January issue 2019

By | Newsbeat National | Published 10 months ago

Good grades: Murad Saeed and Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

In a performance review of 26 of the 34 ministries last month, Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed complete satisfaction with his cabinet. In a nine-hour session, PM Khan announced targets for the next three months as well, further confirming that the ministers’ performances would be reviewed every quarter.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s Twitter handle confirmed that the PM was satisfied with the party’s austerity drive, its initiation of new projects and the overall trajectory of the government.

“The things done in the ministries during the last 100 days could never have been imagined over the past 10 years,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told the media while discussing the positive grading of all ministers.

The premier’s review of the ministers’ performance was in line with the execution of the PTI’s 100-Day agenda, which the ruling party had announced as part of its election manifesto. 

During the meeting, PM Khan especially lauded the performance of the Minister of State for Communications, Murad Saeed, saying that he would be made a federal minister. Saeed was responsible for auctioning 200 government vehicles.

Meanwhile, Railways Minister, Sheikh Rasheed claimed that he “stood first,” reiterating that he received plaudits from fellow ministers as well. 

Special praise was also reserved for Interior Minister Shehryar Afridi, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari – all of whom hold critical designations.

Meanwhile, all eyes are on Finance Minister Asad Umar, in light of the unpopular decisions the government has been forced to take owing to the state of the economy. The rupee sunk to an all-time low of 140 against the US dollar. With the fiscal deficit mounting and an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout not being finalised, Islamabad has been relying on the $6 billion bailout package from Saudi Arabia and the $3 billion from UAE to keep the economy afloat.

“I’m from the opposition so you might think I’m bound to criticise the government, but as far as Asad Umar’s performance is concerned, the numbers speak for themselves,” remarked former Finance Minister Rana Afzal Khan.

“The plunging rupee suggests that the Asad Umar-led finance ministry did nothing when it needed to and left things too late. He clearly took way too long to decide which route to take to address the balance of payments crisis,” he added. “Markets and currency valuation are indicators of the confidence in the government, which is there for all to see.”

On the foreign policy front, Prime Minister Imran Khan has been pretty active himself, visiting Saudi Arabia, UAE, China and Malaysia, primarily to seek money to bail out Pakistan’s economy. In Shah Mehmood Qureshi, he has an experienced foreign minister, who has held the portfolio previously as well.

“Steps like the opening of the Kartarpur corridor is a really positive development. Pakistan has underlined the human rights abuses in Kashmir as well. Overall, Pakistan’s foreign policy has been steered in the right direction – and, of course, Shah Mehmood Qureshi is in the driving seat,” says Pakistan’s former Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmed.

“The foreign minister basically carries out the vision and the agenda of the Prime Minister, which is what Shah Mehmood Qureshi is doing. I feel that Imran Khan’s impressive stature in the world has helped in Pakistan’s diplomatic efforts,” he adds.

“However, as far as economic diplomacy is concerned – which is an integral part of Pakistan’s foreign policy – we still seem to be focusing on foreign aid and loans, and not trade or investment.”

Meanwhile, Pakistan continues to struggle on the human rights front, as well. While it might be unrealistic to expect Shireen Mazari to fix Pakistan’s gargantuan human rights problems in a little over three months, her reactions to some core issues have invited criticism.

Struggling to stay afloat: Finance Minister Asad Umar.

After an Ahmadi place of worship was torched in Faisalabad in August, Mazari’s defensive tweets and disregard for the victims brought condemnation. Similarly, in a meeting with a European Union delegation in September, she focused primarily on the human rights concerns of Muslims in the West, instead of taking stock of the denial of rights to religious minorities in Pakistan. 

Similarly, when Pakistan was blacklisted by the US for violation of religious freedoms, Mazari dubbed the move ‘politically motivated.’ When the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked Pakistan second from the bottom in its ‘Global Gender Gap Index 2018’ report, Mazari said the data was “exaggerated.”

“I think Shireen Mazari needs to educate herself,” says veteran activist and senior member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Salima Hashmi. “I am surprised at the things that she has said, because she is an open-minded person. She has regularly exhibited a knee-jerk reaction of not wanting to take criticism. She needs to look long and hard, left and right of herself, and see the composition of the cabinet. How many of the cabinet ministers are women?”

Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, the PTI spokesperson and former journalist, has been condemned for overseeing censorship in the mainstream media. Since the PTI government took over, it slashed government advertising to media houses, resulting in the closure of various projects and massive downsizing. 

Furthermore, those journalists that were deemed critical of the government or the military establishment have seen their jobs being taken away, and in some cases they have faced physical intimidation as well. Chaudhry has also been criticised for the frequency with which he has contradicted his own statements or that of fellow party members.

“Once upon a time, Fawad used to take censorship very seriously and now he is helping implement it on the media himself,” notes a senior journalist. “Furthermore, as a progressive individual himself – at least he was in the past – he is now being seen defending regressive policies every other day. This is what results in the contradictions that we see vis-a-vis the media, where one day the government is vowing to not bow down to extremists, while the next day it is doing precisely that.”

For the Interior Ministry, the toughest challenge has been posed by the Tehrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which retaliated violently across the country following the acquittal of Aasia Bibi on October 31. In the immediate aftermath of the breakout of violence, the government signed an agreement with the TLP, which was deemed a state surrender. 

Then, on November 24, scores of TLP members were arrested by law enforcement personnel, including their chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi, following the group’s call for protest.

“The arrest of the TLP leadership was carelessly done. What this has resulted in is the fact that extremist Deobandi elements are now joining hands with the Barelvi radicals. The permanent problem that all interior ministries have faced in the past is that the state hasn’t decided who its enemies and who its political allies are,” notes lawyer, politician and human rights activist, Jibran Nasir.

“If you want to judge the performance of the interior ministry you can do it by checking on the implementation of the National Action Plan. No action has been taken on hate speech, terror funding, or against banned groups,” he added. “Steps such as the action against INGOs, or the crackdown on social media, were being carried out under (former interior minister) Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, as well. Shehryar Afridi is just being told what to do and what not to do; he has little say in matters.”