An Exclusive Interview with Asad Umar – Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)

Asad Umar is known not only for his role as a CEO of one of Pakistan’s largest corporate firm, but also his role in Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI). Very few people look forward to their post-retirement lives as enthusiastically as Asad Umar, who undoubtedly is the most celebrated CEO in the corporate history of Pakistan. Taking early retirement from the largest local conglomerate Engro Corporation to join politics, he has set a trend for future politics in Pakistan.

BM: Tell us about your journey from a CEO to Politician, why the sudden shift?
AU: I saw that the country was not moving in the direction we all wanted to see it going, and that is the same thing I observed at Engro, as we went through a very strong diversification while starting many different businesses. Looking at the problems and wanting to go to the next level; the barrier in between lied the governing system and political structure, which are not doing what needs to be done. Whereas, on the other hand, I saw Imran Khan reaching out and calling credible and leading personalities to come and join PTI. The combination of two with the limit to its potential, if this political party had no Imran Khan then I would have never joined politics, it’s essentially because of him. So, somebody like me who came from a non-political background at least felt confident to work in an environment with somebody whose value system matched yours.

BM: Did you ever have the thought that you’d actually be joining politics at some point in your life?
AU: Nobody in my family has ever been in politics, my intention was at some point to take an early retirement and do something not for profit but education, which is not too demanding in terms of time, so that I could relax and enjoy witnessing cricket all over the world.

BM: What are your responsibilities being a member of PTI?
AU: Being a member of PTI, I help in three to four different capacities; firstly I am the member of National Assembly (their Standing Committees). Secondly, I try help out the KPK government with the expertise I have had in my past corporate background, if it can be utilized in any beneficial execution. I’m the chair of Karachi’s advisory council, which happened about 6 months ago; starting with 2017, with the overall responsibility for framing strategy and execution of the organization. They are solely responsible for everything, but helping, strategizing, coming up with the overall approach, and so forth that the Karachi advisory council does. In addition to that, KPK marketing is an area that I just got myself involved in; starting that work, I hope you will start to see some output as soon as August this year, so there’s the marketing aspect. Furthermore, I am heading the marketing campaign of last year’s elections of PTI, and lastly the overall general senior leadership responsibilities for PTI, along with all major decisions in groups which stand together and take mutual decisions.

BM: How do you find Imran Khan as a leader?
AU: What I know is that Imran Khan is not a CEO, but a leader. Taking a message to the masses, creating that belief, essentially being the principal spokesperson of the party, and holder of value system of the party, that’s the kind of role he plays, without getting into operational details. Most of the Pakistani leaders are very insecure, they want to hold the power and take every decision by themselves, but Imran Khan is not like that at all. He delegates, he gives responsibility, he recognizes where his strength lies and where it doesn’t, therefore, respecting professionals in doing their work in areas which are not his areas of expertise.


BM: Do you feel that there will be change or revolution seen across Pakistan? If yes then how?
AU: Change is a journey & not a destination, it is a continuous process. Imran Khan has already changed the dynamics of Pakistan’s politics; when was it an issue that leaders in Pakistan make money, if at all it was an issue, nobody ever did concrete about it. Today the Prime Minister of Pakistan and his family are going through the most rigorous accountability; being conducted by the judiciary. The impact of things are very far reaching, and you will feel the difference years later; for you to feel the difference and deviation has to be very sharp, only then will you be able to feel the difference in the input. When you talk of revolution, the entire trajectory of the very discourse of Pakistani politics has been changed; people now know well that everyone will be held accountable for their deeds, whether rich or poor, and this was never a part of the discourse, which is one very important point. The second change is the intense scrutiny and spotlight on different institutions, as the Supreme Court is now questioning the role of IB, SEC, FBR, and alike. Democracy, which is totally responsive to the people, the institutions have to work under the constitution, for the people, not under specific individual or families for themselves and for their masters, that’s the shift and the battle you’re seeing right now, with a very advanced stage of that battle. If I were to compare this with KP now, and is actually happening in KP; since people have become so used to ‘instant coffee model of politics’, you build a bridge, you build a road, and you take photographs, and nothing is comes about – the society is unchanged & politics is left unaffected. What are the highlights of KP, just by only looking at the narrative, the claims of PTI are; we have made the police sector insulated from political interference, we are recruiting teachers on merit through an NTS system, power had been devolved from the local level all the way down to the village level, right to information, law has been uplifted, and many more developments for the betterment in the infrastructure and environment, being empowered – made professionals, further escalated by autonomy given to hospitals, power given to professional doctors instead of bureaucrats and politicians, hence having everything built around the concept of strengthening institutions, devolving power, creating transparency, these are the three pillars, through which permanent changes brought about & not temporary panacea. Those are the 3 main agendas of what’s happening in KP and you can already see the impacts of that.

BM: Where do you actually see the impact of Panama papers? And do you think the JIT is actually going to come up with a fair and square decision?
AU: To be honest I really don’t know; I don’t know what’s going on in the JIT proceeding and etc, all I know is that everything will now happen within the bounds of the constitution, the only institution which has the power to take action against the Prime Minister – Supreme Court of Pakistan, nobody else can do it, and that’s why we went to Supreme Court. There’s another institution that could have done this, under the constitution that is the parliament. The parliament is dominated by the statusquo, so they obviously ensure that nothing happened, and so the only other institution which could do it is Supreme Court, we have been there and when the decision was announced, a lot of people at that time expected things to become crystal clear. We have been disappointed earlier as we didn’t particularly like the decision and thought enough had been done, however, they are the constitution body and they took their decision. Currently, we are supporting the constitutional process, rather than the people or the quality of the work they are doing.

BM: Where do you think that Nawaz Sharif has actually excelled during his Governance, and do you think that he will be able to rule out the entire tenure?
AU: The tenure is entirely a decision to be taken by PML-N, because the case is against the Prime Minister not against PML-N. PML-N has the majority in parliament right now, so even if Nawaz Sharif is denotified, they can still continue to complete the term, so the decision is entirely theirs to take. So, I don’t know what they’ll do. In terms of what he has done right, if I’d pick up I think the political consensus which was created on fighting militancy. It was driven, let’s be honest, by the Army but at least the government after some initial resistance then decided to come along and all parties got together, they will be able to carry that out. There’s a lot new power generation capacity being added to the system, we believe that they have made a big mistake by concentrating only on power generation capacity and left all the other issues and energy sectors that aren’t changed but at least a lot of new capacity will come on screen, so Nawaz Sharif or anybody who’s in the Government will end up doing some good things at least.


BM: Do you think that you might have actually lost a chunk of your vote with parties also initiating a voice for youth?
AU: The research data shows that the PTI still dominates the youth vote. What these parties are doing, there’s a fundamental difference between what PTI and Imran Khan did. Imran Khan has created awareness amongst the youth, talked about their rights, asked them to initiate a call for action to come out, stand and fight for their rights and have a fundamentally better Pakistan in terms of more merit and peace in the nation, which is a primarily different approach.

BM: What message do you actually want to give to the youth?
AU: Believe in yourself and the opportunities this country has to offer. There are a lot of problems in this country, but its also full of opportunities, for those who believe in themselves, who have a vision, who have a passion, who are willing to follow that passion and dream, which are phenomenal when you come to think about them. So that’s my basic message, be the change within yourself. The future belongs to the youth of Pakistan, not to Imran Khan or AsadUmar, it’s your future, so stand up and grab it.