What necessitated ouster of Firdous and induction of a retired general?

By: Ashraf Mumtaz      Published: 05:05 PM, 28 Apr, 2020
What necessitated ouster of Firdous and induction of a retired general?

Senator Shibli Faraz was sworn in as federal minister for information at a special ceremony at the Presidency on Tuesday amid all precautionary measures necessitated by the deadly coronavirus.

He will run the ministry along with Gen (retd) Asim Saleem Bajwa, a former ISPR director general, who, as of now, is also the chairman of the all-important CPEC Authority.

Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, a Sialkot’s medical doctor-turned politician, who was a very vocal information minister, stands removed. She had contested the 2002 general election on PML-Q ticket and occupied various positions in cabinet during the 2008-13 PPP rule.

The prime minister had also shuffled his cabinet on April 6, but Dr Awan remained unaffected.

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The question is what was it that prompted the premier to replace her now with a retired military general?

Also, was Dr Awan performing such an important responsibility that now two people: a PTI senator and a retired general, were needed to fill the gap?

Media reports say that Dr Awan faced some corruption allegations, something vehemently denied by her.

The timing of her removal is very meaningful.

She has been removed from the post at a time when the government has started efforts to bring about important changes to the 18th constitutional amendment and is completely involved in fight against Coronavirus that is taking more and more lives every day.

Through changes to the 18th amendment, the government wants to transfer powers from provinces to the local government.  At present, the local governments are totally helpless because the provincial governments have not transferred adequate powers to the lowest tier of governance.

The amendment will not be possible unless the government has a two-thirds majority in the bicameral legislature. And this will not be possible unless the opposition joins hands with the ruling coalition.

It is also a fact that Dr Awan has been using a very strong language against the opposition leaders and their parties. And they cannot be expected to lend the government support for the constitutional amendment unless a major irritant (the presence of Dr Awan in the cabinet) is removed.

Gen Bajwa has been inducted as special assistant because the government wants to improve its ties with the opposition. He will not use the kind of “ammunition” Dr Awan has been using during her tenure.

Gen Bajwa will use the kind of language his parent organization – the army – will like him to.

All parties had joined hands a few months ago to extend the tenure of Gen Bajwa as COAS.

And Gen Bajwja (Junior) is expected to bring the government-opposition closer during the current situation.   

In a nutshell, the government wants to mend fences with the opposition to be able to achieve an important objective. This will be a new phase in government-opposition ties – and the role of Gen Bajwa will be very crucial.

As for division of powers between Information Minister Shibli and Special Assistant Gen Bajwa, the latter will be calling the shots. The minister is not expected to be more than a showpiece.

Another objective behind the move to bridge the gap with the opposition is the ongoing war against coronavirus, the fast spreading contagion that has turned everything upside down.  This war cannot be won unless the nation is fully united.

The aftershocks of the war will be felt for long by people belonging to all walks of life.

The fatal disease has already forced rival parties in Israel to form an emergency government of national unity.