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April 19, 2019

Angles, dynamics and meanings of Asad’s axing

Top Story

April 19, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Asad Umar’s axing as finance minister has umpteen angles, dynamics and meanings, the most important being the official acknowledgement of incompetence and hopeless performance.

One, timing of changing the horse was extremely crucial and plunged Pakistan in a chaotic situation. Right now, preparations are afoot to formulate the next federal budget; and talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Financial Action Task Force (FATF) have entered a critical phase. Generally, sacking of the finance minister is avoided at such sensitive junctures because it sends a negative message across the board. But Prime Minister Imran Khan did not lose more time to relieve Asad Umar.

Two, a prominent TV anchor tweeted at 8:41 pm that Dr Hafeez Shaikh’s name is coming up to get finance ministry as the decision of the end of the race was made in a meeting of the army chief with the prime minister a short while ago. Dr Shaikh had served as finance minister of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) at the federal level as well as in Sindh in the past.

Three, by admitting its ineptitude, the government came out of the state of perennial denial and conceded that everything isn’t going well as it claims and there is a lot to worry. It owned up that a messy situation particularly in the economic field permeates. The saviour image of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is dented.

Four, there has been immense goofing up during the initial 8-month rule of the PTI, the chief task being performed by the fallen minister in the economic field. Five, Asad Umar’s ouster is a huge setback not only to Imran Khan’s oft-touted economic brain but to the prime minister himself. The poor chap’s potential was never under question with such ferocity as it came after his removal.

Six, Asad Umar’s incumbency constantly spawned indecision, slow downing of economy, non-clarity, uncertainty and confusion. The business community and stock market remained not only shy of showing any trust but was in tatters all the time during this period.

Seven, there was only one person in the PTI having the calibre of a finance minister and that was Asad Umar whatever his capability and capacity was. After his departure, the government is left with no figure of such talent to fall back on, and has to opt for some “outsider”. If anyone was picked up from amongst the PTI lawmakers for this gigantic job, he would be a lightweight compared to Asad Umar. If the sacked minister failed to deliver, how can something better be expected from his replacement having no ability like him.

Eight, Asad Umar’s pick by Imran Khan years before coming to power reflected the over-exuberance and overconfidence of the skipper in a person, who lacked the requisite knowledge and skill to face the monumental challenge. Fault did not lie with the choice but with the one who made it. For eight years Imran Khan presented Asad Umar as the answer to Pakistan’s economic woes; and in eight months, he is not satisfied with his own answer. Imran Khan has always stated that the top man is always responsible for non-delivery by his team members. He earned the maximum umbrage from his political detractors and experts on account of his economic policies.

Nine, the government, in its own words, repeated ad nauseam at the top of its voice that it inherited a worst economy it wants to set right. But with Asad Umar in the saddle, it miserably failed in this sphere.

Ten, recurrent failures in the economic field brought massive embarrassments to the prime minister and his government. This sentiment was frequently echoed in the federal cabinet meetings where, according to one participant, infighting was mostly in sight with Asad Umar being put on the mat.

Eleven, whether it was the proposed tax amnesty scheme, falling growth, unparalleled price hike, Pak rupee’s depreciation or talks with the IMF, vacillation and wavering everywhere not only ruled supreme but also provoked grave grumblings in the cabinet sessions. The amnesty scheme may have proved to be the last nail in the coffin, precipitating Asad Umar’s ejection.

Twelve, the amnesty scheme may have faults, needing removal, but a few ministers treated it as a good opportunity to hammer Asad Umar. The ministers who attacked the scheme are not known to have even ordinary knowledge of economic rigmarole. Their only specialty is to issue high-sounding political statements, targeting their rivals.

Thirteen, in eight months Asad Umar presented three unimaginative, uninspiring mini-budgets that did not infuse confidence in any segment of society that led to low tax payments. Fourteen, every economic indicator recorded negative trend. There is going to be unprecedented tax collection shortfall of Rs450 billion this fiscal because of directionless policies.

Fifteen, internal tussle in the PTI was a major reason behind Asad Umar’s firing. It is no secret that two groups led by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Jehangir Tareen exist in the PTI. They keep struggling to outmaneuver each other all the time. Some people suggest that Asad Umar was counted in Qureshi’s group.

Sixteen, when there was not even slight improvement in any economic sphere, when the prime minister was facing constant embarrassment due to financial conditions, when some cabinet members were attacking Asad Umar, and when, most importantly, Tareen was declaring the finance minister responsible for paramount mishandling, the captain lost his cool and decided to dump Asad Umar.

Seventeen, the question is will the change of horse bring any improvement in economy? The answer is no as the ground realities remain the same, and a creative mind is required to steer the economic ship out of the troubled waters. However, the problem is that the government is short of such brain although Imran Khan always took pride in asserting that he has the team, vision and plan to bring wonders after he would land in power.

Eighteen, Asad Umar’s firing is also acknowledgement that the PTI was totally unprepared to take up the gauntlet, and what it used to yell at a sonorous pitch was nothing but shallow sloganeering to rope in voters.

Nineteen, the “doctor” – Asad Umar – who claimed to have taken the economy from the ICU to the general ward, was dismissed.

Twenty, Asad Umar’s explusion demoralized the PTI not because of his departure but the economic mess created by him.

Twenty-one, Imran Khan’s repeated public statements that everything is set on the right path if the man at the top was a deliverer proved wrong.

Twenty-two, Asad Umar sat lonely during his post-resignation presser as not a single government/PTI leader accompanied him.

Twenty-three, when the topmost player of the team has been knocked out without any score that can lead the squad to victory, does it indicate the unraveling the whole lineup one by one?

Twenty-four, after Asad Umar’s removal, the government may think for a moment that its denials of such resignations only spawn awkwardness and shame for it as they do finally take place not in the very distant future.

Twenty-five, the anchors, journalist and notable figures reacted on social media to the finance minister’s axing. Fourteen tweets were for resignation while sixteen posts against.

It was stated that Asad Umar’s separation is a bold decision by the prime minister, and shows he is sincerely trying to improve things and is not afraid to take risks.

The government has come out of state of denial and has started work towards real progress.

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