Cabinet shakeup to promote rifts in PTI

By: Ashraf Mumtaz      Published: 05:28 PM, 7 Apr, 2020
Cabinet shakeup to promote rifts in PTI
File photo.

Although cabinet reshuffle is routine in democracies and the prime minister can exercise his prerogative anytime keeping in sight the requirements of the situation, Monday’s shakeup will have far-reaching consequences not only for the ruling party but the entire country. While part of the fallout will be discernible in the near future, more aftershocks will be felt subsequently.

The situation created by India’s unconstitutional step of annexing Kashmir under its occupation (which is a disputed territory under the UN resolutions) and the deadly coronavirus, which has paralyzed life in the country, as also in the rest of the world, called for a national unity government, but the drastic changes in the cabinet would only cause rifts in the PTI and take focus off Kashmir dispute.

Syed Fakhr Imam’s induction in the federal cabinet, for example, is a move very difficult to digest. He was the chairman of parliament’s Kashmir Committee, a position because of which he was supposed to highlight the Kashmir dispute at the international level and garner world support to get millions of Kashmiris their rights usurped by fascist BJP government.

Now, as minister he will not be able to retain this position and the responsibility will be assigned to somebody else. Anybody offered this role will take long to understand the Kashmir dispute and prepare a strategy to be able to discharge his duties. This means the Kashmir issue has been dealt a serious blow by the premier’s latest move.

If the leader from Multan, who has also served as a Speaker of the National Assembly during the Zia era and is a knowledgeable politician, is somehow allowed to retain this cap as well, he will not be able to do justice with this office anymore.

The prime minister will now want him to deliver as minister for food security, as a result of which Kashmir, which we regard as Pakistan’s jugular vein, will go into the background. This development will certainly be celebrated by enemy India.

It is yet to be seen what strategy the prime minister comes up with to keep the Kashmir issue in the limelight.

The change of portfolio of Khusro Bakhtiar from food security to economic affairs means that he has been absolved of any role in the wheat and sugar crises, a report on which was issued by the FIA only a day before. The FIA report had hinted at the involvement of Mr Bakhtiar’s relatives in the crises.

The prime minister is supposed to take action against all those responsible for the two crises in the light of a forensic report due to be made public by April 25.

Hammad Azhar has been assigned a new portfolio – industries – which will add to his political experience. Earlier he was minister for Economic Affairs, a role now assigned to Mr Bakhtiar.

Hammad Azhar is among the favourites of the prime minister. He was appointed minister of state when the PTI came to power after the July 2018 elections but was made full minister shortly thereafter on the basis of his performance.

Hammad is the son of former Punjab governor Mian Muhammad Azhar, who is a staunch rival of the Sharif family. This factor is a commonality between the prime minister and the former governor.

The treatment meted out to senior leader Jehangir Tareen will damage the party, especially in south Punjab. There are reports that he has been removed as chairman of task force on agriculture, something disputed by Mr Tareen.

He was once regarded as the righthand man of the prime minister who, unofficially acted as deputy prime minister.

The FIA report alleged that he was the biggest beneficiary of the sugar crisis.

There are reports that records of his sugar mills have been seized by the relevant authorities for further probe into the sugar crisis, a development that will create gulf between Imran Khan and Mr Tareen or widen the one already there.

The leader from South Punjab said in a TV interview a night before that he has always been loyal to Imran Khan and would remain so in future. However, he did candidly admit that for the past few months he has not been meeting the prime minister as frequently as he used to. 

He is not expected to accept his relegation to the oblivion and would try to show his political muscle at the right moment.

Tareen’s rift with rival Shah Mehmud Qureshi (the foreign minister) will intensify in times ahead.

He holds the prime minister’s principal secretary behind conspiracy against him.     

The “trimming” of Abdur Razzaq Dawood’s power will not be taken positively, no matter what the apparent reaction of the “affectee”.

He is no more adviser on industries and chairman sugar advisory board. However, he will continue to act as advisor on industries and chairman investment board.

Babar Awan, new adviser on parliamentary affairs, being an experienced hand and familiar with political gimmickry, is expected to perform much better and be helpful in improving the working of bicameral legislature.

Mr Samiullah Chaudhry’s resignation as Punjab’s food minister in the light of the FIA’s report is a healthy precedent and his assertion that he doesn’t consider himself suitable for any position unless proven innocent will add to his stature.

The change of some bureaucrats is expected to send a strong message to the bureaucracy.