FeaturedNationalVolume 14 Issue # 18

The ‘shocking’ reshuffle

Prime Minister Imran Khan has reshuffled his cabinet and his critics and the opposition have intensified their demand for his resignation. The shake-up was not unusual or unexpected. He is not the first prime minister of Pakistan or any country of the world, who has rearranged his cabinet. It was his prerogative. He can reorganize his cabinet in future too to achieve desired results.

 

His critics and opposition parties see the reorganization of the cabinet as an admission of failure. The question is: when prime ministers of opposition parties made changes in their cabinets in the past many times, was not it an admission of their failure? If it was not the case in the past, it is not now. When Prime Minister Imran Khan failed to obtain desired results, he changed his team. He must have asked his Finance Minister Asad Umar to step down with a heavy heart, because he is considered the brain and face of the ruling party. Most economists believe that no other finance minister or any other political party would have done anything different than what Asad Umar did in his eight-month stint. Addressing the chronic issues facing Pakistan’s economy required unpopular decisions. Asad’s corrective measures to address issues, like the energy circular debt, overvalued currency, curbing imports, and reducing expenditures, have improved external imbalances and benefited the country. He did what was in the best interests of the country and he should not have been punished for it, they argue.

 

It is said Prime Minister Imran Khan was not happy with his “warnings and threats” to people of even more bad time ahead and prolonging talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout package. Asad Umar argues that he delayed the package to make it more acceptable to the people of Pakistan. He refused to take another portfolio but vowed to support Imran Khan, who he said, is the one who can make a “Naya Pakistan”. According to TV channels, Asad Umar failed to satisfy Prime Minister Imran Khan when he expressed his displeasure over his economic policies, which he thought, have created difficulties for the common people. Months before his resignation, the former finance minister faced criticism even by his colleagues in the cabinet during the last few meetings. They accused him of increasing inflation in the country, which made it difficult for them to face their voters. However, the ouster of Asad Umar is a great political loss for the party, as thousands of young activists took inspiration from him.

 

Petroleum Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan was removed from his position over his ministry’s failure to check gas overbilling. Earlier, the Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) managing director was sacked after an investigation found the department guilty of sending inflated bills to consumers. However, the prime minister was not satisfied with it. The Petroleum Division also asked the SNGPL to refund extra amounts to gas consumers and take action against all those who had overcharged the consumers by applying a fraudulent gas pressure factor. Both Petroleum Division and SNGPL were equally responsible for the inflated gas bills but the Petroleum Division took action against the SNGPL MD to save its skin. An investigation report put the minister into defensive. He tried to convince Prime Minister Imran Khan that he could handle the situation but the premier didn’t agree.

 

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry was changed for creating issues unnecessarily with his reckless remarks. Besides the opposition, he did not even spare his colleagues in the cabinet. The job of the information minister is to cover up issues, but he created more for the government with his careless use of words in the parliament and at press conferences. He spoke too much and made mistakes. He once claimed that travel by a helicopter was cheaper than a car. It provided ammunition to the opposition and TV anchors to ridicule him and the government for weeks. In his last days as information minister, he defended PTI leader Aleem Khan, who is facing corruption cases in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). It provided an opportunity to the opposition to criticize the NAB, which is a state institution. It is said owners of media houses were also not happy with him. He was found to have been involved in a protest against the management of the state-owned TV. The PTV MD was removed after a tussle with him, but the minister had to lose his job in the end. His replacement, Firdous Ashiq Awan, may be emotional and unconvincing, but she has an edge over others for being a woman. She can freely criticize people of other parties, without fear of any matching response.

 

The prime minister was not happy with Amir Kayani, the health minister, for increasing medicine prices. Rates of many drugs had tripled after the government allowed manufacturers to increase prices of medicines by 9-15pc in January. The minister failed to satisfy the prime minister on his performance. Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi failed to convince the party leadership about his performance. He did not venture out of Islamabad or his native Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Incidents of terrorism increased in Balochistan but he failed to stop them. At least 20 people were killed and 48 injured in a blast believed to be targeting members of the Hazara community in Quetta’s Hazarganji market on April 11.

 

It is said bad performance, secret reports and public opinion led to the reshuffling. Azam Swati, Ijaz Shah and Abdul Hafeez Sheikh were given new responsibilities after consultation. Critics and the opposition were not happy with Prime Minister Imran Khan for “poor policies” of Asad Umar. They are still unhappy even after his removal. The reshuffling is not the failure of the government or the prime minister. Instead, he must be appreciated for the changes, because he has accepted the ground reality about public problems and took a step to address them.

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