Mohammad Sarwar, a former Labour Party MP from Scotland, and the first ever Muslim MP in Britain, will be named governor of the province of Punjab in his native Pakistan, according to a report from BBC. Sarwar, 60, left the British government after standing down during the last general election in 2010. His son Anas now holds his Glasgow seat in Westminster parliament. Anas Sarwar is also deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party.
As Punjab is the most populous of Pakistan’s provinces (with a population of more than 90 million compared with Scotland’s mere 5.3 million), the post of governor is quite prestigious and powerful. Mohammad Sarwar is reportedly close to Pakistan’s new Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party and played a significant role in Sharif’s triumphant election. According to BBC, Sharif offered Sarwar the job of Pakistan’s High Commissioner in London (which Sarwar turned down, favoring the Punjab governorship).
However, in order to take the position, Sarwar will have to relinquish his British citizenship (he currently holds dual UK-Pakistani nationality), under Pakistani laws.
The Daily Record, a newspaper of Scotland, speculated that gaining the role of Punjab governor could be a stepping stone towards ultimately becoming president of Pakistan. (Mamnoon Hussain, 72, was named president of Pakistan on Tuesday.) "I am an extremely proud son and we are an extremely proud family,” said Anas Sarwar, according to the Herald Newspaper of Scotland. "The opportunity for my father to go back to the place where we was born and to give something back to the country is a massive one. The opportunity for him to improve the life chances of [90-million] people was too big for him to refuse."
Anas added that giving up his British citizenship was difficult for his father who had lived most of his life in Scotland. "While he loves Scotland and the UK he has always had a commitment to his mother country," Anas said.
Mohammad Sarwar made his fortune in the cash-and-carry wholesale business in Scotland before his election to parliament in 1997 for Glasgow Govan. He has had a rather turbulent career in Scottish politics. In 1998, soon after his historic election as MP, he was indicted for committing election-related offenses and suspended by the Labour Party. (He was exonerated in 1999 and the suspension was removed). In the middle of 2006, he was one of many Labour members who openly criticized Prime Minister Tony Blair’s foreign policy, particularly Blair’s support for the US invasion of Iraq.
That same year, Sarwar played an important role in extraditing three Scots-Pakistani youths who had killed a white Scots lad named Kriss Donald and fled the country (even though Britain and Pakistan has no extradition treaty). The three were eventually convicted of murder and imprisoned. In 2007, his son Anas was cleared of charges that he had laundered about $1.2 million in a complex scam.
Given Mohammad Sarwar’s controversial history, some Scottish bloggers were puzzled by his sudden move to Pakistan. In a comment in the Herald, a man named Bill Cruikshank referred to Scotland’s campaign for independence. “It is interesting that Mr. Sarwar is returning to take up a post in the governor of his native land; a country which gained its independence in 1947,” he wrote. “It would seem that Mr. Sarwar is happy to return to an independent country, while his son (Anas) remains in Scotland doing his best to ensure that Scotland does not become independent.”
Another blogger named Malcolm McCandless pointed out the hypocrisy of Sarwar gravitating from the Labour Party to PML-N, a right-wing organization that represents the interests of business at the expense of workers’ rights. A blogger named Jimbor in The Scotsman newspaper raised an intriguing question about the implications of Sarwar giving up his UK citizenship. “If he renounces British citizenship to become solely a Pakistani national will he be eligible to receive a British Pension including an old age pension?,” he asked. “Will he automatically be able to come back to the UK as a Pakistani or will he have to apply for a visitors’ visa from the British High Commission in Pakistan?”
As for Sarwar’s new position in Pakistan, he may not hold onto it for long, if history provides any indication. Since July 1970, 26 governors have been appointed in the Punjab, meaning the average term is less than two years. A little over two years ago, the Punjab governor, Salman Taseer, was murdered by his own bodyguard after the governor stated his opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.