Politics is in a whirlwind and it’s raining news. There is moderate shortness of breath in the federal capital as random events struggle to draw any pattern that could explain someone holding a brush across the canvas. Do the dots, in fact, connect?
Try to weave a pattern through these ten rather specific, and rather recent, points of interest:
1. Jahangir Tareen made a point. His supporters met Prime Minister Imran Khan and urged him to provide relief. They received two gifts: the dismissal of the FIA officer investigating the Tareen case, and an order from the Prime Minister to his aid, Senator Ali Zafar, to draw up a report on the merits and drawbacks, the case appropriate, of the Tareen case. Yet the root cause of the tension between Tareen and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) remains unanswered. Inside the red zone, there are numerous complaints that the PMO manages access to the PM with ruthless efficiency that is often seen as a game of power and favoritism. For example, a minister, who during the previous term held a very important position and had known the Prime Minister for a long time, is now treating his grievance on the basis of an unfulfilled commitment. Insiders say he was assured by members of the prime minister’s office some time ago that he would soon be appointed federal interior minister. This does not happen. In fact, some sensitive reports were generated about this minister suggesting that he was quietly forming his own group within the party. To this day, the minister travels the political desert in his flagged car.
Jahangir Tareen knows it.
2. The Jahangir Tareen group has shown its numbers. These numbers are enough to bring down the PTI governments in the center and in the Punjab. The group tasted blood. Budget season is four weeks away. What will make the group say that their request has been taken into account? Will the PMO digest the fact that it has been pressured by the group? The events will have to happen before the end of May, otherwise the Tareen group’s numbers will start to weigh heavily on the PTI government. Red Zone insiders say nothing has been worked out so far despite the PMO meeting.
3. The Punjab continues to drain political capital from ITPs. PTI also continues to struggle with the perception that its governance is below average. Despite a cabinet reshuffle, there are concerns in powerful quarters that the prime minister has been unable to select a team capable of delivering. Recently, a very important person told a group of six federal ministers that their government’s performance was poor. Get good, competent people on your team, he advised them. So far, the only new member of the team is State Information Minister Farrukh Habib, whose appointment was announced on Wednesday. All other changes in the cabinet are recycled.
4. The famous cabinet reshuffle could see yet another turn. Many hopefuls are eagerly awaiting positions such as ministers of state, advisers and special assistants to the prime minister. Some were informed that their names had been approved by all stakeholders and that the PM had to decide on the timing. It was a few weeks ago. With each passing day, there is greater uncertainty about the delay. New faces are expected to breathe new energy into the last part of the PTI power ahead of the next election or at least that’s what PTI is telling the PTI.
5. There is new tension within the Federal Cabinet following the latest portfolio shuffle. Those on the high table who have seen their wallets taken away and handed over to someone else naturally harbor quiet grievances and don’t exactly pray for the success of their successors so that they can be called failures. The analogy of the captain and his batting lineup can only go so far.
6. PML-N could see a policy change with the return of its president Mian Shehbaz Sharif. The party has refused to be drawn into a discussion of a possible internal change in the Punjab, but with Shehbaz Sharif’s return to the command post, there could be new moves on the political spectrum, including another attempt to rekindle the effectiveness of the dormant and dysfunctional PDM opposition alliance. Some insiders pay special attention to the fact that powerful people had good words to say about a few leaders of PML-N. In particular, these people commended Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Miftah Ismail, Ahsan Iqbal and Khurram Dastgir for their competence and strong foreign credentials.
7. In a new reminder, powerful insiders have categorically stated that the establishment has no role in sending PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif to London. They say the decision was solely that of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
8. In another reminder, concerned insiders also say that the establishment does not view Nawaz Sharif as anti-state.
9. The subject of a presidential system always resonates within the red zone. There may not be too many takers at the moment, but those in his favor carry a lot of official weight. The often repeated logic is that the Westminster system has only worked well in a few countries like Great Britain and Australia. Prime Minister Khan has made no secret of his similar views. Governance issues, therefore, are phrased in a way that suggests this system throws out weak ministers with few basic skills other than eligibility. What adds to these governance problems is the inherent weakness of the bureaucracy. The best and brightest in the country are no longer opting for a career in public service. If Pakistan is to change the paradigm in its governance model, it may have to make some very big decisions. Both the PML-N and the PPP have publicly rejected the idea of a presidential system, but inside the red zone the problem continues to simmer over low heat.
10. Bashir Memon’s revelations which cast a rather negative light on the Prime Minister, his Minister of Justice Farogh Nasim and his adviser lawyer Shahzad Akbar may have been timed to coincide with the verdict of Qazi Faez Isa, but the impact of these revelations by the former FIA chief will only be determined if they get official traction via a platform. Without it, they will become fodder for political narratives and conspiracy theory enthusiasts.
Go ahead, connect the dots. If you can.
Posted in Dawn on April 29, 2021
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