by Umaid Wasim and Mohammad Yaqoob
LAHORE/KARACHI: Haroon Malik said he felt so threatened and intimidated he had to break through a glass panel to escape the Pakistan Football Federation headquarters in Lahore on Saturday.
The FIFA-appointed PFF Normalisation Committee chairman and his staff had been cornered for more than an hour by some of the football officials who were elected during a poll held by the Supreme Court in December 2018.
Then, there was another version of the story.
Ashfaq Hussain Shah, who became president in that Supreme Court election which wasn’t recognised by FIFA, had led a delegation of officials to the PFF headquarters demanding that the PFF NC hand back control of the headquarters which they had handed over to former chairman Humza Khan when the NC was first installed by FIFA in September 2019.
Ashfaq claimed that the glass was broken by Haroon as a reaction after he handed over charge of the headquarters.
Saturday’s events, though, are the latest in a series of grim happenings that have afflicted Pakistan football for the best part of the last decade.
How global football body FIFA reacts to this remains to be seen. Since having appointed the PFF NC, FIFA has come close to banning Pakistan several times due to the hindrances caused by football officials in the country in the working of the committee.
Those hindrances have been court cases and lack of cooperation but Saturday was the first time that the NC was directly attacked.
“As the FIFA representative to Pakistan, I will try my best to ensure that Pakistan isn’t suspended,” Haroon told Dawn in the aftermath of the attack. “This is a sad day for Pakistan football.
“I tried to have a dialogue with the group of officials led by Ashfaq Shah but they were in no mood to talk. They stormed into my office in the afternoon but things escalated when I brought them to the auditorium for talks.
“They demanded that I hand over charge at that very moment and even when I tried to remind them of the repercussions their moves would have, they said they didn’t care.
“When I told them that I was going to refuse their request, they started getting even more aggressive, demanding that I hand over cheque books and control of accounts. As I felt physically threatened, I had no other option but to break through the glass pane near the entrance of the PFF headquarters and leave the scene.”
The forced takeover of the PFF headquarters had been on the cards for the last several days. Last week, Sardar Naveed Haider Khan, a vice-president of the Ashfaq body, had threatened that they would seize the headquarters if the PFF NC would not expedite the PFF election process.
The PFF NC has a mandate till June 30 to hold elections but Dawn exclusively revealed that the deadline to hold elections is likely to be extended with FIFA rather looking to clean up Pakistan football first before the polls.
The Ashfaq group held a congress meeting of the Supreme Court-elected body in Islamabad on Thursday and it was decided then that the body would try to regain control of the PFF headquarters.
“The Pakistan Football Federation office was attacked in Lahore by Ashfaq Shah and his group,” a PFF spokesperson said. Sardar Naveed Haider Khan was also present with the attackers. OFF staff physically harassed and were held hostage. The group has taken over the PFF House.”
Ashfaq’s group has split into two factions since the NC was appointed with the other faction led by Zahir Ali Shah. Yet despite Zahir’s officials not taking part in the Congress, the Ashfaq group contested that it had the necessary quorum to empower Ashfaq to demand the hand over of the PFF House.
The takeover also has a hint of government interference into the matters of the PFF as its vice-president Amir Dogar is an assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan on political affairs. The Ashfaq group had earlier this month also met with Minister for Inter-provincial Coordination Fehmida Mirza.
“There was no use of violence and we amicably took over control of the PFF headquarters,” Ashfaq told Dawn. “The glass panel broke when Haroon hit it in frustration after handing over the charge.”
Ashfaq said that his group has had enough of inaction from FIFA regarding the election process.
“The NC has been in place for a year and a half but there has been no progress whatsoever,” he claimed. “It was only wasting funds given by FIFA.”
He was adamant that FIFA’s support didn’t matter.
“That’s not an issue for us,” Ashfaq said. “To move forward, we have to put domestic football on track even if there is no international football. We will put football on the right track … we will bring upon a revolution.”
In their meeting on Thursday, Ashfaq’s group had raised concerns about Humza’s tenure as PFF NC chairman.
Humza resigned from the post in December with FIFA appointing Munir Sadhana as the acting chairman before Haroon’s appointment.
Sadhana had been nominated to NC by the third group vying for control of the PFF led by former PFF president Faisal Saleh Hayat, who was for long recognised as the country’s football chief by FIFA despite a controversial election in 2015.
Sadhana undid all the decisions taken by Humza and earlier this month he was removed from the PFF NC, meaning none of the members originally named in September 2019 remain on the NC.