If I were a gambling woman, I could have made serious money in the last eight months predicting Pakistani politics. Under Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan, I should just change my Twitter handle to “I told you so”.
All of us knew that the brains of former finance minister Asad Umar was the result of the creativity of PTI’s social media campaign. By our estimate, the news of Umar’s resignation was a few weeks late. Everyone knew except the hapless minister, like he was clueless about Pakistan’s economy. Just two days ago, a TV channel was served notice by the regulatory authority PEMRA for spreading fake news about the cabinet reshuffle.
I was first introduced to Asad Umar in 2013. Young PTIians would tell glorious tales of this brainiac who had left his highly paid job at ENGRO to come and work for tabdeeli in Pakistan. The hype was so much that I immediately wanted to book this star from PTI as a guest on my TV show about allegations of rigging in PTI’s intra-party elections. Fangirling PTI workers gushed over him. Umar had no answers to my simple questions and later complained to my contact in PTI that your friend grilled me too much.
Willing to give him a second chance, I invited him again a couple of months later to discuss his favourite topic — the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro Bus Service. I watched as Asad Umar fumbled through his mountain of papers he had brought with him while the other guest from PML-N crushed him by quoting accurate facts from memory.
A year later, as part of the PTI family, I received a call from my 21-year-old son demanding to know who had made the shoddy shadow budget. I said PTI’s Asad Umar did. “Can he not do simple maths,” my son asked? Very few know of the disastrous adventures of Asad Umar in the energy development sector in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the last tenure.
PTI’s hardcore followers, however, are in a shock. They don’t understand what is really going on.
One young PTI member said the party leadership appears to be “scattered”. “Why could they not figure out in those years of preparation before the election who is competent or who is not? How is it possible to commit such a big blunder?”
Another one said that we PTIians were sold the dream that Asad Umar will come and change everything.
“The bubble has burst with the resignation. After all the biggest policy agenda of PTI was to revive the economy. They have lost their top batsman on a duck,” the member said.
The very vocal aggressive minister of state for Interior Shehryar Afridi was also moved to the rather pointless States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) ministry.
The biggest story of the day was not that Asad Umar was sacked. The thing to take away is that Imran Khan was stripped of the Interior ministry.
Perhaps a perception is being built that elected people are incompetent and as people lose confidence in them the doors will open up to technocrats. The powers-that-be are preparing the ground for a presidential setup.
After all, the man replacing Shehryar Afridi is none other than Ijaz Shah.
Who is Ijaz Shah? He is believed to be a confidante of Musharraf and was accused of harbouring Osama Bin Laden. This shocking charge was levelled by a former head of the ISI, Gen Ziauddin Khwaja.
Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007 had named Ijaz Shah as the man behind a plan to assassinate her. She was killed a few months later. Shah has been linked to the British Kashmiri Ahmed Umar Saeed Shiekh, the man who was taken prisoner in India for kidnapping three British and one American citizens. He was released in a deal following the Kandahar hijacking of an Indian aircraft in December 2000. Later, Umar Saeed handed himself over to Shah in the Daniel Pearl case.
These shocking links resurfaced as Ijaz Shah was sworn in as parliamentary advisor. We all knew that our worst fears were about to be confirmed. I predicted on Twitter that this was just the first in a series of expected appointments for Shah.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) said that Ijaz Shah’s swearing-in was a blow to democracy. Democrats like myself watch with deep sadness the propaganda machinery aggressively sell an Islamic Presidential setup as the ideal solution to Pakistan’s problems. It reminds us of the referendum during Zia’s era and the result that reinforced the absolute power of the dictator for the next 10 years. We had not recovered from the after-effects of that dark period of oppression when these new twists and turns in the script arrive with an aim to crush all desires for democracy.
Another group in Pakistan that sees this appointment as deeply worrying is the Shia minority. Ijaz Shah in their minds is closely linked to those they identify as the killers of Shias. Many say that the constant persecution of the ethnic Hazaras Shia in Balochistan is only a hint of things to come for them. The recent Saudi investment in Balochistan created an immediate uproar on Shia websites, resulting in a crackdown by the government.
Pictures of cabinet ministers appearing alongside Ahmed Ludhianvi (the current chief of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat) at the Saudi embassy a day after the attack on the Hazara community in Quetta is seen as not only insensitive but an indication of the official stance.
Similarly, hate speech advocates like Ahmed Ludhianvi being flown into North Waziristan by the armed forces might have been brought to the attention of the FATF and our neighbours too. It was not a confidence-building exercise in assuring us that Pakistan was acting on curbing extremism.
Imran Khan must be warned that in the desperation to cling on to the PM chair, he must not turn it into an electric chair for democracy.
Since Musharraf is stuck in Dubai with an illness, could his protege take his place in any new setup? It should be easy enough; the King’s men are already in the cabinet. All we need now is for the people to get fed up with more incompetence and ask the judiciary to help them out of this economic mess. Another referendum could take us back to the glorious years of presidential reign. After all, we must give the people what they want. Right?
Reham Khan is a journalist, child rights activist, and a single parent living in Pakistan. She authored ‘Reham Khan’, an autobiography. Views are personal.
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