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April 20, 2019

Cabinet convulsion – benign reshuffle or serious trouble

Top Story

April 20, 2019


By Aamir Ghauri

Egypt is no Pakistan. Nor should the two be compared beyond the necessary similarities. But the way Muhammad Isa Morsi aka Mohamed Morsi came into power and the way he was packed up after a year of meaningless attempts to “fix” things that needed fixing may be considered for a moment for us Pakistanis who were blinded by a set of promises during the 2018 electoral campaign. It may be too early to draw drastic conclusions by performing a necropsy of similarities that exist in societies that continue to tamper with their governing systems knowing fully well that it would seriously harm the political corpus of the country in which the dramatic has become a norm.

Muslim Brotherhood (or Jamaat al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf or for that matter Mohamed Morsi and Imran Khan have very little in common. The Brotherhood has a long history of struggle and strife, practiced a mélange of right-wing motivational ideologies, faced a series of government crackdowns, was accused of being a perennial conspirator against the state but finally the winner of 2012 presidential elections that brought Morsi into power.

Morsi had modest origin – an eldest son of a village farmer from the Sharqia Governorate in northern Egypt who rode to school on a donkey. But after studying engineering in Cairo and serving in the army’s chemical warfare unit for a year, he ended up receiving his PhD in materials science from the University of Southern California in 1982. He worked briefly with the globally known National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) - developing space shuttle engines - and taught as an assistant professor at California State University, Northridge for three years. After returning home in 1985, he taught at Zagazig University, joined politics and was elected to the parliament in 2000 as an independent candidate for the Brotherhood was banned as a political party.

Imran Khan had a completely different background. Born in relative affluence, Khan was educated at the Aitchison College Lahore and the Royal Grammar School Worcester in England before making it to Oxford University’s Keble College to study philosophy, politics and economics. Published material on his educational achievement state that he excelled at cricket. He has been universally known for his fast bowling prowess and exceptionally good looks – the only Pakistani who was published on the covers of international magazines since the 1980s. Winning the Cricket World Cup in 1982, building Pakistan’s first cancer research hospital through public and private donations were his career peaks before he embarked on his political journey by founding his ‘Movement for Justice’ party in 1996.

While Brotherhood had to wait for 84 years to win power in Egypt, Tehreek-e-Insaaf won it in mere 22 years. Despite the Brotherhood’s broad political appeal and substantial social services network that runs hospitals, schools, orphanages and shelters, it miserably failed to hold on to political power. From the day Morsi was elected as the first democratically elected president of Egypt on 30 June 2012 to exactly a year later on 30 June 2013 when millions of Egyptians came out on streets calling of his ouster, the story of Brotherhood’s ability to run an efficient government is nothing but a story of political shambles. Invoking personal understanding of the Islamic ideals of governance for political expediency but attempting to rule through authoritarian diktat has never worked. The Brotherhood may have been the most organised political movement in the country but were they universally popular or mainstream? Expert opinions contrast.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf is nowhere near as organized as the Brotherhood was. But it was sold by the country’s poorly trained but burgeoning electronic media as the most popular, scrupulously clean, and ably ready party to replace the country’s out of touch, corrupt to the core, dysfunctional and dynastic political morass. The party’s record in office is telling the opposite story.

It seems Imran’s team is devoid of any plan for the country. The government has run from capital to capital to raise capital to run its daily business. If the “friendly” countries had not lent Pakistan money, the country would have defaulted on its international financial commitments by now. It would not have been capable to pay the salaries of its servants.

The first major reshuffle has exposed PTI’s paucity of trained human resources. Asad Umar was no Adam Smith, Ricardo or John Stuart Mill. But he was sold to the nation as one of the great economic minds. His critics sneered at Imran’s assertions in this regard. Now when he had been shown the door for miserably failing to put his money where his mouth was, the party is absolutely denuded of economy “experts”.

Similarly, shifting Fawad Chaudhry from being the government ace spokesman to a limp portfolio forced the government to import someone who is not even inside the Parliament. Because if did not possess any one able or capable enough to face the music when confronted with an emboldened media. Even those anchors that have spent the last couple of years with honeyed tongue for Imran’s party are excessively seen taking a U-turn.

The party is crumbling weeks before it is due to present its budget. Talks with multilateral lending agencies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are facing a maelstrom. Projects like China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) look like halting. “Friendly” countries may not be willing to lend Pakistan more money until they verify the country’s ability to pay back. Pakistan’s western friends are taking the country to international organisations to get it censured for not listening to them on issues like homegrown terrorism or good neighbourly relations. Neighbours are not happy with the country and putting all sorts of pressure after realizing that the country is in a tight spot.

Situation is not satisfactory on the internal fronts too. Imran himself is on record saying that bureaucrats are not listening to government directions. Civil servants are being transferred for not obeying orders. Resentment is ballooning and can get tricky if pumped beyond acceptability. Backstabbing is rife among political cadres. Ministers are openly talking against each other in private meetings. Politics has been reduced to cheap point on live television.

Government secretaries, people who sit closest to the political leaders, confide in journalists for telling the real state of affairs in government meetings. They say another purging reshuffle might just be round the corner. Within 24 hours of the first reshuffle, Imran himself has said that the underperforming ministers would have to go. Those shown the door for incompetence could soon start pointing a finger at the prime minister for the same offence. Governments are by nature closed affairs but journalist are trained to sniff stories and there are one too many. It’s a matter of time when sizzling stuff could start bleeding out of official files. After all many of Imran’s “companions” were once companions of the “rotten and corrupt” past governments. It is too early to predict where would Pakistan be when Imran finishes his political innings.

Pressure is mounting on his “backers” who thought that Imran remained the only “brand” around which a government could be created more than once. So if the electables delivered to him before the 2018 elections are proving to rotten, nincompoops or below par, they can be replaced regularly with “experts” from outside the Parliament. In that case the façade could remain prime ministerial but in effect the government would become presidential.

But what if the backers change their mind. Imran has spent all his political life opposing the incumbent governments. He could have gone on doing exactly that for the rest of his life but the script needed drastic change. If the gods wanted the previous government to fall someone had to be entrusted with the job. What if his backers knew his political strength and weakness but decided to given him a chance for the intervening session. What if they knew that Imran and his team would definitely fail to perform? Wouldn’t giving him a year or two rid two challenges in one stroke – the one not listening when in the office and the other perennially protesting on the roads? Can Imran’s PTI turn out to be Pakistan’s Islamic Brotherhood? Well, the game is getting interesting and Imran is known to be a tough fighter when in charge. But does he possess the team to mount a battle? He has too much time at his hand or may be not.

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