New cabinet order

 
April 21,2019

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Prime Minister Imran Khan’s explanation of why he sent a storm whipping through the federal cabinet, making changes which resulted in a change of multiple portfolios and expanded the total cabinet size to 47 with 16 members who are unelected has left us all even more confused than before. Speaking in Orakzai Agency on Friday, Imran said that he believed a change in the ‘batting order’ was necessary when the team was not ‘performing well’. This is a rather bizarre manner in which to handle national politics. Is the prime minister telling us that his choice of persons to lead the government was not good in the first place, and consequently he has now allocated them different ministries from where they can exhibit their incompetence? Is he admitting that he alone chose how to set up the government rather than acting alongside the team? And by appointing technocrats to key positions, is he suggesting that the choice of the people is not good enough and that ‘improvements’ have to be made? This is neither wise nor democratic. It is also time Imran moved on from his past as Pakistan’s cricket team captain and recognized that the leadership of a nation is a far more onerous responsibility which cannot be handled the same way as a sporting team.

The persons brought in as a result of this change raise even greater concerns. The appointment of Brig (r) Ijaz Shah is obviously the most controversial. Shah had remained a trusted aide of former president Pervez Musharraf, served as director general of the IB from 2004 to 2008 and has been accused of manipulating and coercing politicians in various ways. Benazir Bhutto had suggested he was involved in a plot to murder her. Yet this is the man who will now handle the most sensitive affairs of the country. He is joined by other technocrats including Dr Hafeez Sheikh, who takes on the difficult task of finance adviser to the PM. He has served the PPP government in the past as finance minister and is an economist known on the international stage. His handling of the economy and ability to push down soaring inflation may determine the success of the PTI government in changing its current image of financial incompetence.

The problem is that technocrats are not elected by the people, and therefore some may fear that they are essentially accountable only to those who appoint them. Their distance from the process of democracy means they are not tied in to the electorate by the bonds which lie at the core of democracy. All these are matters the government should have thought over. What we need more than anything else is stability and a sense of confidence in the country. The changes made, and the speech by the PM explaining these, do not help in strengthening such belief. The idea of a new Pakistan may just have lost its shine a bit as elements from past administrations move in to key posts and the prime minister indicates that they and others from within the PTI could again be shown the door if they do not perform. This will not help build much-needed calm within the ruling party either.


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