Where there’s smoke, there is fire. ‘Rumours’ of Asad Umar’s resignation as federal finance minister had been rife for quite some time, but they were being vehemently denied by government representatives.
Umar himself had, only a couple of days back, rubbished the ‘rumours’ in a sarcastic shut-up call, quoting a famous Mirza Ghalib verse “Hazaron khwahishen aisi kay har khwahish pe dam nikle…” which means “thousands of desires, each worth dying for”.
The ‘rumours’ have, however, proved true, and Umar has officially announced his exit from the federal cabinet. As Umar says he is not interested in power politics does drop a hint that he is not only back to the pavilion but has also called it a day, even though in a departing note he says he is always available for forwarding the PTI’s vision for ‘Naya Pakistan’, expressing a firm belief that Imran Khan is the best hope for the country.
With the economy billed as the government’s foremost priority, nobody else than the finance minister is likened to one of the two opening batsmen — the other one may either be the interior or foreign minister or whosoever is suited to the situation.
That the first-choice opening batsman has pulled out proves the flaw in the government’s strategy on a subject of core importance. Umar’s exit is a sign of the government’s admission that the economy is not in a good shape, and the way out that was being pursued by the fallen functionary did not have many admirers even among his very own fellows. With one down so early, the PTI will have to be careful over sending a new man in.
Most of the names circulating in the media as Umar’s likely replacement include the tried and trusted economic managers of the Musharraf era viz, Dr Ishrat Hussain, Umar Ayub, Shaukat Tareen, Dr Shamsahd Akhtar, Dr Salman Shah and Dr Hafeez Shiekh. Whosoever succeeds Umar will have a Herculean task to perform.
Umar’s eight-month-long tenure as finance minister offers nothing much to write home about. He is perhaps the only finance minister to have presented two minibudgets within just one financial year, without even coming up with an annual budget.
His term saw the economic growth rate fall from a 13-year high of 5.8% to an estimated under 4% by the end of the ongoing fiscal year. Inflation is also estimated to be on its way to become a double-digit demon. It was under his clout and control that the dollar soared into the highs never witnessed in Pakistan earlier. Umar simply failed to provide the platform needed by the PTI government to capitalise on.
While Imran Khan is known for a persistent faith in his selections since his cricketing days, and has never been seen opting for a change this early, the poor state of economy — which is evident from the gloom surrounding key economic indicators — as well as the clamorous criticism from the opposition and the media are sure to have compelled the prime minister to go for a change in the line-up even at a time when an economic bailout package from the IMF is in the works and the PTI government’s first full-fledged budget is just round the corner.
That Umar was facing criticism even from within the party also squeezed his space in the federal cabinet. Well, there is not going to be just one change. If Umar is to be believed, further reshuffle in the federal cabinet is on the cards — something that clearly shows that all is certainly not well.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th, 2019.
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