File image of Pakistan PM Imran Khan and Pakistan military chief Qamar Javed Bajwa | Commons
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A major reshuffle in Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cabinet leaves key ministries in the hands of several technocrats and a former spymaster accused of protecting Osama bin Laden, all of whom previously served in General Pervez Musharraf’s military regime. Politicians loyal to Khan have also been sidelined.

The military, which assisted Imran Khan’s rise to power, used his celebrity status to tap into the yearning of change among Pakistani youth. But its objective all along was to restore what Pakistan’s generals see as their golden era. Under Musharraf, the military ran affairs of the state with the help of technocrats who managed a relatively booming economy.

In the minds of Pakistan’s generals, Musharraf’s team was competent because it secured large amounts of western assistance, pledging to fight terrorists while covertly assisting them at the same time. The civilian governments that succeeded Musharraf could not maintain the poker face and were, therefore, incompetent.

The soldiers believe in their own propaganda and do not realise that the double games of the Musharraf era have permanently eroded Pakistan’s international credibility.


Also read: Imran Khan backers fear return to Musharraf era in Pakistan: We were sold a fake dream


The military set in motion a series of events – Khan’s sit-in outside parliament, disqualification of then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif without a trial, corruption proceedings against major politicians, denial of media space to anyone the military did not like while building Khan’s image as a saviour – to help him win the deeply flawed elections of July 2018. Their purpose in doing so was not to bring the change Khan promised his young supporters but to undo the changes that had occurred since Musharraf’s removal from power.

Khan is a narcissist celebrity, with little experience of government, who also believes in his own propaganda. He assumed that as long as he did the military’s bidding in foreign policy and pursue the army’s critics with a vengeance, the civilian government and the military would remain on the same page.

The military leadership has now decided to change the writing on the page they share with the civilian prime minister. They want the economy to be run as efficiently as they believe it was run under Musharraf and they want cabinet ministers who can cover the tracks of Pakistan’s disreputable intelligence services.

As the generals see it, Pakistan did not face Financial Action Task Force (FATF) sanctions during the Musharraf era although a number of Jihadi terrorist groups operated openly. There was also less global criticism of enforced disappearances and mistreatment of religious minorities. Even the discovery of A.Q. Khan’s nuclear Walmart did not attract scrutiny that would have jeopardised Pakistan’s economy or security.

Thus, in the generals’ thinking, it is all about who presents Pakistan’s case to the world and how, not about changing the situation on the ground. Khan’s outgoing ministers did a poorer job than Musharraf’s team, hence a return to Musharraf’s team for key portfolios.


Also read: Beg, borrow, repeat: Pakistan’s IMF addiction continues even as its finance minister leaves


At the top of the list of Musharraf’s men inducted into Imran Khan’s cabinet is the new interior minister, Brigadier (R) Ijaz Shah – a former intelligence officer who served as director of the Intelligence Bureau under Musharraf. Shah is reported to have run terrorist operations in Jammu and Kashmir when he served in Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and his role as Musharraf’s hatchet man did not earn him a particularly good reputation either.

When Musharraf tried to nominate Ijaz Shah as High Commissioner to Australia, the Australian government withheld consent to that ambassadorial appointment – a rare occurrence in contemporary diplomacy.

Shah was also accused of playing a key role in harbouring Osama bin Laden and was named by Benazir Bhutto before her assassination as someone plotting to kill her. His appointment as minister in-charge of law and order is unlikely to advance the claim that Pakistan has turned the corner on sponsoring Jihadi terrorism at a time when FATF is considering blacklisting Pakistan. But Shah probably qualifies as a competent spymaster inside Pakistan’s hyper-nationalist bubble.

Another controversial appointment is that of Nadeem Babar, a businessman with interests in private power companies and a supposed expert on energy, as special assistant to the PM for petroleum and natural resources with the rank of a minister. Babar cannot be designated minister because he is not a member of parliament, one of 16 such persons in Khan’s 47-member cabinet.

There is a clear conflict of interest in making a person with business interests in the energy sector as the head of the ministry dealing with the sector. But there are other reasons why Babar should not have been appointed to the job. Apparently, his company Orient Power failed to pay Pakistan Rupees 800 million to Pakistan’s Sui Northern Gas Pipelines, ignoring the decision of the London Court of International Arbitration.


Also read: Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan already has the ‘purana’ Pakistan solidly embedded


Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, a technocrat who served as Musharraf’s privatisation minister and was brought back as finance minister under Asif Ali Zardari, will replace Asad Umar as adviser for finance. Shaikh did well in his previous stints in government, but his appointment hardly represents change.

Fawad Chaudhry, who was the information minister and like Shaikh had served in the Zardari and Musharraf governments, has been appointed minister for science and technology. His replacement in the information ministry, Firdous Ashiq Awan, is also a veteran of the Zardari regime as are several others in the cabinet.

Considering that Imran Khan and the military blame Pakistan’s decline on elected leaders like Zardari, the choice of many of Zardari’s ministers in the new government suggests that Zardari was better at selecting members for his team than the new Captain.

As is often the case, there is always something to laugh about in otherwise disturbing news from Pakistan. Ijaz Shah’s appointment as minister of interior might be frightening, the rise of unelected advisers and the reinstatement of Musharraf’s team might be disconcerting, but the designation of Shehryar Afridi as minister for states and frontier regions is downright funny.

Khan’s government had announced the abolition of the Ministry for States and Frontier Regions (known as SAFRON) in September 2018. Afridi, who was interior minister until the cabinet reshuffle, might be a good choice to be minister of an abolished ministry because he believes Imran Khan can talk to the dead.

He is also the man who was filmed holding out assurances that Hafiz Saeed, head of the terror organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), would never be harmed by his government because Saeed and others like him raise their voice for “Pakistan and righteousness”.


Also read: Pakistan is stuck with Prime Minister Imran Khan. They can’t walk away like me: Reham Khan


As Pakistan’s generals might say, the new interior minister may have harboured bin Laden as alleged, but at least he was competent enough not to be filmed with him.

Husain Haqqani, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C., was Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008-11. His latest book is ‘Reimagining Pakistan’. Views are personal

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7 COMMENTS

  1. If Army chief Musharraf is a traitor then all the soldiers who obeyed the orders of musharraf during the 9 years are also traitors. That means Kayani, Raheel Sharif etc and all the jawans were also following the orders of a traitor.

    Also, Zia, Ayub and etc are all traitors who have facilitated absence of constitution. As they have committed the same crime. Please Supreme Court drop this case as it would not do any good to any one by calling an army chief traitor. Musharraf is old and weak for humanity sake we should respect him.

    We should respect our leaders, how Indians respect Indira Gandhi despite the fact that her emergency was worse.

    This case if not dropped soon can become a black stain on Army and judiciary. As it was initiated by a man who always likes institutions of the country fight one another and become weaker while he and his family enjoyed wealth and power.

  2. Bajwa’s puppet Imran Khan attempts to resurrect a Musharaff Govt to pretend overtly to fight Active Sunni Islam while covertly supporting Active Sunni Islam in order to raise US funding: With the Trump-Saud Axis, this may succeed:

  3. No matter which Govt comes to power in Pakistan, you, Mr Hussain Haqqani stand no chance to regain any respectable position in Govt. . No matter how low you stoop in mudslinging, your value is now established as no more than a shamelessly exposed paid agent .. and therefore, fortunately, you have lost utility even for your paymasters.. happens to all traitors. Keep feeding on the crumbs thrown to you by your masters and leave Pakistan alone ..

  4. So, the moral of the story is “kutte ki punch tedhi ki rahegi”.
    No matter who is PM or which political party is in power….the military is going to rule the country.

  5. Quintessential HUSSAIN HAQQANI !!

    As always, great to read his insights !!

    Another SANE person (currently living in Pakistan as opposed to Hussain Haqqani who lives in The United States of America) is …
    Dr. Parvez Hoodbhoy !!

    Hussain Haqqani and Dr. Parvez Hoodbhoy are both experts in their respective spheres.
    Also both are very articulate.

    Hussain Haqqani can be some times even poetic and Dr. Hoodbhoy, being a physicist can be excused for not being able to be poertc !!

    Great article, THANKS !!

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