There is a new security czar in Pakistan. Brigadier (retd) Ijaz Shah took oath as minister for interior on Friday, three weeks after securing a place in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s federal cabinet.
On March 29, the man whom former prime minister Benazir Bhutto accused of planning her assassination was sworn in as minister for parliamentary affairs.
A career military officer, Shah retired in 2004 after a 38-year career that saw him rise to the rank of brigadier while serving with the 15 Punjab Regiment and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
He was one of former military dictator Pervez Musharraf’s trusted aides and was his pick for director general of the Intelligence Bureau (IB). Shah’s tenure from 2004 to 2008 was rife with controversy as he was accused of widespread political victimisation and engineering.
He entered Pakistan’s parliament for the first time in 2018, defeating the powerful Mansab family of the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) in NA-118 Nankana Sahib-II after two unsuccessful attempts in 2013 and 2015.
Shah was serving as the head of ISI in Punjab when Musharraf mounted his coup and imposed martial law in October 1999.
Soon after, he was appointed the home secretary of the province and has often been credited with the formation and 2002 electoral success of the Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid (PML-Q).
Shah’s chequered past as an ISI officer also saw his nomination for a senior diplomatic position rejected. In 2004, Musharraf named Shah as the High Commissioner to Australia but the nomination was rejected by Canberra owing to his links with unwanted elements.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has been the most vocal critic of Shah’s induction in the federal cabinet. In a recent statement, the party’s information secretary, Nafisa Shah, said it was essential to remind the people of Pakistan that Benazir Bhutto had accused the retired brigadier of planning to assassinate her.
“After the current appointment there is no difference between the federal cabinet of Musharraf and Imran Khan,” she said, alluding to the presence of at least 16 Musharraf loyalists presently in Islamabad’s power corridors.
In a statement to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in 2009, American lobbyist Mark Siegel testified that Musharraf had warned Bhutto about her safety and security on her return to Pakistan.
“Bhutto sent me an email on October 26, 2007, in which she said that if something terrible happened to her, she would hold Musharraf responsible apart from individuals [Shah, ex-ISI chief Hamid Gul, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and Arbab Ghulam Rahim] mentioned in her letter to the former president written on October 16, 2007,” Mr Siegel testified.