Minister, industry advocate, media baron, philanthropist, or real estate tycoon — Who is Gohar Ejaz?

Gohar Ejaz wears many hats. But how did he become so important?

Gohar Ejaz wears many hats. To most of the population, he is the man that shut down cellular phone and internet services on election day. To the business community he is the commerce minister. In the world of media he is the owner of Channel 24. To the world of real estate he is the man behind Lake City in Lahore. And to the country’s textile millers, he is their patron-in-chief and strongest advocate. 

But how did this one man acquire so many hats and how does he manage to don them all at the same time? The secret is that every role he plays is interconnected. He has spread his interests far and wide on purpose and become perhaps one of the most influential people in the country. 

To understand the rise of Gohar Ejaz and the intricacies of the web he has spun we must go back to the very beginning. Back in the late 1980s, when he started off in the world of business by spinning a different kind of yarn — textiles. 

Not so humble beginnings 

Money has never been an issue for the Ejaz family. Gohar’s father, the late Sheikh Ejaz Ahmad, had established the Ejaz Group of Companies in 1950, for international commodities trading of products such as petroleum, metals, edible oils and industrial raw material. In 1980, the group ventured into manufacturing and set up the first industrial unit under the banner of Mian Nazir Sons Industries.

But the one thing that the family has always seemed to put a high premium on is connections and relevance. It is perhaps why Gohar’s father served a stint in the Pakistan senate during the Zia era. It was also possibly why Gohar Ejaz was sent to Lahore as a young man. In 1988 Senator Ejaz had just finished his term. The family business was in a position where it was ready to expand and Central Punjab was fast emerging as the home of Pakistan’s most thriving sector: Textiles.

First established in the 1950s, textiles emerged as a central part of Pakistan’s industrialization in the decades to come. And what’s more, this was an almost entirely export-oriented business. The Multi-Fiber Agreement of the 1970s meant that by the 1980s the United States and Europe had opened up as markets to Pakistani textile manufacturers. It was in this environment that Gohar Ejaz made his start. The Ejaz Group of Companies launched its textile division in 1990 with the first yarn manufacturing unit, Ejaz Textile Mills Limited, in Bhai Pheru. By 1992, Ejaz expanded the business by establishing Ejaz Spinning Mills Limited in Sheikhupura, equipped with modern machinery and an independent power generation plant.

In 1995, Gohar was one of the early movers in setting up a captive power plant by the name of Ejaz Power Limited. The company set up three power plants with a total power generation capacity of 30 MW. This self-sufficiency in electricity enabled the group to better fulfil its commitments, by reducing its dependence on power from the government. 

Ejaz suffered a personal blow in 1998 when his father, who was in his late 50’s then, succumbed to a kidney disease. (To honour his father, Ejaz later founded a dialysis centre at Jinnah Hospital in Lahore.)

By the early 2000s, with the textile business set up and his father’s original business still intact, the Ejaz Group, employed over 3000 people and reported a turnover of $100 million according to sources from within the family. But there was something else happening at the same time. While the initial period had been very beneficial for the family, the textile business was new territory and there was a steep learning curve for Gohar Ejaz. Both the textile mill and the spinning mill faced problems in keeping up with a very competitive industry. 

But this did not seem to bother Gohar Ejaz very much. In fact, his more immediate interest seemed to be less about expanding the business, and more about networking and making friends. And pretty soon it became evident why. 

The APTMA connection 

It seems that it became very clear to Gohar Ejaz early on that he was not going to be able to compete with the big boys of textiles. He was new to the business, the competition was tough, and the names that dominated the field were the likes of Nishat. But getting into the textile business meant he now had access to some of the wealthiest and most influential industrialists in Pakistan. 

Remember, textiles are Pakistan’s biggest export industry. As such the industry plays a big role in the economy. As such, the organisation needs to deal with the government a lot as well. Managing this relationship is the job of the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (APTMA). 

This is perhaps one of the most powerful industry associations in Pakistan. Organisations like APTMA are essentially advocacy groups. Lobbying in very simple terms. Different members of an industry band together to form a body that fights for their communal interests. Now remember, a group like APTMA represents some of the richest industrialists in the country responsible for a major export oriented sector of the economy. This means that whoever is in charge at APTMA is constantly in touch with government representatives and is engaged with policymakers at all levels. 

It was through this platform that Gohar Ejaz gained prominence. He started actively participating in APTMA’s activities and quickly became known to others in the field. In fact, by 2003 Gohar Ejaz had become enough of a player within APTMA that he managed to orchestrate what was the closest thing to a coup that the organisation had seen. Backed by Mian Mansha and other large mills such as Sapphire, Gohar Ejaz led over 100 members of APTMA from across the country to demand the resignation of the sitting chairman Waqar Monnoo. The story was covered in detail back then by Dawn. 

But within a few years, despite his relatively small mill, Gohar Ejaz was playing in the big leagues. This was so much so that other Chinioti textilers in particular trusted him to lead them on a real estate venture as well in the hopes of expanding their businesses. That was why in 2004 Gohar launched Lake City in Lahore — a mega real estate project spread over more than 2000 acres of land. Among the investors in this project were Shahid Iqbal of Mayfair as well as the Sapphire group and at least two other more major players in the textile industry. 

In this way, Gohar Ejaz not just became a prominent member of APTMA but was also business partners with a number of important textillers. But a tsunami was coming. Pakistan’s textile business was facing a downturn after 2005. Between 2007-8 Pakistan was hit by the global recession. The textile industry also faced challenges due to high energy costs, rupee depreciation, and a high cost of doing business. As a result, there was a reduction in the number of textile mills operating in the country from about 450 units in 2009 to 400 units in 2019.

The Ejaz Textile Mills also faced serious problems. Around 2006 the mill had defaulted and the banks were demanding their money back. On top of this, the Lake City project was not chugging along as well as Gohar and his investors had hoped. All in all the situation was quite bleak. But by this point Gohar had enough of a rapport within APTMA to keep up appearances. 

Gohar’s circle of influence 

It was through APTMA that Gohar Ejaz became a public figure. And he didn’t start out big. Established under the auspices of the Federal Ministry of Commerce, APTMA officially commenced operations in July 1991 from its Faisalabad headquarters. This was around the time that Gohar Ejaz had joined the textile industry. Throughout his life he had steered himself into such roles. Sources close to him have said he spent more time focusing on association business and being involved in every place he possibly could. As a result, his roles in associations and boards were diverse. He served as the Chairman of the Alternate Dispute Resolution Board of FBR- Sales Tax Wing, convener of the textile committee for the Government of Punjab, and a member of the Federal Textile Board of the Ministry of Industries and Production, Government of Pakistan, and the Cotton Board, Government of Punjab. Additionally, he was on the boards of National Textile University-Faisalabad, Government College University-Lahore, King Edward Medical University- Lahore, and the Executive Committee Member of Care Foundation Lahore. Ejaz was also a board member of the Punjab Institute of Cardiology, Punjab Social Security Health Company, and Lahore General Hospital.

His first major appointment at APTMA was when he was elected as the Chairman of APTMA Punjab Region for the year 2009-10. This period coincided with the Pakistan People’s Party’s governance in Pakistan and multiple sources say the same thing: That Gohar’s position was strengthened due to Asif Ali Zardari. During the 2009-10 period when Gohar Ejaz was first elected as APTMA Chairman of the Punjab region, the PPP government had just started. At the time President Zardari was interested in maintaining positive relations with the Punjab business community, an initiative that benefitted Ejaz. His association with APTMA positioned him as one of the close associates of President Zardari.

In 2010-11, he was elected as Chairman of APTMA, in what some say, was one of the most hotly contested elections in APTMA’s history. The impression was that because of his closeness with Zardari, he could get things done for the industry. And the textillers, especially the smaller ones who contituted the majority of the voters of APTMA, clearly agreed. From this point on Gohar Ejaz was the main man at APTMA. During this era, Zardari’s administration reportedly responded positively to APTMA’s demands. For instance, Zardari assured the continuation of a zero-rating regime on textile exports under the Reformed General Sales Tax (RGST) and was open to discussions regarding uninterrupted gas supply, as requested by APTMA.

In response Ejaz publicly acknowledged President Zardari’s industry-friendly policies and his swift implementation of APTMA’s recommendations for Pakistan’s economic revival. He credited Zardari for giving full support to the textile industry, declaring 2011 as the Year of Textile, and ensuring that the bureaucracy adhered to APTMA’s guidelines.

Which is why, perhaps, even when his tenure as chairman ended in 2011, Gohar Ejaz was appointed as Patron-in-Chief of APTMA. That same year, Zardari awarded Ejaz the Hilal-i-Imtiaz, one of Pakistan’s highest civilian honours. The Patron-in-Chief position became a permanent one and Gohar Ejaz would hold onto it for more than a decade — until just recently. 

Consolidating power

In 2011 Gohar Ejaz was at a critical point. He had just ended his one year term as chairman of APTMA despite being the owner of what was now a relatively small textile operation. In this time he had gotten closer to President Zardari and had formed a block within APTMA of smaller textillers that had all banded together against larger players. 

In the meantime, he had also made a splash in the world of real estate and Lake City was emerging as a roaring success (more on that later). But when his term ended, Gohar Ejaz was not willing to let go. Backed by Zardari, he was appointed as “patron-in-chief” of APTMA — a newly created position that overshadowed the post of chairman. He has continued in that role to date and only stepped away when he was appointed to the caretaker cabinet. 

“Gohar Ejaz’s APTMA story has a lot to it,” says one former APTMA chairman. The older groups resent him severely. Gohar started a campaign against Waqar Monnoo back in 2003 and then became a formidable force. Gohar spearheaded this and became popular. Later, however, he ditched the big boys and got the smaller textillers to band together and became their leader. The Mansha group panel lost as a result of this engineering. Once this happened, larger manufacturers stepped away from APTMA and it has since been dominated by Ejaz as the boss of these smaller players.”  

Ejaz maintained his relationship with Zardari. In 2014, he hosted a dinner for the PPP co-chairman at his residence. This event stirred perceptions among some that influential textile industry leaders were aligning with a former president, who was also the head of a political party. During Zardari’s presidency, the textile industry had seen a significant increase in exports, from about $8.5-9 billion to $13.5-14 billion.

Traditionally, Punjab’s business community has been wary of the PPP, recalling the widespread nationalisation of industries and banks in the 1970s, which had a profound impact on industrialists. This historical context has often led them to favour pro-business parties like the PML-N.

In industry circles, there are differing opinions about Ejaz’s role in APTMA. Some industry insiders, preferring to remain anonymous, questioned the appropriateness of his position as Patron-in-Chief, noting that such a role is not defined in the trade bodies act. They acknowledged Ejaz’s intelligence and experience but speculated that his continual presence in APTMA might be due to a lack of engagement from larger groups within the association. Ejaz is believed to have established a strong lobby within APTMA, making it challenging for other major industrialists to gain influence. His keen interest in self-promotion and public relations, coupled with the time he dedicates to the association, are seen as factors contributing to his sustained influence.

“Back in the day APTMA chairman used to be a big deal but he is now patron-in-chief making the chairmanship a very irrelevant position. His own mills are shut down. He is now a real estate tycoon and textile is not his thing. That is only his way to garner influence. He has used that influence to help Lake City grow and glow,” says one source from within APTMA. And that, perhaps, best explains what Gohar Ejaz was trying to do. 

However, a source close to Ejaz says ” There was a period when the Monnoo Group and Sehgal Group held sway over APTMA, treating small mill owners with disdain. During such times, the concerns of larger millers were promptly addressed, leaving the smaller entities in limbo. Gohar Ejaz, however, pledged to address the grievances of all textile millers.” He also went on to clarify that Ejaz’s textile company has remained operational without interruption for over three decades.

Friends with everyone 

Gohar Ejaz has positioned himself as a middle-man and a trusted friend of the country’s establishment. In the process he has been labelled by some as the “PR King”. He contributed to several charitable, health, and educational institutions. He established the “Sheikh Ejaz Ahmed Dialysis Centre” at Jinnah Hospital, Lahore, which provides around 1000 free dialysis treatments per month.

Both his close associates and opponents have remarked on his ability to spin a narrative. It is widely acknowledged that Gohar Ejaz effortlessly establishes relationships with various figures, be they politicians, bureaucrats, or members of the establishment. He has become a notable leader in the textile sector, particularly recognized for his strategic relationship with Zardari, which proved beneficial to APTMA members by solving their challenges. Within the textile sector, it is believed that no APTMA member, irrespective of their personal views on Gohar Ejaz, is prepared to publicly oppose him. This was apparent when industry stakeholders were approached for information about Gohar Ejaz; they either claimed complete ignorance of his affairs or showed reluctance to discuss them.

His influence spans across political boundaries, including ties with Asif Ali Zardari, PML-N, PTI, and virtually all major political parties. In May of the previous year, amid the heated political climate following the events of the 9th of May 2023, Gohar Ejaz hosted a significant meeting at his residence in Lahore Lake City. This gathering, aimed at demonstrating the business community’s readiness to contribute to national affairs, included prominent figures like Karachi businessman Aqeel Karim Dhedhi, media and education sector businessman Mian Amir Mahmood, Mian Ahsan from US Apparel, former chairman of Lahore Chamber of Commerce Almas Haider, among others. Reports at the time suggested that the business leaders at this meeting were open to dialoguing with all political stakeholders, including then-caretaker Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Imran Khan, Nawaz Sharif, President Arif Alvi, senior military leadership, and Asif Ali Zardari, to help defuse the political crisis.

Gohar Ejaz confirmed this meeting at his home and was hopeful about the improvement of the situation. In a similar vein, during Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to Lahore in June of the same year, he was warmly received by Gohar Ejaz at APTMA House, where a press conference was also held. The close relationship between Asif Zardari and Gohar Ejaz was highlighted by the PPP’s proposal of Gohar Ejaz for the role of caretaker Prime Minister.

During the tenure of PTI, Gohar Ejaz was observed openly praising Imran Khan. In a notable instance, he presented a check of Rs 5 crore rupees on behalf of APTMA to the Prime Minister’s Covid Relief Fund during a meeting with Imran Khan. However, there were suggestions that Imran Khan was somewhat hesitant in forging a strong relationship with Gohar Ejaz. Industry sources indicated that Imran Khan received unfavourable briefings about Gohar Ejaz. Additionally, an incident of disagreement between Gohar Ejaz and then Finance Minister Hammad Azhar of PTI regarding FBR issues became public knowledge. In this incident, Hammad Azhar reportedly asked Gohar Ejaz to leave his office in a stern manner.

Despite these challenges, Gohar Ejaz consistently endeavoured to maintain cordial relations with the government, advocating on behalf of the entire industry. He persistently addressed industry issues such as captive powers, electricity tariffs, and taxation, presenting these concerns in writing to the PTI government. His approach towards maintaining relationships appeared consistent across different political administrations, including PML-N.

This was exemplified recently when Shahbaz Sharif, in his first term as Prime Minister, mentioned Gohar Ejaz during the inauguration of Indus Hospital in Lahore. Shahbaz Sharif acknowledged Gohar Ejaz’s donation of 1.2 billion rupees to the hospital. Gohar Ejaz clarified that he had donated 2 billion rupees, prompting Shahbaz Sharif to joke that someone might have misled him about the amount, but that Gohar Ejaz could afford to donate even Rs 10 billion. In response, Gohar Ejaz humorously offered an open check, which led the Prime Minister to request a specific commitment, asking how much and within what timeframe the donation would be made. Gohar Ejaz then pledged to donate Rs 10 billion to the Prime Minister. Observers at the time noted Shahbaz Sharif’s apparent interest in maintaining a good relationship with Gohar Ejaz. The Prime Minister even went so far as to offer that he will reciprocate this donation by getting Ejaz’s legitimate requests related to his businesses approved.

Real estate tycoon and all-powerful caretaker 

It was this attitude and his ability to maintain cordial relations with everyone that have allowed Gohar Ejaz to become a power broker in his own right. In the past six months, he was first appointed as the caretaker minister for commerce and later as the caretaker minister for interior. In what has probably been the most empowered and significant caretaker government in Pakistan, he has played a major role both in the Economic Coordination Committee and been a prominent member of Anwar Kakar’s cabinet. 

His connections have also been useful at times in his other endeavours. Ejaz founded the highly successful Lake City Lahore in 2004, spanning 2000 acres and master-planned by Meinhardt. In fact, it would not be incorrect to say that Ejaz made most of his money from his real estate business. The project includes a golf resort community. Garnering support from leading banks and industrialists, Lake City made significant strides in 2005. This year marked the establishment of a mosque, the opening of the Lahore office, and the international launch of Lake City. Notable developments in Bella Vista also occurred. 

But in the initial days the project was not doing well, and a lot of his backers from within the textile industry cut ties with the project and Gohar Ejaz had to buy them out. But since then he has had a no-mercy policy in promoting his society. For example, he provided land for free to Coke Fest to host the festival so that people would come to the far-flung society and see that he was developing it. In addition to this, he initially also offered a number of restaurants and other businesses rent-free commercial space to set up shop in Lake City. All of this has paid off, with the society developing and commercial spaces being highly valued now. 

There were, of course, issues. In 2014, complaints emerged that Lake City Housing Society, a decade after its launch, was still incomplete. Issues like land disputes, unfinished development, and a lack of infrastructure contributed to the society’s deserted appearance. Plot owners in various sectors had not received land ownership despite numerous deadlines. They appealed to the then Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif for intervention against the housing society’s management.

But the property consultants in the real estate market of Lahore claim that now the situation in Lake City is completely different and almost all controversies have been resolved by the management. But that wasn’t the end of the society’s problems. 

In 2018, Lake City’s appeal was significantly boosted, after the inauguration of Lahore Ring Road, a six-lane highway that encircles the whole of Lahore, with its direct entry and exit points next to Lake City.  Almost immediately, Lake City hosted the Coca-Cola Food and Music Festival – Coke Fest at the Lake City Golf and Country Club. Attracting over 50,000 attendees, the event highlighted the community’s good accessibility. This exposure is believed to have positively impacted local property prices, as visitors could directly experience Lake City’s accessibility and amenities.

But in the world of real estate, competition is stiff and competitors are ruthless. In fact, Gohar Ejaz as a textiller that went into real estate has had to face much more hardened opponents that can go to any lengths. About two years ago, during a period when politician Aleem Khan departed from PTI and acquired Samaa TV, Aleem Khan’s Park View housing society was under significant pressure from the PTI government. The Lahore Development Authority was involved in discussions about an unapproved housing society scandal that implicated government officials.

During this period, a dispute arose between Abdul Aleem Khan, Gohar Ejaz, and the current caretaker Chief Minister regarding Lake City. Samaa News reported that the ‘Gang of Three’, involving Gohar Ejaz, S.M. Imran, and Mohsin Naqvi, was implicated in the Government Servants Cooperative Society scandal. According to the report, during Usman Buzdar’s tenure, these individuals started occupying land of the Government Servants Cooperative Society worth billions of rupees. Of course, the problem is that Samaa TV is owned by Aleem Khan, which is why their reports cannot necessarily be considered impartial. 

Rumours also circulate in the real estate and media market about Gohar Ejaz’s secret partnership in the media house of the current caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi, and his investments in Lake City’s advertising campaigns in this media group. The friendship between Mohsin Naqvi and Gohar Ejaz is well-known, with both being close associates of Zardari.

Sources claim that Gohar Ejaz utilises the golf course in Lake City for promoting personal relationships, reserving it for his close friends, including politicians, business personalities, and high-profile officers. Interestingly, this is Pakistan’s only private golf course, reserved only for Ejaz and his influential friends.

A man to watch out for 

Caretaker portfolios are usually retirement slots for most. In normal circumstances, these governments come in for three months to watch over affairs and those that are inducted into cabinet see it as an accolade to add onto their CVs. But this was a singularly unique caretaker government. The ministers in it were empowered and involved in policy making. Their direction will leave a mark for the next government to come as well. 

As part of this caretaker government, Gohar Ejaz has established his place as a mover-and-shaker not just in the business world, but also in politics. While he may not be a traditional politician (even though he has the pedigree of a senator father) he might be among a crop of emerging ‘technocrats’ that we can expect to see more of in the future. 

His political journey with APTMA and the contacts he made along the way made him have two of the most important portfolios in government at a crucial time for the economy and the nation state. Ejaz is recognized by some for his dedication and effort in achieving these positions. During the formation of the caretaker federal cabinet, Ejaz was a contender for the Prime Minister role, with reports suggesting Asif Zardari’s personal lobbying efforts to position him as the caretaker Prime Minister.

And much like he almost became prime minister, Gohar Ejaz has used good PR to make his way in the world. He has used his contacts in APTMA to promote and help his real estate business, and the contacts he has made along the way have landed him in his current multiple portfolios in cabinet. Once this stint is over, he is likely to go back to his fortress of APTMA and real estate. But in the time to come, he is not someone to ever be counted out of the picture.

Shahab Omer
Shahab Omer
The writer is a member of the staff and can be reached at [email protected]


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