Exercise in futility
Will the latest cabinet rejig help Pakistani PM Imran Khan restore order?
Prime Minister Imran Khan has affected a cabinet reshuffle on December 11 in an apparent bid to give a new face to the stale looking Government which people have ostensibly started to reject owing to an increasing trust deficit between the rulers and the ruled. This perhaps came in the wake of mounting pressure by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) currently spearheaded by Maulana Rehman of the Jamait Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) threatening to hold a massive rally in Lahore on December 13. The proposed gathering of masses in active collaboration of opposition parties including Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and other allies have obviously rattled as rallies at other places had evoked considerable response echoing the opposition demands of Imran Khan's ouster before the end of the year. Lahore being the citadel of PML-N with a sizeable Punjabi population carries the promise of a resounding success.
The Government is employing all its tools to foil the event citing fears of the pandemic and other reasons but so far organisers look completely defiant. It could also be possible that the PDM actors are weighing the Government stand with abundant caution and sizing up the machinations on part of the establishment to deal with the emerging show of massive protest. Intelligence operatives are at work to win over a section of the organisers to break their rank and file to pre-empt the gathering.
Maryam Nawaz, in the meantime, has alleged overtures by a few sitting ministers of the Imran Khan cabinet to sabotage the rally. More specifically, Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Shibli Faraz has come under strong suspicion for using his good offices sending feelers to the organisers for a climb down though the Minister is on a denial mode. What outcome the much-hyped rally will have known to everyone much before this writeup appears in the columns. Yet, it's interesting to know what prompted Prime Minister Imran Khan to do this reshuffle.
The timing of the Cabinet reshuffle seems significant and more importantly the selection of 70-year-old Sheikh Rashid Ahmed as the new Interior Minister. It's noteworthy that this is the fourth cabinet shakeup in less than three years since Imran Khan took the oath of office as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Knowledgeable circles are convinced that Imran inducted Rashid. bestowing him with the most powerful ministry in the government to quell the opposition movement particularly the pressure of the PDM. It is further believed that Rashid Ahmed's multiple 'virtues' of being an opportunist, political survivor, wily nature, maverick, astute, and a powerful orator will help Imran to breathe easy in the remaining years of his premiership.
Within hours of his taking over, the new Interior Minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed held a press conference and by his body language, ease, confidence and a look that now he is in charge and all the outstanding issues will be fixed sooner than later. At the press conference, he repeated to the media persons that he had a rich experience and this is his fifteenth ministerial assignment — a boast apparently not liked by many political colleagues who were all eying for this coveted position and now silently questioning Imran Khan's wisdom and decision to entrust Rashid with this much sought after post. It is common knowledge that Sheikh Rashid had been a known turncoat and renegade during the regimes of Pervez Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif.
It's interesting to recall that Sheikh Rashid was complicit in Pervez Musharraf's term on the decision to troop in with armed intervention and aggression in 2007 in the Lal Masjid crisis. Again, he supported Musharraf in conducting military operations in FATA. His record has always been dubious and he scraped through perhaps with a survival instinct. He was the country's Sports Minister in 1992 when Imran Khan won the World Cup in cricket. Possibly he is cashing in that association too after joining him in 2018 as soon as Imran became the PM. It's hard to conceive that the leader of a redundant political outfit called Awami Muslim League of Pakistan which he was at the helm with practically no grass-root supporters could continue to call the shots. With powerful charges of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Coast Guard, Rangers, Federal Investigating Agencies, etc., under his belt in the present dispensation will see him exerting more flexing his muscles more demonstratively as his long term ambition of enjoying the taste of power still remains unquenched, still. That could be worrisome for Imran the cricketer caused by his erstwhile Sports Minister. And this time, Imran has to use his political and survival instincts if any to protect himself from a 'reverse swing' under the umpire ship of the armed forces who may not have been naive in Rashid becoming the omnipotent Interior Minister.
The Indian Government and its professional agencies in particular, now need to keep a close tab on the new Interior Minister of Pakistan. He was noticed spewing venom on India not very long ago, it's Prime Minister and touching upon religion bringing in communal discourse and divisive politics. He was then a Railway Minister. Saddled with more powers to the world in the new avatar, his rhetoric could be more belligerent. Also, he tried to dabble in the politics of Kashmir.
Further, in 2012 Sheikh Rashid was stopped at the Houston airport for his nexus with Lashkar-e-Taiba and notorious terrorist Hafiz Sayeed. He was questioned, and later let off after the intervention of the Pakistani Embassy. Again in 2014, he was offloaded from a PIA flight at Toronto due to a tip-off from the Canadian authorities. Such a shady track record of an Interior Minister, who had been training his guns in India, believed to have run terrorists' training camps, suspected to have blessed the Mumbai terror attacks and maintaining links with the ultras called for a global watch. Other changes in the recent ministerial changes may be ordinary and routine except perhaps for the new Interior Minister. And lastly, is the latest reshuffle likely to rein in the mounting pressure on the Imran led government for a time-bound exit? The answer seems to be a straight no!
The writer is a retired IPS officer and a security analyst. He was also the National Security Adviser to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. Views expressed are personal