Blow to govt as two key PM aides step down

Updated 30 Jul 2020


Tania Aidrus attributes her resignation to controversy over dual nationality while Zafar Mirza says he faced hurdles in reforming health system. — Online/DawnNewsTV/File
Tania Aidrus attributes her resignation to controversy over dual nationality while Zafar Mirza says he faced hurdles in reforming health system. — Online/DawnNewsTV/File

ISLAMABAD: As the tug of war between the elected and non-elected members of the federal cabinet intensified, two special assistants of the prime minister (SAPMs) — Dr Zafar Mirza and Tania Aidrus — resigned from their posts on Wednesday.

Their resignations come days after the opposition lambasted the government following the latter’s move to make public details of the assets and dual nationality of 20 advisers and SAPMs.

Two notifications issued by the Cabinet Division said Prime Minister Imran Khan had accepted resignations of Dr Mirza and Ms Aidrus.

Dr Mirza, the outgoing SAPM on health, said in a tweet that he had come to Pakistan on a personal invitation of PM Khan after leaving the World Health Organisa­tion (WHO).

“I worked hard and honestly. It was a privilege to serve Pakistan. I am satisfied that I leave at a time when Covid-19 has declined in Pakistan as a result of a grand national effort,” he said.

He said he made the decision to resign over “negative discussion about the role of SAPMs and criticism of the government”.

Zafar says he faced hurdles in reforming health system; Tania attributes her resignation to controversy over dual nationality

Dr Mirza was assigned the portfolio of national health ser­vices in April 2019 and over­saw the government’s res­ponse to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Prior to this, he was working as director of health system development at the WHO regional office for the Eastern Mediterranean.

“Pakistani people deserve better healthcare. I have worked sincerely to contribute to this cause. Pakistan will Inshallah emerge out of Covid-19 with a stronger healthcare system,” he said.

Also read: Curious case of the cabinet

Dr Mirza told Dawn that there were a number of reasons behind his resignation and he had written each and every thing in his resignation sent to the prime minister. He said: “Basically there was ongoing criticism on unelected people by elected people and a negative impression was being built against the unelected. Moreover, I had come with a plan to carry out health reforms in Pakistan but was finding constraints.

“The system is not helpful and it is so slow and has become self-serving due to which it is difficult to work. On the other hand criticism by the elected people was further demoralising me,” he said.

Asked why he was leaving at a crucial stage where Covid-19 has almost been controlled and who will be responsible in case of coronavirus resurgence, Dr Mirza said that he was satisfied that the virus was controlled during his tenure.

“There can be resurgence of virus but future is uncertain and I hope that the virus will be fully controlled. I believe that it is a good time to leave as virus has been controlled in Pakistan,” he said.

“I had a big vision to reform health system and I hope that the Covid-19 has brought an opportunity to revamp the system. I want to wish best of the luck to Prime Minister Imran Khan as he is sincere about health reforms,” he said.

Asked if he would join the WHO again, Dr Mirza said that he had taken early retirement therefore there was no question of rejoining the world health body.

“I will stay in Pakistan and will be available to give my feedback and opinion and play a role for betterment of the health system,” the former SAPM on health said.

Meanwhile, Ms Aidrus, outgoing SAPM on Digital Pakistan, said that she was resigning from her post due to recent criticism levelled against her and the government because of her dual nationality.

In a tweet, she said: “Criticism levied towards the state as a consequence of my citizenship status is clouding the purpose of Digital Pakistan”.

“In the greater public interest, I have submitted my resignation from the SAPM role. I will continue to serve my country and the PM’s vision to my best ability.”

She also attached a picture of her resignation letter addressed to the premier. In the letter, she stated that she had returned to Pakistan with the “singular intent to contribute and develop the vision of a Digital Pakistan”. “I always was and shall be a Pakistani.”

She said that her Canadian nationality, a consequence of her birth and not an acquisition of choice, served as a distraction to her ability to execute the long-term vision for a digital Pakistan.

“It is unfortunate that a Pakistani’s desire to serve Pakistan is clouded by such issues,” she said.

Prime Minister Khan had launched the Digital Pakistan programme in December last year and named Ms Aidrus, a Google executive who quit her position, to lead the initiative. Later in February, she was appointed SAPM on Digital Pakistan.

All SAPM having dual nationality urged to resign

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Peoples Party has demanded resignation of all SAPMs having dual nationality.

PPP information secretary Nafisa Shah has said that Dr Mirza and Ms Aidrus had been made scapegoat to protect others.

“PPP had demanded resignation of Shahzad Akbar, Sayed Zulfikar Bukhari, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Ghulam Sarwar and others who have been facing allegation of corruption,” she said.

Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2020