Prime Minister Imran Khan has been in the eye of the storm since one of his aides resigned in the wake of a road realignment scandal and a close confidante – who had once helped form his government – made a new faction in the ruling party.
On Wednesday afternoon, the prime minister faced reporters when he went to oversee the construction work at Mohmand Dam site but did not take a single question about any political issue and happenings dominating the media right now.
It is not that the journalists, who were taken to the Mohmand Dam, did not want to ask questions about all these developments. They did. However, the interaction of the PM with the journalists was carefully choreographed and the premier also avoided all questions on politics and the current happenings.
The journalists had anticipated that the PM would talk about key political issues but the PM as well his aide issued verbal advisories for the journalists not to ask any such questions.
At first, his aide on political communication, Shahbaz Gill, told the journalists that the premier will not take any questions on political developments and then the premier himself told the journalists to only ask about Mohmand Dam and not about political happenings.
Surprisingly, when a journalist wanted to throw a question at the end of a brief media talk, saying “we wanted to ask about political developments” the premier said that “zero plus zero will result in zero” suggesting that it was useless to talk about it.
Initially, Gill at the venue setup right in front of the newly-built tunnel at the Dam site, inquired a few journalists about the questions that they intended to ask.
Some journalists said they wanted to ask about Jahangir Tareen’s faction; some of them wanted to inquire about the Ring Road scandal; some wanted to ask questions about putting Shehbaz Sharif’s name on the ECL; and some about the opposition alliance – the Pakistan Democratic Movement.
Shahbaz Gill noted the names of such journalists and left.
Later, when the ceremony was in progress and the journalists sitting in the third row of a small gathering of roughly 100 people were unable to hear what was being said, they were told to gather near the helipad where, they were told, the premier would take questions before flying to his next destination.
At the helipad, Gill told the journalists that “unfortunately” they cannot ask anything about political development as the premier did not want to talk about any of the issues discussed earlier and the questions should only be about the dam and related issues like electricity etc.
As the journalists encircled the premier, he also asked them not to ask political questions.
Political experts said the premier refusing to talk about political issues a day after the emergence of the likeminded group in the PTI shows that he was disturbed and not yet ready. “It is pure frustration and nervousness that he did not take questions from journalists,” analyst Mazhar Abbas said.
“He [PM] is disturbed because he knows that the ball is in Jahangir Tareen’s court and the day he decides, he can send Usman Buzdar and the PM packing,” Abbas said, “All he [Tareen] needs is to align with someone.”
“Politically Imran’s government is a minority government today and the possible option that he has is to call snap polls. He can say that he is being blackmailed by the Tareen and Company.
“Otherwise, Imran will have to surrender and that will end his narrative. Imran should expose Tareen instead of keeping a mum,” he said.
Eminent journalist Muhammad Ziauddin is of the view that “the PM must be worried about something and wanted to hide it. It is also possible that he has not yet been able to develop his strategy to tackle the issues.”
“He is worried that Tareen has a lot of money but doesn’t have that political stature to form a new faction; he is suspicious that Tareen is being backed by the establishment,” Ziauddin said. “Maybe Imran first wanted to discuss the issue with the selectors.”
Surprising as it may seem, some political analysts said the premier’s refusal to talk about political happenings also shows his frustration at a time when his party leaders are running a trend “I stand with PM Imran” after Tareen not only formed his faction but nominated his parliamentary leaders.
They said losing his close aide and seeing his once-trusted friend parting ways with the PTI must be difficult as; otherwise, “Imran is known for playing on the front foot.”
Expecting that journalists would ask tough questions about his close friends and key ministers’ alleged involvement in different scandals, they said, he avoided political discussion altogether at a time when his party is in the grips of scandals.
“The political situation has become so bitter that the premier did not want to talk about political upheavals,” an analyst said, adding “his remarks that zero plus zero will result in zero suggests that talking about key political issues has become useless for him.”