Pakistan's former prime minister Benazir Bhutto at a news conference in Karachi, Dec. 13, 2007.
(photo credit: REUTERS/ATHAR HUSSAIN)
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has named Brig. (ret.) Ejaz Ahmad Shah as the country's new interior minister.
Khan, who had previously opted to hold the portfolio, announced the appointment amid a major cabinet reshuffle.
Shah is a veteran of the Pakistani security services. In October 1999, when then-Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf imposed martial law, Shah was named director of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – Pakistan's premier intelligence agency – in Punjab, and was later named home secretary of the province.
In 2004, Musharraf appointed Shah as Pakistan's ambassador to Australia, but the nomination was rejected by Canberra. Later that year, Shah was named director-general of the Intelligence Bureau of Pakistan, a position he held until 2008. In August 2018, he became a member of the National Assembly for the central Punjab constituency of Nankana Sahib and most recently, he served as the state minister for parliamentary affairs.
Khan was initially believed to be considering naming Shah as his national security adviser. The decision to place the former spymaster in the federal cabinet sparked controversy, over what some in Pakistani politics claim is a checkered past.
Notoriously, it was during Shah's term as Pakistan's intelligence chief that then-prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in 2007 in the Punjabi city of Rawalpindi.
Former Senator Dr. Safdar Abbasi, who was the slain prime minister's political secretary, told The Media Line that at the time, Bhutto had written a letter to Musharraf alerting him to what she believed was a plot to assassinate her.
According to Abbasi, Bhutto had named several individuals as alleged co-conspirators, including late ISI chief Gen. Hameed Gul, former chief minister of Punjab Pervaiz Elahi, then-chief minister of Sindh Arbab Ghulam Rahim, and Shah himself.
Abbasi further told The Media Line that, in 2007, Bhutto also sent an email to American lobbyist Mark Siegel, in which she said that if any harm should come to her, Musharraf, as well as the aforementioned individuals, should be held responsible.
Lamenting that the investigation into Bhutto's assassination failed to follow up on these leads, Abbasi questioned the current leadership of the Pakistan People's Party, which historically has been dominated by members of the Bhutto family, saying it has failed to seek justice for Benazir.
Pakistan People's Party Secretary of Information and spokesperson Dr. Nafisa Shah also condemned Shah's appointment as interior minister.
"Ejaz Shah is the worst choice for the Interior Ministry. There is no difference between [the] dictator Pervez Musharraf and Imran Khan's cabinet," she told The Media Line exclusively.
She said that the "people of Pakistan will never forget that Benazir Bhutto had accused Ejaz Shah of planning her assassination."
Dr. Nafisa Shah added that her party had "conveyed its reservations" over the nomination to both the prime minister and president "through proper political channels."
Former Pakistani information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira also criticized Shah's appointment, noting the former Musharraf loyalist was accused of using the Intelligence Bureau to persecute political opponents and undermine the judiciary.
"He [Shah] bulldozed state institutions just to prolong a dictator's rule," Kaira stated.
Speaking with The Media Line, Punjab Provincial Assembly Member Javed Kausar stressed that Prime Minister Khan had sought to name a senior official to the crucial position of interior minister, as he needed "someone who would implement the National Action Plan in its true spirit, to avoid the Financial Action Task Force's (FATF) gray-list.
"Ejaz Shah is the most experienced and suitable person for the job," he contended.
The FATF is an inter-governmental organization founded in 1989 on the initiative of the G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States) to develop international policies to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism.
Journalist Murtaza Solangi, former director-general of Radio Pakistan, was also critical of the appointment, tweeting, "Ejaz Shah, named in the dying deed of Benazir Bhutto as one of the accomplices in her murder, the person who kept and handed over Omar Ahmed Sheikh [killer of Daniel Pearl], is being installed as federal minister. RIP National Action Plan!"
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