by Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: At a time when the whole of Pakistan is pinning hopes on Dr Fehmida Mirza to resolve the country’s football crisis, the Federal Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination has vowed she will not disappoint.
“I’d be tarnishing my legacy if I’m not impartial during the process we’ve initiated to bring an end to the crisis,” Fehmida told Dawn in a wide-ranging telephone interview on Wednesday.
Hours before the interview, Fehmida had met with Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee member Shahid Khokhar — the latest in a series of meetings the IPC minister has had with various football stakeholders in the country over the last few weeks in an effort to lift the suspension placed by global football body FIFA on Pakistan last month.
The suspension came after the FIFA-appointed NC was expelled from the PFF headquarters by a group of football officials led by Ashfaq Hussain Shah, who was elected president during an election of the PFF held by the Supreme Court in December 2018 which wasn’t recognised by the world’s football governing body.
Among Ashfaq’s group is Malik Amir Dogar, the special adviser on political affairs to Prime Minister Imran Khan — a strong enough reason to believe that the takeover of the PFF headquarters had the backing of the government.
Fehmida, though, argues that political affiliations or personal contacts won’t deter her judgment before she meets the prime minister to brief him about the whole issue.
“I wouldn’t say that I don’t have good contacts with Amir but then again I have good contacts with Zahir Shah [who is the leader of another group vying for PFF’s control] as well,” she said. “I want to reiterate that contacts won’t matter. They won’t stand in my way.”
It is that stance which has led to even the PFF NC slowly and gradually finding Fehmida a voice of reason.
“It was a good meeting with the IPC minister,” Khokhar told Dawn, after becoming the second PFF NC member to meet Fehmida following Haris Azmat’s audience last week.
“I’m hopeful that we’re on the right path with these meetings,” added Khokhar who said that in the end it is FIFA which will matter the most.
Fehmida too knows that. But she said that there are certain things that need to be ironed out.
“The meetings I’ve been holding are to collect all the information … to understand what the factions are thinking and then deciding the way forward,” she said.
“The PFF NC wants to engage the government in bringing all the factions to the table and we are very much willing to aid healthy discussion but first it should tell us clearly what role it wants us to play.”
Fehmida has already held discussions with officials from both Ashfaq and Zahir camps but she is yet to speak to PFF NC chairman Haroon Malik, who took up the post in January this year following the resignation of his predecessor Humza Khan.
“I’m going to speak with Haroon in the coming days and hopefully we will have a better understanding of what we need to do,” she said.
Fehmida is also yet to speak with the group led by Faisal Saleh Hayat — the PFF president recognised by FIFA from 2003 till September 2019, when the NC was appointed in a bid to resolve the long-running crisis and controversy that has afflicted Pakistan football by holding fresh elections.
“I will also be reaching out to the Hayat group for talks on the issue,” she said, adding that it “hurt her how the PFF in the past had done nothing for the growth of the game in the country”.
“There has a vicious power struggle going on. It’s about ego, its about money, its about position but sadly nothing about the game.”
Fehmida didn’t hide her reservations with the NC and FIFA as well.
“The NC has been appointed 18 months ago, yet it has done nothing on the election front,” she said. “There has been no action, no timeline, no roadmap and that is something that is going to irk the football stakeholders in the country.
“When the NC was first announced, it was the Ashfaq group which handed them the headquarters in good faith that elections would be held. We seem to forget that they came to power in an election held by the Supreme Court.
“FIFA should also show some respect to the Supreme Court but they tend to look the other way and term it as interference.
“The current NC argues that there isn’t equal representation of all three groups on it since it hindered the working of the previous one [led by Humza]. But I don’t think that’s the way forward if we’re looking for a resolution.”
Fehmida, though, is hopeful that this time FIFA will realise that it needs to work with the government in order to find a way out.
“All we want is that FIFA sends a fact-finding mission and then we take it forward from there,” she said.
“We are trying to open dialogue with both the Asian Football Confederation and FIFA but they should also understand our role as the regulators.
“FIFA does work with governments in various countries. I don’t see why it can’t do the same in Pakistan.”