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House of Cards

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In this article veteran journalist Murtaza Solangi is reporting on a cabinet meeting where Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed his displeasure over Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry’s performance in no uncertain terms. Public and leaked statements by Fawad Chaudhry and Sheikh Rasheed also don’t portray a very positive picture of what’s happening inside the cabinet. Solangi also reports on the tussle going on between Finance Minister Asad Umar and the all-powerful Jehangir Tareen in the ruling party.

The leak of Sheikh Rasheed’s jibes against Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry while he was having a “picnic” in London exposed the fault lines in the rainbow coalition led by Imran Khan. This was the latest but not the first sign of cracks in the U turn party that pushed the slogan of change and got changed in the process.

Earlier, the chicken fights between Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Jehangir Tareen were known to all and sundry but after the formation of the governments in mid-August, the big leak was anti-Sarwar huddle by Punjab Speaker Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, federal minister Chaudhry Tariq Bashir Cheema and Jehangir Tareen.

Sheikh Rasheed tried to hush up the leak but his assertion that it was a small talk and he didn’t know about it, is something nobody is ready to buy in the national capital. Sheikh, who has been Information Minister under two administrations, can be so careless that he would be making nasty comments about a cabinet colleague with live microphones sitting in front of him, is not believable.

Fawad Chaudhry who tried to calm down the raw nerves tried to link the Sheikh Rasheed outburst with the “advertising lobby” conspiring against him. Come Monday, the “longest” cabinet meeting took place that remained in session for nine plus hours. The meeting one more time gave the look of a divided house. Earlier Imran Khan had told a select group of TV anchors that he might initiate some reshuffle in his cabinet judging them mainly on their three-month performance.

On Monday morning when the meeting started, Imran Khan who is not known for his mild manners almost threw a fit, say the insiders. Fawad Chaudhry bore the brunt of his biggest beating.

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Imran Khan was livid, insist the sources. Information Ministry has failed to contradict the counter narrative was one of the gripes of the PM. The ministry also failed to positively publicize the hard work done by other ministries, was the second complaint by the angry Chief Executive.

Imran Khan was more appreciative of his own ministry, the interior, held by the junior minister Shehryar Afridi who was earlier accused of using unfair means to renovate his residence in the Ministers’ Enclave.

Prime Minister was also appreciative of Shireen Mazari and Omar Ayub and blasted Fawad Chaudhry that the government’s hard work was not publicized. When Fawad Chaudhry tried to give excuses that the media, especially electronic media was not projecting government narrative as unlike the previous governments, his administration had massively cut the expensive advertisements to them, it made Imran Khan even more furious, say the sources.

As we were watching this, on Tuesday, Yousuf Baig Mirza who has got thick with Imran Khan was appointed Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Media Affairs. Baig, who has worked with Nawaz Sharif, Pervez Musharraf and Yousaf Raza Gilani and served three terms as the MD PTV, is being jealously watched both by Fawad Chaudhry and Iftikhar Durrani. Both consider him a threat, say the insiders.

Iftikhar Durrani, sources say, has interviewed quite a few bureaucrats for the post of the Press Secretary to the PM, a standard appointment under the rules, but is hesitating to recommend anybody for the slot, say the sources. “They already have a party with the arrival of Yousuf Baig Mirza, why would they want the crowd to get even bigger?” said a PM House source.

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The matters with Asad Umar are far from settled. He remains disliked by a large group of the cabinet with Omar Ayub being tipped as the next finance minister. Jehangir Tareen, reportedly, keeps working against Asad Umar too. Recently they had a brouhaha when reportedly Asad Umar even offered to resign but was prevented at this stage.

“It is not the matter of if but when Asad Umar is bumped off”, said an insider and added, “most probably after the IMF issue is out of the way”, insisted the source.

The cabinet also remains divided on the issue of dealing with the opposition. While most Khyber Pakhtunkhwa legislators support reconciliation with the opposition, more brown nosers of Imran Khan are glued to the steamy rhetoric.

Many insiders suggest a shakeup in near future and this has generated more lobbying within the party. Wednesday evening, we got the news of resignation of Raja Riaz, former PPP leader from Faisalabad as the parliamentary secretary. He too is positioning himself as the federal minister.

How will this fragile coalition government survive amid the attempts for the power grab when the PM rules with just a majority of four votes with both opposition and PTI tied at 156 each is something analysts are wondering in the national capital these days. “It is because of this inbuilt weakness and lack of performance that the PTI government is using state organs to push the opposition to the wall but in the long run, it is not sustainable”, said a veteran journalist while commenting on the current situation.


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