Ministers of other affairs

Bekaar mubash kuch kiya kar, kapre udher kar siya kar

Dr Pervez Tahir July 09, 2020
The writer is a senior political economist based in Islamabad

Ministers are appointed to manage the affairs of the state — foreign affairs, economic affairs, parliamentary affairs — to name a few. In our Riyasat-e-Madina, however, ministers are in cut-throat competition with each other to mind anything but their own affairs. The other affairs reflect the typical “otherness” or contempt towards those not of their own flock. The latest example is the battle of JIT reports, launched with a crusading zeal by the Minister of Maritime Affairs, Ali Zaidi. Earlier in the month, he was blowing hot and cold on the illegal licenses of pilots of planes, not ships. The months of May and June witnessed him exposing the sugar mafia. In August last year, he was seen cleaning storm water drains in Karachi. Does he spend any time dealing with maritime affairs? Or there is not enough work there? Originally ports and shipping, the maritime affairs used to be part of the communications ministry. It has Pakistan National Shipping Corporation that used to boast 70 odd ships. The number now is nine. Karachi Shipyard is now part of the Ministry of Defence Production. Not much to do, but doing what is left to do is nothing to talk home about. At Karachi Port, it takes days for a container to move from the ship to a truck compared to minutes elsewhere. Gwadar is a ship a week port, and is a distant land for the minister with one leg in Karachi and the other in Islamabad.

Zaidi is not the only minister of other affairs. A veteran of 14 ministries in all kinds of governments, Sheikh Rashid Ahmad has a finger in every pie. With eight major and numerous minor train accidents to his “credit” within a short span of two years, the Railways Minister spends time on the idiot box extending options from minus one to minus three. While ridiculing the Sharif’s penchant for mega projects and exposing their corruption, he has vigorously pursued the costliest mega project in the history of Pakistan — the so-called ML-I. Promising to implement it at a cost of $4.2 billion after taking oath, he proudly announced its approval recently at the cost $7.2 billion. As project implementation goes in this country, the final cost may well reach beyond $10 billion. He indulges in predicting the outcome of court proceedings, flashing insider information on the goings-on in Pindi and Abpara. He goes after Narendra Modi on Kashmir, not those responsible for poor operations and finances of the crumbling railways. There are more ghost pensioners than there are employees, to give just one example. It is no accident that Railways also used to be part of the Ministry of Communications.

There is of course a separate Minister of Communications, Murad Saeed. He has under his wings the National Highway Authority, Motorway Police and Pakistan Post. With the wings clipped by the Frontier Works Organization (FWO), National Logistics Cell (NLC) and the police bigwigs, all the Minister has is the post office. This leaves him all the time in the world to play antics in the Parliament and the media. There used to be a Ministry of Water and Power. With Power gone to another minister, the Minister for Water Resources, Faisal Vawda, relishes being the boot-wielding striker against the mafias. This is not to forget the diplomatic offensives of the Minister of Foreign Affairs against domestic enemies, nor the defensive skills of the Defence Minister to keep political allies in line, and certainly not the quietude of the Minister for Defence Production. As an old Urdu saying goes:

Bekaar mubash kuch kiya kar/kapre udher kar siya kar.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2020.

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