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April 19, 2019

Asad’s exit eclipses five earlier dismissals, resignations of key members

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April 19, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Asad Umar’s exit as Finance Minister eclipses five previous ousters and resignations of key members of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s core team over the past eight months.

The reason is clear: Asad Umar was presiding over the most critical portfolio, having the uphill task of remedying the economy. He was the most important member of his squad, and the dividend that Imran Khan wanted to deliver to the people at large depended on his performance. As Asad Umar realised the influence and bearing of the finance ministry well, he declined to accept the Energy Ministry, offered by the premier, obviously taking it as his downgrading, marginalization and sidelining.

Asad Umar figures among six members of the federal and Punjab cabinets of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) who were either sacked for involvement in serious controversies or incompetence, or had to stand down for other reasons.

In September last, Prime Minister Imran Khan asked Babar Awan to resign as his adviser after the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) filed a reference against him and others in an Accountability Court of Islamabad for causing loss to the public exchequer by delays in approving the Nandipur Power Project when he was the Law Minister of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government.

As a lot of public uproar was unleashed after the submission of the reference demanding Awan’s ouster, the prime minister asked the adviser to leave the office. Awan met him and handed down his resignation.

In December, Senator Azam Swati had to quit as the Federal Minister for Science and Technology after his embroilment in a controversial incident of beating a tribal family, living near his Islamabad farmhouse.

The Supreme Court had also taken notice of the episode after the Inspector General of Police (IGP) of Islamabad was abruptly transferred on Swati’s insistence. It threatened to proceed against Swati under Article 62(1)(f) that prescribes lifetime disqualification. To escape his ineligibility, Swati tendered his resignation, which calmed down the tumult.

In February this year, powerful senior Punjab minister Aleem Khan stepped down from the cabinet on “moral grounds” after the NAB arrested him and filed a reference against him on corruption charges. After last year’s general elections, Aleem Khan was a leading candidate for the office of the chief minister. However, the repeated NAB summoning became a major hurdle in his elevation at the time.

In March this year, Punjab Information and Culture Minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan was dismissed amid intense criticism over his derogatory remarks against the Hindu community.

Chohan, known for his tub-thumping manner of speech, was addressing an event in Lahore on February 24 when responding to India's rhetoric in the aftermath of the Pulwama bombing, he conflated Indians with Hindus and used disparaging words for the minority community. As a video clip of the derisive remarks went viral, Twitter users asked the government to take action against Chohan and remove him from his post.

Before that, Prime Minister's Special Assistant on Political Affairs Naeemul Haque in a tweet said that the PTI would not "tolerate this nonsense", adding that action would be taken against Chohan after consultation with Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar.

In October last, London-based Sahibzada Amir Jahangir was appointed by the prime minister his Special Assistant on foreign investment, but he refused to take charge due to growing denunciation over social media. The government was scoffed at for naming Imran Khan’s decades-old friend on the position.

Jahangir was accused of alleged financial fraud in Britain. However, in a series of tweets, he reasoned that he would not take charge “in view of the fake allegations and propaganda to malign my character and dignity”. “I cannot permit any controversy and or problems for my prime minister; therefore, I have decided to voluntarily withdraw from the assignment. Though in my private capacity I will continue to bring foreign investments to Pakistan,” he said and thanked the premier for the “honorary assignment”.

A Cabinet Division notification said the prime minister was “pleased to appoint” Jahangir as his special assistant on foreign investment. Among all these figures, Asad Umar was the most conspicuous leader in view of his weight in the PTI and the clout and bearing of his portfolio.

For years even before coming to power, Imran Khan kept presenting Asad Umar as his economic czar, who would rectify Pakistan’s grave economic ills once he was in the driving seat. During his opposition days, the PTI chairman repeatedly unmistakably offered Asad Umar as his finance minister. He was the only one in the PTI hierarchy, who was his minister from day. He always has tremendous confidence in him.

It was stated even before assuming office by the PTI that Asad Umar knows the economy exceedingly well and has ideas and vision to correct its direction. When the government harped on the mantra that the economy was in the worst shape and it had no idea about its actual state before voted to power, it was publicly mocked considering its time-tested assertion that it was aware and well prepared to accept the challenge.

As Asad Umar is out after serving just eight months as the finance minister, his major gift to the people of Pakistan in this short stint is unprecedented inflation, price hike and unheard of depreciated Pak rupee. This is the legacy that common people are suffering. Immense confusion remained the hallmark of his incumbency in the economic field. It was clear to all and sundry since word go that the government had to approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but the finance minister and other cabinet members kept saying that Pakistan would take time for a decision to the effect. This immense delay inflicted heavy damages to economy, the most colossal being the uncertainty and confusion, which is killing for an economy like Pakistan.

However, Asad Umar has no recipe nor was it in his control to alleviate political instability, which is always regarded as a disaster for economic stabilization. A decision to calm down the political situation has yet to come from the prime minister.

Within the PTI, Asad Umar recently stood grouped with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in the latter’s open tussle with most powerful Jehangir Tareen. It was stated that Tareen became the principal reason behind Asad Umar’s exit as he advised the prime minister to replace the finance minister. In a TV interview, Tareen had taken exception to initiation of delayed negotiations with the IMF for a bailout package.

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