By Umaid Wasim,
SARDAR Naveed Haider Khan says his phone lines are being tapped and his life is under threat.
The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) marketing consultant is a candidate for the presidency elections of the Punjab Football Association (PFA) and is facing a rival who is being backed by the government.
That rival was supoposed to be Ali Haider Noor Niazi, a former MPA from Mianwali who is a son-in-law of the Nawaz family.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is known to have fond affection for sport and Noor’s bid for PFA presidency is said to be the first step as the country’s ruling party, PML-N, tries to seize control of the PFF by pitting his son-in-law Capt Safdar Awan against incumbent Faisal Saleh Hayat in the presidency elections for the country’s football governing body.
Noor’s nominations papers were rejected by the appeals committee, having earlier been rejected by the election commissioner and now the PFF is wary of the challenge by Rana Ashraf, who it says is being backed by the government.
“My phone lines are being tapped by the Punjab government officials and I’ve had several calls from them threatening dire consequences if I don’t withdraw from contesting the PFA elections,” Naveed told Dawn on Tuesday night.
Before PML-N came into power, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) refrained from interfering with the PFF matters during their five-year tenure. It is largely believed that it was because of Hayat’s former association with the PPP.
Now it seems history is repeating itself, the circumstances having an uncanny resemblance to how Hayat got in power 12 years ago.
Having ditched the PPP in favour of military dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Hayat was the interior minister when the PFF elections of 2003 took place. Then, Mian Mohammad Azhar was the PFF chief and had been in-charge for 13 years.
According to those who followed the 2003 elections closely, Hayat had made a passing mention to Gen. Musharraf that he was going to contest the elections, having also contested the polls in 1994 when he was beaten by one vote to the PFF hotseat by Mian Azhar.
The man who was an influential figure in those elections was former PFF secretary and Jamat-e-Islami (JI) supremo Hafiz Salman Butt.
A well-known football enthusiast, Hafiz Salman is widely regarded as the best secretary the PFF has ever seen. During his three-year stint from 1991-94, he changed the landscape of Pakistan football introducing a proper league-style National Championship.
To add to that, he also managed to get a three-year Rs20 million sponsorship from Unilever, which then went by the name Lever Brothers.
But Hafiz Salman’s love for the game also skewed his judgement at times. With his ice-cold eyes, it seems he can turn onlookers into stone and despite being the secretary, he wanted total control over footballing matters.
Mian Azhar wasn’t able to stand it. And the fall-out between the two came in 1994 when Hafiz Salman was accused of creating a rival faction to the PFF.
“Hafiz Salman is a true lover of football but emotions usually got the better of him,” a former PFF employee told Dawn on the condition of anonymity. “When he formed Wohaib FC in memory of his slain brother in 1982, he was biased towards players who were not from Lahore.”
Wohaib is the first and only Pakistani club to take part in the Asian Club Championship group stage.
“That was in 1992 when Hafiz Salman was the PFF secretary and to get into the national team, you had to play for Wohaib,” the source added. “And a Wohaib side, having a number of Pakistan internationals, finished fifth.”
That desire for control ultimately resulted in Hafiz Salman’s undoing when in 1994, two Pakistan teams landed in Dubai for a youth tournament — one from his side and the other selected by the PFF.
It saw him being declared persona non-grata by the PFF, who said it had acted upon orders by world’s football governing body FIFA and the Asian body AFC by imposing a 10-year ban on him.
In an informal meeting with Dawn at his house last year, Hafiz Salman denied it was on orders of FIFA or AFC. He spoke that he had dreams unfulfilled of where he wanted to see Pakistan football.
“Back in 1991, during the qualifiers for the 1992 Olympics, we lost 2-0 to a United Arab Emirates (UAE) side which had players who had participated in the 1990 FIFA World Cup,” he disclosed about his ambition. “The margin of defeat made us believe that if we worked hard enough we can reach the World Cup by 2002.”
He wouldn’t stay in power for long to implement the plan he had in mind and in 1994 was the man behind Hayat’s bid for the PFF presidency as he sought a measure of revenge against Mian Azhar.
His revenge would come nine years later, when Hafiz Salman and government-backed Hayat toppled Mian Azhar who was favoured to be the Prime Minister during the earlier years of Musharraf regime but then slowly lost support.
Hayat’s arrival saw a military convoy accompanying him as he then seized control of the PFF offices. But Hafiz Salman was still banned. He was hoping Hayat would help overturn the ban on him but Hayat did otherwise, sensing Hafiz Salman’s growing influence on him.
At a press conference in Lahore on Monday, Hayat, who is now seeing a real threat to his stranglehold over the PFF, disclosed that FIFA had indeed imposed a life ban on Hafiz Salman for financial irregularities.
Dawn sought FIFA’s clarification on the matter but there was no response till the filing of this report.
For many, the two hour-long occupation of the PFF House on Saturday when a number of people including Hafiz Salman pressed the election commissioner to accept Noor’s nomination papers for PFA presidency echoed memories of when Hayat came into the PFF offices in 2003.
Sports Board Punjab (SBP) had been actively campaigning for Noor and in a statement on Wednesday, the PFF said “government influence is strictly unacceptable”.
Hafiz Salman, like he did against Mian Azhar, is now seeking revenge against Hayat.
Maybe toppling Hayat will help him take steps towards realising his dream of taking Pakistan to the World Cup — maybe in 2022 as the current PFF setup aims to do according to its ‘Vision 2022’.
Pakistan’s football remains the same. The achievements remain the same.
The team haven’t won a World Cup qualifier since they started taking part in the preliminaries for FIFA’s showpiece event in 1990 and were knocked out in the first round of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup last month.
And Pakistan football has seen this all before.