Pakistan army’s latest bloodless coup

Less than seven months after Prime Minister Imran Khan took over and amidst periodic claims of ‘military and civilians being on the same page’ the Pakistan army has ensured a bloodless coup by removing all of Khan’s men. Ten of Khan’s ministers, including Finance Minister Asad Umar, were replaced making the cabinet look even more like General Pervez Musharraf’s technocratic cabinet.

Umar was replaced Abdul Hafeez Shaikh “who served as finance minister from 2010-2013 under the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party.” Shaikh, “a U.S-educated economist who worked at Harvard University, also spent many years working for the World Bank and had also been the privatization minister during the government of former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf.”

Whatever arguments Mr Khan gave for replacing Mr Umar, as the Dawn editorialstated “it is the government’s turn to salvage its dignity. For seven years, Mr Khan presented the erstwhile finance minister as the answer to the country’s problems. His entire campaign seemed to have two planks only: eliminate corruption, and put Mr Asad in the finance seat. Eight months into his term, the fight against corruption has yet to yield any major victory, while Mr Asad has been eliminated. What does this say for the position the government is in? The prime minister now needs to explain his decision to remove Mr Asad from the finance ministry in more detail, especially considering that the latter failed massively to live up to expectations. The timing is also worrisome. The talks with the IMF are at an advanced stage and the budget is at hand. There is a brand new finance secretary in place, so it is not clear who will be providing the much needed continuity in the days ahead and the party appears ill-prepared with a replacement. In short, the removal of the finance minister at such a critical juncture has prolonged the period of uncertainty the economy has limped along with for more than a year now. The replacement will have to find his or her feet fast and hit the ground running. A gruelling set of policy decisions await — something Mr Asad hinted at in his press remarks — that will have a very negative impact on the government’s popularity. Indecision will only aggravate matters, something the government cannot afford at this moment.”

Further “Influential Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has been moved to the science and technology ministry, while retired Brigadier Ijaz Ahmed Shah has been appointed as Interior Minister. Energy expert Nadeem Babar has been appointed to lead the petroleum ministry.”

Newly appointed I & B Ministers, Firdous Ashiq Awan “was a PPP stalwart before she joined the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in May 2017. Awan, along with her husband, was a staunch supporter of the PPP until party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari consolidated his control over the party.”

Petroleum Adviser, Nadeem Babar is “a former chief executive of Orient Power and Saba Power Company, had been operating in the power sector since the induction of private power producers under the 1994 power policy. In September 2018, upon the prime minister’s desire, he was appointed the head of an eight-member task force on energy sector reforms.”

Dr Zafarullah Mirza, head of health services, “is a former director of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Division of Health System Development. He joined the WHO in 2004 and served in different capacities during his more than a decade-long association with the UN special agency.”

The most serious and worrying appointment was that of Brig (retd) Ejaz Shah as interior minister. “In an unprecedented move, former intelligence chief of Pakistan Brigadier (retired) Ejaz Shah has been appointed as the new Minister of Interior of the country on Thursday. Shah’s appointment has raised many an eyebrow as he is considered as one of the most controversial Director General of Intelligence Bureau (IB) of Pakistan, with allegations of political victimisation during the tenure of former President General Pervez Musharraf. Earlier, he had also served in Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency-ISI. Ejaz Shah had served as IB Chief from 2004 to 2008 after being appointed by the then president General Musharraf.”

It is alleged that Shah helped harbor Osama Bin Laden. According to former ISI chief Ziauddin Butt “Brigadier Shah harboured the world’s most wanted criminal for years, at the same time that other arms of the Pakistani military and the US were hunting him. “The most important and all-powerful person in [the] Musharraf regime was Brigadier Ijaz Shah, then Intelligence Bureau chief,” General Butt said in a television interview. “I fully believe that Ijaz Shah had kept this man [Osama bin Laden, in Abbottabad] with the full knowledge of Pervez Musharraf.” In a separate interview, General Butt said the Abbottabad compound was built to bin Laden’s specifications on Brigadier Shah’s orders.”

Further, “He was the military’s “handler” of Kashmiri terrorist Omar Saeed Sheikh. In 2002, Sheikh kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and handed the US-Israeli citizen over to other militants, who beheaded him. Days later, Sheikh handed himself into Brigadier Shah, who held him for a week in a safehouse before finally handing him over to authorities, allegedly to give Pearl’s murderers a chance to escape. Before her own assassination, former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto alleged Brigadier Shah was conspiring with terrorists to assassinate her, naming him in a letter as someone who should be investigated if she died.”

According to The News the reasons for the shuffle were: “Asad Umar was not able to satisfy Prime Minister Imran Khan, when the latter expressed his displeasure over the policies which he thought have created difficulties for the masses. Citing unnamed sources, Geo News reported that the bad performance, secret reports and public opinion led to the reshuffling. The sources said Asad Umar had faced  criticism by cabinet members during the last few meetings. Commenting on Ghulam Sarwar Khan’s removal from Petroleum Ministry, the sources told the TV channel that an investigation report into surge in gas prices put the minister into defensive. Ghulam Sarwar Khan tried to convince Prime Minister Imran Khan that he can handle the situation but the premier didn’t agree. As for Fawad Chaudhry’s ministry, the sources said the firebrand politician from Jhelum faced the wrath of leadership for criticizing senior PTI leaders and his tussle over PTV MD Arshad Khan. He was also found to have been involved in protest against the   management of  state-owned TV. The sources said the decision to give the information ministry to Firdous Ashiq Awan was taken a month ago. The prime minister had criticized Amir Kayani, the health minister, for increasing medicine prices.  Shehryar Afridi also failed to satisfy the party leadership regarding  his performance. The sources said Afridi failed to fulfill the expectations of the party leadership despite being given powers.”

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