Who Is Omar Ayub Khan? Imran Khan Says Who He Wants to Be Pakistan’s Next Prime Minister

Bianca Echa

Who Is Omar Ayub Khan? Imran Khan Says Who He Wants to Be Pakistan’s Next Prime Minister

Despite the suppression of his party, downed mobile phone networks on Election Day, and deadly election-related violence, Pakistan’s 130 million voters delivered the embattled former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his allies a resounding victory at the polls last week.

Read More: Pakistan’s Military Used Every Trick to Sideline Imran Khan—and Failed. Now What?

This week, Khan, who was ousted in 2022 and now sits in jail on a bevy of criminal convictions—which, he maintains, are politically motivated—has made clear who he would like to see become the country’s next Prime Minister: Omar Ayub Khan. The endorsement was announced Thursday by a senior member of Khan’s party who met with the imprisoned former leader.

The 56-year-old former finance minister wrote on X that he was “truly humbled” by the nomination. “PTI as a party will work for strengthening democratic institutions in Pakistan so that the country’s economy can be put on a path of positive trajectory and we can initiate our reforms programme to benefit the people of Pakistan,” he said. “We will not allow our mandate to be stolen.”

While candidates backed by Khan—most registered as independents, including Ayub, because of moves made by the Electoral Commission to hamstring Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party—managed to win the most seats in last week’s election, they do not have a majority alone to form a government. Coalition negotiations are underway before the elected lawmakers convene for a National Assembly session on Feb. 29.

As Prime Minister nominee, Ayub will face off against former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who leads a rival coalition consisting of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party and is believed to be the preferred candidate of Pakistan’s powerful military establishment.

Here’s what to know about Ayub, who, if Khan’s popular movement continues to defy the odds, could become the country’s next leader. 

He faces multiple criminal charges and is in hiding

According to local media reports, there are 21 cases filed against Ayub, including some linked to massive protests that broke out after the arrest of Khan last May. The charges are seen as part of a wider attempt to prosecute Khan—who himself faces over 180 criminal charges—and his associates to diminish the influence of PTI and boost the power of the military establishment. 

Ayub went into hiding when police started arresting PTI figures and their contacts—including those linked to Ayub, such as his personal secretary and business associates—in the wake of violent protests last May. 

Besides the charges that are being levied against him, Ayub has also faced other forms of intimidation from authorities, including being beaten by police in 2022 during a PTI demonstration and having his house raided last May. 

Despite his criminal charges, Ayub is still eligible to run for premiership. 

Ayub, who was appointed as PTI’s general secretary last year, said that his focus if he becomes Prime Minister would be to free political prisoners. 

“Our first priority as a group will be to have Prime Minister Imran Khan sahib, Vice Chairman Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureishi sahib, President Chaudhry Pervez Ellahi sahib and all our women and men political prisoners released from Jail immediately,” Ayub wrote on X this week.

He’s the grandson of Pakistan’s first military dictator

Ayub’s late grandfather, former military officer Muhammad Ayub Khan, ruled Pakistan with an iron fist from 1958 to 1969 as self-appointed President under martial law. While his turbulent presidency—which included at least one assassination attempt and months of deadly riots—has been lauded for precipitating steady economic growth in the country, it also sparked public anger over soaring tensions with neighboring India and crackdowns on political freedom. The leader stepped down in 1969 amid growing dissent.

Ayub’s father, Gohar Ayub Khan, who died in November, was also prominent in Pakistan’s political history. He was a retired army officer and politician who in the 1990s held posts as the speaker of the National Assembly, foreign affairs minister, and minister for water and power.

He has over two decades of experience in politics

Ayub’s political career started in 2002, when he was elected to the National Assembly as a candidate of the conservative Pakistan Muslim League (Q). He served as the Minister of State for Finance between 2004 and 2007 but lost his seat in the National Assembly in the 2008 election. Re-elected to the National Assembly in 2014, he left his seat in 2015 after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a petition by his opponent, PTI candidate Raja Aamir Zaman, that claimed the election was rigged.

In 2018, after he was again elected into the National Assembly, this time as a PTI candidate, he was appointed energy minister in Imran Khan’s cabinet, and he later took on the additional role of petroleum minister in 2019. During a cabinet reshuffle in 2021, Ayub was appointed finance minister, a role that he relinquished one year later amid mass resignations of lawmakers loyal to an ousted Khan.

He was educated in the U.S.

Ayub received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., in 1993 and 1996, according to a biography by the Pakistan Board of Investment that also described Ayub as an “eminent figure” of Pakistan’s political arena “known for his oratory, economic and management skills.”

Imran Khan has long been a vocal critic of the U.S., which he previously blamed for his 2022 ouster—though he has since adopted a softer diplomatic approach. Meanwhile, Ayub’s stance on the U.S. is unclear, though as energy minister in 2021 he courted stronger bilateral ties and U.S. investment in Pakistan’s energy sector.

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