The summer of 2019 is likely to be crucial for both the government and the opposition. It may turn out to be long and intense, depending on how the two sides play their cards.
It’ll not be so easy for the opposition to survive the political heat either, even if the PTI government continues to commit follies and prices keep rising. So far, the divisions within the opposition have allowed the Imran Khan government to get away with its mistakes.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) celebrated 23 years in politics on April 25. But this time around it was a different kind of a Foundation Day; the party celebrated it for the first time as a ruling party. It’s been quite a feat, of course. But ever since it has come to power a cursory glance at the party’s performance in the past eight months exposes that its innings so far has not been unblemished. It has seen the wickets of its key players fall in quick succession, including that of PM Imran Khan’s most dependable partner, Asad Umar.
Politics is a game of uncertainty. Anything can happen at any time. So, if Asad Umar wasn’t aware of his exit, I wouldn’t be surprised. Benazir Bhutto was not aware of her sacking till the afternoon of August 6, 1990 and Mohammad Khan Junejo did not know he was going home till he landed in Islamabad on May 28, 1988.
Umar never expected such an early exit, and it would be naive to blame just one man for all the government’s controversial decisions such as the dollar exchange rate and the deal with the IMF. Also, one expected at least a tweet from the PM, praising the outgoing finance minister, his contribution and hard work, but that never arrived. However, Umar adopted a mature attitude by not accepting another ministry.
Presently, all eyes are on Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, whose selection as the chief executive of the most powerful province was only by chance. With divisions between Jahangir Tareen and Aleem Khan group against the Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Ch. Sarwar group, the captain sent in a debutant to play, Sardar Usman Buzdar from Rajanpur. The big question asked these days is if Buzdar will be the next to fall. I think he is likely to survive, at least until the end of 2019, if not later. Till the differences between Jahangir Khan Tareen and Shah Mahmood Qureshi persist, the luck is with this man without a lobby. Khan is his lucky charm.
In private conversations Khan has explained and defended his decision to select Buzdar. Certainly, he wasn’t his first choice but after Tareen’s disqualification, Qureshi’s surprise defeat in the provincial assembly and corruption inquiries against Aleem Khan, his options were limited.
The question is, if performance is the benchmark for reshuffles and resignations in the cabinet, then why is there silence over those leading KP where the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) has become a liability for the PTI government?
Another significant change has been the reappointment of Fawad Chaudhry from the Minister of Information to the Minister of Science and Technology. Chaudhry has been replaced by Firdous Ashiq Awan, made a special assistant not a minister as she lost the elections in 2018.
Chaudhry was an expert in making headlines and breaking news. He probably created too many problems for himself due to infighting which led a lobby close to the PM to dislike him. He also mishandled the media crisis and indulged in unnecessary controversies that barred him from entering most press clubs in the country. At the end, his difference with Naeem ul Haq over former MD PTV, Arshad Khan, cost him the ministry.
Which brings us to the appointment of (retd) Brig. Ijaz Shah as the new interior minister. He has the experience of intelligence as director general IB, but he is also the man known for alleged political engineering in Musharraf’s time. Sources say that when Imran Khan met Musharraf in 2002 and wanted the general to support the PTI, and Musharraf asked Khan to support the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, the man working behind the scenes was Ijaz Shah. This time, Khan has appointed Shah on the recommendation of Ch. Pervaiz Elahi. The irony writes itself.
Sources rumour that Shah was very powerful under Musharraf and was among the few present when former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was put under pressure to resign.
Shah also bailed out Musharraf in the Daniel Pearl case. He managed to push the prime suspect, Omar Sheikh, to surrender under certain conditions. Also, in a letter Benazir Bhutto had named him, alongside Musharraf and Hameed Gul, as someone who should be investigated if she was killed. After her death in a bomb blast at Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi, the suspects named by her were never probed.
Presently, the PTI government is not under pressure from the opposition. But the PTI’s own policies are its biggest opponent and the party itself the government’s biggest critique. The PTI ministers and leaders fight each other in public and then call this act the ‘beauty of democracy’. It’s more of a battle for power among the ministers and party leaders. In the end, the game will be lost by both, the ministers and the party, and the winner will be the opposition.
The PTI has travelled a long way — from no seat in 1997 to one seat in 2002 to boycott in the 2008 elections to the second largest party in the country in the 2013 elections to the largest party in 2018. Also, Imran Khan and his party created history by forming the provincial government for the second consecutive term in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It turned the tables in Punjab too after some political maneuvering and engineering.
Prime Minister Imran Khan is confident that his government will complete its five-year term that will end in 2023. His cabinet at present comprises 16 technocrats or non-elected members. He started his career in politics with some technocrats and professionals and now after 23 years technocrats once again rule the party. Everything in Pakistani politics continues to be of a cyclical nature.