of the division for his recommendation. “Whatever you say, Sir,” said this Grade 22 bureaucrat, very obsequiously. “What do you mean?”, said a now-slightly irritated PM. “You brought me these names, who do you recommend?” “Well sir”, said the now clearly uncomfortable Secretary, “I’m new to this role, posted just 10 days ago, so am quite unfamiliar with all these issues.” “Where did you come from?” asked the PM. “I was Secretary CAD, Sir”, came the nervous response. The PM nearly hit the roof. This man had previously been a Secretary of the same division which the PM just said had connived with a PML-N Minister to grab CDA state lands, illegally. A stunned PM looked at us and his Principal Secretary. Without batting an eyelid, Azam Khan responded, “Sir, we have posted the “honest” ones from the CAD into other positions!” The PM, Naeem and I smiled and shook our heads in disbelief! By now worried that these two were hogging my time with the PM, I quickly intervened and recommended to the PM that as a stop gap arrangement, since the Secretary was the de facto Chairman of that organization, they could, by a board resolution, through circulation, become its head until a permanent replacement was found. “Is that possible, asked the PM?” “Yes” they both mumbled! “Then do it”, and they rapidly exited. I was surprised, to say the least, at the manner in which the PM, still very new in his role, could have been misled and pushed into making a disastrous decision. Without mincing words, I bluntly told the PM. “PM, you should take this guy’s pants off. How dare he bring such things for decisions without stress-testing the information and doing his due diligence? I think you should get rid of this guy and get someone better. Clearly, he’s unsuitable for this role.” Or words to that effect. Whether these recommendations were a result of gross negligence and incompetency or a deliberate attempt to sabotage the PM, remains open to question. Either way, the PS, bore full responsibility and in my opinion, was not suitable for the role. Over time, many others who interacted with the Principal Secretary came to this same conclusion, as did Jahangir Tareen. While I was an insignificant flash in the pan, Jehangir Tareen was different. He was very powerful and still very close to the PM. He had the PM’s confidence and because he thought Azam was ineffective, he, more than anybody else, posed an existential threat to Azam and the increasing power he was beginning to enjoy. But as happens in power politics and palace intrigues, those with the closest proximity to the Emperor have ample opportunity and time to win him over. Over time, Azam, considered an average bureaucrat even by his own colleagues but known for his smooth tongue and ability to ingratiate himself, gained the PM’s confidence. How he did it is perhaps something for a later date. Ironically, this was the same kind of confidence and trust that the PM had earlier reposed in Jehangir Tareen, when he was weaving his magic around the Emperor, much to the detriment of people like Hamid Khan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and Asad Umar and others. The so called party idealogues. The final straw which perhaps broke the camel’s back, in my opinion, was Jehangir Tareen’s recommendation to the PM that he appoint a 5 to 6 member Council of Advisors and a Chief of Staff to help him get expert opinion and better informed advice, enabling him to make better decisions and more importantly follow up on his reform agenda. The PM initially agreed, but Azam scuttled the whole idea, realizing that power would slip out of his hands and leave him with an ineffective post office type role! Plus I believe, Imran, like most people in such leadership roles, eventually outgrow their past political relationships, especially those they are beholden to or who they see as their benefactors. The way Gen. Zia got rid of Gen. Chisti. Perhaps? Perhaps not? The night of the long knives is still young! To top it off came the sugar and wheat shortage and price crisis. A godsend for Azam and JKT enemies, who used the crisis to guillotine him! One doesn’t know how this will play out, but one thing is clear, a pandora’s box has been opened. Is JKT an innocent victim of palace intrigues or a powerful, manipulative political power broker using his political access and clout to the PM and other power centers to gain unfair financial advantage? Or both? Will Jehangir Tareen, commit political suicide by aligning with anti Imran forces to bring his government down? Is Imran shedding his old skin and finally coming into his own? Is this the start of a genuine path to major reform of our entire system, especially our agricultural and business sectors, and remove its elite capture, or will this also fade away? I hope to address these questions, next week, in Part 2.