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Squabbling within cabinet

Updated December 10, 2018

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IT is somewhere between open warfare and stealthy attacks, but the squabbling between federal cabinet members and PTI leaders at the centre and in Punjab ought to be discouraged by Prime Minister Imran Khan — if the prime minister wants to focus on his governance and reforms agenda.

Yet another news cycle has been consumed by infighting among PTI ministers, with Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid caught on a hot mic claiming that he had been offered the information portfolio by Prime Minister Khan, who Mr Rashid suggested is unhappy with the performance of Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry.

In this age of social media, the information minister, who is travelling abroad, wasted no time in taking to Twitter to hit back. The information minister suggested that vested interests were trying to oust him.

Neither Mr Rashid nor Mr Chaudhry is a stranger to controversy, but their spat is part of a worrying trend where PTI leaders — if they are not fighting with the opposition — are fighting among themselves.

Surely, whatever the bruising style of politics that Prime Minister Khan may prefer, he ought to recognise that too many unnecessary and self-inflicted political distractions have the potential to derail the PTI’s governance and reforms agenda — even before the party can turn its attention to the centrepiece of its campaign promises.

Before Mr Rashid’s and Mr Chaudhry’s sniping at each, there have been rumours of a rift between Finance Minister Asad Umar and Jahangir Tareen, leader of a powerful faction in the PTI.

And before that, there was an allegedly leaked video recording of a conversation among the Punjab Assembly Speaker Pervaiz Elahi and several PTI leaders, who were complaining about the alleged interference in the provincial government’s affairs by Governor Muhammad Sarwar.

Certainly, the PTI is not the first ruling party to experience internal divisions and Mr Khan’s is not the first federal cabinet to have sniping and squabbling.

Indeed, a culture of more open debate and cabinet members and party leaders emboldened to critique each other’s job performance could help improve governance. But there is a difference between constructive debate and the wilful undermining of colleagues.

Prime Minister Khan is unquestionably the leader of his party and the dominant figure in government. There is no likely scenario in which his orders to cabinet members will be openly and repeatedly defied.

The collective responsibility of the cabinet requires that dissent be expressed internally and decisions taken by the cabinet be backed by all its members. The PTI can do better.

Published in Dawn, December 10th, 2018