ISLAMABAD: In a surprise cabinet reshuffle, portfolios of three ministers were changed and an adviser was appointed as minister on Friday with Sheikh Rashid Ahmed getting the coveted slot of interior minister, apparently to tackle the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM) sit-in likely to be staged in Islamabad following the opposition’s public meeting in Lahore on Sunday.
According to a notification issued by Prime Minister Office (PMO), Azam Swati has replaced Mr Rashid as railways minister.
Adviser to the PM on Finance Dr Hafeez Shaikh was elevated as Minister for Finance and was administered the oath of his new office by President Dr Arif Alvi.
Outgoing interior minister retired Brig Ijaz Shah has replaced Mr Swati as minister for narcotics control. This is the fourth cabinet shakeup in less than three years of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government.
Hafeez appointed finance minister; Ijaz & Azam given portfolios of narcotics control, railways
Sources told Dawn that many cabinet members were aspirants for the slot of interior minister, including Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry.
When contacted, Mr Chaudhry conceded that his name had also been considered for the office of interior minister.
It seems that Mr Rashid’s desire to become interior minister has finally come true as he had tried to get the slot when the PTI came to power in 2018, but at that time Prime Minister Khan tasked Shehryar Afridi with looking after the ministry in the capacity of minister of state.
A PTI insider said that removal of Ijaz Shah was expected as he could not concentrate on his work due to some family issues.
He said the reason behind the appointment of Mr Swati as railway minister could be his good relationship with some Chinese government functionaries associated with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor under which Pakistan Railways’ Main Line-1 (ML-1) revamping plan was under way.
Despite attempts, Hafeez Shaikh, Ijaz Shah and Azam Swati could not be contacted for comment.
Meanwhile, soon after his appointment as interior minister, Mr Rashid called on Prime Minister Imran Khan and later held a press conference, hinting that he would give a ‘tough’ time to the PDM.
“Imran Khan had excelled after a public meeting at Minar-i-Pakistan but the opposition will dive after its Lahore rally,” Mr Rashid said in the press conference.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan is not going anywhere, not in the least because of Minar-i-Pakistan rally,” said Mr Rashid whose ministry’s domain is confined to Islamabad’s territorial limits after the 18th Amendment which devolved law and order to the provinces.
However, some national organisations, like Pakistan Rangers, Federal Investigation Agency, Intelligence Bureau and Pakistan Coast Guards, still come under the purview of the interior ministry.
Mr Rashid said he would not stop the PDM rally from coming to Islamabad. “The opposition will be welcomed if it stages a march on Islamabad. I will serve Kashmiri tea to [PDM chief] Maulana Fazlur Rehman when he comes to the capital,” he added.
Mr Rashid said demonstrations and long march could not harm the government: “We have also staged a sit-in for 126 days [in Islamabad] but it made no difference,” he said, adding that the opposition leaders were instigating children of others to take to the streets in the chilly weather while their own children were enjoying life abroad.
On the other hand, Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, at a joint press conference with Pakistan Muslim League-N vice president Maryam Nawaz in Lahore, said the PDM’s long march would be the biggest ever show in the capital.
Although the PDM has not fixed any date for long march on Islamabad, it has hinted that it may be staged next month.
Mr Rashid said: “Three dates of December —14, 15 and 16 — will bring good news for Imran Khan.”
He claimed that as interior minister he would stand behind Islamic forces and would be their voice. “Our madressahs are pillars of Islam,” he added.
Responding to a question about his working relations with the PM’s Adviser on Interior and Accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar, Mr Rashid said now National Accountability Bureau (NAB) would work under him, without realising that the bureau does not come under the purview of the interior ministry.
On this a senior NAB official said the bureau was an independent body and there was no plan to bring it under the control of the interior ministry.
“NAB does not want to react to these remarks instantly because it might be a slip of tongue or Mr Rashid might have said this in an emotional state during his first press conference after becoming interior minister,” the official added.
When contacted, Shahzad Akbar hoped that he would have good working relations with Mr Rashid and said after the recent orders of the Islamabad High Court (IHC), his role as an adviser to the PM was confined to giving advice to the interior minister.
Mr Rashid said the opposition posed “no threat” to Prime Minister Khan and claimed that he (PM) would also win the next general elections.
He said the opposition’s movement might harm the economy of the country and vowed that any effort to bring down economy would be foiled.
“There is no threat to Pakistan at the borders as our valiant soldiers are deployed there but the country is facing internal threats,” he added.
Mr Rashid said if the opposition had any problem, it should negotiate with the prime minister.
“But they say they will not speak to the prime minister. Then with whom you want to speak,” he added.
He said the opposition leaders wanted to save their ill-gotten wealth and get rid of court cases and that was why they were creating trouble for the government.
The cabinet reshuffle took place days after the IHC gave a ruling that “unelected advisers and special assistants” could not head government committees and set aside a notification of the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation, headed by Hafeez Sheikh.
The move was seen as a major blow to the government’s privatisation efforts that were being spearheaded by unelected members of the federal cabinet.
With the latest shake-up, the federal cabinet has been reshuffled four times since the PTI came to power. The first reshuffle took place in April 2019 — less than a year after the party came to power — when Mr Hafeez was appointed adviser to the PM on finance following resignation of then finance minister Asad Umar.
The premier also appointed Ijaz Shah as interior minister and brought in Firdous Ashiq Awan as special assistant to the prime minister on information and broadcasting, among other changes.
The second shakeup came in November 2019 when Mr Umar was brought back to the cabinet as planning minister while Khusro Bakhtiar was made minister for economic affairs.
The reshuffle came two days after the FIA team released a report on the sugar crisis and beneficiaries of subsidies obtained by the industry’s bigwigs. The report named Mr Bakhtiar, then minister for national food security, as a beneficiary.
Earlier this year, the prime minister removed Ms Awan as special assistant and replaced her with retired Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa. Senator Shibli Faraz was appointed as information minister.
PM chairs meeting
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday stressed the need for taking measures on priority basis to help reach the benefits of economic stability to the common man, reports APP.
He expressed these views while chairing a meeting of his economic team that was attended by Minister for Finance Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, advisers Abdul Razaq Dawood and Dr Ishrat Hussain and special assistants Nadeem Babar and Waqar Masood, besides senior officials.
The prime minister was given a briefing on improving economic situation of the country.
Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2020