Barely eight months into the office, the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan seems to be in disarray. The unceremonious sacking of finance minister, Asad Umar, amid a major shakeup in the federal cabinet, illustrates the fact that Imran’s administration is going nowhere.
The wholesome changes in the cabinet are attributed to lack of performance on the part of some ministers. Justifying his unprecedented decision, Imran told a public gathering in Orkazai that he would replace any minister not working in the interest of Pakistan. “Captain’s job is to keep an eye on every player. He plays for win and for that he sometimes need to change the batting order,” he remarked while drawing an analogy with decisions he took during his cricketing career.
Asad conceded in a TV interview that he was removed because of his lack of performance. His removal and other changes in the federal cabinet had been doing the rounds for over a week. The government, however, categorically rebutted such rumours. In fact, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) moved against news outlets for airing the “fake news”. A day before sacking Asad, Imran praised him for tackling the country’s ailing economy.
The government’s somersaults compelled many to ask if Imran indeed was the one who took all the important decision since speculations were rife that the powers-that-be were not happy with Asad’s handling of the economy. The assessment of the powerful quarters was that the government should have sealed the deal with IMF in October last year.
Similar sentiments were expressed by some of the influential PTI leaders within the party. Jehangir Tareen is thought to have developed serious differences with Asad on the issue. At one point, Tareen took a backseat when Imran sided with Asad over delaying the decision on the IMF. But desperation was growing among the powerful quarters that further delay in finalising the IMF deal would cause unimaginable damage to the already sluggish economy. The message was relayed to the Prime Minister that time was up for the finance minister, though, Imran still wanted to give Asad more time to fix the fragile economy.
The PTI took over the reins of power at a time when the country’s economy was in dire straits. But one clear advantage Prime Minister Imran had, unlike his predecessors, was that he enjoyed the backing of all state institutions, particularly the one that matters the most. Before the PTI, no government was given that much support by those institutions. The financial bailout packages extended by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and even China would not have been possible without the proactive efforts of those institutions. The idea behind was to show that the PML-N and the PPP were the real ills of this country. Once they were out of the power, everything would be hunky-dory in Pakistan.
It was an ideal platform for Imran to focus on pressing issues of Pakistan given the fact he didn’t need to worry about the civil-military issues since all were on one page. But that opportunity appears to be fast diminishing. Imran may have brought changes in the cabinet, but chances are that he may not be able to arrest the slide. The new cabinet members are in reality not new. Most of them have been tried and tested in the past.
Imran’s self-belief and a never-say-die attitude might have helped Pakistan win the 1992 World Cup. But many ignore the fact that politics is a different ball game. Importantly, when Pakistan won the World Cup, Imran was not only the captain but also the de facto chief selector and head of Pakistan cricket – meaning he was all powerful. But same can’t be true as far as his current job is concerned.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2019.