ISLAMABAD: A major outcome of Prime Minister’s first cabinet reshuffle is that all the key ministries have landed up with unelected technocrats while elected politicians have been effectively sidelined in most cases.
In addition, more former close aides and confidants of Pervez Musharraf have made it to the cabinet, phenomenally raising their tally in the captain’s team.
If Asad Umar’s removal as finance minister is to be believed for dismal performance and creating fiasco in the economic field, as has been officially cited, the reason behind shifting of Fawad Chaudhry, Aamer Mahmood Kayani, Ghulam Sarwar Khan and Shehryar Afridi to insignificant portfolios is also the same – incompetence and inefficiency.
These four ministers who held most critical departments have been relegated to inferior positions though they have been retained unlike Asad Umar, who had instantly refused to cling to the cabinet by getting another ministry as offered by the prime minister.
Now, Imran Khan has thirteen unelected (with the exception of Ali Nawaz Awan) special assistants (SAs), who have most vital ministries and areas to preside. Of them, three have been selected now with the expulsion of the ministers concerned.
The Ministry of Finance, Economic Affairs, Revenue and Statistics Division is now the domain of Dr Hafeez Sheikh, a former World Bank technocrat from Sindh, an ex-principal economic adviser of Musharraf and former minister of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in the Centre and Sindh.
The Commerce, Industries, Textile and Board of Investment are already under the watch of another Musharraf era technocrat Abdul Razak Dagwood.
The Petroleum Ministry, a main portfolio vis-à-vis Pakistan’s energy security, has been taken away from the elected minister, Ghulam Sarwar Khan, and entrusted to Nadeem Babar, who specializes in Independent Powers Projects (IPPs). He had been a close adviser of Shahbaz Sharif on power in Punjab. He owns a couple of private power companies. It will be instructive to see how he balances and resolves the apparent conflict of interest between his new near ministerial role, his technical capabilities and business interests.
The Health Ministry under Aamer Mahmood Kayani which has been marred in controversies due to unprecedented increase in drug prices has been given under the watch of Dr Zafarullah Mirza, a public health professional and consumer rights activist serving in Regional WHO office in Cairo. Kayani, who always enjoyed tremendous clout due to the confidence of the prime minister for years, has been moved out of the health ministry just after a few months. Never ever in Pakistan’s history, the drug prices recorded too much rise as it happened during his short stint as minister. It caused paramount discomfiture to Imran Khan because of the uproarious public outcry over astonishing drug prices.
It was during Kayani’s incumbency that the pharmaceutical companies shot up the prices on their own without the mandatory approval of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP). He remained a silent spectator to this havoc played with the people that raised many eyebrows about his role.
Previously, Ghulam Sarwar Khan had a highly technical ministry to chair. However, all of its operations were on the ground or in waters. Now, he has been assigned a more technical portfolio – Aviation – that has everything to do with the air.
After defeating his principal rival Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in two National Assembly constituencies in 2018 general elections, Sarwar Khan had a dream to spearhead same portfolio that his opponent used to get during all of his cabinet stints. However, Chaudhry Nisar was unquestionable, unaccountable in this ministry while Sarwar Khan had to lose it just in few months. As Petroleum Minister, Sarwar Khan brought immense mortification to the prime minister particularly on account of highly inflated gas bills that spawned miseries for the consumers apart from the public unrest and loss of face.
The Information Ministry which is critical for any political government has also been given under the watch of unelected Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, who has consistently lost elections from Sialkot. Her primary qualification to be taken in the cabinet is that she is more aggressive, lethal, when it comes to haranguing Imran Khan’s adversaries specifically Sharifs and Zardaris, than Fawad Chaudhry and Fayazul Hassan Chohan. She was attacking in the same fashion when she was associated with the PPP or PML-Q.
Fawad Chaudhry aggressively promoted the vision and policy of the prime minister and kept taking on Imran Khan’s arch rivals in a language never heard of. He mostly ignited confrontation with the opposition. But still his performance was not found up to the mark and he had to be driven out of the information ministry. Apart from his “performance”, another reason behind his shifting was his tussle with the prime minister’s powerful associate Naeemul Haque.
Fawad Chaudhry was successful in throwing away the Pakistan Television (PTV) Managing Director but was also himself pushed out of the information ministry. Fawad Chaudhry and Naeemul Haque fought an open verbal war on the PTV chief with the former showing desperation to shunt him out and the latter insistent on retaining him. The internal bickering was uncontrollable.
The ministries of Climate Change and Overseas Pakistanis, Establishment Division etc., are already with unelected technocrats.
None of the unelected technocrat ministers is accountable to the Parliament because legally they are aides to the prime minister, who himself is the federal minister for approximately 12 portfolios now.
A rather surprise re-induction in the cabinet is Senator Azam Swati. Only four months back, he had to stand down as federal minister to escape his lifetime disqualification threatened by the then chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar. He was successful in saving himself from ineligibility as the case against him was lost somewhere after he quit the cabinet. He had beaten a poor tribal family living near his sprawling Islamabad farmhouse and had got the Islamabad Inspector General of Police instantly transferred for not favouring him against the victim the way he wanted.
Another former Musharraf loyalist and ex-spymaster Brig. (R) Ijaz Shah has been given the powerful Interior Ministry after his transfer from the Parliamentary Affairs where he was brought only a few weeks back. He has a very controversial past specifically his political engineering and creation of the PML-Q at Musharraf’s behest.
Government circle, however, say that Ijaz Shah’s role is pivotal to the changes taking place in the present scenario when the country is going to strictly check terror financing and money laundering as he has got expertise to control such crimes. He will also be helpful in implementation of National Action Plan.
A tweet said that with the selection of Dr Hafeez Shaikh, Firdous Ashiq Awan, Samsam Bokhari (in Punjab) and Nadeem Afzal Chan by the prime minister as his core team, “have I entered old nostalgic era or what? Do I feel at home again?”
Other unelected technocrat cabinet members include Mirza Shehzad Akbar, Iftikhar Durrani, Zulfi Bokhari, Shehzad Qasim, Usman Dar, Dr Ishrat Hussain and Malik Amin Aslam.