Born in 1952, Mushahid Hussain Syed did his Bachelors from Lahore’s Forman Christian College, followed by a Masters degree from Georgetown University. He had an illustrious career as a journalist before he entered the political realm as a member of Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N). He was appointed information minister by Nawaz Sharif in the latter’s 1997 cabinet.
In 1999, following the coup by former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, Mushahid’s house was stormed by soldiers the very same day and he was placed under house arrest and then behind bars. He was released in 2000. Surprisingly, following his release, he defected to Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid (PML-Q), which became known as the ‘King’s party’ because of its association with Musharraf.
Before Mushahid decided to experiment with politics, he had a vibrant career in academia as well as journalism. He also trained diplomats at the Pakistan Administrative Staff College, a civil service academy. After this, he taught at Punjab University – and was dismissed for his opposition to military rule from the institution. In 1982, he was made editor of a daily called ‘The Muslim’. He has written regularly for the Times of India and The Hindustan Times, along with being published in the New York Times and Washington Post amongst other publications.
In 1997, Mushahid entered politics and was elected a Senator on a PML-N ticket. He was also made the information minister by Nawaz, and ushered Pakistan through some of its worst international crises – including the conducting of nuclear tests followed by crippling sanctions and the Kargil War.
Prior to his 1997 cabinet induction, he was an advisor to the then prime minister Nawaz. According to Nawaz, Mushahid was the first person who told him to go ahead with the nuclear tests although this statement has been contested.
After his arrest following the 1999 coup, Mushahid remained imprisoned for 440 days and was declared a ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ by Amnesty International. He was imprisoned by the military government for his connections with Nawaz, and was held in solitary confinement for a part of this time.
Eventually, he contested the 2003 Senate election on a PML-Q ticket and won – reportedly with a letter of recommendation from Washington. Mushahid also become a staunch supporter of Musharraf and even agreed with the latter’s decision to not shed his uniform.
In 2004, he was part of a team that negotiated with slain Baloch nationalist leader Akbar Bugti. However, he was also part of the same government which was eventually implicated in the leader’s killing.
Mushahid successfully contested election for the Parliament’s upper house again in 2012 and currently heads the Senate’s Standing Committee on Defence and Defence Production. He has also served as chairman of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Kashmir and Northern Areas. In 2012, his name also popped up as the lowest tax paying Senator: In 2011, he paid only rupees 82 in taxes.
Mushahid has been the chief spokesman for PML-Q throughout his affiliation with the party.
— Research and text by Heba Islam