Aamir Liaquat Hussain: Pakistan’s shock televangelist dies at 50

Photo Courtesy: AFP via BBC

(BBC): One of Pakistan’s most prominent and contentious TV hosts, Aamir Liaquat Hussain, has died aged 50 after being found unconscious at home in Karachi.

The anchor was taken to hospital but pronounced dead on arrival. A post mortem exam is being carried out.

Aamir Liaquat Hussain switched from televangelism to politics, becoming an MP for Imran Khan’s PTI party.

His career was dogged by controversy – he gave babies to childless couples on TV and was banned for hate speech.

The outspoken anchor was married three times – and was currently in the midst of a controversy after his latest marriage broke up publicly and acrimoniously.

His third wife, 18-year-old Dania Shah divorced him last month, prompting Hussain to announce publicly that he planned to leave Pakistan.

Aamir Liaquat Hussain, who worked for many of Pakistan’s leading media houses over his career, was undoubtedly popular with a section of the population but many others found him highly divisive.

An eloquent speaker and a great showman who guaranteed ratings, his broadcasts were well scripted, and included religious sermons – as well as frequent abuse.

There were regular complaints from those whom the televangelist named and shamed publicly on his programme. He would accuse people of acts such as blasphemy, treachery or fornication.

In September 2008, he dedicated an entire programme to exploring the beliefs of the Ahmadis, a sect who identify themselves as Muslim and follow the teachings of the Koran but are regarded by orthodox Muslims as heretical.

In it, two scholars said that anyone who associated with false prophets was “worthy of murder”. Within 24 hours of the broadcast, a prominent member of the Ahmadi community was shot dead in the small town of Mirpur Khas in Sindh province.

The outspoken anchor will also be remembered for sexist remarks about liberal women in Pakistan – often artists, authors or human rights activists.

Quiz shows and product giveaways – cars, motorbikes and household electronics – were a big feature of his shows – and on one occasion in 2012, even abandoned babies.

He insisted at the time that the move was aimed at saving abandoned infants and was not simply an attempt to boost his ratings.

“We were already top of the ratings before we gave away a baby. We took these children from the garbage, from the trash, and delivered them to the needy people,” Hussain said on his website, where he described himself as “truly a legend”.

The TV host was a member of parliament from 2002 until 2008, when he was expelled by the MQM party. He served as the minister of state for religious affairs from 2004 to 2007 under then president Pervez Musharraf.

As a politician, he was involved in several rows. On one occasion, he was held hostage by students angry at his work criticising suicide bombings.

On another occasion, he declared British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdi as “worthy of death” – comments that eventually forced him to resign from parliament.

In 2018 he turned back to politics again, joining the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) party and became a member of the National Assembly again the following year.