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April 21, 2019

Captain, this is not cricket


April 21, 2019

We know what exploded in the big headlines on Thursday and stirred talk-show hosts and their excited panellists. No, it was not the Ormara massacre in which at least 14 people, including 11 security personnel, were shot dead by terrorists on the Makran Coastal Highway in the Gwadar district.

Because of where it happened and what it means and who claimed responsibility for the killings, this tragedy in the province of Balochistan should have been our major concern. It relates to national security, with grave implications for our geo-strategic policies.

However, it was the departure of (now former) finance minister Asad Umar from the federal cabinet of Imran Khan and the reshuffle that came a few hours later that dominated our thoughts. This is how we have invested our passions in party politics. Besides, we have learnt not to delve deeper into the national security domain and pontificate freely about certain developments.

And this time, the day of the long knives, if one may call it that, did signify a lot about the quality of our governance and the national sense of direction. In that sense, our preoccupation with politics becomes valid when it has such a far-reaching impact on our lives and aspirations.

On the face of it, the focus here is on the management of economy and how Asad Umar, the star player in Imran’s team, was supposedly not able to lead the nation out of the growing economic crisis. But we are really confronted with something deeper and larger than, say, a budget deficit. We are actually witnessing the transformation of a dream into almost a nightmare, though a ‘tabdeeli’ it would still be.

Many of us, of course, had seen it coming. That defence of U-turns was an attempt to camouflage the stigma of too many deviations from positions that had been taken earlier. In fact, clips from statements made by Imran Khan and other leaders of the party when juxtaposed with a current stance have constantly provided a sort of comic relief for the party’s critics.

Incidentally, Thursday, April 18, had already been earmarked for an event that has a linkage with Imran Khan’s politics. On this day, Pakistan’s World Cup squad was also announced. It was that heart-lifting World Cup ’92 victory that propelled Imran Khan into public life and established his identity as the captain – or Kaptaan.

Sadly, the affairs of the Pakistan Cricket Board now seem to be a reflection of the state of our cricketing hero’s party. There have been issues that have shown PCB leadership in a bad light. Everything would obviously change if Pakistan is able to repeat its 1992 miracle. With the ‘captain’ at the helm, that might be seen as a sign of divine endorsement of this otherwise blundering venture.

Anyhow, we have to bear with this ad nauseam induction of the game’s terminology in politics. Addressing a public meeting in the Orakzai tribal district on Friday, he must have felt obliged to also refer to Thursday’s cabinet reshuffle that has created such hullabaloo.

This is what he said: “A good captain continuously keeps an eye on his team because he wants to win the match. To do that he often has to change the batting order”. Hence, the reshuffle in the portfolios of a number of ministers was just a change in the batting order – though the opening batsman Asad Umar has simply opted out of the game.

He added: “I have changed the batting order and made a couple of changes in my team”. The idea, he explained, is to tell the ministers that “whoever is not beneficial for my country will be replaced with a minister who is beneficial for my country”.

Looking at the changes in the ministerial batting order in light of these observations, one finds it difficult to appreciate the choices that are made. The timing too, particularly in the case of Asad Umar, is not easy to comprehend. After a week-long visit to the US, he had said on Monday that Pakistan and the IMF had finalised, documented and signed a bailout package. He said an IMF mission would visit Islamabad in the third week of this month to work out technical tables.

It was at this critical moment that he was asked to step down from his post. He obviously did not know about it even a day before, as he had rejected media reports about his imminent removal with a derisive laugh, quoting a line from Ghalib. Equally baffling is the choice of Hafeez Sheikh as the advisor on finance – effectively, the finance minister. He had served the PPP and Musharraf’s cabinets. He was one of the usual suspects, with World Bank connections.

Nearly as momentous as Asad Umar’s departure is the change of guard at the information ministry. Fawad Chaudhry, who would often overplay his cards, has gone to science and technology and Firdaus Ashiq Awan, who had been information minister of the PPP, has been appointed special assistant to the prime minister for information and broadcasting.

This is truly laughable. One can imagine the agony of diehard Imran Khan supporters over these changes. In changing the batting order of his team, Imran Khan has also stepped down from his moral high ground. And this approach is certified by the return to the cabinet of Azam Swati, who had not been endorsed as ‘sadiq’ and ‘ameen’ by the Supreme Court.

If this were not enough, there is the enigma of retired Brig Ijaz Shah, a former intelligence officer who was named by Benazir Bhutto as part of the group that had planned to kill her. He is also suspected of orchestrating the formation of the PML-Q as a ‘king’s party’ for Musharraf. Ijaz Shah is now Imran Khan’s interior minister.

Irrespective of who is sent in to bat at what position, one does not know what Imran Khan’s game plan actually is. Or is he really the skipper he claims to be? After all, he has proved himself to be a poor judge of men – and women. There, for instance, is the game Usman Buzdar is playing in Punjab. There are hints that a reshuffle is in the offing in Punjab. Meanwhile, a bureaucratic reshuffle is in progress. On Monday, the IG police in Punjab was removed and the one who took charge was the fourth to do so in eight months.

As Asad Umar stated in his press conference on Thursday, difficult days are ahead. The real threat is that the game this captain is playing is not cricket.

The writer is a senior journalist.

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